Feb 24, 2008

The History Eraser Button

Back when I was 13 years old, Ren and Stimpy premiered. One of the first episodes was "Space Madness," a short that's still recognized as one of the greatest shorts ever made. In the climax of the short, Cadet Stimpy was punished for trying to help Commander Hoek get over his space madness by putting the ever curious cat in charge of guarding the History Eraser Button, a device that nobody knows would happen if pushed. As Ren stated, what could happen is "maybe something bad" or "maybe something good."

I think comic editors and writers pushed the History Eraser button one too many times in recent years. The more history is erased and altered, the more the question of "Does continuity matter?" arises. That's bad and good.

It's bad because whenever a major story ccompletely alters everything we know about a particular character or universe, it almost makes it seem that the story never happened. I wasn't a DC Fanboy back when the first Crisis happened (Crisis on Infinite Earths), but I can now imagine how that generation felt when the stories that were told before the Crisis were essentially erased from our collective histories. I'm feeling that way when I heard about Joe Quesada's plan to end Spider-Man's marriage to Mary Jane. Joe never liked the marriage in the first place. Kids can't look up to a guy married to a supermodel he claimed (read: kids are the primary readers of comics). Now, despite the fact that there is already a Spider-Man who ISN'T married and still a teenager (remember the Ultimate Universe? Marvel doesn't, apparently), Joe felt he had to get rid of the marriage to save the character for future generations. They tried killing MJ off. Didn't hold. They separated them. Didn't hold. So, to paraphrase the late Flip Wilson, the devil made them do it. Well, a devil, Mephisto. Maybe. Essentially, the History Eraser Button, in this case Mephisto (maybe) doing the bidding of his master Joe Quesada by making the marriage of Peter Parker and Mary-Jane nonexistant. Not nullified. Not annuled. It never happened.

Marriage at Shea Stadium? Never happened. The stalking ofMJ by Venom at the Parker home? Never happened. Harry Osborn's stint as the Green Goblin and his death? Never happened. The lost Parker child in the events of the so-called Clone Saga? Never happened. The revelations of Ezekiel, the whole stint as a high-school teacher, and essentially the entire JMS run on Amazing Spider-Man? Never happened. The whole unmasking situation that caused his family to be stalked and May Parker near death due to an assassin's bullet? Never happened.

The History Eraser Button is pretty dang convienient, isn't it?

Depends on who you ask. We all know they happened, but because we are told that it didn't by people who didn't like the married couple in the first place, it didn't happen.

However, continuity doesn't always have to be so rigid either.

Look at Batman.

In animation alone, there have been several interpretations of the character from Filmation and Hanna-Barbera's campy versions to the familiar DCAU version that has been a part of our households for almost 20 years to The Batman of today, younger and still learning what it takes to be a hero to more alternative ones. All of these are the same character and yet, there is something different about each and every incarnation. There's no continuity that ties them together, just certain strings that are constant in every version.

Yes, at times it is tempting to push the History Eraser button and start things anew. Sometimes history does need to start again. Then again, some things are as they should be and should never change, especially for the sake of a story. Fellow creators and readers, I close this post with a gift.

The History Eraser Button.

It controls the fate of your favorite story and your own stories. What happens if you push it? Maybe something bad. Maybe something good. I guess we'll never know because it's in your hands.

You won't touch it, will you?


Staab said...

JMS has been VERY public about the whole Mephisto thing. Consider as person that has been in Hollywood for almost 30 he knows most back room disputes stay that way back room the fact that at one point he wanted his name taken off the one more day storyline. I think he only wanted to get rid of the Gwen kids but thats all. In the end Joe Q did most of the writing and art I can only guess no one else would touch it.

Here is JMS side of the story I'm with you this is a bad thing

Kris said...

That has to be the best analogy I've ever seen in regard to reboots.

One of the biggest reasons One More Day fails spectacularly (and amazingly and sensationally) at erasing the Spider-Marriage is that it's trying to bring closure to it, but the story, as structured, is "Peter and MJ are torn apart by cosmic forces, and then they get back together because their love is TRU&4EVER." It's Act 1 of a story that Marvel has no intention of finishing (unless fans stop reading the comic en masse).

If they wanted the marriage gone without a real world "fix," like divorce, they needed to do a "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" and bring a degree of ending to Spider-Man. Then come back the next month with the marriage gone, Harry back, whatever they wanted.

But I know why Marvel did the Mephisto thing. Any kind of closure would give fans an excuse to stop reading the comic, because it wouldn't be their Spider-Man. Instead Marvel can now argue (and have argued) that those stories still count. "They still happened, the characters just don't remember them happening now!" That's crazy. That makes me want to shove a pencil into my ear until it stabs my brain and kills the crazy, crazy words.

They need to stop trying to "explain" reboots. It doesn't work. It's how things become messy and confused. It's where asinine plots like Mephisto, Divorce Lawyer, come from. Folks slammed "Superboy-Prime punching the universe fixes continuity muck-ups," but I liked it. It was a stupid answer to a pointless and unexplainable question like "Why is Batman's origin different now?"

Uh, excuse my long, ramble-ly reply.