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I'd always had a pet theory that there were two basic ways of drawing comic book characters, rounded as with Superman or edgy as with Batman.  These artistic styles seemed to suit the characters.  With Superman invulnerable and his alter ego, Clark Kent, a nerd, the circular art was as appropriate as a happy face.  With Batman, dark to the point of psychosis, roaming the streets at night and Bruce Wayne, living alone in a secluded mansion and hanging out in a cave, the use of lines and shadows was required.

Growing up there were two Marvel Comics artists who seemed to exemplify these illustrating styles, Jack Kirby drew everything very square and blockish with severe lines, while Steve Ditko seemed to just about draw a series of circles, almost like making snowmen.  Later there were two more guys who came along and seemed to confirm the theory, Frank Miller succeeded Kirby as the line drawer; John Byrne took over as the curve master.

When they first broke on the scene, Byrne drew the Uncanny X-Men series and Miller drew Daredevil : The Man Without Fear.  Both were extraordinary and they were soon writing as well as drawing and could pick and choose their own projects.  It came as no surprise that Frank Miller gravitated toward Batman and produced one of the greatest comics of all time with The Dark Knight Returns.  Batman had generally been well handled, but Mr. Miller's style was the perfect match for the character.  Superman on the other hand was frequently boring.  But then in 1986, John Byrne, having moved from Marvel to DC, took his seemingly inevitable crack at it and revitalized Superman.  Eventually, the ideas he brought to the comic book would be borrowed for the popular TV series starring Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher.

In the Introduction to this tv tie-in, which features some of the issues of Superman that influenced the show, Mr. Byrne--whose work is featured in a couple of the installments, but unfortunately not all--explains how he went about reinventing Superman and the simplicity of the main idea is all the more remarkable for the results it produces :

    I used to wonder when he'd done it; when Superman had been so foolish as to announce to the world that he had a secret identity, a place
    to where he retired when he wasn't out fighting for truth, justice and the American way. [...]

    Of course, he never did.

There it is--one simple twist--just let everyone assume that Superman is always Superman.  By removing the idea of a secret identity, Mr. Byrne was able to naturalize Clark Kent's relationships with those around him, particularly Lois Lane, who was no longer a continual snoop, always trying to ferret out Superman's secret.  Because there was now no "secret", or at least no one actively trying to uncover the secret, there was nothing for Clark to hide, and no reason for this plotline to be at the center of the story.

Among the stories gathered here, the quality of which is pretty uneven, my favorite is The Name Game (Superman #11, November 1987).  Not only is it written and drawn by John Byrne, it also features Mister Mxyzptlk, the scamp from the Fifth Dimension who has incredible powers and who can only be "beaten" if Superman can trick him into saying his own name backwards.  Somehow when I was a kid that just cracked me up.    Just that one story and the Introduction make the book well worth checking out.


Grade: (B-)


See also:

Rick Geary (5 books reviewed)
Comic Books & Graphic Novels
Rick Geary Links:
    -ARTIST SITE : Rick Geary : Cartoonist--Illustrator
    -Rick Geary Page (NBM Publishing)
    -BIO : Rick Geary (National Lampoon)
    -The Very Odd World of Rick Geary

Book-related and General Links:
    -INTERVIEW : with John Byrne (Michael David Thomas, 08-22-00, Comic Book Resources)
    -John Byrne : Byrne Victims Unite
    -John Byrne Fan Site
    -John Byrne Dedication Page (Dan Black)
    -Sputnik vs. Modok (The Comprehensive Review of the Work of John L. Byrne)
    -A Pæen To John Byrne (Tragsnart)
    -Superman Homepage
    -Lois and Clark : The New Adventures of Superman : TV Series
    -Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman
    -Lois & Clark Fanfic Archive
    -Krypton Site
    -ESSAY : Lois & Clark: What’s New About The New Adventures of Superman? (Michael G. Robinson, Studies in Popular Culture)
    -ESSAY : Will New Clark Kent Be the Death of Superman? (September 21, 2000, FilmForce)
    -ESSAY : The History of Superman ( Noell Wolfgram Evans)
    -WEBRING : Superman Webring

    -PROFILE :  Spider-Man's Long-Lost Parent : Reclusive artist Steve Ditko, who created the superhero with Stan Lee then abruptly walked away, is listed in new film's credits. (JORDAN RAPHAEL, April 29, 2002, The LA Times)
    -ESSAY : Rand Scheme of Things : The movie 'Spider-Man' nimbly sidesteps the cranky objectivism of co-creator Steve Ditko (Richard von Busack, Metro San Jose)

    -Marvel Comics
    -REVIEW : of Comic Wars: How Two Tycoons Battled Over the Marvel Comics Empire-And Both Lost, by Dan Raviv (Stephen Metcalf, NY Observer)

    -DC Comics

    -ESSAY: Jack Kirby Heroes Thrive in Comic Books and Film (ELVIS MITCHELL, 8/27/03, NY Times)