Marc Alan Fishman: Injustice and the Marvel Continuity Crisis
Over the holidays I purchased for myself the Injustice: Gods Among Us video game. While I freely admit I have little to no real prowess with fighting games, I am invariably drawn to them. Compared to other types of video games, fighters allow users to enjoy a gaming session that’s like a great one-night stand; get in, get your business done, reap the rewards, and leave before it gets complicated.
The game is built on the Elseworlds principle wherein we explore the mighty DCU through the lens of yet-another alternative dimension where a slight change in the continuity results in a completely new world to explore. In Injustice, Superman is duped into killing Lois by the Joker, who adds a delightfully evil icing to his cake of cacophony by nuking Metropolis. Dead girlfriend (carrying his super scion to boot) plus nuked hometown equals Superman deciding he’s done being a reactionary hero. Cue the totalitarian state, and the necessary rebellion lead by Batman. Add in the needed Kryptonian Super Pill to balance the whole “how do you let Green Arrow fight Black Adam and not get pummeled into slime” problem and you have a damned enjoyable fracas.
I made my way through the story mode in a manner of a few nights. It was a fantastic little tale. As you may tell, it got me thinking. Why is it that DC always seems to flourish under the Elseworld concept where Marvel fails?
I assume some of you immediately get what I’m talking about. Others may be cackling at their screens “Show your work, nerdlinger!” Allow me to make my point as clearly as I can, as quickly as I can.
Here we go: At DC, Red Son. Kingdom Come. The Dark Knight Returns. The Nail. The Animated DC “Beyond” Universe.
At Marvel: 1602.
Wouldn’t it be awesome if I just stopped my article right there? Well, while I’d like to be that lazy, I shan’t be. DC seemingly lends itself to the remix better than Marvel by more than a handful of examples. To be honest, I’m not sure exactly why. It’s not like Marvel is devoid of DC analogs (and DC to Marvel, etc.). Both companies have employed more than a fair share of amazing talent to boot. But there must be something that makes DC more suited to a change of clothing more than the merry mouse-killers at Marvel.
My knee-jerk reaction is to equate DC characters as being more mythically malleable. Because they have clearly defined backstories, costuming, and personality traits, it’s much easier to simply pick one, change it and let the fun fly. Superman’s rocket lands in Russia? Boom, story changed, and a new universe is easily defined. Because the DCU is so easily reshaped while still being clearly itself, Elseworlds are amazingly easy to form, play in, and move on.
It helps that at the basic origin levels of the main players, DC is much freer to shift. Captain America will always be defined by World War II, the Punisher to Vietnam (though they’ve attempted and failed to retcon that a time or two). the X-men to civil rights. Batman, Superman, Green Lantern and their ilk are all tied only to mythologies. Bruce’s parents can get shot at any point from the industrial revolution on. Abin Sur could crash yesterday, if he needed to.
No better argument could be made than through the multitude of mediain which each have dabbled. Marvel has proven that through continuity, they will shine. Their movie-verse has bled into the teevee, and Mickey has never been stronger … or richer. In contrast, DC’s best movies and TV shows have all existed within their own confines, yet somehow continue to reap monetary rewards.
The animated DCU itself was a Bruce Timm / Paul Dini behemoth that somehow existed in one universe, but DC was able to create whole new strains of life in their Teen Titans, Legion of Super-Heroes, and Batman: The Brave and the Bold cartoons without missing a beat. While Marvel spawned a few gems in their own animated right, none hold a candle in comparison. Anyone here watching Hulk: Agents of S.M.A.S.H.? Didn’t think so.
At the end of the day (on our Earth, at least), DC summarily allows itself infinite worlds with which to create its identity. Because of this, jaunts like Injustice become instant classics by allowing creators to riff on a theme without being locked into the ramifications of exhaustive continuity. For whatever the reasons are, Marvel forever will have a harder time to match their doppelgänger with this ease. While they cry into their pile of movie money, I think they’ll land on their feet. In the mean time, I’ll enjoy the next Earth to splinter off… in hopes that it will be finally be the one that makes me forget the New52.
SUNDAY: John Ostrander
MONDAY: Mindy Newell
TUESDAY MORNING: Jen Krueger