Thursday, January 24, 2008


Bubble Universes and Retcons

I've run across a couple of interesting ruminations on different comics blogs recently, which I figured I might as well share with all of you lovely people.

First, Siskoid's discussions of "bubble universes," those little corners of shared-universe continuities where creators build little fiefdoms for their characters, have been fascinating. He started out using Green Lantern and The Immortal Iron Fist as examples, then Gail Simone's surprisingly good run on Wonder Woman, and today looks at Swamp Thing.

In a somewhat related vein, the tagteam at Thought Balloonists have recently take a look at The Immortal Iron Fist. Charles Hatfield discusses the book in terms of retcons, and describes the way in which Fraction and Brubaker have expanded the plot "outwards" into new settings, and "backwards" into previously unknown backstory. Similar in a lot of respects to Siskoid's conception of "bubble universes," Hatfield compares The Immortal Iron Fist to James Robinson's Starman, which was a comparison that hadn't occurred to me but which in retrospect seems blindingly obvious.

Thanks for the link Chris!

Interesting about Starman too, it's one of the bubble discussions I have in the pipeline. Look for it soon,
It's just the sort of thing that regular series comics can be so good at, if the whole damn thing isn't blown away by a big corporate Event.
Chris, thanks for citing Thought Balloonists! Glad to see that our ruminations are of interest.

Glad too to follow your link to Siskoid's work on bubble universes; I look forward to reading his thoughts on Starman. This little web of connections has got me thinking...

I think I'm in sympathy with Stu's remark about corporate "Events." I suppose it's pretty obvious from my Iron Fist review that Marvel's Civil War event did not charm me. Even less appealing is the pettifogging continuity management going on at DC currently, with much shuffling of universes, etc. Hooboy, time to grab the Ibuprofen.

But "continuity," when allowed to flourish, that is, when given over to a single author or coordinated team to play with, can produce delightful results: a sense of complications raveling out, or one thing spinning out of another. The irony in this is that "continuity," in mainstream comics, is an artifact of work-for-hire, a setup that doesn't usually respect the patient scheming of lone creators. But certain series manage to fashion their own bubbles, as Siskoid puts it, usually by taking on neglected or second-string properties (Starman, Swamp Thing).

I look forward to reading more of your blog! Thanks again.
Afterthought: Forgive me, I hadn't realized that you were the Chris Roberson who edited the Adventure anthology, featuring that terrific story by my friend and colleague, Marc Singer! Duh!

Siskoid, I'm looking forward to see your take on Starman. It was a huge influence on me, and remains one of my favorite comic runs.
Your points are definitely well taken, Charles. I, too, like Stu have a real "event fatigue." But the pile-up, to borrow the phrase from your blog, is also something I find really appealing about shared-world universes, and comics in general, and that's what the best events tend to excel at doing. (I really enjoyed the Final Night crossover a few years ago, for example, and still have a real soft spot for DC One Million.) The problem is one of scope, often, and whether the complications and spinning you mention are creative decisions arising from the creators' impulses, or are editorial mandates which come down from above. One of the things I find appealing about both Immortal Iron Fist and Starman is the way in which the creators were able to incorporate only those aspects of the various ongoing line-wide crossovers which were essential and pertinent to their respective characters, and ignored the rest. (Like the appearance of the One Million-era Starman in "our" Starman's book, for example, setting up hints about the legacy's future history, or the registration nonsense giving a rationale for why Danny Rand and Misty Knight aren't together at the moment.)
I totally agree with event fatigue syndrome. Events aren't so bad when they don't cross over with every other book regardless of relevance. The original Secret Wars is a guilty love of mine, and Sinestro Corps is a good example of a huge event not taken too far. But then you have Millenium forcing itself onto Legion of Super-Heroes 1000 years late.

Today, not only are the Big Two constantly on Big Event Rhythm, but the crossover banners are way too ubiquitous. Too much Civil War, too much Countdown, and only the very best writers finding an interesting way to shoehorn it into their stories rather than letting them impede on them.

My favorite event crossovers have always been the marginal ones. For Invasion, Animal Man's. For Genesis, Aquaman's. They told unusual stories without breaking the title's stride or phoning it in for Mister Editor.
Oh, I'll never forgive Millennium for what it did to Laurel Kent...

But you make an excellent point. And the appearance of the Thanagarians in Animal Man is another favorite scene of mine, as well.

The fortunate thing is that it seems that DC and Marvel are both starting to learn their lesson, and that things like Sinestro Corps and World War Hulk may start to be the rule for crossovers (for a while, at least) instead of the exception, spilling over only into titles that are pertinent to the plot and ignored by everyone else. (And the apparent success of the various Annihilation miniseries and mini-crossovers, too, commercially and critically, is a promising alternative to the line-wide glut.) Of course, we've got to wait until Countdown runs its course until we get there, more's the pity...
It's as a consumer (yum!) of comics that I find so many of the Events annoying and frustrating. It's like the sad second thoughts you have after giving money to a street person: "Am I just the biggest mark possible, and is it printed on my forehead like the golem's 'EMET'?" And why piss away all the individual talents of so many talented writers and artists on things that are kluged together that may or may not have any value?
Stu, when you find an answer to those questions, be sure to let me know...
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