Who's Byth?

Who's This? A Thanagarian shape-shifter.

The facts: The Silver Age Hawkman's first villain (The Brave and the Bold #34, 1961) would seem to have been one of his recurring foes given the number of appearances he's logged, but that's just not the case. It's just that that cover image of him as a kaiju monster is in every flashback to Hawkman starting his career on Earth. B&B #42 is the only real return appearance in the Silver Age. You then basically have to wait for the Shadow War in the '80s, and then Hawkword makes him a bigger player, essentially the focus of the first couple storylines. In the New52, he's responsible for creating Ultra the Multi-Alien in the pages of Justice League United.
How you could have heard of him: Well, you've seen the flashback, right? Otherwise, there is an appearance in the Green Lantern animated series, but that's not as much exposure AS the flashback.
Example story: The Brave and the Bold #34 (February-March 1961) "Creature of a Thousand Shapes!" by Gardner Fox and Joe Kubert
So this is going to be that flashback again... tell me if you've heard it before. Our story actually starts on Earth, because Byth is already there. Either that, or this guy's got night blindness.
Byth is one evil dude! Masquerading as a wounded pup? Really pulling at our heart strings! But it seems he can't emulate clothing (or indeed, people). At least his victim had clothes hanging in the back of his car. No need to see a bear undress him. Meanwhile, the new and more space-worthy Hawks are tracking him to the planet, where they explain just who this criminal is to Midway's police commissioner.
Just a common (ok, ok, "master") thief who steals a pill that turns him into a shape-shifter. His only ambition, steal stuff as various animals so as to confound the Hawk police. But for some reason, he decided to skip town entirely and confound OUR police. The commission helps the Hawks establish human identities and they ask the local birds to help find Byth (hint: he's the bald guy in a stolen plaid jacket). Byth's first robbery shows us that he's not in it for the money (what's valuable on Earth can scarcely be the same elsewhere); he's in it for the thrill.
But a Robin Redbreast sees the diamond-carrying magpie and reports in and leads the Hawks to the villain's nest (or houseboat). They don't fight a magpie however, not quite...
But he escapes the net by turning into an insect, then a small fish. Mass don't mean nothin' to Byth (as is about to be made even clearer). They lose him, and through water currents he finds himself - I kid you not - in Skartaris (not by name, but the Hollow Earth). It's filled with all sorts of improbable animals.
And since the Hawks know all the animals of both Thanagar and Earth, this should give him a certain advantage. Especially if they have crazy super-powers. He ambushes them as one of those electrantilopes, but they're too good. As their blunt arrows are about to hit and incapacitate him, he disappears. But how?
Oh, he's slippery alright. For his next trick, he proposes to steal the Bi-State Tunnel (his thefts must be impossible or be nothing at all!), and to do that, he'll push the mass the other way. As the Thanagarian Brontadon of cover and flashbacks fame. It's a good choice, because no one has ever managed to capture a Brontadon and the only way to incapacitate it, theoretically, is to hit each of its twin brains simultaneously (the pressure point is under the eyes). Plus, y'know, it's gigantic AND it eats metal. Before the Hawks can do much of anything - the monster eats their flails - Byth actually rises off the ground with the tunnel on his back!
But ah, the flails were poisoned. As the beast slows down, the Hawks ram their cestus-enhanced fists into Byth's eyes, making him crash into the river. He reverts to humanoid shape and they put him in a hibernation chamber for the trip back home. (The ship is put on automatic, cuz the Hawks want to stay. We'll take it as a compliment.)

It's interesting that one of Byth's first forms is a magpie, because that's exactly what he is. He steals for stealing's sake, like a high-end kleptomaniac. He's slightly insane. As long as an artist can draw cool animals and monsters, I think Byth is a cool recurring foe for animal-inspired heroes like the Hawks. It's harder to get him into other heroes' stories because of the Thanagar connection, of course, and because Hawkman hasn't had a lot of success over the years, that's kept Byth from being a Joker or a Lex Luthor.

Who's Next? The first entry of Who's Who #4!



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