Record: John Byrne
John Byrne may be well known as the writer and artist of many Marvel and DC series and characters, to say nothing of his being a ret-con machine (Marvel Two-In-One #50 may have been a precursor to what he really ended up doing in subsequent years as a ret-conner), but he may also be known for a lot of discrimination against women in whatever he’s worked on as a writer, even subliminally. Between his debut in comic books in the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, there were quite a few books he wrote where sexism had a presence, even if you couldn’t always see it. To enjoy any of his works can often require big doses of salt. Here is my own list of discriminatory acts Byrne included in his own writing resume in years past:
- In Fantastic Four #239, a young nine-year-old girl is shown having an abusive drunk of a father, so drunk in fact that he doesn’t care that he’s struck his kid with a rolled-up newspaper for neglecting her household chores in front of Frankie Raye, the college student and foster daughter of Prof. Phineas Horton, inventor of the original Human Torch, who discovered she had powers similar to Johnny Storm, the second Human Torch. At least Byrne didn’t torture us with any scene of if the drunkard dad did give his daughter any worse.
- Sue Storm is later turned into an evil antagonist named Malice by a villain named the Psycho-Man (whose operation on her she may have described as “mental rape”), during which time she wears a skimpy and spiky leather costume while attacking the FF. After being freed from the effects and exacting revenge upon Psycho-Man, that’s when she decided to change her name to Invisible Woman – because her experience under Psycho-Man’s influence is what helped her to grow into one.
- Frankie Raye later becomes Nova, the new herald of Galactus (and later dies in his service in 1992, in Silver Surfer #75).
- In The Thing #3-4, during an adventure with the Inhumans, it was “revealed” that Lockjaw, Crystal’s faithful pet, was really another Inhuman, or humanoid, himself. Need I continue with how embarrassingly bad this was? Let me just say that Peter David later undid this in X-Factor, writing that it was a ventriloquistic joke pulled by two of the Inhumans themselves (not that even that was any better though).
- On the FF #264’s cover, we’re treated to a scene of She-Hulk being kicked in the head. And that’s just one of the problems with whenever Byrne wrote some, if not all, of the stories involving Jennifer Walters. During Fantastic Four #290, when battling Blastaar in the Negative Zone, She-Hulk rips a panel off a control deck to use as a club. That’s as far as she gets at that particular point, since Blastie, who can’t stand seeing his ship getting torn up, stuns her with one of his built-in beams. And, when Reed Richards’ hometown in California was enveloped by a strange force covering where time seemed to advance much faster more than on the regular plane (issue #293), Shulkie gets dragged inside, and, while I don’t have the exact issues available now, I think we were treated to a scene of her having aged drastically, and needing to have the effects reversed. The vibe I got from that story seemed to be that girls couldn’t handle themselves on their own.
- In Man of Steel #2, when Superman foils a convenience store robbery, there’s one woman among the four armed thieves, who makes the declaration before opening fire, “DON’T JUST STAND THERE, WASTE THE MOTHER!” If that implies what I think it does, it sure doesn’t sound feminine to me. After felling the 3 other male thieves with her, Superman then knocks the female thief unconscious with a mere finger flick, all in order to make it safer to remove and disarm an explosive charge she’s got under her trenchcoat. Presumably, this is to make the woman seem crazier that she could be.
- In Superman #1, where Byrne reintroduced Metallo, originally a minor character in the Silver Age, the villain, while holding Lois Lane hostage to force Supes into action, raises her at arms length by the neck after she annoys him by scoffing at his codename. This has come to be known as the “Byrne hold”.
- In Action Comics #584, during a fight between a possessed Superman and the Teen Titans, Superman, after breaking free from Wonder Girl’s lasso, takes her too by the neck, and mouths off with what could be construed as implied rape, before Jericho puts a stop to all that by possessing Superman’s body, after which the crippled technologist in whose body Superman’s mind now happens to be shows up, and soon, the minds are switched back to normal. Another disturbing thing about this story when I pondered it later on, was that it seemed almost like a takeoff on the "fanboys in the basement" stereotype that's been around for almost two decades.
- In Superman #2, Lex Luthor's goons beat the hell out of Lana Lang, whom they captured quite by chance while trying to search the house of the Kents in Smallville. Sure, she's okay following that, but just what exactly makes that whole encounter any better than being drugged, which, as a medic working for Luthor says, she's allergic to?
- During the Legends crossover, Granny Goodness also gets seized in the Byrne hold, as performed by Darkseid.
- While Superman and Hawkman are battling an armada of alien ships, Hawkwoman is beaten up by a villain, who smacks her across the face.
- Byrne's run on West Coast Avengers in 1990 is surely one of the worst examples on his resume. Tigra starts becoming more cat than human, to say nothing of savage, and when restraining her, the USAgent smacks her on the face, not unlike how Hawkwoman was smacked by a villain in Action Comics. And Scarlet Witch is turned into a cartoon villainess, cutting her adorable red curls and going tomboy, oozing with embarrassingly bad stereotypical villainy, and, when paralyzing the Avengers at one point, she scratches Wonder Man across the chest. All this in order to make her father Magneto look good, because he’s trying to argue honorably about how to deal with the hero guests, while as for Quicksilver, he was just boringly handled. And as for the Wasp, she was little more than attractive wallpaper. I didn’t read how Byrne’s own storyline had ended (I think he was taken off the book shortly afterwards), but by now, I don’t even care. It’s like leaving a movie in the middle and not caring what happens next.
- In The Sensational She-Hulk, whatever parody there is notwithstanding, the whole notion of a pregnant woman (NOT Jennifer, if that matters) being tortured in issue #1 is just plain sick. As is the part in issue #2 where Jen’s in danger of being beheaded, and, come to think of it, even her just sitting around captive while Spider-Man bests the crooks.
- John Byrne’s Next Men has quite a bit of the women-in-danger-of-torture theme too, with the Next Women, shall we say, being subjected to some of this discrimination as well.
- In his run on Wonder Woman in 1996, John Byrne screwed up there as well, with WW being more quick to violence and less smart than usual. Women are in quite a lot of alarming jeopardy here, and the only good thing about his run on the book is probably that it was he who introduced Cassie Sandsmark as the new Wonder Girl, and most succeeding writers made better use out of her than he did! (Byrne even had the chutzpah to put down his own creation, as can be seen at the botton of Cassie’s profile page in the Titans Tower.)
(Note: this'll be the first of a couple of entries I'll do every now and then that'll look at the problem engulfing comic books by examining the writer's and/or the artist's resume. And I'll try to add more data to even this topic as time goes by. It's not easy to complete all at once, since I need more time than ever to figure out what examples to cite.)