Friday, July 18, 2008


When I did my recent post on the Beyonder, I omitted a piece of information that was relevant to my discussion-the fact that the Beyonder has been further retconned into some kind of mutant/Inhuman or something. (Okay, just a little question here-if an Inhuman mutant was exposed to Terrigen mists, would it really make them "Beyonder level?" I'm more inclined to say Phoenix level, myself. And while we're on the subject of insane, incalculable levels of power: Who would win, Beyonder or Hunger?)

Why did I leave out this piece of information? Because I forgot about it. Why did I forget about it?

Because it was beyond stupid. (Ha ha ha ow.)

Not to go on an aside, but was Bendis even paying attention when he wrote that?

Anyway, it got me to thinking about something that my sister and I have occasionally discussed: the idea of a "personal canon."

Now, a lot of people are going to groan and click "Back," "Close Window," or "Close Tab" about now. But this is a subject that bears discussion, especially when it is one that numerous comic book authors seem to be bringing to their own tables, consciously or not.

Before going further on the subject, I suppose I should define "personal canon." Most basically put, personal canon is the willful ignorance of any continuity-driven story element that someone doesn't like, and the inclusion of elements that someone does like, even if the events that that someone likes are probably "from a different continuity." In its broadest definition, this means that someone could disinclude an episode of the X-Men cartoon from the '90s, while considering some random event from the comics to be canon even if never referenced in the cartoon.

This is the main reason many have problems with personal canon-if everyone followed the personal canon model, it would be impossible to meet agreement on what happened within a given series. And herein comes the connection to mainstream comic writers: Many of the "more innovative" writers of today throw aside what has been accepted continuity for years (e.g., the post-Crisis version of Lex Luthor is significantly older than Clark Kent, but still went to the same high school at the same time as he did, in the same grade-talk about genius {I'm not making this up, but I don't feel like citing it. Look at the archives for Progressive Ruin, I'm sure I read it there. Try sometime in June. EDIT: Mike Sterling, of Mike Sterling's Progressive Ruin, was polite enough to drop by and point out the original post. Thanks, Mike.}). And why does this happen? Because the writers don't like this bit or that bit, either because they just don't like it, or because it stands in the way of what they do like.

So they smash it with a hammer as they write their own stories.

Many people will likely chastise me for what I'm about to say. I'll point out, however, that while I have disincluded the Beyonder being an Inhuman mutant Giga-Omega Level Cosmic Cube Freak Thing from my personal canon, that's just about the only thing I've jettisoned just because I don't like it (from within Marvel Comics-well, no, I guess there's-nevermind). (Well, it screws with continuity and Occam's razor, too, but that's besides the point.) I'm willing to track all this continuity FUBARing because I have numerous tools to do so-the internets provide all of them.

Smashing existing continuity purely to make room for one's own ideas is like writing bad fanfiction.

Good writing within a preexisting fictional construct does things a little differently. It takes existing elements, sees how they relate to each other, and then uses them as tools. A well written story of this kind can be a beautiful thing (although executed poorly, it can be hideous beyond reckoning). Fanfiction actually can fall into this realm.

Why are so many writers taking the "bad fanfic" path while so few if any take the "good fanfic" path?

It's pretty much because the "bad fanfic" path is incredibly easier.

Now, don't take this as a condemnation of the works of your favorite author, whether we're talking TV, comic books, cartoons, anime and manga, movies, or whatever the heck. Throwing out continuity can work very well in the correct circumstances. While I've never watched it, the new Battlestar Galactica has apparently had a great deal of success, and it bears only names and a few broad, sweeping details in common with its predecessor.

What I'm saying is that some authors are quite good at working within a massive fictional universe. And some aren't. In order to avoid frustrating and alienating people who notice those who aren't good at this kind of work, publishers that own fictional universes need to learn to figure out for themselves (via their editors) which authors to assign to "main continuity" books, and which to throw unceremoniously into their own sandboxes to play in (possibly providing them with an "alternate continuity" toolbox so that they have plenty of toys if they can't or won't make their own).

Also, Dan DiDio is not the editor who will do this kind of thing for a publisher.

1 comment:

Mikester said...

My whole "Luthor's post-Crisis continuity - what's up with that?" thing is the third entry in this post, which I referenced again a couple of months ago in this post. Hope that helps!