FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ARCHIVE

Byrne Robotics : FAQ : Byrnisms: opinions and observations of JB

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Byrnisms: opinions and observations of JB

 

 What is the "specialist rule"?

Is The Flash faster than Superman?

JB: I will invoke the specialist rule, i.e., the guy who is only fast gets to be the fastest.

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 What is "Superboy syndrome"?

JB: Too many fans today consider themselves far too hip and a-go-go to ever go along with the most basic conceit of serial fiction: that the main characters will survive, but we will pretend, for the sake of this story, that that is not a given.

When I was a lad, I worried every time Superman fell into a kryptonite death trap. Usually I only had to wait four or five pages to find out that he was going to be okay, but it never occurred to me to shrug and flip to the next story to see if he survived. Only when reading SUPERBOY was I ever aware that there was no "tension", since we knew Superboy would become Superman. (I refer to this as "Superboy Syndrome", and caution writers to be very careful about it when doing flashbacks or, more significantly, flash forwards.)

If you reach a point at which you "know" no real harm can ever befall the main characters, and you are unable to simply accept that (without commenting that there is "no real tension") then you have crossed an important line, and there is no point in you continuing to follow this kind of fiction. Accept it for what it is, or move on -- but don't find fault with the ocean because it is too wet. (5/10/2004)

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 What is "Mickey Mouse syndrome"?

JB: Characters "cleaning up their act" as they become more popular, as with Mickey Mouse no longer feeding cats' tails into sausage grinders, or Superman and Batman no longer killing the bad guys. (11/02/04)

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 What is "MAN OF STEEL syndrome"?

JB: New writers and/or editors thinking being assigned to a title or character is a mandate to blow everything up and start from scratch. (Applied facetiously, since this is usually done without a fraction of the time spent working out what was done in MoS.) (11/02/04)

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 What is "Kandor syndrome"?

JB: Adding unnecessary details which complicate a character's backstory. This comes, of course, from the bottled city of Kandor, which used to reside in Superman's Fortress of Solitude, making it necessary, every time Superman visited the Fortress, to spend a coupe of panels explaining what Kandor was. Finally, a story was done in which Superman succeeded in restoring Kandor to its normal size, and also placing it on an alien world that "phased" out of our reality, Brigadoon-like, for 100 years at a time. Problem solved -- until another story was done in which it was decided that Superman "missed" having Kandor in its special place in the Fortress, so he created a perfect scale model of it, which had to be explained every time he went to the Fortress. And then, another story was done in which an alien race who were naturally that small moved into the model, so every time. . . .etc, etc. (11/02/04)

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 What is the "Byrne Curse"?

JB: You don't know about the Byrne Curse, do you?

Chris Claremont and I did a story about a blackout in NYC. The week it came out, there was a blackout in NYC.

We did a story about an earthquake in Japan. The week it came out. . .

Okay, so those are no big deal, as such things happen all the time. But on my own I. . . . . . blew up a Space Shuttle in the second issue of MAN OF STEEL (and hastily redrew it as a "space plane" before it came out.

. . . named an aircraft carrier after a former Canadian Prime Minister (against the tradition of only naming ships after dead folk). He was dead by the time the book came out.

. . . and killed Prince Diana (Wonder Woman) in a book (replete with fake newspaper cover) that shipped week before the Saturday that. . .

If only this power could be harnessed for good! (5/15/2003)

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 What makes a mutant a mutant?

JB: The X-Books have been responsible for more muddying of the basic concept of what makes a mutant than you would think possible --especially since the definition (as seen in the MU) started in those books!

Mutants are, as noted, entities born with "powers" that their parents do not possess. This does not necessarily mean their parents must be mere mortals -- Namor and Franklin Richards come to mind -- but it usually makes for cleaner storytelling if they are.

I recall a letter I got while I was doing the FF, around the time I was starting to grumble about Chris trying to turn everybody into a "mutant" -- he was convinced Reed's intelligence made him a mutant! -- in which the writer said he loved the FF, they were his favorite mutants. sigh

Once upon a time, there were three settings:

Human -- no powers at all. (J. Jonah Jameson, Aunt May, Willie Lumpkin)

Non-Mutant Variant -- a term that also originated in X-MEN and described the likes of Spider-Man or Captain America, the Inhumans or Luke Cage. In UNCANNY it described Sauron.

Mutant -- powers different from either parent Namor. Franklin. Cyclops. Beast. Storm. Etc.

Implied was a fourth level -- those who had the same powers as one of their parents (Wolverine, when Sabretooth was his daddy), and so qualified as the first of a new species. (1/20/2005)

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 On DC's tendency to "de-unique" their characters

JB: As I have often noted, the one thing that most clearly defines DC is the "de-uniquing" of their characters.

I don't mean creating franchises. Superman and Batman, for instance, have always had multiple titles, at least from the point at which they got their own books. What I am referring to is the multiple iterations of characters with the same powers and abilities -- So for Superman we see Superboy, Supergirl, Krypto, Comet, Streaky, and all the inhabitants of Kandor. Batman gives us Batwoman, two Batgirls, Bat-Mite, Ace the Bat-Hound and several future Batman. Many of the characters had kid versions, as with Kid Flash, Aqualad, Wonder Girl, etc. And, of course, Green Lantern was the least unique character ever, with literally thousands of beings who could do exactly what he did.

Even when we were presented with a character who was effectively a "one of", like J'Onn J'Onzz, we had to have a whole race of beings to whom his abilities were just standard issue, like having brown eyes. As a kid, I enjoyed all the multiples of multiples, but as I got older, and especially after I got into the business, I got to really wishing there was some way every DC character could (much like their Marvel equivalents) be the only ones. Not surprising, is it, that once a generation of writers and artists raised on Silver Age DC started working at Marvel, we started seeing multiples of the characters -- multiple Captain Americas, for instance, or "parallel universe" versions of the FF. (5/09/04)

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 On disrespecful nicknames for superheroes

JB: When I was a kid, reading superhero comics, I was absolutely in awe of the characters. To call Superman "Supes" or Batman "Bats" would never have occured to me. It would be on a par with calling the President of the United States "Tricky Dick" or "Slick Willy" -- names, you will recall, that were not applied with even a modicum of respect.

Thing is, I was not alone in this. None of my comic-reading friends called the characters by anything other than their names, unless it was a pre-existing nickname like "Cap" for Captain America, "Cap" being common armed forces parlance and long established -- and not pejorative in any way.

When I got into the business, I soon discovered that many writers used nicknames in their plots simply to save the typing fingers. WW or "Wondy" is quicker to type than "Wonder Woman", for instance. Likewise the wince-enducing "Bats" and "Supes". Stan, of course, would occasionally refer to Spider-Man as "Spidey" in the printed books -- and it seemed that it was from this that the affectation really took its hold on fandom. (Stan also once -- and only once -- refered to superheroes as "long underwear characters", but as with so many things, Stan was able to get away with stuff that didn't work when others did it.)

Slowly, the nicknames began seeping into the stories themselves -- often not making much sense. I think it was Don Thompson, in CBG, who once pointed out that writers had taken to having her fellow Justice League members call Wonder Woman "WW" -- something which Don pointed out made perfect sense to a writer trying to save a few keystrokes, but none whatsoever when spoken aloud. Won-der Wo-man has fewer syllables than Dou-ble-You Dou-ble-You, and would be "quicker" to say aloud. (He noted he could not quite "hear" Superman or Batman saying "Dub-yuh Dub-yuh", and I agree!)

As with all such things, it comes down to respect for the characters -- and when I hear "Supes" and "Bats" and "Mags" and "Wondy" and all the rest, I cannot help but think that the speaker is surrendering, if only just a little, to the contemptuous attitude civilians have toward these characters. By calling Batman "Bats" the speaker is signaling to the listener that s/he does not really take these characters and stories seriously, so should not be viewed as one of those geeky fanboys or girls. (9/21/2004)

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 On aging comicbook characters

JB: Let's do a little math. Dick Grayson, in the time we had known him, up to the point at which I introduced Cassie in WONDER WOMAN, had aged from about 10 to about 26, according to what I was told at the time by Those in the Know at DC. Cassie was then 15. This version looks about 25, but since she is in the Teen Titans let's say 19. So that's 4 more years, meaning Dick would now be 30, and would have aged 20 years since he appeared as Robin in 1940. Curiously, Dick is the same age as Wally West, who appeared as a 10 year old around 1958, some 18 years after Dick first appeared. Wally would be 30 now, too. So would Donna Troy. So would Aqualad. So would Speedy. (God knows what this does to the original Hawk and Dove, who had already been seen to have aged faster than the Titans who had been, at one time, their contemporaries.)

So. . . Batman and Superman, who were approximate contemporaries when Dick first became Robin are now 20 years older than they were then -- or pushing 50 in both cases. Ditto for Lois Lane. Jimmy Olsen must be close to 40. And how old is Impulse, these days?

Anyone still think aging the characters is a good idea? (04/28/2005)

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 On the media calling comic books "graphic novels"

JB: Hey, if calling 'em "graphic novels" somehow makes comicbooks acceptable to the steaming masses, I say let's encourage the misuse! I have been searching for years for a term that would be more accurately descriptive of the product than "comicbook". If, in the end, we must accept a term that really does not apply per se, well, so be it. After all, I call myself a freelancer, but I've never even held a lance in my hands! (04/26/2005)

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 On shared universes

In retrospect, do you think the whole "universe" idea that arose with Marvel in the 1960s to have been a mistake, or at least something that ought to be done away with now? Continuity -- in the sense that we talk about it now -- only became an issue after the idea of a cohesive universe of super-people was established.

JB: It's okay to have a shared reality -- when I was a kid I thought it was really neat that Hal Jordan and Barry Allen were pals in their "civilian" lives -- provided it is not carried to extremes. And by extremes, I mean those "fans" who seem somehow to assume that everyone is working from the same game plan so, for instance, Princess Lilandra would never turn up in Reed and Sue Richards' bedroom to make trouble unless it had been carefully planned out by all involved. Such a scene would not be slipped under the table, without the FF office knowing anything about it -- and with the approval of the EiC!

But, as we know, this is not the case, so often characters turn up doing things they should not or would not do, as if there was no "continuity" between the books -- because there isn't!

A mammoth work like a fictional "universe" rarely works even if there is only a single creator involved -- Tolkien never did pound all the dents out of "The Lord of the Rings" -- and when it's serial fiction, with different writers, artists and editors, over decades. . . Well, suffice to say it all works as long as everyone accepts that it doesn't really work at all. (9/8/2004)

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 What is "Madonna syndrome"?

JB: Having set out to be "shocking", being compelled to keep upping the ante in order to remain "shocking." (11/02/04)

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 What is "Red Sweater syndrome"?

JB: Taking offense at something which should not be offensive to the person taking the offense. ("Anyone who wears a red sweater is an idiot." "Hey! I have never worn a red sweater in my life, and I resent being called an idiot!") (11/02/04)

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 On complaints about violated continuity in comics

JB: Most complaints about violated continuity tend to come from people who don't really have a grasp on the continuity they claim is being violated. It's that whole "Since I Started Reading..." Syndrome about which I have made many previous comments. (11/02/04)

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 What is "Expert syndrome"?

Once people start telling other people how to think, what to think, when to think, there will grow up among the "tellers" those who consider themselves to be "experts" on the subject -- and once that happens, it takes a particularly strong intellect to avoid the next step, when the expert's role ceases to be that of expanding human knowledge, and becomes, instead, all about protecting the area of his expertise. I have dubbed it "Expert Syndrome". (11/02/04)

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 What is "Taxpayer syndrome"?

JB: A lot of fans suffer from Taxpayer Syndrome. You know how that works -- people thus afflicted are the ones you hear telling cops they cannot give them a parking ticket because they (the taxpayer) "pay" the cops' salary. (11/02/04)

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 Opinions on Superhero Movies and TV Shows

We know that JB likes the first SUPERMAN movie from 1978, but what does he think about the various superhero movies that have been released over the years?

JB: SUPERMAN II thru IV sucked with increasing vehemence.

Minus the first ten minutes or so, I really liked THE SHADOW.

Ditto THE PHANTOM.

DICK TRACY was hopeless. When you get the Central Character wrong, there's nowhere to go but down!

FLASH GORDON was fun, though I found some of the modernizations a bit intrusive. That tale Belongs in the 30s.

Want to count JUDGE DREDD? Pretty good as a sequel to DEMOLITION MAN -- but not really Judge Dredd.

And then, of course, there was MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE, the best NEW GODS movie ever made! Seriously -- if you pay attention to what is happening WITHIN the movie, and ignore the hokey Mattel names, it's not too hard to see whence came the inspiration. Heck, they even travel to Earth in what is obviously a Boom Tube!

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 Batman

What did you think about the various incarnations of Batman in the movies and on TV?

JB: I've made no secret of how completely enamored I am of "Batman Begins". The rubber suit is still a distraction, but the guy living inside it is a Batman I know. I have been reading this guy's adventures for years. And, true, he never baked a giant birthday cake (so far as we know!), but he does smile. In fact, the single moment that won me over, in the trailer, was the twinkle in Bruce's eye as he asks "Does it come in black?"

That's Batman!

The four non-Adam West BATMAN films were not about Batman, tho the first was pretty good in its own right. Consider Keaton's Batman: the armored suit was, of course, not his choice, but right away we are presented with a character we have never seen in the comics (unless, perhaps, we invoke the "inflato-Batman" suit occasionally worn by Robin). Machine guns mounted on the Batmobile were not Keaton's doing, either, but they belong to no Batman we have seen since the earliest days of his publishing history -- a there a Batman who vanished completely within the first two years.

What about Bruce Wayne, then? Minor detail -- when has Bruce ever worn glasses? Major detail -- when has Bruce ever been the assemblage of ticks and mannerisms Keaton brought to the roll?

It is an actor's prerogative to bring his own insights to a performance, but he must begin with the established character. Playing Hamlet in a clown nose and fright wig might get people paying attention, but it would add nothing to the character.

The Adam West Batman movie WAS about Batman, but. . . . well, you know.

A TV show is a TV show is a TV show -- it exists on its own merits (or lack thereof), and really should not have any effect on the comic(s) from which it is derived. The greatest sin of the "Batman" series was that it planted ZAP! POW! BAM! apparently forever in the minds of journalists whose idea of originality is to crib what the last guy wrote.

Beyond that, I will say that the Adam West show was more faithful to the underlying structure of the comic than anything until the "recent" animated series. Batman and Robin were at least good at what they did, and Batman was a great detective --something Tim Burton should have paid a wee bit more attention to!

In my opinion, I don't think that Tim Burton forgot the detective aspect in the first movie. Batman solves very cleverly the Joker poison mystery and do some detective research on Jack Napier=the joker.

JB: Unless there is a "director's cut" floating around that I am unaware of, I don't recall Batman doing much in the way of detective work in the Tim Burton movies. He spends a lot of time letting his computers sort things out for him, and he makes a couple of guesses that don't really spring from any logic. Nothing that requires him using detective skills tho -- especially not the Napier/Joker connection.

There he simply Recognizes the guy.

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 Fantastic Four

Have you seen the Fantastic Four movie?

JB: Nope! Nor shall I. My emotional commitment to the FF was (and is) far greater than what I had to the X-Men. I could watch the latter and merely wince and growl. The former, I would have to throw the TV out the window. That gets expensive. (5/8/2006)

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 Hulk

This may be a minority opinion but I didn't think the Incredible Hulk TV series with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferigno was that bad.

JB: You're not alone there. The Hulk TV series was probably Marvel's best venture into live action to date. Although it's ponderously slow by the standards of current tv drama -- and from that vintage, what isn't? -- it managed to entertain me every week. And I'm a tough audience when it comes to comic-related material. (1/17/98)

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 Spider-Man

Why did JB appear on the Spider-Man DVD if he didn't see the movie?

JB: I appeared on the DVD to talk about SPIDER-MAN, one of my favorite characters. I didn't talk about the movie. In fact, they asked me not to, knowing I do not approve of the changes made to Peter Parker's character. I wish a big budget extravaganza like the movie could have been at least as faithful to the character as was the old animated series, poor as that was, or even the live action TV show. Both lack the budget to really do justice to the character of Spider-Man, but at least they did not mess with intrinsic elements of who he is. And they certainly didn't make changes based entirely on the director's ego.

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 Superman

JB: "The Adventures of Superman" and George Reeves' portrayal of the title character is what introduced me to superheroes when I was 6 years old and still living in England. It's hard to put into words the sense of wonder that filled me as I watched what was for me the first episode on my parent's tiny black and white "telly". Even at so tender an age, the notion of a man leaping into the air and flying was mindboggling. (I would already have seen Disney's "Peter Pan" at this point -- 14 times, in fact! -- but a whole world of wonder opened up with the idea that there were people who could fly without a sprinkling of fairy dust.)

That will always have a soft spot in my heart, and was, all things considered, a fairly faithful adaptation. We would not see something nearly so close to the source until "Superman - The Movie" starring Christopher Reeve and directed by Richard Donner. Although that outing messed with certain elements, they were mostly window-dressing, and it made no changes to Superman himself. Most of the animated versions -- excluding the Fleisher cartoons -- I have found a disappointment. Even the most recent. After having done such a superlative job bringing Batman to life, I felt the folk at Warner Animation missed the target with "Superman".

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 X-Men

JB: The animated "Batman" really showed everyone how to do superhero cartoons right -- so naturally Marvel Animation defaulted to "GI Joe" style for "X-Men". I was very disappointed. I received no payment -- didn't expect any -- for the adaptations of my work on that show, and I don't think there was a screen credit either. Subsequent versions of the characters, including the big budget movies, have been at least as disappointing, and in the case of the movies even more so.

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