This may not feel like a Christmas column right away, but bear with me. By article’s end we should all be in the Holiday spirit.
I believe that the worst term in comics, specifically when it comes to the continuity-drenched DC and Marvel universes, is “It never happened.” I find it insulting, condescending, and totally in opposition to what is most special about superhero comics’ content, and that is its ability to arouse the reader’s imagination and stimulate the senses of awe and wonder.
What makes it worse is that “It never happened” is always spoken by the very people who create the comics: the writers, artists, editors, and publishers that comic book fans admire and respect. I remember my first experience with the “It never happened” concept. It was in an editorial written by Mark Evanier in New Gods #1 (June 1984), which reprinted the original Jack Kirby series of the same name. Evanier announced that Kirby would be returning to finish his truncated Fourth World saga, but in so doing some previously established continuity had to give, and Evanier noted that any Fourth World adventures written after Kirby left DC in 1975 were to be ignored. In other words, “It never happened.”
That really irked me. While I respected DC’s decision, and I understood where the company was coming from, I didn’t like the idea of Gerry Conway’s Return of the New Gods and Steve Englehart and Steve Gerber’s excellent Mister Miracle, both published some five years after the original series had been canceled, being dismissed as “it never happened.” Fortunately, there was some consolation when Evanier suggested to the reader that the stories could exist on an alternate Earth. I grew to accept that, and I had to, because during the early 1980s a lot of series were suddenly being written out of DC continuity, including The Atomic Knights and aspects of Hawkman’s history. At least the long-time DC reader at that time had an “out,” and that was DC’s multiverse, which was made up of as many alternate Earths as the publisher and reader’s imagination chose to create.
Then, in 1985, the biggest “It never happened” bomb was dropped, and that was Crisis On Infinite Earths.
Crisis On Infinite Earths is a wonderful story, make no mistake. But it completely wiped away the concept and utilization of multiple Earths. In the end, there was only one Earth, one DC universe. Earth-2 never existed. Earth-S never existed. My own personal Earths, Earth-alternative-New-Gods and Earth-here’s-where-I put-the-Atomic-Knights, to name just a couple, never existed.
“It never happened.”
Phooey, I said at the time. But I’ll deal with it. And for almost five years DC did their new universe right. They eventually started screwing it up, notably in Hawkworld in 1990. A more thoughtful chink in the new continuity armor was published earlier, however, in a wonderful Christmas story in Christmas With The Super-Heroes #2 (cover date: 1989).
In “Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot,” by writer Alan Brennert and artist Dick Giordano, Deadman is having a rough Holiday season. He’s trying to get something out of Christmas, but it’s hard for him because he’s a ghost. The most he can do is invade a living human being and steal a small portion of their lives to satisfy some need, such as the warm kiss of a woman or the comfort and joy of a Christmas dinner spent with family. Deadman winds up angry, angry with his god, angry with himself. Then he meets a pretty young blonde with blue eyes who looks very, very familiar. She talks Deadman out of his funk. He has no clue as to who this woman is. She finally introduces herself as “Kara.” It’s a moving moment, not so much for Deadman, but for the reader. The reader realizes that Kara, Supergirl, killed in Crisis On Infinite Earths #7 and subsequently erased from continuity, still exists.
“It never happened” magically became “It happened.” Remember, Kara seemed to say, even though you’ve been told that I should be forgotten.
That story gave me hope. It made me believe that “It never happened” was merely a fleeting thing, that in time the multiple Earths and dismissed characters could return and re-establish themselves. In time, it (the multiverse) and they (the characters) did. Right now in the DC Universe, though it’s a little unwieldy, the multiverse is back, fifty-two parallel Earths to be exact, and the possibilities are endless. Imagination is no longer being squashed and regulated. Awe and wonder can once again be the order of the day.
But I knew that a long time ago, thanks to a very special story that I have never forgotten. It makes perfect sense to me that a Christmas tale brought back the magic in superhero comics continuity (and I really want to emphasize “superhero comics” before I bow out, because as we all know there are thousands of imaginative comics and graphic novels out there that have nothing to do with superheroes or intricate continuity). Christmas is very much about the fulfillment of hope, faith and belief on all levels, including our own personal enjoyment of comic books.
And that magic endures. It was a comic book from last year, Fables #56 (February, 2007), that reaffirmed my belief in Santa Claus.
Next week, it’s the day before Christmas, and I’ll be in a rush, so there will be plenty of comic book covers, but as far as commentary? Not so much.