It Doesn't Change Your Comics

“It doesn’t change your comics”. This is the mantra of people coming to the defense of criticized work in comics. Usually this is invoked when someone is upset about a story’s potential to change the accepted continuity in a way they don’t like. For clarities sake, here’s a sample conversation.

SpiderFan4Life: “I can’t believe they are taking away Peter Parker and Mary Jane’s wedding! That just craps all over the past 2 decades of stories.”

ChillDudeAwesome: “Chill dude, it doesn’t change those stories. You can still go back and enjoy them.....awesome.”

I’ve always thought this was an interesting argument since it can shape up two very different ways depending on how you look at it. It can be viewed in a very literal way or a pretentious epistemological way. First, the very literal way. Spider-man One More Day (among other things) changed continuity so that Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson never got married. So here I am as a Spider-man fan looking at my copy of Amazing Spider-man Annual 21 (Peter Parker and Mary Jane’s wedding) knowing that it no longer happened. Does that mean I can’t read my comic anymore? Of course I can always read it. In the most literal sense, it does not change the comic I enjoyed. In the argument's simplest form I have to agree with it. But this is where my feelings on epistemology come in and muddy the waters.

The second way to look at this argument is that while the comic doesn’t change, I do. Each of us has a set of internal biases in our way of thinking. These biases influence the way we perceive things. They are a filter through which we perceive the world around us. Some of those biases are easily identified. My religion, my age, my economic situation, etc are all obvious biases that I am aware I have. There are also more subtle biases that I possess that I can’t even begin to realize. We all have these biases, both the identifiable and the incomprehensible. We experience things and we filter them through our biases subconsciously and file them away as memories. Clearly our memories are less than reliable guides to reality. With that foundation in mind I have 2 copies of every comic I own. I have the hard copy sitting on my shelf and I have the bias-ridden-memory copy in my head. The copy on the shelf doesn’t change but the copy in my head is constantly in flux. Furthermore, my personal biases are also constantly in flux so the next time I read my favorite comic it will read differently than the time before. So which copy is more important? The one in my head or the one on the shelf? I think to a degree we all generally forget to acknowledge that there is a difference. By default that makes the copy in my head more important.

So here’s a practical example. Before Watchmen comes out tomorrow. Will it change my copy of Watchmen? No. I don’t expect Didio and company will come into my house and rewrite my over priced copy of Absolute Watchmen. (I hope not anyway. I’d at least want some advance notice because my apartment is kind of a mess right now.) But what their work on Before Watchmen will do is influence how I think about Watchmen. Even if I don’t read it, other people will and I don’t exist in a vacuum. The world around me will change and I will change with it. I’ll read articles that reference it, I’ll talk to people that reference it, I’ll see fan made art that references it. I will encounter information that I don’t even recognize as being connected with it. For better or worse, subtly without knowing it the way I think about Watchmen will change. What I ‘remember’ about the copy on my shelf will change. Really this perceptual change is the basis of all retcons, reboots, reimagining. That we can view things dynamically allows us to alter our context. I’ve illustrated how this shift in perception could be considered detrimental but intrinsically it’s neither good or bad. But it’s naïve to think that the lack of physical alteration to comics is the only factor to consider when charting the effect a retcon will have. My comics didn’t change but like it or not I did.

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Posted by Renchamp

Well said. Dumb things will happen as time moves on. Awesome things will also happen. I'll just be along for the ride.

Posted by waezi2

I have to admit that I cant help it but to be pissed over stuff like OMD. Not because it ruin my old comics, in fackt its not even because it ruin the future comics. I just take it as an insult as a fan, that some writer can do what he want with my hero, and bend the charecter as he is pleased. And actually, Im not that upset about Before Watchmen. At first I was, out of solidarity to Moore. But hey, DC owe the book, its not illegal. And about respect to the wrigther: Did Moore show respect to Jules Verne when he wrote The League Of Extraordinaire Gentlemen?

Posted by EpicMeltDown

@waezi2: I personally feel there are a few differences between Moore using Jules Verne's characters and Before Watchmen. For one thing, Moore specifically asked DC not to make Before Watchmen. Clearly, Jules Verne wasn't available for comment about League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. If any of Verne's living relatives took issue with it I haven't heard anything. Also Jules Verne's work is in the public domain where as Watchmen would partially belong to Moore right now if DC had honored the spirit of the agreement. Lastly, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is not and has never been sold as an official continue of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. If you set Moore and Verne's work next to each other no one would mistake them as being officially related. But Before Watchman is exactly that to Moore and Gibbon's work. That's how I look at it but I know a lot of people feel differently. In any case, I didn't really intend for this post to be anti Before Watchmen. I was really more interested in commenting on how changes to continuity are bound to change the way people see a story even if they've never read it. We're all so connected these days it's hard for anyone actively involved in the comics community to not be affected.

Posted by waezi2

I know, just saying.

Posted by EpicMeltDown

@waezi2: It's all good *offers you a fist bump across the internet* :)

Posted by waezi2

EpicMeltDown: Reply the bump