WARNING: While I wouldn’t consider anything that follows much of a Batman spoiler, if you’re the sort of person who says things like, “Aw, maaan! I didn’t know that Lost happened on an island! Uh, spoiler alert!” this is your chance to bail whilst your panties are still unbunched. Don’t say I never did anything nice for you.
How much of a retcon are you willing to countenance?
I was thinking about this over the weekend as I read Pick of the Week Batman #10, a book which I’ll be showing to my daughter the next time her brother swipes one of her Barbies, saying, “Darlin’, it could be a lot worse. A lot worse.”
The book isn’t technically a retcon, of course. No matter what we think we know or how familiar something seems, the New 52 have the luxury of taking an eighty-year-old story and making up its continuity on the spot. If they say Snapper Carr is the albino offspring of Somali pirates, you have to sit there and take it like a prizefighter. Nothing is written in stone anymore. Hell, nothing is written at all.
Still, there are these universal truths we think we know about our favorite characters, and every so often a writer is granted permission to walk up and shake them like a snow globe. If Scott Snyder weren’t Scott Snyder, and he pulled the hooey and applesauce we see in this week’s Batman, they would have had to hire a crew of street sweepers to gather up all the marbles people would’ve lost. As it is, we trust him– he got us this far, after all– but our fingers are still hovering nervously over the “Eject” button.
(SPOILER ALERT: Life is almost never what you wanted it to be, but the curveballs pay off big time.)
Which stories do we hold as inviolate? Mostly the origin stories, I’d imagine. If Superman were to discover that his biological parents were actually futurists from Huber Heights, Ohio, I doubt the franchise would survive. But what if Jean Grey wasn’t the first Earthling to wield the Phoenix Force? What if the death of Bucky, which traumatized Captain America for the rest of his unnatural life did not, in the strictest sense, happen at all? What if Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben was not killed by a random crook but rather by Thomas Hayden Church, causing him to do a jazzy dance with emo hair?
How much do you have to bend before your favorite character isn’t your character anymore?
Before Batman #10 came out, there was a rumor going ’round that it was going to show that Bruce’s parents weren’t murdered at random, but rather as part of a grand conspiracy. (Snyder still has time to do this, incidentally. AAAnyway!) If that turned out to be the new origin story, would you feel for Bruce any less? Would his struggle be any less important or “impactful” to you?
(Note: I hate the “word” “impactful,” but goddamn if I can think of anything that applies better right now.)
Personally, I’m not sure anything is out of bounds anymore. I would’ve said the death of Bucky Barnes was an inviolate moment in the life of Captain America before Ed Brubaker showed me how it didn’t have to be. Now I read every issue of Winter Soldier and count the days until the next one arrives. I would’ve said, “Ugh, Christ, let’s all pretend the Spider-Clones never happened,” but as it turns out Scarlet Spider is one of my favorite books on the market. (Damn your wily pencils, Ryan Stegman!) Nothing could have sounded more gross to me than the revelation that Barbara Gordon was fit as a fiddle again, but Batgirl is one of my favorite books this year so far. I’m not even getting started on Spider-Men, a book that would have given me a seizure in my twenties.
“It’s not what a thing is about, but how it is about it,” is a sentence I always attribute to Roger Ebert but have no idea whether he actually said it or not. If he didn’t say it, let’s pretend it’s all mine. The idea behind that barely attributed quote is that the genre and story take a backseat to how the storyteller tells it. What the story is doesn’t matter; how the story is told is all that matters. Scott Snyder could tell me that Bruce Wayne’s grandfather killed Dick Grayson’s parents to clear a mob debt, as long as he told it in a way that resonated with me. And even if it fundamentally changed who the character was, it wouldn’t affect who the character is.
But that’s just me spouting off. Where do you come down on all this? Which classic story would drive you from comics if they changed it? “With great power comes great naked lady action”? Let the world know where you stand.