Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Flashback: John Byrne on the Pocket Universe

Since the topic du jour is multiple universes, here's a look back at the Pocket Universe. I've been saving this one for a rainy day, but it makes a good companion piece to what Matthew put up Monday at the Legion Abstract.

It's no secret that John Byrne doesn't like the Legion - he's said it plenty of times before, one example of which is here at the Byrne Robotics forum (if you're not a member, basically the way the Legionnaires tricked Superboy in ADV 247 hit too close to him as a kid, and he's held a grudge against them since then). But that doesn't stop him from drawing a kick-ass Legion:

But how responsible was Byrne really for the post-Crisis mess we found ourselves in due to the forced omission of Superboy? Here is Byrne's description of the creation of the Pocket Universe (from Comic Buyers' Guide #997, which I'm guessing was early to mid 90s, but I don't have the issue in question any more), as taken from the old v4-era Legion FAQ. This is from no later than Nov. 1995, as I found a copy of it in my archives that I sent to the LSH-L mailing list then.

And that brings us to the death of Superboy.

No, it wasn't 'a parallel universe or Earth-2 or just lack of continuity' that necessitated the death of Superboy in LSH #38. Actually, it was that ol' hobgoblin of small minds, an excessive allegiance to continuity which triggered this tale. Especially ironic, given that the prime mover in all this was Paul Levitz, he who has sneered his very best sneer at the Marvel mentality which demands canonical continuity.

Here's what happened:

Early on in the genesis of the 'new' Superman, I went into the DC offices for a conference with Jenette [Kahn], Paul, Andy Helfer, and Dick Giordano. We were getting, at that point, very close to the moment at which my pencil would actually have to touch paper for the first time, and we all wanted to be sure we knew where we were going.

[Digression about Krypton deleted.]

One of the points I kept coming back to at this meeting was the matter of Superboy. We'd agreed there would be no Superboy in the new chronology (Confession: I now consider this a mistake. Ah, well...) and several times during this one meeting I addressed myself specifically to Paul, who, as scribe of LEGION, would be most directly affected by the 'removal.' If there was no Superboy--and never had been--how did the Legion come into existence? What was their inspiration? It was easy enough to fudge all the Legion stories in which Superboy had appeared, but hadn't the original Legionnaires created their club as kind of a tribute to Superboy? My suggestion was simple enough: When I was a child in England I had a book about the adventures of "Young Robin Hood." Like the Disney Kids or the Muppet Babies, this little tome presented the adventures of Robin and Marian, Little(r) John, and Tuck--everyone, in fact--with no regard to the mangling this caused to the original legend. And that, of course, is the best thing about legends: Since little or nothing is really real, it doesn't much matter what you shovel into the box. Only purists (like me) would be offended by, say, John Watson meeting young Sherlock Holmes years before Arthur Conan Doyle said they met. So, as Steven Spielberg must surely have said to himself, why not? This seemed to me the solution to the Superboy problem: Superman himself had become legendary by the time--Superboy was simply retrofitted into the legend. Paul nodded sagely at this and said he had his own solution and I should not worry.

I didn't worry--until I got a panicked call from Andy Helfer, a few months after I started the project. 'There's no Superboy!' Andy exclaimed. 'That screws up Legion continuity!' This was followed by a hollow *thunk* as my forehead hit the drawing board.

Short form: Something had to be 'done' about Superboy, and the story which saw print, replete with its pocket universe and villainous machinations, was the 'solution.' I still think my idea--retrofitting the legend--would have been better, but at least I got to draw Krypto, and that alone was worth the aggravation."

I wonder what Levitz's solution was to have been? And I also wonder how they could have easily "fudge[d] all the Legion stories in which Superboy had appeared". Perhaps someone can ask Levitz at San Diego in a couple weeks.

(By the way, if this gets picked up in the Byrne Robotics forums, please let me know so I can read it. I don't normally read that forum.)


Bryan-Mitchell said...

Does Byrne like anything? He doesn't like the Legion, he doesn't like fandom, he doesn't like Alan Moore. What DOES he like?

Anonymous said...

He likes his own stuff.

Anonymous said...

Byrne is also NOTORIOUS for never being the one to blame for anything he ever does that fans dislike. It was always someone else's fault and just his name on it, or him doing what editorial wanted, etc.

Anonymous said...

Byrne is full of it. Note his "elegant" explanation ignores the problem that Superboy was not just the inspiration for the Legion, he was a member, and several other members had strong ties to him...*shakes head*

Anonymous said...

Yeah...I'm definitely curious about how they would "fudge" the stories in which Superboy appeared. He was personally responsible for more than one recruitment, IIRC. Also, c'mon...how they hell could they not consider all the Insect Queen stories that would be rendered out of canon. (kidding...mostly)

Murray said...

"I wonder what Levitz's solution was to have been?"

Wasn't Levitz's solution the Pocket Universe? We got a Superboy that acted as inspiration for the Legion... we got to keep all of his appearances with the Legion intact... we got to keep all of his connections to Legionnaires intact... and the board was cleared so that future Legion stories wouldn't have to confuse silly readers with a Superboy that wasn't supposed to exist.


Anonymous said...

Speaking of Superboy, noticed in the second feature in Countdown 42 that our old friend Superboy from Earth Prime was only referred to as "Prime". Is the "Superboy" trademark being saved for some upcoming character? Is this why the cartoon character is "Superman"?

Michael said...

The name "Superboy" is the subject of a lawsuit between the heirs of Jerry Siegel and DC. See this earlier post here for more.

Basically, the Siegels requested their copyright back under law, so DC isn't using the name until things get sorted out. In this case, "Superboy" refers to young Clark Kent with the super-suit in Smallville, so yes, Superboy-Prime would likely be in violation while Superboy (Kon-el) would not. I'm told it was coincidental that Kon-el died in Infinite Crisis the week that this legal ruling came down. (Also in question: does the TV series "Smallville" count?)