Saturday, October 18, 2008

Public Domain Characters and Continuity

It seems like in comics these days every is worried about continuity. In a medium where characters are in publication for 30 or 40 or even 70+ years, and barely age a day, should continuity even be an issue. And the industry's answer to continuity issues - retcons and reboots. Turn that little editorial glitch on page 14 of issue 378 into a big story in issue 452 so we can say we planned it all along. I'm tired of telling stories with this character the way he is, let's slap a #1 on the next issue and pretend issues 1-87 never happened.

Why can't we just tell good stories withou worrying about it all fitting together? Oh, we'll create a new line of books with the same characters - the "Ultimate Johnny Adventures" line! Now in 5 years we'll have multiple convoluted continuities to keep straight, thus defeating the purpose of creating the new line in the first place.

"We have to keep continuity for our long time readers." True, some fanboys are very nitpicky about continuity, however there are also some of us that just want a good story. "We need to retcon/reboot/update our characters so we can bring in new readers." Not really. Just give them good stories that don't require exessive knowledge of the last 30 years. If I pick up the new Spider-Man and he's battling Doctor Octopus for the 45th time, it's easy to let me know that they've met before, but I shouldn't need to have intricate knowledge of their previous 44 battles to enjoy this one. Recurring characters are a given in comics, and I'm sure people coming in realize that.

And what happened to "imaginary stories?" Someone had a good story to tell with a character, but it wasn't within the "official" continuity. The fans who like a good story got one, and the continuity obsessed didn't have their world destroyed. These days I find myself more interested in the "out-of-continuity" mini-series, such as All-Star Superman, than any main titles.
And remember all those crossovers we get told are "in-continuity" and will have "lasting effects" throughout the universes (Superman vs. Spider-Man, DC vs. Marvel, JLA/Avengers)? None of those ever "officially" happened. But - many of them were fun to read.

And how can we possibly make sense of the continuities of Hercules, Dracula, or even Thor (Marvel has a trademark and copyright on their version, but the character himself is centuries old)? These characters have so many various interpretations and adventures throughout all media. The answer is, we can't. Everyone has their own interpretations of these characters, and that allows for more fun.

So which is more important - fun or continuity? My vote is fun, and that's what public domain and open source characters can bring. Jenny Everywhere states this most explicitly - she exists in every dimension/reality at once. Hard concept to understand? Not really. Look at Spider-Man. He's in the main Marvel Universe, but he's also in the Ultimate, Zombie, 2099, and Marvel Adventures Universes. Superman exists in the main DC Universe, the Kingdom Come Universe, the Golden Age "Earth 2" Universe, and however many others.

Public domain/open source characters just take this to a new level. Both Marvel and DC (as well as numerous other publishers) use Hercules. Most of these characters are said to be THE Hercules, or descended from THE Hercules. If THE Hercules exists in all of those universes, why not Jenny Everywhere? Well, she certainly can. And each take on her would be different, as with Hercules. She may not be as well known, but if she started showing up in the pages of Spider-Man, Superman, Savage Dragon, Atomic Robo, Project Superpowers, and others, one day she could be. And each Universe's Jenny would not be connected to any other Universe's Jenny, just like Hercules.

So, if it works for Hercules and Jenny, why not Black Terror, Green Lama, and the other previously "lost" characters. They're the basis of the Project Superpowers Universe. They're the basis of the AC Comics Universe. They're part of Alan Moore's multiverse. None of those universes are connected. They just all tell the stories they want with characters that are shared by the world. The characters have no overall continuity to worry about. And, in my opinion, the readers are better for it. Don't like the Project Superpowers version of the Nedor characters? Maybe you'll like the Terra Obscura versions better. Maybe you'd rather stick with the original material. Maybe you think you can do better. You are not stuck with the official corporate version of the character. You can choose your version of the hero. Can you say that about Superman or Spider-Man?

Random thought

How come the company fighting the hardest to prevent properties from becoming public domain is also the company that has profited the most from it?
Just some of the Disney properties based on public domain sources:

Snow White
Sleeping Beauty
Beauty and the Beast
Treasure Island
The Little Mermaid
Alice in Wonderland
Robin Hood
The Sword in the Stone
Hunchback of Notre Dame
The Jungle Book

Thursday, October 16, 2008

NEW Public Domain Super Heroes

Well, "open source" super heroes anyway. Inspired by the recent discovery of Jenny Everywhere, aka "The Shifter," the first such character, Michael Dean and Kelle Sande are releasing several characters they created for anyone to use. We're putting them up, along with Jenny, on the Public Domain Super Heroes website.
The first three are up now - The Outworlder,
and Cyber-Knight.
Free for use by all, with the only stipulation being that you should to include this paragraph:

"The characters of The Outworlder, Jackpott, & Cyber-Knight are available for use by anyone, with only one condition. This paragraph must be included in any publication involving these characters, in order that others may use these properties as they wish. All rights reversed."