or, “Further Thoughts on Continuity” (Boom!)
But before I get to the actual musing, it occurs to me that I might have buried the lead in my last entry. So here’s the lead – I have published a new collection of funny short stories called Paranormal is Relative. It is currently only available through Smashwords because they are being slow to approve and distribute. The price is absolutely free, so check it out. The whole purpose of this blog is to shamelessly promote my writing, so this is what I am doing. Please please please download my book!
Okay, moving on.
The title of this entry comes from Jean Grey’s headstone. This is actually what is carved on it, and is appropriate for someone named after the Phoenix, which is a bird that rises from the dead. This also shows astounding self-awareness on the part of the X-men to realize death is not as permanent as most of the world seems to think. But this also was perhaps put into placate fans who were upset that a favorite character and half of a power couple was stuffed in the fridge due to the usual reasons women are stuffed in the fridge or executive meddling or both. The line promises Jean Grey may come back again (and has since she died) and potentially even stay.
I have mixed feelings about this and it speaks to a larger issue I feel plagues the big two comic book companies right now. I’ve already written about how the inmates are running the asylum, and I think part of the trouble stems from the idea that the universe is somehow broken. And once fans get to the level they can directly affect they universe, they feel they need to fix what has been broken. A resentful individual vowing to put right what once went wrong? That’s either a superhero origin story, or a supervillain origin story. Unfortunately, these fixes often leave the universe more muddled than before and risk alienating the fanbase. The issue is that one person’s broken universe is another person’s paradigm. I think the inmates think they’re superheroes, but I think the repeatedly broken fanbases indicate they’re supervillains (don’t tell me that’s not supervillainy; I’d say breaking a universe is the sort of supervillainy only Thanos and Darkseid regularly aspire to).
Often the fixes are soft retcons or full reboots. Sometimes, though, the fixes are as simple as bringing a character back from the dead. It seems to me the reappearance of both a Flash and a Green Lantern long after their demises was the decision of a writer or editor or perhaps a whole creative team that decided the demise of the original characters was something that needed to be fixed. After all, when they were reading comics, their Flash was Barry Allen and their Green Lantern was Hal Jordan. Bringing those characters back to life ignored about twenty years of comic history, and a whole legion of fans who had no idea who the hell Barry Allen or Hal Jordan were, but they did know who Wally West and Kyle Raynor were, and were upset and confused that suddenly their heroes were forced to take a backseat to these new (to them) characters.
I don’t think that’s a fair thing to do to the fans or the universe. Believe me, the Marvel universe is plenty broken. However, the way the inmates run the asylum tramples on the years of story built up between their being just a fan and their being part of the creative team. Clearly the handling of character death and other world events had a great impact on the readership, or else the inmates wouldn’t feel so passionately about fixing a perceived wrong. But they don’t seem to stop to think about how their “fixes” will affect the new fans who have learned to love new characters and are used to the new paradigm of the universe.
And yet I completely understand this impulse. I really want to fix Spider-man’s marriage, and frankly reading newspaper Spider-man doesn’t cut it. I want to bring Jean Grey back to life. I want Cyclops to be a hero again. I’m sure there are lots of people who agree with me, and some may even have the power to change the Marvel universe in the future. But at that point there will be a lot of fans who have never seen Peter Parker in a decent relationship, who have no idea who Jean Grey is, and have never known Cyclops as a hero. Who would I be serving by changing all these things as arbitrarily as they were changed to begin with? The universe is shared and as such changes should be made with the larger universe in mind, not just a selfish desire to fix what is perceived as broken. This isn’t Quantum Leap.
Uncle Ben was right – with great power comes great responsibility. The people who run the comic book universes have great power to change it, but do they do so responsibly? Ultimately the responsibility of the creative team is to the current fandom and not to their own selfish desire to fix the universe. Of course, current fandom does cover a lot of people who are familiar with a lot of paradigms (the amalgam principle), so responsibility doesn’t mean “keep it exactly the same” or “put it back the way I want.” It means accepting the paradigm and exploring new stories in a way that respects the current paradigm but also moves the universe in an organic fashion to a new paradigm instead of forcing the universe to a new paradigm through editorial mandates.
So will Jean Grey rise again? I hope so, but I hope the resurrection is done in a way that doesn’t alienate the fans who don’t know who this character is. Otherwise, that just sets the stage for fans to become resentful that their paradigm has been abruptly shifted for no good reason. That’s just a way to continue this vicious cycle. The only way to stop that cycle is to respect continuity and respect the fans.