Byrne & Claremont together on 1JLA

For fans reading comics in the 1980s, the team of writer Chris Claremont and artist John Byrne was one of the best. They worked on Marvel's Iron Fist and Marvel Team-Up, but it was their run on X-Men that assured them a place in comics history. But they eventually went their separate ways and fans have eagerly awaited a reunion. Now the wait is over as they reunite for The 10th Circle, a 6-issue story beginning in this month's JLA #94. So what makes now the right time and this the right project?
- By Roger Ash

"Who knows! Maybe this is the wrong time!" says Byrne. "Ultimately it will be the fans who, when they see the finished product, decide if this was the right time, and the right project."

Claremont replies, "I suppose the stars are in some kind of appropriate alignment. Mike Carlin and Dan DiDio asked, John said yes, I said yes."

However, this collaboration is different from most of their work together in the past with Byrne plotting and penciling the story and Claremont scripting. "In this instance," says Claremont, "since the genesis of the project is John's and the story is essentially John's, it's a more limited collaboration than we've enjoyed previously. Another significant factor is that previously, the series we worked on together were ongoing; there was the opportunity to define characters and/or expand on existing characterization, to look down the road any number of issues and play with the futures of our heroes and villains and supporting cast. In this instance, because the story is self-contained and deals with major iconic figures in the DCU who've been around far longer than I have, the focus on them and the story is equally specific and self-contained."

How did The 10th Circle come about? "I'd had some bits and pieces of a vampire story floating around in my head for a while," states Byrne. "The title, of course, is a reference to the Nine Circles of Hell described in the Inferno. I got to thinking there might be a place even worse. Like a 10th Circle. (Then I found out The Onion had sort of beaten me to it!) The story percolated in my head with no proper place to put it until Mike Carlin called and asked if I would be interested in doing a 6 issue JLA arc. I thought about that for a couple of days, and realized the current roster of the JLA would provide a nearly perfect cast to flesh out the missing pieces of my story."

What can people look forward to in the story? According to Claremont, "There's a mysterious adversary, named Crucifer, with a seriously diabolical plot that threatens the future of the world and the very survival of humanity, backed by powers and associates who are surprisingly adept at neutralizing even the most formidable members of the League. There are some serious surprises, some unexpected turns, and the introduction of a number of quite intriguing and delightful characters."

Both Byrne and Claremont are known for their work on team books. How is their current work on JLA different from other teams they've worked on in the past? "In the simplest terms, the difference is the fact that I'm only here for the six issues," says Claremont. "It's great fun, and quite a complement, to be allowed to play with the core of the DCU, but it's not like I'm in it for the long haul."

"The closest I've come to the JLA would be the Avengers, of course," replies Byrne. "There, the difference from something like X-Men or Fantastic Four is the same - these characters (or most of 'em) do not belong to the book, they are "on loan" from their own titles. There is, therefore, an obvious limitation to what can be done. But I love a challenge!"

When asked of the possibility of future collaborations, both creator's responses are short and to the point. "That's something else the fans will decide," says Byrne. And Claremont simply answers "Anything's possible."

They both have other projects in the works, however. "Alan Davis and I will be working together on Uncanny X-Men starting early in 2004. It looks to be a lot of fun," states Claremont.

"There's also X-Men: The End, with Sean Chen, to be presented in three 6-issue arcs (what can I say, there are a lot of characters to deal with, so many - with so rich and varied a past and potential future that my initial response to the idea of The End was to pitch it as an ongoing series). It's set about ten or so years in the future and will deal with, literally, the end of the X-Men. In terms of scope, the story will span the Marvel cosmos - although perhaps not quite on the scale folks are used to with Thanos - but will also very much be a story about people bound up in the pursuit of a dream that has led them to places (and ultimately to fates) they never dreamed of, in the best and worst sense of the word.

"There's a third series as well, set much closer to home, which I'm quite excited about - but more on that later."

Byrne also has some exciting projects on the way. "The JLA arc also serves as a launching point for a new monthly book I'll be doing at DC. Plus there is the John Cleese book I recently finished penciling, Superman: True Brit, and a couple of fill-in penciling projects I'll let DC announce when it is time."

"It was great fun working with John, it was great fun working with the League," concludes Claremont. "I hope, when the stars are once more in alignment, the opportunity might arise once more. On the other hand, given my recent commitment to Marvel, that may have to wait 'til my kids graduate from university. Unless, of course, a Certain Someone feels interested in once more drawing some really cool mutants... ?

"Hey, stranger things have happened."