Hi. Have you ever, while walking through the shadows of darkness, found something you hated so much you’d betray your best friend for a chance to unmake it? Hi again, I’m Seanbaby, writing as Todd McFarlane, dark creator of Spawn, to introduce an article about another grotesque John Byrne joke book, 2003’s Joke Busters’ Superhero Stars.
Thanks for the intro, me as Todd. To set this book up, yes, it’s obviously bad jokes about superheroes. But not exactly. John Byrne has created his own zany spoofs of popular superheroes and then made jokes about them. And when I say “spoofs,” I don’t mean satirical takes on tropes or wacky puns. I mean he spelled all their names wrong and nothing else. I’m not exaggerating. Or, as John would put it, “eggs-aggerating” next to a couple eggs.
Unforgivably, “Souperman” has all the same powers as Superman. He does not have silly soup versions of flight or freeze breath or laser vision. If this was a book about Souperman drowning Lettuce Luthor with vichyssoise breath, we wouldn’t be here. This is a “joke book” where some monster added an “o” to Superman’s name and sold it to innocent children.
He doesn’t even have a different secret identity. He’s exactly the fucking same!
You dumb son of a bitch, John. He’s still Clark Kent? You couldn’t make him fucking Clark Consummé or Cream of Kent? Kal-Eggdrop of Kryptom-yum? That took me twelve seconds, you stupid asshole. And why is Souperman camping out with children on a school trip? He’s a childless grown man. The entire premise of the joke, the punchline of which is spelling “Kent” wrong, requires the most virtuous man in the universe to be stalking little kids in the woods. If there were any laws in place for making bad jokes, the state would chemically castrate you for this and sentence the remaining, non-genital parts of you to twenty consecutive life terms. “Clark tent.” Fuck you.
The fact that Superman’s disguise is only glasses has been a shared joke among the human race for about 80 years. And John Byrne’s take on this, the oldest superhero joke, is using a word with a double meaning and getting one of the meanings wrong. Hey, John Byrne, if someone didn’t want to make a spectacle of themselves, they wouldn’t wear glasses, you dumbass. You idiot fuck, John. Let me show you how stupid you are. This is what a Family Circus cartoon would look like if it was as goddamn dumb as you:
Wait, hold on. Maybe we’re supposed to forgive the dislogic because in Souperman’s case, he would try to be less of a spectacle by wearing more spectacles… no. No, this is war crime apologist doublethink. Luckily, not all of his Souperman gags are as controversial as probably(?) misunderstanding a misunderstood idiom. Some of them are just things happening.
“CONGRATULATIONS, SIR… NOW THERE’S A FLY IN THE SOUPERMAN?” What the hell does that mean? It sounds like Björk wishing a spider happy birthday in a Cameo. Maybe you could try, like, a riddle, John?
Again, I need to be clear: aside from eating a fly out of it in a restaurant that one time, Souperman has no soup theme or abilities. He’s simply exactly Superman with “SOUP” on his chest instead of an “S.” So, I don’t know, his favorite game could be some shit like Souper Mario Bros. or Soupo Wrestling, but expecting the audience to make a connection between “BOWLS” and the soup in his name is wild. It’s like asking your reader to suddenly imagine a situation where a spider is having a birthday and someone bought it a Cameo from Björk. It’s like saying “someone on the plane must have had diarrhea during 9/11.” It’s so much work to give your audience, and for what? Morbid sadness scratching at the edge of whimsy? You’re the diarrhea of 9/11, John Byrne.
It’s already a terrible thing to intentionally misunderstand an idiom for a lame joke. It’s worse to write in a straight man who misunderstands something there’s no reason to misunderstand for a lame joke. If someone in prison tells you they were framed, it’s not natural to respond, “Now to be clear, when you say ‘framed,’ you mean the only thing that could mean, right?” And to do that– to destroy your verisimilitude for this punchline? It’s inhuman. Yes, art galleries have frames, but who would describe robbing one in such a way? If you were a linguist trying to teach a monkey wordplay and they put this combination of words together you would consider it a frustrating setback. The point is, it’s a pretty weak framing device, no matter what frame of mind you’re in!
Here he is doing it again. John is desperately stretching for a joke across three word bubbles and he’s still a full step away from a complete gag. If the first speaker followed this up with, “Of course I mean break out of prison, idiot,” it would almost sound like real dialog. My point is, John Byrne is a stupid, sarcastic dick without the sarcasm– all the unpleasant and none of the wit. It’s like Björk filming a Cameo for a spider’s birthday, but without the Björk. Just a pile of spiders calling a spider on its birthday.
Speaking of spiders and no coherent second concept, John Byrne’s Spider-Man knockoff is Spy-Man, a spidery man with a magnifying glass. Which means his favorite place in the playground is “THE MAGNIFYING GRASS,” a punchline way closer to a Wizards & Warriors powerup than a joke. Spy-Man also seems to have maintained most of Spider-Man’s deal, in that he’s insect-themed and swings around on a web. It’s fucking tragic. John Byrne has a wet smear of chewed gum where an imagination should be. I don’t know how much longer I can watch the neurons in his fading brain limp from one idea back to that same idea with the letters rearranged.
Wait, is Spy-Man’s spyglass a goddamn mirror? John, are you fucking serious? You’re using another misunderstood cliche as the punchline to a totally unrelated setup while also requiring us to reconsider magnifying glasses as mirrors? That’s not a long walk for a short drink of water– it’s dragging a dead body to a dry lake. John, take that pen you can’t draw for shit with and fuck yourself with it. I don’t know if this properly reflects my feelings, but this cartoon is what AIDS would say if it could talk. It’s the embarrassing final words of a research monkey being destroyed in a failed linguistics experiment. Oh, speaking of monkeys:
This one isn’t so bad. It’s the only appearance of Gorilla Man, but he seems to have a coherent theme and John managed to put together a riddle that would make any popsicle stick manufacturer say, “I consider this adequate.” But look at where we are. A Gorilla Man used a mon-KEY to break into a crook’s headquarters and my expectations have been lowered so far I consider it a good try. There aren’t standards by which to judge something like John Byrne. It’s like a flesh eating bacteria asking you to take a moment to rate your experience.
This sells itself as a superhero book, but not much of it has anything to do with superhero activities. For the most part, if you took the masks and underwear off everyone, it wouldn’t change anything. It would just be nude people expressing themselves incorrectly in a miserable impersonation of humor. It’s like John Byrne got 100 pages into something he thought was called “101 Ordinary Put Downs For Unremarkable Pieces of Shit” and his editor called to say, “Tomorrow’s the deadline! How’s the superhero book coming?”
“Come on, John. Think. What’s a joke about Chameleonman’s powers? Superheroes change clothes… chameleons change color. There’s something there. Maybe… that’s it! He can’t catch crooks because he changes color! Take that, doctor who called this ‘the worst head injury he’s ever seen’! Honk honk, I’m a motorcycle!!”
It’s almost heroic how John keeps trying. I mean, he’s seen a joke and has to have thought about how they work. He knows x-rays see through things and he’s heard the phrase “seeing right through you,” but he can’t quite link it all together. John Byrne, if your cartoon requires your audience to create an entire superhero who fakes x-ray vision, maybe the most instantly disprovable of all the superpowers, and then the payoff is only, “well yeah, everyone knew,” you’ve done something wrong. Not only here in this moment, but with your entire life. I don’t have a fun way to describe it. You’re a fake dog poop factory worker who made some dumb shape that didn’t look like poop.
Another character John created is called the Incredible Hunk. I think he tried to draw him “handsome” with the talentless paws he calls hands, but he’s otherwise no different than the original superhero he’s spelling wrong. The Incredible Hunk is a green rage monster. And since he’s green, maybe… maybe something with traffic lights? Do kids run into traffic toward anything green? If they don’t, then holy shit, this joke doesn’t work at all.
“Green is almost the same word as ‘grin,’ right? Come on, John, think! There’s got to be something there. Do wrestlers who also work as crossing guards grin after they lose? Griiiiin… greeeen? Aaand bear it? So he wrestles and loses then greens and bears it, but also punches a wrestling judge? Ha. Listen to me. A cartoonist would have to have absolute contempt for their audience to expect readers to make that kind of stretch. They’d have to hate those goddamn children so very much.”
What else happens to green? Oh! Toddlers bite it!
This is a strange one– an interview with a villain named The Green Gobbler whose zaniness is based on how he enjoys eating? And since he eats so much, he’s green? How? Why? I don’t mean the Green Gobbler’s thing. I mean what happens to the concept of green after it enters John Byrne’s brain? Has anyone studied it? The first neurologist to crack this maniac’s head open will discover an entirely new disorder. John Byrne thinks people charge toward green and babies eat green, but you also get green if you eat too mu– oh my god, it’s tits. Never mind, neurologists, this is only some kind of titty code. Unless… oh damn it, I think he might mean he’s green like he’s nauseous– a cannibal in a kid’s book adorably happy he’s about to puke. I hate that if you squint hard enough and pedantically enough you can exhume the skeleton of a joke concept from some of these.
Not all the Hunk jokes have to do with people losing their minds near the color green. Here John asks what would happen if the Incredible Hunk fucked a rabbit? Here’s your answer: that’s nuts, and he strangles Spy-Man! Oh no, wait. Is the word “cross” here referring to making him mad? That would make the rabbit and the rabbit fucking red herrings, and that’d be– hold on, was the “crossing” in the Hunk joke earlier also about the kids pissing him off, or were they still only running towards him because he was a nude monster the same color as traffic lights? Look, guys, I’m sorry. I didn’t know it was going to turn into this.
I’m not comfortable with how often the people in this book finish a joke by saying “I don’t know the punchline!” and strangling the nearest person. This cartoon is something John Byrne’s wife found right before he appeared behind her and asked, “Why are my private things in your hand, dear?”
And she said, “B-because I c-can’t pick them up with my feet?”
“Can’t pick…? Ha. Ha ha ha HAHA HAHAHA HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!“
Mrs. Byrne slipped out quietly. He was getting worse. She didn’t know how much more time she could buy.
And of course, John has hilarious things to say about how hunks roar and the way superheroes are always lifting up shops. Good luck decoding his thoughts on lasers, though:
This is the Mein Kampf of toast cartoons. Look at it. If they spelled your beloved grandmother’s name “Farts Cadaver” in her obituary, you’d say “that reminds me of the worst thing I’ve ever seen in print– the time all that rotten gas burped out of the corpse of John Byrne’s imagination in the form of a laser toa… no, never mind. Let’s just focus on honoring Farts.”
This article was brought to you by our fine sponsor and Hot Dog Supreme: Ozzie Olin, also known as the Flish (like the Flash but part fish) who responded to the question “how are you doing, The Flish?” With “I’ve BREAM better!” This is our longest dedication ever because that’s how far you have to journey to land a John Byrne joke.