Tuesday, March 07, 2006

I Stand Corrected

In the comments of a previous post Milo took me to task for crediting the post-Crisis Lex Luthor revamp to John Byrne. I expressed a bit of incredulity at this, simply because, well, I had never read otherwise but that the majority of changes Byrne instituted after the Crisis in the pages of the Man of Steel series were Byrne-originated. But, of course, having only my half-baked memories to back me up, I decided to look around.

And lo and behold, Milo was right. Or, at least, partially right.

According to the very front page of Wolfman's own site:
One of my favorite ideas was coming up with the revised version of Superman's arch foe, Lex Luthor. When I was growing up, Luthor was a mad genius who wore prison grays every time you saw him. The typical story began with him breaking out of jail, finding one of his old hideouts, and usually building a giant robot or something equally preposterous in order to fight Superman. I turned Luthor into a brilliant businessman who lived on top of the highest mountain in Metropolis, so its citizens would have to look up at him while he looked down on them. In the comics, Luthor hated Superman because, as a boy, he lost his hair in a chemical accident and blamed Superboy.

(If you want to read about how the bald thing is not quite the whole story, Kevin has a post for you here, by the way.)

Anyway, that sounds pretty solid. However, not knowing when to leave well enough alone, I felt the need to try and get both sides of the story. So I ventured into the dark heart of the internet, that site from which no sane man can escape with his soul intact - yes, Byrne Robotics.

My instincts were correct - namely, that Byrne would be unable to let any perceived controversy go unmentioned. Sure enough, there was a whole entry devoted to this controversy in Byrne's FAQ. Reading Byrne's side of the story, he admits to having taken the kernel of the idea from Wolfman - literally, the four-word seed of "the world's richest man". There was some other extraneous baggage that Byrne ejected before premiering the character in Man of Steel. But then, of course, things got complicated. According to Byrne:
Later, when everything was launched, and ACTION COMICS had become the team-up book and Wolfman was writing ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN (the title was my suggestion, to invoke both the George Reeves' TV series and the old ADVENTURE COMICS home of Superboy), I found out that he was claiming sole credit for "creating" Luthor. I shrugged it off. It did not seem important enough to worry about.

Years later I found out Wolfman got paid a bonus for his "creation" of the new Luthor. Something that, somehow, no one at DC had thought necessary to tell me about.

As with many of these things, it boils down to he-said-she-said. Both parties agree that Wolfman's ideas were used, but the degree to which Byrne contributed is a matter of controversy. And, barring any third party revelations (and I can't imagine why any editor from the period would be insane enough to walk into a firefight between these two), I don't think this is a question that can be answered with any degree of certainty, other than simply choosing to believe one side over the other. After all, neither Wolfman or Byrne are unbiased witnesses, and both have been ceaseless and oftentimes belligerent in defense against actual and perceived wrongs and slights for many, many years.

Ultimately, it's probably best to say the "Wolfman / Byrne" Luthor. Or maybe, the "Byrne / Wolfman" Luthor. But I think I'll probably leave it at that before I attract undue attention.

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