“The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
In comics, that’s not just a phrase – it’s business.
Turns out, DC Comics just helped prove me right. In their case, the post-Flashpoint world is a chance to turn the clock backwards in terms of meaningful story, character and continuity development. Heck, they’re even re-launching the entire line with 52 #1 issues in September, abandoning the numbering of iconic series like Action Comics and Detective Comics.
It’s the worst thing they could have done.
Then why do it? Simply put, the “Big Two” are now properties owned by giant corporate conglomerates. Time-Warner owns DC Comics. Disney owns Marvel. Corporate management brings corporate goals of large, corporate profits. That means a lowest-common denominator approach to crafting comics that will have the greatest possible appeal – characters are returned to their most iconic and marketable interpretations, adventuring just enough so something happens, but never enough to change them beyond their starting point.
Superman’s marriage to Lois Lane? Allegedly gone. Former Batgirl Barbara Gordon’s triumph as the wheelchair-bound techguru named Oracle? Possibly wiped out. Dick Grayson’s evolution from Nightwing to Batman? Done. There’ll just be one Batman again, and Robin will be his son, Damien Wayne. At least they’re sticking with that.
Can such a formula of nothing-ever-changes work? Just ask the creators of The Simpsons. I’m sure they’d have plenty to say on the matter.
But it doesn’t have to be like that.
When I was working in radio, a lot of people would talk endlessly about the continuing appeal of The Beatles. My theory, and I believe it’s a sound one, is that the Beatles’ popularity endures not just because of the quality of their music, but because their story was finite. They formed in 1960, were hitmakers by 1963 and were done by 1970. Throughout their magical mystery career, they grew with their audience and the culture at large. Their music matured, their messages became more experimental, then more thoughtful. And then, they were gone, leaving their generation and those to follow wondering what could have been.
By ending, The Beatles mattered.
The same could be said for the success of the Harry Potter series of novels. The stories weren’t just well-written, they matured as did the audience that read them. As each book stood for a year of Harry’s magical education, so too did each book represent a year in the maturation of Harry and his world. The story grows more sophisticated, building towards its ultimate resolution where Harry, and the reader, learn to move on.
Characters should evolve. Deaths find meaning in permanence. Life goes on. Shouldn’t our fictional heroes be able to do the same?
According to DC, not if there’s an extra buck to be made.
In the opening for Alan Moore and Curt Swan’s famous Superman story Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, Moore responded to critics about the pointlessness of out-of-continuity “imaginary” stories by reminding the reader that all stories are “imaginary” and should be judged on the merits of the narrative within.
Come September, DC fans will get the chance.
I just won’t be one of them.
JW Ward is a Toronto based writer, media personality and professional cynic. Follow him on Twitter at @jasonwardDOTca, through his website at www.jasonward.ca and every Thursday here at Biff Bam Pop!