Goodbye to you: Is changing canon the best way to keep fans happy?

Some stick with reading comics for their entire lives (the norm in Japan, though the type changes over the lifetime), while others put them away after childhood, or give up due to “women in refrigerators” sexism. I gave up on the X-men comics for good during the Age of Apocalypse storyline (glad I missed what happened to Emma Frost with the “bad use of baby” Stepford Cuckoos, and the Scarlet Witch’s family only in her head). A close friend, a literal lifelong comic book fan, had enough with his favorite superhero Spiderman after Peter Parker’s marriage (lasting twenty-one real world years!) to Mary Jane was erased.

But lest one think that striking over twenty years of canon storyline by Marvel would be it, DC ups the ante by changing parts of the origin story of Batman after almost seventy years. And they don’t end it there — with a gihugeic shocker to the entire Batman franchise (hint: the series is called Batman RIP).

Canon defying time, Batman!
Canon defying time, Batman!

This extreme change to the Batman mythos / canon could be undone, but I doubt it. This step seems made to upset both long-term and casual fans. I’m puzzled by the need to make such a dramatic change in canon, after all, the Batman franchise has survived Congressional hearings, and the franchise is flexible enough to include stories ranging from the campy 60s TV show to Frank Miller’s nihilistic misogynistic vision (and as a manga series in Japan). At present, the Batman transmedia franchise includes many varied elements — comics, movies, toys, video games, and these products are marketed at audiences ranging from toddler to adults.

But as Will Brooker discusses in his conclusion to Batman Unmasked, Batman has served many roles over time — and the icon will live on. Similar to Robin Hood, the story of a avenging hero who rights wrongs — in often illegal ways, the story of Batman will continue to be retold. Brooker hints at, and I come right out and state, that one company cannot fully control the limits of who Batman can be as long as children through play use their imagination to create their own stories (Batman is friends with a manatee and Spiderman? Sure!).

Interestingly, much fan anger was not directed at DC, but at the news media for spoiling the ending — in the U.S., USA Today and in the U.K., The Daily Mail and The Sun, which ran panels from the comic before the release date. Newspapers are interested in what is newsworthy (or if you are cynical, what will bring them revenue), so ignoring the fan community’s “I don’t want to hear it, I want to read it myself” impulse makes sense.

I wonder what will be the long-term consequences of changing elements of the origin stories and canonical back stories of these important comic book heroes in ways that veer beyond an easy restart. Will fans be interested in keeping up with the official story from this point on — or are they likely to seek out fanworks? Or will they just give up on the characters and comic books and seek entertainment elsewhere?

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