Ret-Con Anxiety

So I’ve read a bit about “All New Marvel Now,” and some good-natured snark about Marvel doing a reboot of their reboot. Some think it’s a money grab; others think these constant reboots aren’t conducive to character development. DC’s New 52 initiative seems to have angered a lot of people too, just like Zero Hour did, just like Crisis on Infinite Earths did.

There’s a lot of anxiety about retroactive continuity and reboots among comic book readers. I understand it. I’ve just never really felt it.

Part of the anxiety, I guess, is that people become attached to certain incarnations of characters, and then when they’re ret-conned out of existence or their histories are reinvented, it feels like a betrayal. We register the loss. Back in the late 90s people went nuts over Spider-Man’s clone saga. Some went crazy when Superman turned into Blue Lightning. I know some readers are similarly upset about the ghost of Doc Ock inhabiting Peter Parker’s body in the current Spider-Man continuity. But does anybody really believe that Peter Parker is gone forever? Did anyone really think Superman was going to keep that stupid-looking mullet after he came back from the dead? Did anybody think Azrael was going to replace Batman for good? How many times has Jean Grey died? 

I really think we need to calm down about supposedly “major” changes to the mythology of our favourite characters. Everything that has ever been done in a comic book has also been undone. Characters die and come back to life – sometimes regularly. “Temporal anomalies” and “alternate realities” can always be used to put things back the way they were.

I guess I’ve always just thought this was the nature of the comic book medium. Superheroes are mythic figures. Their stories exist in lots of different places, across different media and genres. Each retelling of the  story is a little different. What matters is the core of the character – the lesson, or the idea, that makes the character “true.” It doesn’t matter if Batman dies, because he’ll come back. If you hate the current Robin, don’t worry. He’ll be killed and then he’ll cease to have ever existed, and then he’ll come back, and then he’ll be gone again. That’s just the nature of superhero stories.

Marvel is motivated by money. They’re rebooting their reboots in order to get new readers to “jump on” every 12-24 months. That said, I think they might also have cracked something about comics. Why pretend these stories are ongoing? They aren’t. Every new arc, and every new creative team, let alone every new series signals a re-imagining, a retelling, a reinvigoration of the franchise. It’s as if Marvel has just said “F**k it, the core of the character is permanent, but all the other stuff is ephemeral. Let’s just run with that.”


One thought on “Ret-Con Anxiety

  1. Pingback: What’s Wrong With Reboots? | Copper and Chrome

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