Robot 6

Why are we afraid of ‘The End’?

Green Lantern #20, Geoff Johns' final issue

Green Lantern #20, Geoff Johns’ final issue

The mythologies built by comics, particularly superhero comics, is often pointed out as one of the great accomplishments of the medium.

There’s no doubt the Marvel and DC universes are impressive feats of world-building. In Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, Sean Howe proclaimed the Marvel Universe “the most intricate fictional narrative in the history of the world”. If you discount DC because of its various universe resets from Crises and Flashpoints and what-have-yous, I guess that’s true. Whoever gets to wear the crown, both sets of characters have been generating dozens of stories, usually hundreds of stories, every month since the late 1930s. Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon universe might be in third place.

Of course, superhero comics aren’t alone in this: In Japan, popular manga series also tend to get pretty long in the tooth. Osamu Akimoto’s police comedy Kochikame has been running weekly since 1976, resulting in more than 1,700 chapters collected in nearly 200 volumes. Takao Saito’s twice-monthly crime manga Golgo 13 is older, having launched in 1969. One Piece has 69 volumes, Naruto has 64, and Bleach 58.

These are amazing accomplishments, but we don’t appreciate the satisfying arc of a finite story often enough.

Ending his nine-year run writing Green Lantern, Geoff Johns spoke this week with Comic Book Resources about the themes of his tenure, focusing on Hal Jordan and his world, and I was struck by how deeply he thought about the book. His ideas on understanding our emotions and their significance to life show that the stories were about more than simply flying around in space. It’s clear Johns put a lot of himself into the book, and it appears he’s found an appropriate end point. He listened to the needs of the story and his own creative muse, and knew it was the right time. And reading him explain the almost beautiful way he’s brought his whole narrative full circle, I’m not entirely sure I want to see what comes next. In many ways, this has become Geoff Johns’ Hal Jordan, and to watch someone else take it over and carry on removes some of the resolution to Johns’ finale.

That’s not a knock on incoming Green Lantern writer Robert Venditti. And that doesn’t mean DC should retire the characters and never touch them again. Instead, I would be more interested in seeing what Venditti and future writers would do with Green Lantern in a fresh context. Similarly, I’m hesitant to get too invested in whoever will write Earth 2 after James Robinson’s final issue. Someone should just do a new Earth 2, instead of trying to pick up the pieces.

I’m reminded of the struggles that Uncanny X-Men writers had after Chris Claremont ended his 16-year run. For the most part, it just felt like people were doing Claremont impressions. Sure, they were entertaining Claremont impressions, and eventually some of them found their own spin, but it didn’t really feel like someone had really grabbed the reins on those characters until Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely showed up on New X-Men. What if 1991′s X-Men #3 ended with ‘The End’? What if we left those characters there? And then what if next month Scott Lobdell and the others that followed did their own X-Men, incorporating what they like from what came before but creating their own unique stories? And then when they were done, Marvel brought in new creators with their own takes?

Of course this sort of scenario will not happen in the near future, despite the great jumping-on points it would provide. If Marvel or DC incorporated that kind of publishing strategy across their entire lines, or even most of their lines, the ability to do money-making events and crossovers would all but vanish. The illusion of continuity would be shattered, and for some that’s of more interest and value. And it is an illusion when you try to account for all of the errors, personality overhauls and disjointed plots that inevitably occur when hundreds of people are writing under a deadline for decades.

It becomes obvious that keeping a personal canon is really the only way to save your sanity and bank account. It’s also a challenge to create satisfying conclusions. Even celebrated TV shows struggle with it, either leaving audiences divided (like Lost and The Sopranos) or fizzle out (Battlestar Galactica). So why risk messing up a good thing when you can instead just perpetually keep doing the good thing, even if it’s no longer good?

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24 Comments

When Morrison’s run on Batman is over in June, that’s probably the last “in-continuity” Batman issue I’m gonna buy for awhile. After that…what else is there to say? What could follow that?

Stuffandstuff

May 22, 2013 at 3:42 pm

This is a very American(superhero comic) thing. Most comics in general(published around the world) have endings. I think comics that don’t end/very very long are the exception certainly not the rule.

It’s not really the end for GL. He’ll have stories published every single month. Forever. There’s a good and bad to that, why keep something going just to keep it going?

If anything, shouldn’t we be afraid of the fact that most of our stories don’t truly “end”? This was me attempting to sound deep.

hmm, okay.

Personally I’ve long since been able to shake off the slavish need to follow any particular characters or creators and become more interested in the stories being told. I’m quite easily able to drop any book if I’m not enjoying it.

I don’t think most comic fans are afraid of “The End.” The Dark Knight was very well received and that was basically the end of Batman. So was Kingdom Come.

The ones who fear “The End” are the comic companies, because that would mean the end of their cash cows. Ending comics means ending the pop culture presence, which means ending potential merchandising and movie deals.

Claremont’s final run hardly counts, since Marvel was planning to abort his run in favor of the new hot shots. Claremont did have an overarching story which he had planned on writing (which involved Wolverine dying). But he wasn’t allowed to end it. That’s why he signed on to the (poorly received) X-Men forever series. So the end of Claremont’s run barely counts because he wasn’t allowed to end it.

Rollo Tomassi

May 22, 2013 at 4:40 pm

Eventually, somebody else will come along and write another exceptional Green Lantern era.
Just like every other comics character has had a great run by specific creators. And eventually somebody else came along with a different but equally great run.

@El Santo
Was there anything good about X-Men Forever, at least?

The solution has been staring the “Big Two” in the face for years, but they’ve been afraid to exercise it: generational stories. Have a particular character in a role for a few years/decades, then retire/die and be replaced by another who continues the story. I mean, nothing invalidated the original Star Trek when The Next Generation came along. We all accepted that Picard’s crew was 80 years later and was carrying on the traditions of the earlier team, even if they had the remotest of connections.

DC came *really* close to doing this in a satisfactory way, and blew it in the early 2000s. By the late 90s, DC had a pretty good model of three generations of heroes, some of whom had passed on their legacies to others. We had a JSA in the 1940s, most of whom had died by 1994. (The Flash, Green Lantern, and Wildcat still being alive was a little absurd, but we worked with it.) The JLA came in the middle, but some of those characters–primarily Barry and Hal–had passed on their legacies to the younger Wally and Kyle. We were looking ahead for the Young Justice kids to take over at some point.

Heck, I’d have accepted it if Wally had retired in the mid-2000s and they’d found a way for Bart to properly take over as the Flash. But no, DC had to back-pedal to Silver-Ageism and bring back all the characters who’d been retired in the minds of comicdom for years. I realize that Geoff Johns has done marvelous things with Hal Jordan, but I’d felt like he’d gotten a corrective send-off in Final Night and it didn’t originally need to be done. Barry was just pointless.

This is a very American(superhero comic) thing. Most comics in general(published around the world) have endings.

This is provably untrue when you consider non-superhero comics in the US that end all the time and also consider comics overseas that pretty much run forever like a superhero book does. It’s just your perception that says this.

I don’t think comic readers fear ‘The End.’ Comics by the big 2 are designed to last as long as we readers want them to. The reason there aren’t clearly different directions because we don’t know exactly what we want. So writers imitate rather than innovate because it sells. Additionally, it make more sense for DC and Marvel to keep thing cohesive and keep readers between runs. Everyone has been copying and homaging Frank Miller’s Daredevil since is came out. It took a truly daring writer to break that mold, and I would argue he could do that because he’s Mark Waid.

@Adam
That solution would work for some characters. Namely, Green Lantern, the Flash, Captain America, but for the vast majority of iconic characters, they should remain timeless. Superman will always be Clark Kent and Spider-Man will always be Peter Parker. They can’t be replaced in the same way, since the power of the hero is tied to the character as well as the legacy. So ultimately, they are left with a world where half the world ages greatly, and the other half doesn’t at all. The other side of this is also that people don’t buy a Batman or Daredevil book because they of the costume, but ultimately because of who’s underneath. Even when superheroes die or go away, we continue reading them because it is their continuous story (we knew from the beginning that Dick Grayson wasn’t going to be Batman forever). The big 2 comic stories are all middle because new writers will always have a new Batman or Spider-Man story in mind. And if we were to retire any of the characters, we would not know just how good this story might be.

I like multiple endings myself–here’s how I handle it:

http://chastmastr.tumblr.com/post/744210997/continuity-corner-the-system

For more: http://chastmastr.tumblr.com/tagged/continuity

So that way, for me, the 1970s-pre-Crisis 80′s Superman ends with him and Lois married in Superman Family #200 and on into Superman #400 showing the future; the 1990s Superman leads up to the future of DC One Million; and so on. Very different and characteristic of their era, but with a nice satisfying conclusion. The 1990s Spider-Man starts with Untold Tales by Kurt Busiek and ends with Spider-Girl and the MC-2 universe (Logan and Elektra married, Jubilee heads the current X-People, etc.), and so on.

Oh. and for the X-Men of the 1980s, I honestly think the very best ending is Fall of the Mutants. Here we have the X-Men saving the world, but on camera, so everyone sees them do it–we see people really rethinking their attitudes toward mutants–the X-Men die, but are now forever legends, and then brought back to life by Roma, told they can go anywhere in space and time they want to–X-Factor gets a parade in California–and so on. This is a perfect high note to end the run on–it’s suggested that this will change people’s views of mutants once and for all, and in a way that kind of concludes the X-Men’s mission (Magneto was still a reformed good guy at this point, too). And then of course they went to Australia and so on, but for that run I think it’s a great ending. (I’d perhaps include the original Excalibur one-shot showing Kitty, Kurt, and Rachel starting Excalibur in England as a nice epilogue, again with hope for the future.)

Different David

May 22, 2013 at 11:21 pm

I’ll never understand how comics news reporters can be so dense as to consistently ignore Dave Sim and Gerhard’s Cerebus comics in stories like this. Cerebus has Savage Dragon beat by well over a hundred issues, exploring far more complex themes. It’s the longest sustained narrative by a single writer in comics history. These corporate super-heroes are written by committee by a rotating cast of primarily work-for-hire employees. In reality, the corporate owners are more interested in viewing the stories as IP farms and vehicles for other forms commercialization (video games, lunch boxes…). It’s not the same thing at all.

I’ve thought that it would be cool if Marvel and DC both just ran with a set continuity for about 20-25 years then allowed them to end, rebooted and moved on. While I appreciate the heavy continuity its a little weird to have stories that spin out of things that were happening before I was born. Marvel could have done this nicely with the initial Ultimateverse but shied away. DC almost did it recently with their Nu52 but that got so bungled I am not really sure if it constitutes a relaunch anymore.

This is a very weird argument the writer crafted. Personally I don’t think its all that big a deal to basically only allow a character to have an ongoing if and only if a writer has specific vision in mind for said character, and then end the series after that writer is done, if you don’t have a writer with a similar vision (in scope, not in definition). But why must that come with constant reboots? It just seems like needlessly complicating things, when its enough to merely make sure that each writer has the same level of love and desire to show us the best, most interesting version of that character they can write.

@Jay,

Yeah, I accept that certain characters will have to stay perpetually young: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Spider-Man. In that regard, I think Marvel would have a harder time with a “legacy” system since so few of its characters have had multiple persons in the same role.

With DC, it’s much more plausible to accept. In the 90s, I don’t recall many people being upset that Superman and Batman were no longer in the JSA. (Wonder Woman was shoehorned back in through her mother.) If they had eventually retrofit the original JLA as a 1960s team, I don’t think many people would have been upset if it had been limited to Barry, Hal, Black Canary, Martian Manhunter and Aquaman. Again, the Crisis had removed Wonder Woman as a founding member, and Superman and Batman’s roles were so diminished post-Crisis that I don’t think anyone noticed their absence.

It’s not so much that the stories never end, it’s that the stories never bloody change. Regardless of anything any writer tries to do, someone down the line will reverse the decision. So dead never mean dead as long as anyone can remember the character at all, and Batman and Superman will always find a reason to fight each other at least once a decade, and Spider-Man will fail to save a life and feel miserable AGAIN.
If I don’t bother with the big 2, it’s because with a perpetual status quo lasting 50+ years, none of the stories seem to MATTER. You can generally find another one just like it somewhere in the backlog.

I think if you’re doing done-in-one (or two) adventures it makes more sense as an ongoing. But with that there needs to be a willingness to accept a certain amount of stasis (I.E. Bart Simpson is always a kid, Archie is always a teenager, Lois doesn’t know Clark and Superman are the same guy) You can have some degree of change and adapting to the times but it can’t be “NOTHING WILL BE THE SAME!” “EVERYTHING YOU KNOW IS WRONG!” “WORLDS WILL DIE!” “THIS ISSUE SOMEBODY DIES!” “WHOLE LOTTA DYIN/LOOK WHO’S BACK!” every month.

I don’t have a problem with this because I’m there for the story not for seeing how the writer can break the basic matrix…again.

If you’re wanting to do long overarching plots and inter connected continuity with the idea of presenting a totally linear passage of time and changes then the story needs to *eventually* end otherwise it stops making any sense as a story or a life. It just becomes dispatches from another dimension at best and at worst, expensive and convoluted fanfic. (or in many cases darkfic right down to “I’ll take x thing from my childhood and put more sex and gore in it!”)

I think it was a good time for him to stop if the recent storytelling is to be considered.
I started to follow Green Lantern since the onset of The Sinestro Corps War and out of all that has came after it…the last “Third Army” and “First Lantern” story arcs were the weakest for me.
I guess it’s all the forgotten plot points like
1) Mogo being thrown in a star but somehow putting himself together
2) Sinestro destroying his Yellow Lantern on Earth but it still survived after his planet was destroyed
3) Baz getting Sinestro’s “real” lantern ring only for it to somehow become the duplicate ring
4) Hal Jordan having the duplicate ring but complaining he didn’t have a lantern to charge it with but yet there was one in his locker at work
5) White Lantern Kyle unable to resurrect the dead even though that is the very power the white lanterns have
6) Sayd being killed by Ganthet and the Guardians only for her to end up in Larfleeze’s sack

There are others I’m sure and I know most stories have little things like this that happen and need to to move the story along. But there seems to be so many of these little “we’ll just reverse that and hope no one notices” since the Flashpoint reboot that it took away from the story for me.
I’m glad for happy endings, I just wish they didn’t seem forced.

@Acer: I actually liked the first couple of volumes well enough and I plan on getting the rest at some point. Claremont’s storytelling is a little rusty, but I like Tom Grummett’s art (who did the first several issues), and at least he was trying something new.

(Kitty gets one of Logan’s bone claws after he dies. The visuals are so weird that it’s a little endearing. :) )

@El Santo
That’s good to hear, as I plan to start reading that. With the way current X-comics are written these days, for me, the good end point was 2004 (before Avengers: Disassembled). For my personal fan-canon (which is more concentrated on the DCAU and MAU), I’ll take bits and pieces from post-2005 comics here and there.

I met Claremont in person at a convention three months ago. Real nice guy.

@Daveguy are you still reading Savage Dragon? Don’t mistake having fun with a lack of complexity, Dragon tackles many of life’s issues.

I started reading Green Lantern back when Kyle Rayner came on board and I thought that stood up against anything Geoff Johns has written over the last several years. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved his run for the most part as well, but I don’t think it’s better or worse than Marz. Johns just seems to have been riding on a roller coaster ride of popularity that helped sustain his run. As for GL surviving beyond Johns – it’s a certainty. There will inevitably be new writers that create worse, just as good, or better runs. But I think Johns has secured himself a place in DC history with this run (up there with his Flash.)
I’ve been collecting the core GL titles since their inception (bar a short run on Red Lanterns) but I’ve decided that this is a good stepping-off point for me. I figure I have enough Green Lantern comics (probably at least 500) now to enjoy for the rest of my life. I will certainly continue checking out the new GL trades in the library, but I won’t be purchasing them. I’ve been downsizing for the last 6 months. There’s more to life than comics.

The sort of approach you’re suggesting they take in this piece is sort of the approach Marvel takes with their properties nowadays. At least softly. There are elements that carry over from run to run, but I don’t get the sense that each writer that comes onto a book has to keep it exactly as it was.

Look at Fraction’s transition onto the FF titles, where he’s kept a lot of the Hickman elements but also changed them drastically in ways Hickman probably wouldn’t have. It’s the same group of characters carrying on their adventures, but Hickman’s story is done and now it’s Fraction’s story. Fraction’s entire Defenders run was actually really about this storytelling mechanic/process.

Even more drastically, look at how Rucka’s ‘Punisher’ run ended. He finished his story (or left it in a place where he could’ve continued it), but when Daniel Way had to write the character he picked things up from a completely unrelated point and ran with his (questionable) take.

It happens. They just don’t officiate this sort of storytelling mechanism because that means offending a lot of fans who like to suspend their disbelief and pretend these characters are always the same all of the time. They aren’t.

Do want to know why Major comic publishers like DC and marvel (including Image and Aspara) are afraid to end their stories of their flagship superheroes which are still running I’ll tell you why if they end them they will lose money maybe they are afraid or maybe as if they don’t to end their respectable flagship superheroes product like how McDonalds does not want to cancel their signature brand Big mac and if they cancel them the fans will blame them well someday when I use my idea to revolutionize the comic book industry which is based on how toei use super sentai and kamen rider I will do the same thing to the superheroes on both DC and marvel but first I have to low steps to get my first big break.

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