Read the Bantam Book!
This month, Mike and Casey look at the inevitable result of truly popular culture: that it can and will not be contained by it’s original medium. Star Wars, the Planet of the Apes, and even Murder She Wrote have escaped the confines of film and television to reward their fans with series of books, comics and video games that feed our appetites for more stories in the worlds we love.
We’re joined by veteran panelist Roslyn Townsend and game designer Ryan Chaddock to chat about the concept of the Expanded Universe! We debate canonicity and ask why we just can’t get enough of our favorite media franchises, no matter the format!
“Luke and Leia” from the Return of the Jedi by John Williams
Previously titled: “Ant-Man’s Lawyer”
Podcast: Play in new window | Download
The term ‘canon’, as it relates to Sherlock Holmes, was originally created by people playing what they called The Great Game.
The Great Game was a literary mind game played by fans and enthusiasts of Sherlock Holmes. The starting conceit for the game is that the Holmes stories were actual biography written by John Watson MD, with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as his literary agent. And with that in mind, was an attempt to trace clues and hints in the stories and figure out when the stories happened in relationship to one another and to try and resolve discrepancies.
In order to set parameters for the game, the players had to decide what stories ‘counted’ and what stories didn’t. So they settled on ‘The Canon’ as the Four novels and Fifty-Six short stories. This served to exclude all the various pastiches, parodies and unauthorized uses of the character in order to avoid obfuscation.
I enjoyed this episode.
If I’d been on it, my high point would have easily been Transformers, because that’s pretty much nothing but expanded universe. I mean, it started out as a toy line in 1984, which you could define as the original canon, and immediately got a comic book and a cartoon adaptation, both of which were their own continuity, completely distinct from one another. And both of them have their own expanded universes! The cartoon ended in the west in 1987 with a three part Headmasters special, while in Japan, the special was replaced with a complete Headmasters series, followed up by two more series (Masterforce in 1988 and Victory 1989) and a one off special around 1990.
The comic, on the other hand, ran for 80 issues in the North America from 1984 to 1991 (technically after the toy line had ceased in America); whereas in the UK, the same stories were published (split across two issues), but because the UK comic was published every week instead of every month, they needed more material. So they wrote a huge amount of UK exclusive material to supplement the US stories. This was pretty challenging at first, because they had to be careful to avoid anything that contradicted the prime continuity, but when Transformers: The Movie came out and the US comic made no indication of incorporating its cast of characters from the future into its present-day continuity, the UK writer, Simon Furman pounced, and started writing loads of stories either set twenty years in the future or involving characters travelling back in time to the present. So, the UK comic got a huge dose of Galvatron and Rodimus Prime that the US comic never saw. And, arguably, those UK exclusive stories were of a much higher quality than the US ones, so it’s really no surprise that Simon Furman was invited to replace Bob Budiansky as the writer for the US stories as well in 1989. And, for a long time, he was treated as the go-to person for writing Transformers comics. Anyway, while the US comic ran for 80 issues, the UK version ran for 332 and for about a year longer than the US version, thanks to all the extra material.
And since the original run(s) of Transformers from 1984 onwards, there’s been so many re-tellings of the mythos. Generation 1 alone has been re-imagined as a comic series twice — first as a short lived series from 2002 to 2005 by Dreamwave and then as a much more successful series from 2005 to the present day by IDW, and that series is just going from strength to strength. And since 2006, G1 characters have steadily been re-imagined as new toys as part of the Classics/Universe/Generations lines, which are still going strong (and I’ve spent an unholy amount of money on). And of course, there has been several anime as well as western cartoons accompanying new toy lines, with a new ‘Robots in Disguise’ toy line and cartoon on its way this year.
There is so much Transformers to choose from, despite Michael Bay’s best efforts to destroy the franchise with his godawful movies, and it’s basically all expanded universe. It’s awesome.
Honourable mention also goes to Sonic the Hedgehog. Although Sonic is a game character, it’s never been the games that have kept me interested. It was the cartoons that got me into Sonic in the first place, and the UK comic that kept me interested from 1996 through to 2001. When I was without any expanded universe material (throughout most of the last decade), the games struggled to keep me interested, especially with their progressively dwindling quality (the only last gen Sonic game I like is Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, which is a Mario Kart clone). It’s only because I started reading the US Sonic comic that my fandom has been rekindled. The new Sonic Boom cartoon is fun too, but I’m glad it’s not the only version of Sonic I can enjoy today. While the Adventure Time style format is fun, I do prefer the comic’s more serious story.
As for my low point… I’m not sure. I guess the gatekeepery way some entitled fanboys can act is pretty annoying, especially when it comes to things like the Star Wars expanded universe being discounted from the movie canon. Thing is, that material is all still there and can all still be enjoyed, even if it doesn’t necessarily jive with the new movies. So, as was said on the show, it’s a bit absurd to expect movies that will be seen by millions to bend over backwards to accommodate stories only read by thousands. It’s one of the things that makes getting into superhero comics so difficult for me. I want to read comics about the Avengers characters, but there’s so much of it and I wouldn’t know where to begin. But I daren’t suggest that maybe the comics should be more open to new readers, lest hordes of entitled long-time fans descend upon me.
Well, I *do* suggest that the Big Two’s superhero comics should be more open to new readers.
The industry for too long has overly catered to a narrow range of longtime hardcore collectors to the degree that even longtime hardcore collectors like me can’t make heads or tails of it sometimes.
I tend to stick to the comics that give me a complete story without having to buy into crossovers, extra mini-series and have to dive into at least two years’ of back issues.
This is why Image Comics, the folks behind Saga, Walking Dead and a ton of great creator-owned self-contained series are growing into one of the biggest publishers and attracted thousands of new readers to the medium….and why the Big Two often have to fight really hard to keep the readers they have.
Marvel’s been great about making sure their line includes some titles that are accessible to new readers and casual fans — usually it’s their best stuff like Daredevil, Hawkeye, She-Hulk and Silver Surfer — while DC is at least making some noise about following suit.
Totally. And that’s really great of Image.
Even the Sonic and current Transformers comics (which I love), have a bit of the crossover and hardcore collector pandering going on. For instance, they both publish multiple covers for most issues and there is more than one ongoing series for each of them. For Sonic, there’s the main ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ book, which mostly follows Sonic himself, and there’s also ‘Sonic Universe’, which usually follows members of the supporting cast (Tails, Knuckles, Princess Sally, etc.). For Transformers, there’s two main series at the moment — ‘More Than Meets the Eye’ and ‘Robots in Disguise’, which both follow different groups of Transformers on different kinds of adventure, but there’s also a series of one-shot comics under the ‘Spotlight’ title that follow a different individual Transformer for an issue, as well as a whole plethora of miniseries.
And both Sonic and Transformers have recently had major crossover events. With Transformers, it was all internal (the two main storylines coming together for a huge event), but with Sonic, it was actually a crossover with Archie’s MegaMan series, and Archie is scheduled to do another crossover like it in the near future — this time, also pulling in their recently debuted Sonic Boom comic, based on the cartoon.
It’s frustrating to people like me who are generally just casual readers, having to get a lot of extra comics I would never normally read in order to get the whole story. For instance, I don’t read MegaMan or Sonic Boom, but I’m going to have to buy at least a few issues of both if I want to read the whole ‘Worlds Unite’ story. :/
Carl Barks and Don Rosa, why D. John Trump is nothing but an insult to the good name Donald.
There’s also an Italian (Italian) expansion that deserves mention. Paperinik/Duck Avenger, which might’ve been favorite superhero growing up (of course I mostly read Donald Duck comics).
In particular the series Paperinik New Adventures. Combining my interests in the Duckburg universe and sci-fi.