Canon and Continuity
I walked into my classroom the other day to see two students arguing whether or not Superboy Prime was still part of the DC Universe canon. At first I was amused then I paused to consider the question because up until then, I had never really focused much on what constituted DC Comics’ official canon.
Deriving from the use with the Bible, canon has come to mean the official record for a fiction universe and was first used in that regard with Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes works. Currently, it has been the bane of anyone associated with Star Trek as many wonder which of the derivative properties were officially recognized by Paramount Pictures. In that case, the answer was none of it. Paramount and Gene Roddenberry, when he was will with us, insisted only the filmed television series and feature films were the official continuity of Star Trek (the animated films were later grudgingly included).
Star Wars fans were originally told the opposite: that the Marvel (later Dark Horse) Comics and DelRey novels were all officially sanctioned and integrated into the Star Wars canon. That is, until Lucasfilm was sold to Disney and they cleaned the slate, returning to the filmed entertainment as the canon plus the new fiction and comics. Everything else was discarded.
When you own the intellectual property, you can do as you please although taking your fan and consumer base into account is wise. Interestingly, as I composed this, I tripped over this article from The Atlantic which is well worth reading.
So, I was thinking about DC and Superboy Prime. Arguably, after the nonsensical Flashpoint reset their reality, making way for the New 52 multiverse, the answer was no. But then, bit by bit, the previous continuity kept creeping in. Finally, we had the somewhat absurd Convergence event last year which now made every version of the DC Universe continuity still extent. So Superboy Prime is canon as much as anything else the company has published the last 76 years.
For its 50th anniversary, DC collapsed its multiverse into a single positive matter and single antimatter reality. The reason at the time was that publisher Jenette Kahn felt the parallel worlds concept was becoming cumbersome and an obstacle to new readers. Were she to look at the comics currently being published, her head would spin with all the variations of Superman now interacting with one another. A new title this year, Super Sons, will feature the son of the pre-New 52 Superman and Lois interacting with Damian Wayne, the son of Bruce Wayne from the current New 52 reality.
Marvel has tended their reality with a little more fealty. The recently concluded mega event reset the universe, cleaning out some dead wood and introducing new concepts to be played with. We’re still learning of these changes since there was an eight month gap between the end of the previous reality and the new one. They are also being a lot better at cross-referencing these vents so it feels better planned and even better communicated among its writers and editors. (Although, there seems to be some contention whether or not these stories are still set on Earth 616 or somewhere else.)
Continuity has periodically been bashed as a dirty word because some writers or editors adhered too much to what has come before and critics argued it inhibited good storytelling. Others ignore it to the detriment of its readers so clearly some middle ground works best for all concerned. Exactly what that middle ground is needs to be defined and agreed upon by the current editorial team at any company attempting a shared universe.
Without that strong editorial hand, chaos will always ensue.
When I discussed this with longtime pals and fellow continuity mavens, I was a little surprised by their attitude, which was more or less a shrug. Since the companies clearly don’t seem to care about maintaining strict continuity, they’re sitting back and just enjoying the better-produced comics that they find.
One question they raised: do today’s comic book readers care about continuity. I honestly don’t know so you tell me.