The Curse of Creation
We all have things that pop up that somehow makes us get nitpicky on things. Let’s face it, what kind of fans would we be if we didn’t sit there for hours trying to figure out a way to fit Teen Titans into the Justice League universe. (Personally I like the one suggestion that it fits before Batman: The Animated Series, but it’s told from Beast Boy’s perspective so that’s why it’s kinda wonky.) Whether we’re watching cartoons, reading comics, or playing video games, we seem to forget that these things are about entertainment first.
Now please understand that I am not sitting here giving justification to all those dill weeds out there who always say “It’s just a show! You shouldn’t get so bent out of shape over it!” I feel those people lack an imagination that prevents them from being able to enjoy a cartoon, comic, or video game on a more fun personal level. What fun is Spider-Man if you can’t somewhat imagine that maybe out there in New York City there really is a guy swinging around on a thread? What fun is Ben 10 if you can’t let the child inside of you let go and think “Hey, maybe I’ll find an alien watch too?” A lot of enjoying something is to be able to appreciate it on a level that allows us to put ourselves into the roles of our heroes and heroines. It’s a common thing and writers and artists have been doing it since the time of Socrates.
But sometimes, for dumb reason we have trouble reconciling our personal viewpoints with what’s actually happening. We spout of such nonsensical phrases that really take the fun out of something, such as “canon” and “creative intent” and crap like that. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. We tend to forget that. And when we cannot justify something, or make it work in our own minds, we tend to get frustrated and start flinging insults toward the creators.
Universes are overrated. We really should treat everything as it’s own thing. It doesn’t have to fit. It doesn’t need to fit and it really shouldn’t fit. It doesn’t have to be this massive universe. Universes are only important if you plan on having a crossover. Unless the Teen Titans actually crossover with the Justice League, it doesn’t matter if it’s in the same universe or not. Sometimes, you just gotta let it go and appreciate it on it’s own merits. It’s that way in comics too… Just because Hellboy crosses over with Painkiller Jane who’s slept with the Punisher, who’s teamed up with Archie doesn’t mean that Hellboy can fight Sabrina the Teenage Witch. (Though I will be the first to say I would buy that book!)
Creative concepts like these are, to use a term that you might be familiar with, are a Stand Alone Complex. They’re franchises, even if they are or are not popular. Everything exists on it’s own, but with other Stand Alones (franchises), they merge into a coherent being (Universe). But they are STILL Stand Alone. DC Comics didn’t start off being a universe… In fact, until Superman and Batman crossed over, the idea of a universe didn’t exist. It’s that universalism that we as fans love so much, but ultimately, they’re their own Stand Alone Complexes. Their own universes or franchises, independent of one another for their own story telling purposes. Now you may say “But DC comics has books influence other books all the time. Infinite Crisis, 52, One Year Later, ect.” Yes, you are right. But that means that the DC Comics Universe is a Stand Alone Complex on it’s own, and even though Batman and Superman are their own franchises, in the DC Universe, they’re just part of a larger complex. (And in reality, the DC Universe is just an extension of the Batman/Superman Universe, because everything stems from them.)
Warren Ellis once said (and I’m probably butchering his quote here) studios do not care about art. They care about what sells their products. But what sells is art, so they have to hire artists to sell their products. (And writers are as much “artists” as artists. It sounds odd, I know, but they’re creating, but in a different manner. They’re creating conceptually, which is just as important, if not more, as the visuals.) Sometimes they pick right, like giving us a Glen Murakami, Brad Bird, and a Geoff Johns and they give you a Teen Titans, The Incredibles, or a Justice Society of America in return. But other times, you get a Mulan 2, Hoodwinked, or even a Heroes Reborn Captain America.
And when we get a Batman and Robin or a Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, we tend to view the franchise and the property as “ruined” when in actuality… It’s not. James Bond has had quite a few horrible pieces of crap over his years… Moonraker, License to Kill, Die Another Day… But somehow, They still managed to overcome all those wretched pieces of flotsam and give us an Octopussy, Goldeneye, and a Casino Royale. Did Batman really need to restart his franchise after Batman and Robin? Our instinct is to say yes, but really it didn’t. You just start telling good stories. It’s like in comics… Some stories are bad and you overcome them by telling good stories. Does anyone even remember when Superman turned blue and had electrical powers or when he grew his hair long and was sometimes referred to as “Superhippie“ by the fans? This wasn’t even a decade ago. (Close to it though.) They couldn’t even get a freakin’ movie made. (You all had to have heard the Kevin Smith stories by now. If not… Google it!) Now he’s having an awesome stories going on One Year Later, a pretty great (if somewhat slow) movie with a sequel coming, and is starring in a decent Legion of Superheroes cartoon show. But did Batman need to restart after Schumacher‘s debacle? Did the cartoon need to revamp itself because of the complexity of the existing cartoon? Well, I don’t personally think it had to… But considering that Batman Begins was probably one of the best comic book movies ever made, and The Batman has turned out to be a fine show in it’s own right, I’d have to say it was not a bad choice to do.
And as fans that is something we tend to forget a little too often. These creators, be it cartoons, comics, or whatever… None of them are setting out to make a bad product. Was the first season of The Batman kind of weak? Yes it was, but so was Justice League’s first season. (A little too many War Worlds if you ask me.) But like Justice League, it developed it’s sea legs and turned into a wonderful show that occasionally has the Penguin on it to bring you down. Creators are not setting out to make the next Watchmen or Iron Giant. Hell, they’re not even seeing out to make the next Foamy the Squirrel. They’re setting out to just tell the best stories they can. Even here at Cartoons Dammit! we’re like that. All creators have an inner desire to create and entertain. And even if we never “break into the big time” we’ll still be doing this.
Let’s take Joel Schumacher. He may have made Batman and Robin, but he loves making movies. He made some great movies before Batman. The Lost Boys, Flatliners, and of course D.C. Cab! And after B&R he made 8MM, Phone Booth and Phantom of the Opera, which were all good films. But we refuse to see that, because all we can think about were the bat nipples. (Which were a bit silly, I must say.) Now am I saying you should like every piece of crap that’s put out there? Hell no. I wish to God I could “House of M’ away Nightcrawler’s bastardizing origin, I would love to make Sealab 2021 stop after Season Two, and I view DC’s handling of Hal Jordan during the 1990’s as just short of an atrocity. But I do understand that the people making these things didn’t set out to piss me off… Well, maybe Sealab did…
It’s the Curse of Creation. Creators are judged by their greatest creations and their most dismal failures. And if you fail to live up to that greatness, you’re forever proclaimed a “has been” even if you do good stuff afterwards (Ask George Lucas about that.) Is it right? Hell no. But do we still do it? Hell yeah, and I’m just as guilty. (I believe a week ago I was ripping on a bunch of stuff I refused to give a chance to.)
What’s the solution? Well, I like to go by the rule that if something doesn’t make sense to you, the answer is “a wizard did it.” But more realistically, just appreciate things for what they are and not for what they aren’t.
Hmm… It’s a good rule to live life by in general.