When the first John Byrne artwork I ever saw was the ultra-slick work he did for the X-Men in the very early eighties - not long after it had been published - it looked like the absolute gold standard for all superhero comics. Forty-something years later, even after all the great comic art I've seen since then, there's still a part of me that thinks that's true.
It was the exact bulkiness of his figurework, the dynamism of his action scenes, and the sheer handsomeness of his characters - Jean Grey never looked finer, and Nightcrawler was sexy as hell. The incredible work by Terry Austin give even more weight to the art, solidifying things, while making everything shine with an impossible four-colour light.
And for decades afterwards, I bought and read everything by Byrne I could find. I could only get hold of his Fantastic Four in tiny doses - and still have a nagging feeling I never actually read them all - but I went without food for some of his Superman comics. The team-ups in Action were the best, especially when they did get quite perverted sometimes.
I got all of his Alpha Flight and Hulk and Star Brand comics - his Avengers West Coast and Namor comics were polished as heck in the early nineties, and made clever use of the various integrations with the Marvel world.
And while I always had some time for Next Men, as well as the 2112 and Danger Unlimited stuff - because sometimes it seemed the purest Byrne of all - I drifted away from his comics sometime during his Wonder Woman run, which just didn't
have that same weight. By the time he was doing a Spider-Man reboot that nobody demanded, I was well out of the Byrne unit.
I once had hundreds of his comics, and apart from all the X-Men stuff, I've only got a dozen or so Byrne comics left - a couple of the Superman issues that I have unhealthy emotional attachments to, some Marvel Team-Up and the first nine of issues of his She-Hulk. They still stand up - his work ages so much better when he isn't taking himself so goddamn seriously.
It was easy to ditch so much of his stuff when he kept saying awful things online, and when his comics got increasingly dry and tasteless, and there were too many cracks in the foundations when I went back and read a lot of his 80s output.
But I still love that fluidity of his early work, and still stumble across new examples of it, hiding in back issues of Iron Fist or Marvel Two In One that I'd never seen before. And sometimes I can't help but sneak a peek at his bizarre X-Men fan fiction comic - it seems to have floundered now - just to see what he's up to. because I can't help but think of his art and the highest of standards, no matter where his stories go.