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Meta-Messages – That Time John Byrne Nuked Jim Shooter’s Hometown

by  in Comic News Comment
Meta-Messages – That Time John Byrne Nuked Jim Shooter’s Hometown

In this feature I explore the context behind (using reader danjack’s term) “meta-messages.” A meta-message is where a comic book creator comments on/references the work of another comic book/comic book creator (or sometimes even themselves) in their comic. Each time around, I’ll give you the context behind one such “meta-message.” Here is an archive of the past installments!

Today, based on a suggestion by Brian B., we take a look at the time that John Byrne and Mark Gruenwald decided to nuke Jim Shooter’s hometown…

The New Universe debuted in 1986 as part of the 25th celebration of the Marvel Universe (1961’s Fantastic Four #1 is generally treated as the beginning of the Marvel Universe). Originally conceived by Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter as more of a line of comics rather than a shared universe, the original concept for the New Universe included comics like Speedball (as explained in this old Comic Book Legends Revealed) and Strikeforce: Morituri (as explained in this old Comic Book Legends Revealed) that later became comic book series on their own. After a series of cuts to his development budget, Jim Shooter decided to reconcieve the line as a shared universe, with the hook being that the New Universe would be just like our Earth, except one day a “White Event” occurs where people get superpowers. So what would “real” people do with superpowers?

Due to the aforementioned budget cuts, the line of comics ended up being created mostly by then-current Marvel editors, with Archie Goodwin creating a goodly chunk of them, but Mark Gruenwald, Tom DeFalco and Elliot Brown all getting in on the action, along with Shooter himself, who wrote the lead book in the series, Star Brand, one of the few books to have a “star” artist draw it (John Romita Jr.). Shooter set the book in his hometown of Pittsburgh…

Roughly a year later, Shooter was no longer working at Marvel Comics. Mark Gruenwald was already heavily involved in the New Universe but now he more solidly took over the reins of the line and he decided to fix a few of what he felt were the problems with the series. I’ll address a lot of these in the future in Abandoned an’ Forsaked (as Gruenwald basically made sweeping retcons to make the line fit what he felt that it was meant to be). However, one particularly notable problem he had with the line was not something to be resolved with retcons. You see, Gruenwald felt that one of the benefits of the line was that the New Universe was essentially “our” Earth, but with superheroes in it. A tagline that often was used to describe the New Universe was “the world you see outside your window” (notably, for instance, in the New Universe, everyone aged normally – so an actual year would also be a year in the comics). However, Gruenwald believed that writers took that concept TOO far, in that he felt that they believed that the world should actually match our Earth as much as possible and he felt that that was too limiting. After all, he argued, just the concept of introducing superheroes PERIOD would change everything. All he thought “the world outside your window” meant is that people would have more “natural” reactions to things (like most of the superpowered characters never actually become anything like heroes).

So he decided to do something to shake things up and to do so, he enlisted superstar writer/artist John Byrne. They decided that they wanted to do something dramatic, something that would forever alter the New Universe and let the readers know that things weren’t going to be the same. ANYthing could happen in this New Universe.

Their idea was to destroy Star Brand’s hometown.

Now here’s the thing – both Gruenwald then and Byrne then (and now) say that their MAIN goal was not as a bit of a middle finger to Jim Shooter. Their main goal was as they described it, to alter the New Universe permanently in a major way. This is not unlike many other independent comic lines (like Ultimate Universe with Ultimatum or Wildstorm with their Apocalypse storyline).

However, Byrne also admitted that once they DID come up with the idea, the afterthought of it being a bit of a middle finger to Shooter did, in fact, occur to them, and they did not have problem with that. As we’ve seen before in Meta-Messages, Byrne was fine with mocking Shooter (NOTE: Please refrain from pointing out any other examples in the comments, though, as let’s save them for future installments).

So in Byrne’s first issue of Star Brand, #12 (Tom Palmer finishing Byrne’s layouts), this happened…

The Pitt storyline (where the world adjusts to what happened) did not end up making a huge dent in the New Universe, and the line was discontinued in 1989.

Thanks for the suggestion, Brian B.!

If anyone ELSE has a suggestion for a Meta-Message, drop me a line at bcronin@comicbookresources.com.

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