Universes: The Point

4 11 2015

From Tim Leong’s Super Graphic

Nothing new or interesting in this post, I’m just writing to clarify my own thoughts. Because I’ve written a couple of vague rambling posts recently on fictional universes, and I finally figured out what my problem is. It’s not the universe, it’s the history.

So, assuming you’re still here, lemme back up. The gist of my previous post was, the Marvel and DC trans-media universes are fun but exhausting to keep up with. I didn’t make the point very well, because I was missing it myself. I only articulated my complaint as part of my efforts to chatter at Wyatt enough to foster his speech development (12,000 words per hour is about the minimum target, which I’m sure I never reach). When I notice the silence I usually just verbalize my train of thought, which can’t be very valuable for teaching a toddler to talk since it never relates to anything concrete he can see or grasp. But at least I get my complaints about pop culture in order….

Still here? Really? Okay. So in that previous post I was complaining about trying to keep up with the TV and movie versions of comic characters. But the movies and TV shows are already doing what I wished for; letting the individual stories breathe, rather than adhere slavishly to the entire published history. The TV shows and movies from the DC universe don’t acknowledge each other at all. Marvel has a very ambitious plan for movies and TV shows that all align, from 2008’s Iron Man to multiple projects through 2019, but each movie or TV series pretty much stands on it’s own. The reality of filmmaking is, they have to. The continuity elements are extra fun, but so far not critical to the enjoyment of the piece.

So really, the cross-media properties are the ones doing it right. My real complaint is with the comics. I tried in recent years to get familiar with the large canvases of both the DC and Marvel universes (see some other recent posts). Both publishing houses encourage that approach, through big crossover events and universe-wide reboots that encourage the purchase of multiple titles. But that’s just the wrong way to read comics.

These characters have been around for decades. The most recent creation that garners any kind of following is Wolverine, who first appeared in 1974. In that relatively short time he has literally been to Hell and back, been possessed by demons, lost and regained his metal skeleton, found and lost children he didn’t know he fathered, gone fully bestial and been restored, lost and regained his healing powers, and died (temporarily–count on it). Just about every other Marvel and DC character has a similar history; it’s the inevitable result of passing the character to different writers, trying to sell new books every month, for 40 to 80 years.

To learn the history of one character, let alone get any grasp of the various universe-shaking crossover events, is a scholarly exercise. It requires hours, days, weeks of research. Which is fine if you enjoy that sort of thing and need a hobby, but it’s not exactly casual fun. In recent years, Marvel has shaken up its universe with Civil War, Secret Invasion, Annihilation, Seige, Fear Itself, and probably more. I don’t know what order they happened in. I sort of meant to research it and get the trade paperbacks from the library and read everything in order, but that is a lot of work and I just don’t have the time.

When I was a kid (eech, I hate when bloggers say that) I would occasionally buy comics off the rack at 7-11, if the cover grabbed me. Often the issue was one part of a longer story, but it was still fun to read Hulk being Hulk even if I didn’t know what he was doing in The Savage Land.

I don’t want or expect publishers to return to doing things like they did in the 70s. I appreciate the more sophisticated writing, and I prefer stories that take a minimum of 5-6 issues and can spend one whole issue on secondary, connective material if they need to. So I always buy the trade paperbacks rather than the monthly issues. And during my whole attempting-to-grasp-the-universe phase, I tended to choose books that seemed like they had some relevance to the universe as a whole, rather than ones that just look like interesting stories.

But, I won’t be doing that anymore. I’m officially giving up on comic book universes, scaling way back on my comic purchasing, and going back to picking up the odd story that grabs my interest. In fact I’m feeling more and more dubious about legacy superheroes, mostly because of a recent critique from Alan Moore.

I have more mixed feelings about the culturally catastrophic nature of recycled characters, which I will save for another post.

But, I think I’m done with the universe issue, both in life and on this blog. Finally! Hooray…?




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