Where Have All the Stories Gone?

Posted: August 1, 2011 in Art, Cartoons, Comic Shops, Comics, Entertainment, Kids, Movies, Nerd, News, Pop Culture, Reviews, Scifi, Superhero
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The Superman Homepage is the finest, most comprehensive Superman site on the Web.  If you want to know anything Superman ever did or said the last seventy years; if you want to know anything done with or said about him in that time, you go to the Homepage.  If they ain’t got it, friends, it didn’t happen!   Not only does the SH chronicle the history of the Man of Steel, but it also presents up-to-the-minute news and views of the world of the world’s greatest hero.  Every day, a talented, dedicated crew of reporters, writers, and reviewers, led by Superman fan-extraordinaire, Steve Younis, bakes a fresh batch of goodies for the hungry fan.  I’m one of those and I go there often.

I also receive Steve’s weekly newsletter, The Big Blue Report, which contains information and commentary not found on the site itself.  The latest BBR contains Steve’s thoughts on the DC Relaunch, which I’ve mentioned a couple times in these pages.   I’ve taken the liberty of reprinting a bit of his editorial here:

“Actually, I think we place too much importance on “continuity” these days. Fans bemoan the fact that “their” version of Superman no longer exists, and complain about certain stories no longer being “in continuity”. The fact is, in many ways, we’re to blame. In my opinion, we as readers have become so hung up on trying to make every story fit in with those that came before it, that we’ve created this need for the writers/creators to hit the Reset button every ten years or so in order to be able to tell new stories that aren’t weighed down by such a convoluted history.”

“Today, the main audience for comic books are adults. Most comic books are no longer for children, and possibly not even for teenagers. Most of the people I know who read comic books are all older than twenty. I rarely see anyone younger than that in the comic book store. Therefore, as older readers, we’re more demanding, less forgiving, and have long memories. We want to know that the story we read two years ago still fits in with the book we’re reading today.”

I think Steve has put his finger squarely on a big problem.  I also think one reason for this insatiable desire for comics “continuity” is the desire fans have to immerse themselves in another world.  Remember when series TV used to be more episodic?  Kirk, Spock, and McCoy would beam down to the planet, get into trouble, get out of the trouble, and beam back home.  It was all done in one episode.  You didn’t have to know much about Kirk, Spock, and McCoy to enjoy watching them get into and out of their various predicaments.  You could come onboard the Enterprise any time and jump ship whenever you liked.   You can name your own favorite from the Sixties and Seventies (re-runs, of course, which you’ve seen on TV Land.  Perish the thought you should be so old as to remember what was on TV forty years ago!) and realize the same fact:  back then, dramatic television consisted of done-in-one episodes.

Then came such fare as Dallas and Hill Street Blues.  These shows invited us not just for a visit to J.R. Ewing’s ranch or to Captain Furillo’s police station but into the worlds these characters inhabited.  You couldn’t just stay an hour and walk away.  If you were at all interested in the goings-on at Southfork Ranch or the Hill Street precinct, you had to come back week after week, tune in episode after episode–and not miss any either.  That way, you kept up with all that was going on with Furillo’s private life as well as hefty Officer Renko’s battle with donuts and grouchy Belker’s odd-couple friendship with Captain Freedom, to name just a couple of the many subplots.

But I digress.  The point is, comic books, always doomed to play second fiddle to TV, quickly followed suit.  Superman comics became Dallas-style soap opera and, as the market shrank and the average age of comics readership increased, the desire not simply to read a story but to immerse oneself in a world grew.

I’m not sure, exactly, what feeds this desire.  Perhaps we fans don’t like the lives we’re living and want to escape, and keep on escaping, into other universe, another life and career (I suppose that’s what fed the once-popular roleplaying game phenomenon).   Perhaps for us, to use the title of a Bond movie, the world is not enough.   And perhaps, as William Shatner said in a Saturday Night Live sketch to a group of  costumed, made-up ST fans, we should get a life.

On the one hand, as a preacher, I can and must say that what we’re doing is idolatry: making a fictional world the measure of all things.   On the other hand, I truly believe that a lover of fantasy aches with a God-created ache for More Than This.  But that’s a discussion for another time.

At any rate, as an aging comic book fan, disappointed in and dispirited by much that passes for comics these days, I’m pining for story.   Pure and simple story.

I’ve long maintained that fans are too worried about continuity.  Steve Younis’ response to the booting and rebooting, including DC’s latest, is quite logical–and quite sad. To me, what was lost long ago was Story.  Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are some of the greatest fictional characters ever conceived.  I therefore don’t think they need to be rebooted so much as the idea of writing good stories about them needs to be recovered. It’s no accident that some of the best Superman stories have taken place outside continuity–from Weisinger’s charmingly dubbed “Imaginary stories” to John Byrne’s Generations to Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman. They were page-turners.  You wanted to find out what was going to happen next. When you finished them, you wanted to tell somebody else the story.

I’ve said it before.  I’ve say it again.  Don’t change the characters; change the stories.  You can start, DC, by telling actual stories.

 

Credit: Gary Robinson – garydrobinson.com

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