Check out this story, aired March 20 on NPR’s All Things Considered. Machete Order is an alternate viewing order of the Star Wars films that aims at keeping the focus on Luke Skywalker’s story, using Episodes II and III as an extended flashback to the rise of Darth Vader and the Galactic Empire (completely eschewing The Phantom Menace). I read the original post a while back at nomachetejuggling.com, which in part inspired my own “remix” of Batman comics. Key words from Machete Order creator Rod Hilton:
“I think, you know, for a lot of people, ‘Star Wars’ is part of their culture. It’s part of how they grew up. In a way, fans – this is going to sound weird, but fans kind of own ‘Star Wars’ as much as George Lucas. They’ve taken it and put it into their minds, put it into their hearts in a way that maybe a filmmaker alone just can’t do. And so I think it’s really about – it’s sort of just remix culture. It’s, I as a fan can improve on this thing I love.”
Myth-making is certainly not a thing of the past, nor is it exclusive to long-lost kingdoms of faeries and goblins and magic rings. Many authors, critics, and fans (myself included) would argue that superhero comics are to modern American culture what mythology, specifically oral traditions such as the Iliad and the Odyssey, were to ancient Greece, with two major differences in how modern society receives these narratives:
1) Mass media homogenizes consumption — we all read it or watch it in exactly the same form, and often within in a relatively brief window of time. The printing press and the film camera have flash-frozen the slow erosion of some contours of a story and the raising up of others that was integral to the oral transmission of many classical and medieval myths. The rise of fanfiction in the 20th century (one of many Star Trek firsts!) has brought some audience participation back to the scene, and as with most things the internet has only facilitated the explosion of fans’ forays into their favorite fictional worlds.
2) Modern capitalism gets people all hung up on the notion of trademarks and copyrights. Can we even imagine just not knowing who wrote and directed Star Wars in 1977? Or who it was that spent quite literally his entire adult life writing and rewriting poems and prose about a mythical land called Middle-earth? In 2008’s Iron Man, Jeff Bridges’ character Obadiah Stane has this to say to Tony Stark concerning intellectual property:
“You really think that just because you have an idea, it belongs to you? Your father, he helped give us the atomic bomb. Now what kind of world would it be today if he was as selfish as you?”
Obie might be a total douche, but his comments have a delicious meta-relevance to comic books themselves. What kind of a world would we live in if the only people who were ever allowed to pen a Batman story were Bob Kane and Bill Finger? Or if the same could be said of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster for Superman? Without other writers and artists to carry on the characters and solidify their enduring popularity, superhero comics might have been long dead by now.
So… Why shouldn’t fans have the same shot at touching up, tweaking, or even outright creating new stories about their favorite mythical heroes and villains? As Hilton states above, we put a lot of time and love into these characters, even if we’re not given any credit for taking part in their ongoing evolution.
I’m not arguing that the original creators shouldn’t receive credit or compensation for their work; nor am I arguing that others should receive compensation for taking poetic license with something they didn’t create.
But what I am saying is that if George Lucas makes a shitty movie or three, I’m not gonna watch them, regardless of what he says or how he feels overall about his brainchild. The same is true (perhaps more so) of comic books. There are some really shitty Batman comics out there, and I refuse to let them taint my interpretation of the character.
Hence — AD’s Batman Comics Canon (WIP). Check it out here.