Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Double, Double, Byrne and Bubble

Hey, I'm back! Let's get back into the swing of things with something simple but spectacular...or should I say uncanny?—John Byrne's double-page X-Men spreads!:

Double-page spread from Uncanny X-Men #115, by John Byrne
Double-page spread from Uncanny X-Men #115 (November 1978), script by Chris Claremont, co-plotting and pencils by John Byrne, inks by Terry Austin, colors by Francoise Mouly, letters by Rick Parker
(Click on all images to Colossus-size)


You may make fun of John Byrne (I often do!), but you can't deny the man has a sense of spectacle: long before Byrne turned the FF topsy-turvy in the sideways Fantastic Four #251, and waaaay long before the X-Men themselves went widescreen with the "Marvelvision" sideways format of Uncanny X-Men Annual 2001—heck, even long before Gambit sullied the name of the most uncanny team of them all, Byrne brought the periphery-fillin' Cineramascope-aspected thrill of fully double-page spreads to the X-Men.

Double-page spread from Uncanny X-Men #116, by John Byrne
Double-page spread from Uncanny X-Men #116 (December 1978), script by Chris Claremont, co-plotting and pencils by John Byrne, inks by Terry Austin, colors by Glynis Wein, letters by Tom Orzechowski


Aided and abetted by Chris Claremont's stories, Byrne turned out panoramic vistas for our misfit mutants to maraud through in the late 1970s, as X-Men was capturing the the hearts and minds of comics fans and sales were climbing up the charts. It's hard to remember a day when there was only one X-Men title, but when you could rush down your your local 7-11 and pull this off the spinner rack, the wait between Xavier-xploits didn't seem that long:

Double-page spread from Uncanny X-Men #118, by John Byrne
Double-page spread from Uncanny X-Men #118 (February 1979), script by Chris Claremont, co-plotting and pencils by John Byrne, inks by Ricardo Villamonte, colors by Glynis Wein, letters by Tom Orzechowski


To be fair, Byrne didn't pioneer double-page spreads, not even on the X-Men. Here's a very innovative spread from X-Men #61 by Neal Adams, an artist whom Byrne counts as one of his influences:

Double-page spread from Uncanny X-Men #61, by Neal Adams
Double-page spread from Uncanny X-Men #61 (October 1969), script by Roy Thomas, pencils and colors by Neal Adams, inks by Tom Palmer, letters by Sam Rosen


The late 1970s globetrotting escapades of the X-Men were a perfect era to spotlight Byrne's double-page action-stuffed vistas, but the book shifted into truly top gear with the return of the X-Men to Salem Center, the rise of the Hellfire Club, and the genre-defining debut of Dazzler, Claremont's dense and expansive scripts left Byrne little space to "spread out" and insert a full two-page spread. It isn't until the double-sized X-Men #137 (by coincidence the first ish of X-Men I ever bought—talk about jumpin' in the deep end!) that there's space for a cinematic two-pager:

Double-page spread from Uncanny X-Men #137, by John Byrne
Double-page spread from Uncanny X-Men #137 (September 1980), script by Chris Claremont, co-plotting and pencils by John Byrne, inks by Terry Austin, colors by Glynis Wein, letters by Tom Orzechowski


Byrne left the book after issue #143, but he still managed to sneak in one last double-wide spread in #139, an issue which had a little room to grow as it was mostly set-up for the next batch of adventures. Still, there's nothing throwaway about this lovely panel, one I consider the archetype of the pre-Shi'ar holographic Danger Room:

Double-page spread from Uncanny X-Men #139, by John Byrne
Double-page spread from Uncanny X-Men #139 (November 1980), script by Chris Claremont, co-plotting and pencils by John Byrne, inks by Terry Austin, colors by Glynis Wein, letters by Tom Orzechowski


In the early eighties there were a handful of John Byrne art and interview books published which I eagerly snapped up. I don't have the books anymore so I can't quote verbatim, but I remember Byrne speaking in an interview about however impressive a two-page spread was, he was wary of overusing them because they advanced the storyline by precisely and only one panel. I can sorta see his point..but what a panel. If Claremont's plotting and writing on X-Men opened the way to longer and more involved storylines with more deeply-characterized heroes, then Byrne certainly brought the Marvel Eighties Age to a head and started the trend of visual spectacle and wonder, much in the way Kirby did with FF in the post-Galactus Trilogy issues. We can complain today about comics with immense splash pages or double-spreads and how decompressed storytelling leads to comic books that take five minutes to read, and if you're being testy you can partially lay that at the feet of Byrne's big double-page spreads. But to be fair, every panel mattered in these early X-Men, and Byrne's spreads were not simply to speed up the pace or to take up room, but instead provided us with a widescreen panoramic snapshot of the amazing, spectacular, and uncanny world these troubled four-color heroes occupy.


11 comments:

Pj Perez said...

Oh how I love '80s Byrne.

Oh, and Bully, sorry to point this out, but you mixed up the issue number IDs in your captions for the Neal Adams spread and the Byrne one immediately preceding it. :)

Bully said...

Thanks, PJ! Fixed. Guess my head fulla beans is still on mental vacation!

Pj Perez said...

After the whirlwind spell you had in San Diego, I don't blame ya!

Sea_of_Green said...

Byrne and Austin were a formidable team, no doubt about it, and Glynis Wein always did a fabulous job with the color technology of the time. I only wish Byrne had kept up a collaboration with Austin, the way Alan Davis has with Mark Farmer. Byrne's art always did look best when inked by Austin.

coffeefortwo said...

I'm fairly certain that Byrne's comments about the double-page spreads only advancing the story by one panel were in "The X-Men Companion II," which included a long interview with Byrne (though he certainly could have repeated that sentiment elsewhere, too). I recall them especially focusing on that incredible spread from X-Men #116.

I read that book to tatters when I was a kid.

SallyP said...

Gosh, those were pretty, weren't they? Cinematic is right. A man who wasn't afraid to draw backgrounds!

Michael said...

For all of his 50 issues on "The Warlord", Mike Grell did a 2-page splash on pages 2-3. It became a tradition, and I think every one of the subsequent issues by other artists also had a 2-page spash.

Bully said...

I did not know that about Grell's Warlord, Michael. Thanks!

chris said...

Byrne was awesome during the Fantastic Four days. Those are some of the very best comic books you will ever read. I was spoiled; the comic that got me hooked on the hobby was FF #246 and I subscribed for two full years of Byrne's run.

I missed out on the X-Men, but I'm working on the Essentials.

Michael said...

Next rainy Sunday, I'm pulling out the long box with my run of these issues and going back in time.

Greg H said...

Yeah, maybe I won't be in such a rush to get my X-men run up on ebay after all....