Robot 6

Comics prequels: Do we need them?

X-Men #1

What is it about comics fans (any type of fan, really, but let’s focus on comics fans) that makes us want to see the details of every little thing that happened ever? We know that Bruce Wayne was inspired to become a crimefighter when he saw his parents gunned down in an alley, but what about the gunman? He’s gotta have a story too and I want to read it. The X-Men are already a team when we first meet them in X-Men #1, so how did they form? There has to be a story there as well; someone get on that. And so the publishers and storytellers oblige us.

It’s not just gaps in comic book history that we want filled in. Movies also have back-stories and comics are the go-to medium for showing us Abby the vampire’s adventures with her “father” pre-Let Me In or filling in details of how Romulan Eric Bana went back in time to create Nu Trek. Why are we so interested in seeing this stuff when we’ve already seen how it plays out?

You don’t have to answer that. I think I know. For me, it goes back to my childhood introduction to comics as a casual reader and an experience that I’ve heard shared by countless comics fans. It comes up a lot when we talk about the necessity (or lack thereof) of jump-on points for new readers. Fans of my generation didn’t need jump-on points to get interested in superhero comics and we often argue that neither do new readers today. Part of the fun of Marvel and DC comics was being thrown into the deep end of these universes that felt so real. And the reason they felt real was because of all the history that was referred to not only by the characters, but also by the editors themselves in all those little caption boxes telling us to check out Avengers #53 or whatever if we wanted to see what Hawkeye’s talking about.

Avengers #53

That immersive experience hooked us and we didn’t actually need to go back and find a copy of Avengers #53 to enhance anything. The story we were currently reading told us enough to understand what we needed to know. But we sure as hell fantasized about one day owning a copy of Avengers #53 and reading that story for ourselves. For a lot of fans, reading older comics isn’t just about consuming classic stories by legendary storytellers; it’s also about filling in those historical gaps and finally witnessing for ourselves events that previously we’d only been told about second-hand.

The thing is though: it never ends. I pulled Avengers #53 out of my butt as an example, but let’s go with it. Looking it up on Comics.org, it’s about Magneto’s manipulating the Avengers into fighting the X-Men for him. That’s going to lead to some questions about the X-Men, but if you want them answered first-hand, you’ll have to go to their book to learn more. Except that current X-Men comics are only going to send you digging into X-Men back-issues for the “complete” story and even if you go all the way back to the very first X-Men comic ever made…you still don’t see how the team came together.

Any fictional world worth exploring is going to have back-story. My question is: are we ever really satisfied by having it laid out for us in detail? Is my enjoyment of Batman enhanced by knowing all about Joe Chill? Has any prequel comic ever turned the movie it supported into a better experience? Maybe they have for you. If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. But for me, I’ve only ever been disappointed at seeing events play out that I’ve already imagined much more coolly in my head. Exhibit A: the Clone Wars.

Star Wars: Episode 1 - Queen Amidala

Observing another movie franchise, I was concerned when I heard about plans to make an Alien prequel. Rob Bricken at Topless Robot summarized my feeling really well:

“Let me tell you what this movie will be – an alien stalking that first spaceship [that they discovered in Alien], or, basically, a remake of the original Alien except everybody dies and it’ll saddled with an incredibly lame origin story that makes the whole franchise less interesting. No thank you, Ridley. Why don’t you just go ahead and work on a prequel to your Monopoly film instead. Tell us how Uncle Moneybags met the dog and thimble.”

Or, as Filmdrunk put it, “You know what are super cool? Sharks. You know what’s not that interesting? The story of how sharks were created.”

Fortunately, the direct-prequel idea for Alien ultimately was trashed, mostly because Damon Lindelof got involved. What actually got me thinking about all of this were some comments he made about prequels on The Kevin Pollack Chat Show.

Planet of the Apes #2

“I’ve always felt that really good prequels should be original movies. And the sequels to those prequels should not be the movie which already exists because, with all due respect to anyone who makes a prequel, but why would you ruin the greatest twist in the history of cinema – ‘Luke, I am your father’ – by showing me three movies which basically spoil that surprise. You can do movies which take place before Star Wars, but I don’t need to see the story of the Skywalker clan. Show me something else which I can’t guess the possible outcome of. There is no suspense in inevitability. So a true prequel should essentially proceed the events of the original film, but be about something entirely different, feature different characters , have an entirely different theme, although it takes place in that same world.”

I tend to agree. It’s not that I don’t care to see stories anymore that are set in earlier time periods. Marvels is a great example of this done correctly. It reflects events from Marvel’s history without being about them. And from the movie prequel arena, BOOM!’s current Planet of the Apes comic succeeds by covering events not directly referred to by the films or leading into any of them. It’s exciting because it’s its own thing. It doesn’t rely on my affection for another story and that makes all the difference in the world. I don’t want to keep going over missing details from stories I’ve already enjoyed. I want to experience new ideas and new characters that will get my imagination firing, not digest someone else’s version of a story that I’ve already imagined as awesome as it can be.

What about you though? Do you enjoy prequels and hole-filling stories in general? Do you only like certain ones? What are the greats?

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Comments

15 Comments

As in all things: it depends on the execution. Remember Marvel’s “Flashback” month from some 15 years ago? (Gosh, I’m getting old.) They had “minus one” issues which were set 3 years before the Silver Age of Marvel began. Now, this was the mid-90s, when everything was “mutants” and most of the decent writers and artists had fled Marvel, so you had a VERY mixed bag. But they weren’t all bad. I thought the X-Men -1 issue was very nice, had decent Carlos Pacheo artwork, and could have easily sat on a shelf right next to a copy of the actual X-Men #1 in chronological order.

On the other hand, stories about Flash Thompson’s dad beating him were depressing as heck and didn’t make me more interested in Spider-Man. So, like I said…mixed bag.

I know a specific kind of prequel that I have no interest at all in. The movie prequel comics. Like the ones they did for Green Lantern. They will never get referenced EVER, and are usually bad.

Comic time lines are so non-linear, so i don’t think matters as much for them. While I can’t think of any movie prequels that stand out, its all really a matter of taste and love for the material.

People seem to be liking X-Men first class and its a prequel.
Then again, its a prequel about Xavier and Magneto and the X-Men films were more about Wolverine and Co, so maybe thats gives them enough room or something unique enough to work with and make it exciting.

if a prequel is done mostly because it adds the back ground to the story or shows the thing that made the character the way he or she is . then do not see nothing wrong with them. other wise the prequels are a mixed bag like the so callled aliens one coming for some things are better left untouched which a prequel does some time.

Not only prequels. I will never read another Year 1, Year 2, Year Whatever again, for exactly the same reason.

knightoftomorrow

June 30, 2011 at 12:59 am

When it comes to comic book movies, I don’t even bother reading prequel comics any more.

While I did read the Star Trek: Countdown series that ultimately led to Spock and Nero going back in time, I didn’t read the other prequel series focusing on Spock and Nero specifically. I was curious as to what happened that led to the time changing story of the new movie and I knew it was not the kind of thing that would ever be made in television or movie form. I enjoyed that it connected “old Trek” with “nu Trek” and felt it was worth reading, though by no means necessary to enjoy the movie. Having read that story, I did not feel any need to further explore either Nero or Spock on their own.

I tried reading Die Hard: Year One, but just did not find it to be interesting enough to follow. Everything you ever need to know about John McClane is presented in the movies, there’s no real need to know what his first year on the force was like.

I enjoyed 24: Nightfall, but as with Die Hard, I don’t think you really need to see Jack Bauer’s past to understand his character, it’s all there in the show.

I think there needs to be a solid reason and story for a prequel comic. It shouldn’t just be something that is put together in a desperate attempt to make some extra cash off of a movie property or just to bring in new readers.

I can understand wanting to bring in new readers with comics that tell the background of the movie the reader has just seen. However, many times the story lines in the regular comics are so different from the movie story. X-Men is a perfect example of this. The prequel comics for the first movie were unnecessary and that movie, and said prequel comics, was completely unlike the comics of the time and there was no bridge between the two. I think the value of having a prequel comic is diminished if you can’t find a way to easily connect the movie/prequel comic to the regular stories going on in the monthly books.

I didn’t bother with the Green Lantern prequels. I knew they were not going to be really relevant to the story of the movie and Tomar-Re, Kilowog, and Abin Sur barely appeared in the movie. Would it be interesting to have stories featuring the movie versions of these characters? Yeah, but as another reader already mentioned, they’re not going to be referenced in any way in comics or movies, so why waste the time and money?

Well, I am loving the Captain America: The First Avenger tie-in mini series. It has a lot of Cap in uniform, fighting Hydra, but tons of flashbacks as well. Of course, with the movie yet to be released, I can’t tell you whether it has enhanced my enjoyment of the film, but it’s certainly ramped up my excitement.

This said, I only tend to get “out of continuity” stuff for characters like Cap. I loved “The Fighting Avenger” to bits, and the same with “The Mighty Avenger”, but I have no desire to go rooting through trades and back issues boxes to try and get to grips with either Thor or Cap’s “real” story lines. For characters like them, continuity is a burden that keeps a lot of readers away. Give me fresh takes like the aforementioned “The Adjective Avenger” books, and I’m happy. They function as a kind of movie tie in, in my eyes, as there is no need to unravel 40+ years of mind boggling continuity. Watch the movie, read a comic with roughly the same character, gold.

Imraith Nimphais

June 30, 2011 at 3:52 am

One word…Wolverine.

He was more fun to read when I did not know (and truth to tell I did not care) about everything that he did, everywhere he had been, everyone he had slept with prior to James Hudson finding him naked and deranged in the Canadian wilds. The Winsdor Smith Weapon X story was okies as it told us wot exactly happened to Logan leading up to his ‘discovery’…and it was illustrated by B.W-S. And then…the floodgates opened.

And every writer who ever got thier pen on Wolverine felt the need, the burning desire, to tell us wot really happened. Every single unimportant (and sometimes, quite rediculous) detail about the life of Wolverine prior to becoming Wolverine.

Yes, he was a man of many mysteries and that made the character interesting and enigmatic. But then that particular appeal died a slow and eventual death when they started to solve those mysteries. Some things are better left unsaid, unseen and unknown.

I imagine I’m one of the only ones who read these, but I really liked the prequel comics to the last TMNT movie… they worked fairly well on their own, and they did a good job setting up the film. Certainly made me like the movie more to have some background information going in.

I’m not, however, really sure that fits what you’re talking about since that example is still a linear story just told in different formats…

I also really liked the movie The Abyss… but then I read the novelization (by Orson Scott Card), and it opened up a whole new world. I watched the movie again, and everything made much more sense; I cared about the characters far more than I previously did. Mostly the book fleshed out Lt. Coffee, but that made all the difference, changing a fairly one-dimensional character in the movie to another human being with which I could relate who was, like most of us always are, a victim of circumstance. You kind of want him to bite it in the movie, but after reading the book, that scene becomes much more conflicting.

That’s also probably not exactly what you’re talking about…
Remember that Avengers / Defenders crossover from the 70’s? I had bought a random stack of Bronze books from someone which contained three issues of that crossover. It quickly became my focus at cons to find the remaining pieces of the story… and after that, I wanted the intro story… and after that I wanted that issue of FF that told the history of (it’s been a while…) some weapon or another.

In all of those cases I definitely wanted to know more, and I the immersive nature of the stories was only made better.
Then again, I was a History major…
and then again, there was Episode 1…

Prequels are LAME!!!

X-Men: First Class works as a prequel film because you know the end result in the “later” X-Men films, but not how it happened.
Plus, it leaves an open-ended situation as to what happened to the surviving First Classers who didn’t make it to the time of the first X-Men movie and how the present group formed (especially since it doesn’t mirror comics continuity)

Well, FWIW, I feel like I should point out how widely revered “The Godfather, Part II” is; indeed many people consider it superior to the original film, though I disagree. This, in part, is because much of the second film is basically a remake of parts of the first film… the exception to this is the series of flashback scenes to the early life of Don Corleone, which effectively constitute a “prequel” to the first film.

I think these scenes are great, and must assume that they play at least some significant part in others’ esteem for the film as a whole, also.

@Wraith
The flashback scenes are present in the book “The Godfather”. I don’t know why they didn’t make it to the first movie (probably because of movie length) but they are part of the original concept.

@everyone else
I never cared for prequels. In my mind, they are almost a retcon, with the difference that they don’t move characters or plots forward. By the way, I don’t like retcons that much either.

JC LEBOURDAIS

July 4, 2011 at 10:14 am

BATMAN: YEAR ONE. ’nuff said.

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