Why Comics Need to Change, Part 1: Continuity and Copyrights

Posted by cbishop (7411 posts) - - Show Bio
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407/17/10Why Comics Need to Change, Part 1: Continuity and Copyrights(Blog) (Forum)Retcon(Back) (Next)

There is nothing in the world like comics. Assuming a uniform publishing schedule is the norm, every thirty days, the newest issue of your favorite title hits the stands, and for thirty-two pages, you thrill to the continuing adventures of your favorite comic characters. Yet, the stories aren't always continuing, because comics get to hit the "restart" button every so often, which is what makes them unlike anything else. They are, for the most part, continuing stories, like soap operas, but in a soap opera, characters can't disappear without explanation, or magically age or deage. Kids they can't do anything with go off to camp and aren't heard from again until they're older, but the rest of the story moves on. The next generation of characters is continually being introduced, because the actors are getting older, and introducing new characters is the only way to insure the show's future. Whereas in a comic, something happens to "reboot" continuity, and the origins suddenly happened this year, instead of seventy-five years ago, and they start retelling the same stories. Yet ten years later, when the fans have gotten older, the companies inexplicably decide that the characters can't get older, because they won't be relatable to the younger readers, so they start the process all over again.

That made sense in 1959, when the superhero comic had suffered a ten year lag, and DC rebooted their line with new characters that had the same names as the old characters. That reboot was about preserving the copyright on the character and title names, and updating the characters to something more modern than what was published ten years previous. It even made sense in 1985, when DC did Crisis on Infinite Earths. That reboot was about changing their continuity to something less confusing, and while they were at it, updating the origins from the late Fifties/ early Sixties, into the late Eighties. Both of those reboots are something that had to be done, because they felt the characters had to be a certain age to be relatable to fans, and if they didn't reboot, the characters would age out of the range of what would be interesting to readers. That made sense in 1959 and 1985, because the reprint volume wasn't in vogue then, and the only way to keep the copyright on the character and title names current was in the monthly titles.

Now that the trade paperback (or graphic novel, as it's now commonly known) is a regular part of the publishing schedule for comics, there is absolutely no reason that comics continuity can't actually be continuous. Wonder Woman can have children and age, Batman can die and pass on the mantle, Spider-Man can pass on his powers to a mutant daughter and retire, and the original Teen Titans can take over their mentors' slots in the Justice League. Superman can even die in a story that's worthy of being called The Death of Superman. All of this stuff can happen, and the copyrights would still be okay, because the reprint volumes are still out there. As long as the company can continue to put out new printings of the graphic novels, the copyrights on the character names are secure, and the current titles can move on in their continuity, telling new stories, with new (or just older) characters, instead of retreading the old stories for a third or fourth round.

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#1 Posted by lorex (958 posts) - - Show Bio

I would certainly be different if characters aged and death was final. It would force creative teams to be really sure before they killed a character off. If characters stayed dead then there wouldn't be all these bullshit returns from the dead. I don't know if comics would be better off or not but it would be different.

#2 Posted by cbishop (7411 posts) - - Show Bio
@lorex: Well, I think we'd get more of the old school cliffhanger deaths.  It looks like the hero's dead at the end of the issue, but next issue, they really escaped just in time, or something like that.  Comics would probably be more day-by-day too, just to draw it out longer.  That gets screwed up when they still do a Christmas issue every year though.  Continuity works for novels in a series though, and character deaths don't hurt them.  There's always going to be fans upset when their favorite character dies, but in novels, those earlier books become classics, not ruined continuity.
#3 Posted by Primmaster64 (21073 posts) - - Show Bio

If you die you stay dead.

#4 Posted by cbishop (7411 posts) - - Show Bio
@Primmaster64 said:
"If you die you stay dead. "

Well, it's comics.  There are going to be characters who come back, but it doesn't need to be a revolving door.  But yeah, staying dead would be a good part of continuity.

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