Comics Ate My Brain

December 23, 2004

All-Star Games

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom Bondurant @ 12:47 am
The Beat reports on DC’s upcoming “All-Star” line, which will kick off with Jim Lee drawing a Batman & Robin series, followed by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely on Superman. However, the characters will be in “classic” situations, ostensibly more familiar to the general public — Robin will be Dick Grayson, and Superman will have access to the kaleidoscope of ca-razy ideas swept under the rug by the 1986 revamp.

As it happens, the Howling Curmudgeons have recently broached the subject of “continuity,” indirectly illustrating that modern superhero comics create their own particular brand of realism by making each monthly issue a part of a greater mosaic. The implication of this mosaic can be either a crushing burden or a solid foundation upon which future creators can build. Most often it’s seen as an impediment to new readers, and thus a way by which DC and Marvel shrink their audiences by making them more insular.

Continuity can often lead to a no-win situation: if you don’t follow the lead of previous stories, you run the risk of alienating longtime readers; but if every issue depends on the one before it, you might drive away potential readers — and you might still bore the lifers!

Ian Brill wants continuity to run with separate creative teams, which isn’t a bad idea, but I think might require a sea-change in the way people look at comics. You can have different Supermen for print, TV, and film, just as you can have different James Bonds for print and film (and of course from film to film) — but it helps if they don’t have to sit side-by-side on the metaphorical newsstand.

Anyway, I am very excited about the All-Star line, more so than I was about Marvel’s Ultimate line. For one thing, Marvel has from its beginnings depended on the shared-universe conceit to a much greater extent than DC did, so even the Ultimate line pretty much traded one set of continuity for another. For another, the All-Star line sounds more inclusive of diffeent “eras” and approaches, and therefore defuses talk that it is just retelling the original stories.

However, both the anything-goes approach and the shared-universe approach carry with them the pitfalls of fan expectations. With the anything-goes approach comes the danger that the dream team still won’t deliver that certain orgasmic fan moment. Conversely, a shared universe encourages the fan to extrapolate Outcome D from Events A, B, and C, and to take issue with the creator when those Events produce the unsatisfactory Outcome E.

On balance, I’d say the risks might well be smaller with the All-Stars. I know a lot of fans didn’t like JLA/Avengers because it a) relied on the old team-up cliches and b) devolved into a big melee; but I don’t think it really aspired to much more. It was basically a geekgasm from the beginning, and it built into the narrative the freedom to include anyone from the history of either team. Thus, if you wanted that D-Man/G’Nort match-up and didn’t see it, you could at least imagine that it happened behind the scenes — you wouldn’t have had to research the circumstances under which it could have happened.

The anything-goes approach also means that You The Fan might not necessarily get the particular reference that Morrison, or whoever, makes in a particular All-Star Superman issue (much like his “Club of Heroes” stuff in JLA Classified) — but again, it’s the creator’s responsibility to integrate those references into the story so that you don’t need to know them to understand what’s going on. That to me sounds easier than (for example) the gymnastics Geoff Johns has to perform just to reset the Green Lantern status quo.

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