Two weeks ago Bryam Dayley published an article on GeekTyrant that focused on Spider-Man’s return to the “status quo” after the events of Marvel’s Secret Empire, the latest big event spanning story. I realize now that as I type these words that Marvel is already in the middle of another series spanning event full of unique comic book covers and one-shot tie-ins. However, this article is not about the rising and ever continuing trend of big event series crossovers, I will save that for another post.
Now, what struck me about Bryam’s article and the subsequent community comments was the discord over the changing, or rather reversion, of Spider-Man’s character. Spider-Man has undergone many changes over the years, and as an everyman character represents something different to everyone. For myself, Spider-Man was not only the ideal self-sacrificing hero, but a symbol for what the awkward nerd could become. Despite Peter Parker’s nerdy exterior and financial woes he managed to become one of the greatest heroes, while also finding love in a beautiful super-model partner. Given what Spider-Man means to me I was horrified and angered by how Marvel changed the character in One More Day. For those individuals not familiar with One More Day, Spider-Man makes a literal deal with the devil after the events of Civil War, choosing to sacrifice his marriage in order to save his dying Aunt May. After the dust settles, Peter Parker has recently been fired from his job as a professor and is now living with his Aunt May. Essentially, Peter Parker went from working as a professor and married, to single and couch surfing. Needless to say, I was furious and promptly canceled my Spider-Man subscription.
While the changes to Spider-Man’s life in One More Day unnerved me, some of the change was refreshing. Based on the discussion in Bryam’s article the change to Spider-Man’s life, from successful CEO and to unemployed guy, is refreshing and welcomed. This back and forth in Spider-Man’s life serves as an example of the type of problems that exist when writing for a character that is over fifty-five years old. At the same time, this situation is not unique to Spider-Man, or Marvel in general. DC recently finished publishing Scott Snyder’s run on Batman only to delve into Rebirth. Snyder’s run on Batman was part of the New 52, which marked a company-wide change to all of the DC regular characters. I am not arguing against change or big event storytelling, though I definitely have alternative cover fatigue. With all of these changes I just have to ask, is continuity bad for comic books?
Some of my favorite comic book stories occurred outside the normal comic book continuity, or rather, in spite of it. For example, Superman Red Son does something different with the character of Superman and crafts a unique story that can stand on its own. The same can be said for Old Man Logan, a story that takes various liberties with established characters, but manages to create a new story with a lot of depth. Great stories can still come out of continuity, such as the Superior Spider-man, which offered a new take on both Spider-man and Doctor Octopus while still managing to stay within the established continuity of Marvel’s 616 Universe. To look back even further, Alan Moore was able to take Swamp Thing and completely revamp the character without affecting the established continuity. Given all the hoops that comic book writers have to jump through in order to stay within continuity, should comics continue to stick to the established continuity? Marvel’s 1602 and Ultimates opened the door for rich storytelling and world-building, but without having to compromise story structure or established character history. The only time that these stories seem to suffer is when Marvel and DC try to blend these separate story world’s into one. This is not to say that I am not grateful for Miles Morales inclusion into the normal continuity of the Marvel 616 Universe, but that the path to get from A to B is hit or miss. For every Flashpoint (DC) and Secret Wars (Marvel) there is a Convergence (DC) and Axis (Marvel). Even as I list these large comic book events some of you will argue which are better, while others will ask what the heck am I talking about.
Overall, I have to wonder if the time for continuity should be coming to an end. I try and stay abreast of all the latest events and changes to my favorite characters. However, given the constant changes to established characters, staying ahead of the comic book machine is a full-time job. I have to wonder too if continuity is good for new readers. New number one comics do not necessarily equate to new readership, but good storytelling does. To create a new number one comic for new readers may not only be ineffective, but can hurt the established fan base.
Sound off in the comments with your own thoughts on the matter.
Guest Article By Joseph Fridley (@brother_fridley)