While major comic conventions typically provide attendees a chance to connect with today’s hottest writers, like Tom King, or rising stars, such as Donny Cates, these events also shine a light on the tremendous talent that devoted decades to laying the foundation for the modern comic book industry. FAN EXPO Boston 2018, for instance, managed to attract legendary writer/artist John Byrne for a rare convention appearance.On August 11, during the Spotlight on John Byrne panel (one of a two-part series of weekend sessions), the creator fielded audience questions ranging in topics for nearly an hour. And with an array of diverse questions came a series of witty and brutally honest answers, as well as fascinating stories from the annals of comic book history–all delivered in Byrne’s soft-spoken tone.
Between talk of characters Byrne worked on, from Superman to She-Hulk, there were colorful comments about how he’d rather step in front of a bus than serve as Marvel’s editor-in-chief or that the main problem standing in the way of fixing the House of Ideas is the fact that Marvel doesn’t realize its broken. Then, there was Byrne reflecting on the party thrown at his house where Marvel talent used New Universe comics to make an effigy of then Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter, which was then lit on fire (and Shooter was actually fired from the role 11 days later, Byrne said).
Of course, as Byrne was the co-plotter and penciler for a stretch of iconic X-Men stories, including “The Dark Phoenix Saga” and “Days of Future Past,” there was some serious X-talk at the panel, starting with X-Men: Elsewhen, the just-for-fun project Byrne has been working on that’s essentially the creator’s version of Chris Claremont’s X-Men Forever. Just, you know, without any involvement from Claremont… or Marvel (yet).
In a June 30 post on Byrne’s official forum, he wrote: “Just had one of my wilder ideas. Remember when Chris was doing X-MEN FOREVER, picking up from when he left the book? Immediately some people started speculating about me doing the same, X-MEN EVERMORE, picking up from my own exit point.
But just now I thought of something that would be even more fun. For the sake of reference, let’s call it X-MEN ELSEWHEN, picking up with the coda of X-MEN 136, but proceeding as if Shooter hadn’t thrown his king-sized monkey wrench into the works! So Jean* doesn’t die, Scott doesn’t leave, and, well, a whole bunch of other stuff does and doesn’t happen.”During the panel, which was moderated by former IDW Editor-in-Chief Chris Ryall, I asked Byrne to talk a bit more about X-Men: Elsewhen and how it came about.
“There was some discussion on my website: ‘What if you went back to Marvel?’ and it planted this itch in my brain,” Byrne replied. “I thought, what if I went back to Marvel? Could I go back to Marvel? Can I do that? I haven’t drawn like that in 20 years.”
To scratch that itch, Byrne illustrated a sample page featuring a battle between Wolverine and Sauron in the Savage Land.
“And then I did another one,” Byrne said. “And what the Hell, I’ll do another one. And suddenly, there were 20 pages. And then I got an email from [Marvel Editor-in-Chief] C.B. Cebulski saying, ‘Love it! Let’s talk about this!’ Oh, that’s unexpected. So yeah, it just happened as a fun thing. It’s still just a fun thing as far as I’m concerned.”
[To view all of Byrne’s X-Men: Elsewhen pages in sequence, visit this thread on his forum.]
Byrne admitted he has no plans to ink the pages, which he said were being created at a rate of a page per hour. Still, he’s not immune to the artist’s desire to rework existing art.
“Usually I would finish a book and send it away,” Byrne said. “But now I’ve gone back and redrawn the stratojet about 12 times and redrawn Kitty and changed one entire page… I’ve started to turn into George Lucas.”
And like Lucas, Byrne has his alternate history X-Men saga mapped out in his head, even if it’ll never fully see the light of day.
“I know what the next issue is, and I know what the third issue is, and I know what the fourth issue is, and following Marvel tradition, of course, the fifth issue is Doctor Doom.”
While Claremont has no involvement in the project, Byrne’s former collaborator did come up later on during the Q&A, along with one of their most famous collaborations: “Days of Future Past.”
“‘Days of Future Past’ was not suppossed to create an alternate reality,” explained Byrne, who went on to say the way in which Kate Pryde traveled through time would not have birthed another timeline.
And yet, that’s what happened, along with other surprises Byrne would have preferred not appear in the published story.
“And Chris gives us what came around the office to be known as the ‘incestuous lesbian kiss,'” Byrne said. “Kate kisses Kitty, which is not in the picture. It’s another one of those, ‘Oh, Byrne forgot to draw it, luckily Claremont saved it.’ It’s like, no.”
Byrne went on to express frustration over the fact that Claremont couldn’t write “clean wins” at the end of his stories.
“‘Days of Future Past’ was supposed to be an absolute, clean win.”
Finally, the X-Men legend said that Claremont didn’t even want to use the Sentinels in the two-parter, claiming they were “wimpy.” Byrne said he retorted that Claremont writes them wimpy and to hand storytelling control over to Byrne and he’ll tell a tale where the mutant-hunting robots kill everybody and take over the world (which is what we saw and have seen countless times since).
Based on these stories from Byrne and Claremont’s days as collaborators, it’s probably for the best they no longer work together, despite many an X-Men fan’s dream scenario. At least through X-Men: Elsewhen, Byrne has the ability to explore what types of adventures he feels the all-new, all-different X-Men should have gone on following the conclusion of “The Dark Phoenix Saga.”
“(And, no, not scripted by Chris!!)” Byrne wrote at the end of his June 30 forum post.
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