Above is Spectacular Spider-Man #30. If you recall from my review, I gave this comic as one of the reasons I never got into the Marvel Universe. Here are the two important paragraphs.
My fellow Friday Night Fighter, Brian Snell, has said more than once that any comic can be a jumping on point, not just one specially created to be. My experience with this comic would prove there are exceptions to that rule. I’ve mentioned in the past the first two DC Comics I’ve ever owned, Batman #307 and Justice League Of America #162. This was the third comic in that set and of the three this was the most confusing. The Batman comic was a stand alone story of Batman investigating the murder of homeless people and none of his rogues gallery was involved. Justice League Of America had a main story that I’ve brought up enough times in Friday Night Fights and a subplot where Zatanna, Elongated Man, and Red Tornado went looking for her missing father and piecing together more of her missing past that led into the next issue. The subplot made me interested in finding out what happened to this story even though it involved three characters who were never on Super Friends (my gateway into the DC Universe, as you recall).
This comic, however, was just confusing. Okay, so some professor blamed Spider-Man for the death of some girl named Gwen Stacy. Who was she? Why should I care? As far as I knew this was a continuation of a previous storyline but otherwise I had no idea who these people were, who this Carrion guy was, or even who the White Tiger was. This version of White Tiger has still never appeared outside of the comics. Darter had a cool costume that could use a better coloring scheme. Otherwise, I didn’t care about living clones, Gwen Stacy, Miles Warren, or this Carrion character outside of he wanted to kill Spider-Man. Only now that I know who Gwen and Warren are do I have the slightest interest and it still isn’t enough for me to want to get the previous and after issues of this storyline.
This was an issue drenched in continuity. You had Peter’s dead fiance and the creepy college professor who sought revenge on the other victim rather than the (admittedly still dead at the time) culprit. Gwen Stacy never appeared outside of the comics until a brief cameo in the “Spider-Wars” storyline at the end of the Fox Kids cartoon. Miles Warren had a less creepy appearance I think earlier that same season but no connection to Gwen and not seeking revenge on Spider-Man. That was the 90’s and I got this comic for my birthday probably early 1980s since it wasn’t just after release. Now, I had other reasons for not getting into the Marvel universe, namely DC appealed more to me, at least until Identity Crisis ruined previous history, like the Original Sin story just did to Nick Fury and Dum Dum Dugan.
So why bring it up in this really long intro? I’ve mentioned Nash Bozard, host of Radio Dead Air and contributor to That Guy With The Glasses before. Recently he posted a short commentary to his Tumblr site pretty much blaming comics continuity (Marvel does not reboot itself every 10 years like DC does) versus the external media (mostly the Marvel and Sony Movieverses) for their dropping sales. And on this I must disagree.
Comics conforming to the external media is nothing new. From altering Superman’s Fortress Of Solitude to resemble the crystal Jenga puzzle of Richard Donner’s vision to Bruce Banner traveling the country to Billy Batson traveling the country to the recent pushing aside of the original Nick Fury because the movies emulated the Ultimate version (which I would complain about but when you have the chance to get Samuel L. Jackson I can’t fault them for taking it), comics have been known to reflect the popular version. This hasn’t messed with continuity before. The same villains made appearances and any important detail of their confrontation has been mentioned. There was a time when the narrator would help this along when the story would be hurt by having the characters come out and give silly exposition. We don’t use narrators anymore and it’s rare to see a caption box with an asterisk mention character B was last seen in Whatever #X. There was a time when that was all a new reader needed. “Oh, they already fought once or twice.”
Here’s a passage from Nash’s posting (are you checking any of these links prior to this commentary?)
But beyond the question of characterization, that level of continuity also demands that readers have a grasp of a canon so dense, twisting and convoluted it would mean what should be a hobby ends up being something akin to a second job or a graduate project.
While people pride themselves on this level of knowledge and commitment, it’s incredibly off-putting to someone who picks up an issue and finds themselves baffled by a backstory that’s not only infeasible, but also contains history that’s constantly referenced and recycled.
And that’s just Spider-Man, who’s part of an entire universe of comic lines that are just as dense, and worse, irrevocably interconnected to one another.
This is called “barrier to entry.” It’s why issues of Spider-Man sell in the slowly dwindling tens of thousands, but Spider-Man film tickets sell in the millions.
There comes a point where story history stops providing richness and becomes baggage. The continuity is beloved, but the trend in comics sales shows there will eventually come a point where a choice will need to be made: the characters, or the continuity.
This was not always the case. While I admit not knowing who Gwen and Dr. Warren were, Spider-Man and Carrion at least tried to work some history in. Please excuse my very read copy. Remember, I used to own only three comics, this was well before storage for protection was an issue, and I wasn’t even 10 when I received this comic.
Now how many of you even know who Carrion was? Until I did this review I wondered what became of him. Turns out he’s dead. I think. Carrion was weird little boy, being the “living clone of Professor Miles Warren” yet able to repel organic matter, even water, and killing anyone he touched. Oh, and he could fly, or at least levitate, as well. He never showed up in any of the cartoons. Yet we got the Nazi made of living bees. Cartoons are as weird as comics, people.
So yeah, I had no clue what was going on..but I wanted to. I wanted to know more about this Gwen Stacy and Professor Warren. I’m sorry I do now, but that’s not continuity’s fault. That’s BAD continuity’s fault…at least with Miles Warren and the Jackal. However, we could just ignore them forever and nobody would mind. Continuity only matters when the character shows up again or something important is referenced. Good usage of characters equals a history. That means a breathing universe. DC would soon follow suit even before Crisis On Infinite Earths by having a continuing world, where for the longest time they were a series of done-in-one tales about Batman meeting aliens or Superman tricking Lois to teach her a lesson. Sometimes they even fought crime.
It wasn’t until maybe the 1960s or 70s that DC started having things matter. They forged a universe, a shared reality, and decided to give their older characters and some acquired ones their own continuities. The Justice Society appeared and Golden Age Superman finally had a living existence. Then Crisis On Infinite Earths came along and basically screwed everything up, especially if your name was either Donna Troi (notice how the New 52 seems scared of her) or Power Girl. That wasn’t because the continuity was bad, but because they couldn’t simply slap an Earth-2 or Earth-S logo on there and call it a day. I’m surprised they didn’t try to get Captain Carrot and the Zoo Crew into the regular DCU. This happened again recently by dragging the Milestone universe into the DCU proper to get their hands on Static, and alter him to resemble the show. Then again, the only Static comics I read were the “Worlds Collide” crossover with the Superman family and that rather disappointing tribute comic which I can’t find the review for at the moment.
As I said in the quote, Snell says that any comic can be a jump-on, and although I believe there are exceptions I agree with him. However, they’re needed exceptions and if done right it will convince someone to check out these older stories. Or maybe not. Maybe all the reader needs to know is that these characters have a history having been around since or before they were kids. The movies tend to go with origin stories because people don’t follow the comics and unless they have cultural standing like Superman they won’t know them. The problem is the movie or TV show will ignore the comic–especially DC these days, who seem to hire directors and showrunners who are ashamed of adapting a comic book, in favor of their own concepts. Why is it so hard to believe a high-school kid designed wrist-worn devices that spray out a web-like substance but can full accept how his powers work? I usually write it off as Peter’s specialty is chemistry (while maintaining an interest in every science ever…like most fictional scientists) mixed with an instinct to create webbing. Boom, done, let’s go swing from a building already.
I don’t expect a movie or TV series to maintain the same history as the comic, because that would be too hard to maintain. I’m happy we’re actually getting Professor Stein on The Flash, and hopefully he still merges with Ronnie to create Firestorm. Young Justice‘s tie-in comic worked because the head writers of the cartoon also worked on the comic. That’s rare for a tie-in comic. And maybe that’s a solution to Nash’s concern…more tie-in comics, that will last as long as a franchise is up. Then they have an option of trying out the classic (or whatever’s left of it at DC) titles if they so choose. If not, they’ll probably move on anyway. If the movies or TV shows, and comics matched up completely, that won’t ensure that the non-comic reader will suddenly try out the comics.
What happens if Sony eventually screws up and loses the Spider-Man license, or Fox the X-Men license (which they appear to only want for Wolverine anyway)? Does the revamped Spider-Man comic now have to end? Do we get no Spider-Man comic until someone gets the license or Marvel tries to add him to their Movieverse? Young Justice ended as a cartoon because girls like the toys (I wish I was making that up) but they had more story to tell, and the comic could have done that. How confusing would it be under this theory that you have the Young Justice Batman and the Brave And The Bold Batman both in comics, since both shows were running at or close to the same time. Then you have the DCAU and Teen Titans, which should have been part of the DCAU even if what they made turned out to be good.
Rebooting a universe does more than throw off a history. It gives the impression “well, they don’t care why should we?”, since none of the stories will matter in, let’s say 10 years. I have heard someone say just that as to why he can’t get into DC comics, because of the little and huge reboots of their continuity. Look at people upset about erasing the Spider-Marriage, which might as well be considered a soft reboot. These histories matter to fans, so when these changes happen they lose interest whether or not they’re replaced with something good. Nash’s friend, Linkara, refuses to read the Spider-Man books after One More Day and the current Teen Titans because they tossed aside the continuity, events, and characters that made him a fan. These matter to people. I was just rewatching Linkara’s review of Cry For Justice where it killed off Lian Harper. (You may remember this kicked off the “Death Of DC category”, which sadly still grows beyond the three-part intended commentary.) Killing off Lian ruined all the previous stories she was in because of what he knew was coming in her life, or rather death as she was fridged for shock value and to make Roy Harper suffer to alter his character as part of the Batmanification of the entire DCU. I’ve posted panels and strips showing Peter and Mary Jane as a happily married couple and how those moments were ruined by One More Day and Snell did a whole bunch of posts pointing out how many Dum Dum Dugan stories aren’t as interesting now that he’s been outed as a life model decoy for who knows how long.
Continuity went on before I started picking up these comics, and even at around age 10 I knew the Firestorm in the comic would be slightly different from the one on Super Friends, and yet I still picked up #16 to see how he was depicted in the source material. If the movies are doing better than the comics, then maybe it’s the writing and tone they should look at, not the events. The reason sales are down have nothing to do with the comics not reflecting the movie universes. People are smarter than that. Yes they are, stop giving your monitor that look. I knew the Batman hunting the guy leaving gold coins in the eyes of the homeless people he was killing was different from any of the Batman appearances by that point (I don’t remember if I saw the 60s show by then and only recently have I seen the serials) but I was still interested. When Zatanna rescued her father from the magic whirlpool thing I wanted to see where that went. That was good writing. That was making the world interesting enough that I wanted to know more. I wasn’t as huge into Spider-Man, even when Amazing Friends hit the airwaves sometime later, because the DC superhero shows by Hanna-Barbera, Filmation, and whoever did Adventures Of Superman appealed to me more than the one cartoon that was available to me at the time. I never expected the comics would be the same as any of them but I didn’t know about anyone besides JJ and Betty. I didn’t even know about Aunt May, and that’s the old Spider-Man cartoon’s fault.
Now more than when I was a kid, the shows don’t draw you to the comics. The DCAU stories existed so far apart from the comics. Even the tie-ins barely, if ever, resembled the show and I’ll point those out when the DC reviews hit the tie-in comics. Again, Young Justice was the exception, sadly not the rule. But while Super Friends made me want to see more of these characters solo, Justice League and Justice League Unlimited was a fully-formed universe and I didn’t need to go elsewhere to further explore the characters. And they altered John Stewart and Static to match their DCAU counterparts while bringing in (and ruining) Montoya and Harley Quinn. (Jimmy Olsen actually debuted on the radio show, as did Kryptonite, although that was allegedly planned for the comics, and with the superpower deal of early Smallville.) Bringing popular elements makes sense if they don’t screw them up, but rebooting to be set in a universe the comic company doesn’t control would be more restricting (if done right) than fighting continuity; double when they get a new licensee.
The comics should be free to be who they are, and the same for the other mediums. It works for Transformers. The comics, cartoons, and movies all exists as separate realities. (I wonder if Rescue Bots and Robots In Disguise (the upcoming TV show that will move to Cartoon Network) are still in the same continuity as Transformers Prime, where the games were also supposed to be set.) The comics never matched the other mediums, although there were comics set in those continuities. IDW did the same for the Ninja Turtles, with a separate comic to tie-in to the show and as far as I know they ignored the movie. Those are licensed titles, but IDW shows you can have more than one continuity and fans of one might check out the other. IDW’s Turtles use elements of all the other continuities.
There is nothing wrong with a rich history. If some editor or writer screwed things up royally (Clone Saga) then do what they did to the Spider-Marriage; write it off and never bring it up again. While I understand elements making their way back to the comics, resetting the whole universe will end a continuity. There are no new stories set before Crisis On Infinite Earths and never will be. Even Adventures Of Superman, the digital-first comic, was set post-Crisis. Once you’ve read all the stories from there, that’s it. It’s like Star Trek. The original continuity is over, except in some comics, while everything else is set in the Abrams universe. Imagine that happening to Doctor Who. Even the US show tried to stay in the original British continuity, rather than doing a reboot like networks in the states usually do as far back as All In The Family. Continuity isn’t a barrier to new readers. Bad storytelling and limiting access to a few locations is and so is completely ignoring the more popular continuities. Comics companies need to treat their product with the same self-worth as prose novels do at least, since now they are as much a mine for Hollywood as novels are. They need to do more than position Free Comic Book Day during the launch of a superhero movie. They need to promote themselves as the source material, the true version. They need to stop alienating women and both younger and older readers, especially the older readers who were continuing or resuming reading from their childhood. They need to drop the gimmicks that “change everything forever (until the next event)” and writing to the trades, and just tell good stories in the way only comic books can. That’s what’s hurting the industry along with the ever-increasing price (more so than video games and home video). History is not a hinderance, it’s a tool to make a universe feel real. At least under the right writers and editors.