I’m not going to link to the video because the topic has nothing to directly do with this revelation, but it was one by Comics By Perch where he brings up Geoff Johns in passing and how some people have trouble with his approach. It got me thinking about what my biggest issue with Geoff Johns is. This is what I wrote in the comments:

I just figured out my issue with Johns. It’s not just retconning his own retcons, it’s that he doesn’t seem to want to write a series, he just wants to right stories. That’s fine for an anthology but when you’re working in a shared universe that predates your birth that’s not a good attitude.

I thought about it a little more and I started to realize that this isn’t a Geoff Johns thing alone. Johns is actually following a trend in the comics and even the spin-off media where the idea of shared universes and continuity are considered a detriment to the stories they want to tell. I’ve defended continuity in the past but while I’ve noted that while many writers hate continuity (Johns, Brian Michael Bendis, the writer’s room at Loki over at Disney+) I think I only partly figured out their mindset. That’s not to say I’ve suddenly got them dead to rights and know everything they’re about. I’m not a psych-anything. However, this does play into a continuing (heh) complaint I’ve had about what writers are thinking and why the best person for the job is more than just writing talent.

Writing for the trade may be the publisher’s idea when it comes to DC and Marvel but it isn’t what the companies were built on. I’ve used the analogy before but the periodicals used to be the equivalent a TV series and graphic novels a movie. A trade would be a box set, either collecting a miniseries or one of those sets that contain related episodes around a certain theme. Here are the works of a certain creator or a particular storyline collected for prosperity. Here’s an important classic storyline because we know the back-issues aren’t always easy to find. Here’s a graphic novel for a story that wouldn’t work in the ongoing or in continuity but is a fun take. Trades and graphic novels make a nice introduction to comics, and for smaller publishers and indie creators it’s the best way to do it because in the end it doesn’t cost them as much. However, one of the reasons I see for the downfall of the Western comic is that they’ve abandoned the serialized, long-running story for the smaller mini-series that come in trades, leading some fans to simply wait for the trade and get the full experience, possibly with some DVD style bonus features like an original story or behind the scenes section.

But Tronix, that’s how the Japanese do it.

Not quite. Granted, I’m not the expert here (if you are, feel free to correct whatever I get wrong in this paragraph) so this isn’t true for every manga we get in the US but many of them are serialized in an anthology magazine, much like Golden Age comics I’ve been reviewing on Saturdays. The stories are collected in solo trades but even then the story is presented serialized and some stories take more than one volume to complete while others only take up a portion. Those stories can also run for years. One Piece has been serialized since 1997 and is only now finally completing its story while Dragon Ball recently returned as a franchise to making new stories after finally completing its original story. They’re long-running tales. When one story ends another begins but under a good writer the events of previous stories matter and can be revisited or have an impact on what’s coming up. When Goku finishes off the Red Ribbon Army their remnants still pop up in his life and still harass him and his friends and family. But each arc feels like the next day or a few days later rather than a series of stand alone stories.

This is what US comics used to do, but it’s not how they started. The Golden Age comics were stand-alone stories. Maybe a character returned but of the ones I’ve read over the years few stories were serialized. Even in the Silver Age, where you started getting crossovers like Superman hanging out with Batman and Robin or the Justice Society collecting National’s other heroes before becoming DC Comics, they were stand alone tales. Justice Society Of America was basically the members swapping stories, at least early on.

Batman fights someone who isn't a crazy mass murderer. Serial killer, maybe.

“I won’t let you destroy the city!” “City? I’m just killing a random homeless person.”

It wasn’t until the Bronze Age that long-running serialized stories made up of one or two issue storylines and a running subplot about the characters’ lives or lead up to a future story started happening. This continued into the Dark Age–and I should note that after the Bronze Age I found differing lists of comics but “Dark Age” seems to be one name for the modern age of comics–and it was somewhere around then that trade collections of some of the most important storylines were coming out. The publishers didn’t get why trades mattered and that’s led to where we are today, but the comic writers and even movie/TV/streaming writers and directors are drawn into this.

How many modern creators have you heard they were inspired by a miniseries or graphic novel rather than a full series? Maybe they have a favorite creator, usually Alan Moore or Frank Miller, that they credit but it’s “I was a fan of this story and that’s what I’m basing my story on”, or have even wanted to just do an adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns but Warner Brothers weren’t having that so they came up with something similar. Then we got the animated version where Bruce Timm continued his Batman/Batgirl fanshipping and got fans hot in the wrong way. Zac Snyder earned praise with Watchmen and then scorn for trying to use the same approach to DC’s heroes after also wanting to do a Dark Night Returns adaptation. Nobody says “I’ve enjoyed Amazing Man for years and want to build on the legacy and introduce him to a new audience, maybe encourage them to check out the comics”. They point to one story and this alone defines how they see the character…and that’s if they’re fans at all.

The movie creators not only ignore the comics but encourage their actors not to read them as well, even when they actually want to respect the source material that was popular enough to be worth adapting. Other actors just want to play a certain character type whether it’s accurate to the character or not, or they want to work with a certain director either from past experience or they heard they’re amazing to work with. Christopher Reeve and Henry Cavill legitimately wanted to play Superman, and I wish Cavill luck in one day getting to do so. The writers’ room seems to be increasingly full of people hostile to the comic because they have a story they want to tell and just ride the fame of a property they don’t respect. Loki was outright dismissive of any one continuity and fans seeing an ongoing narrative because they wanted to tell their story rather than continuing the character’s story and hate the idea of sharing a universe with other writers and directors, whom they see as competition rather than the classic comic “bullpen” where they bounce ideas off of each other. Replace Loki with Jabalon and nothing would be different outside of settings. I expect this garbage out of Hollywood because they don’t even respect the stuff that’s been done. When the comic creators are doing this something is wrong.

Bendis is the worst example of this. He will remake characters into the personalities he wants for his stories. He prefers to write a certain character and that’s what he’ll make the character into. And of course his hyper-decompression plays well to the trade-happy publisher wondering why the dollar signs are only in their eyes and not their ledger. Bendis’ runs are a collection of graphic novels disguised as a set of miniseries pretending to be a serialized story. Johns has a different problem. He has a story he sees as something great and will rewrite history to make it happen.

“Superboy Connor would be more interesting if it turned out the human DNA came from Lex Luthor instead of Paul Westfield.”

“No, we’re sticking with Westfield.”

“Okay, well, how about about bringing Barry Allen back?”

“No, he passed heroically (remember those days?) and now Wally has aged into the identity.”

Both things he “fixed” when he became DC writer for both characters because the story idea was more important than respecting who came before or honoring the set continuity.

It’s like a sort of regression in modern comics to go from a continuing story to a series of smaller stories, but with the stakes being the biggest ever. This is where the Eventitis has set in like a virus with no known antidote. Every story now is either the fate of the city/world/universe at stake (unless they’re just characters in a superhero world wearing costumes but the writer wants to really be doing some slice-of-life tale because they hired authors instead of superhero writers) without the smaller cases. When was the last time the story was about a bank robber or a smuggler or a murder with a body count under 5,000? If they do find a smuggler they’re smuggling weapons for some paramilitary group from another planet or something about to create a huge invasion to enslave or destroy us all.

The 90s clone Superboy is attacked by Silver Age Superman-as-a-boy Superboy during Zero Hour.

Father’s Day is a confusing day for Connor.

My first Batman comic is a simple murder investigation, my first Spider-Man about a character seeking revenge for events I had no clue over, and my first Justice League tale outside of Superfriends with a main plot involving mutations that started and ended that issue with a subplot about Zatanna and friends trying to find her missing past and missing father that led into the next issue. The world wasn’t ending but the stakes were still big enough (a few dead homeless people, Spider-Man and White Tiger trying to stop some villains, the Justice League stopping humanoid animals from becoming an army) that I was invested and wanted to see how things turned out. And because of how the Spider-Man story, by necessity, was part of a longer story I didn’t get as into it, but that was just me being more drawn to DC’s world than Marvel’s. My first Iron Man was an annual with a whole done-in-one story about a villain seeking recognition while substitute Iron Man Jim Rhodes wondered if he really mattered, also part of the sub-plot that tied into the main plot. It’s one of my favorite stories, as is the Batman comic.

Today’s writers don’t want to write series. They want to tell a story and then move on. That’s fine if you’re doing an anthology, and even then Japan doesn’t follow the Golden Age style of anthology. The stories continue into the next issue of the magazine, bringing people in to read the next one and see what happens next. American writers seem to want to go back to done-in-one while fans want a continuing story because that’s what got them invested, and the publishers want their money. It’s kind of a mess right now. We need writers who want to continue a series, and leave any story that doesn’t fit for a webcomic or a graphic novel. I have no problem with people just making original graphic novels. For indie creators it’s the only way to go, especially with magazine racks pretty much gone from stores and newsstands all but vanished altogether. DC and Marvel however could revitalize the serialized tale and get fans returning to monthly visits instead of waiting a few months.

There aren’t many soap operas left but they still manage to continue telling long-running stories. While only a few remain that’s due to more women entering the workforce and “house husbands” not really interested in them, especially if they work from home and have other things to do during the day, like their job or having things ready for the kids and helping them out. Even Sesame Street has gone decades without a reboot and only half their cast never ages. If you want to write unconnected standalone graphic novel stories, go write unconnected standalone graphic novel stories, and maybe a sequel or two if you have a good idea. Let people who want to write serialized stories make serialized stories. Whether they’re good writers or not, the trade-padding hybrids by people wanting to do big done-in-one stories instead of a long-running series that saves the big stakes for special occasions are the problem, not the continuity. As for the editors, remember where you’re working and that you aren’t the writer, and the directors need to use more than one book to define their approach. This is stuff that predates you and the people that came before you had no problem with this. What’s your excuse?


About ShadowWing Tronix

A would be comic writer looking to organize his living space as well as his thoughts. So I have a blog for each goal. :)

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