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Friday, September 02, 2011 

Marv Wolfman on the spread of crossovers

The Village Voice interviewed Marv Wolfman on the eve of the blatant new DC reboot, and he had plenty to tell about his own role in the overflow of crossovers too, not to mention what he thinks of continuity:
Wolfman spoke with the Voice about why he hasn't read the Crisis sequels, "event fatigue" in the comic book world, and the trouble with continuity: it "holds the best writer hostage of the worst."

Given how the D.C. universe is often divided info pre- and post-Crisis. where do see Crisis on Infinite Earths as fitting into the comic book canon? How does it relate to the other dark D.C. reboots of the era and particularly Watchmen, given the prominent role of Charlton characters in both storylines?
When I first pitched Crisis my belief was, at the end, that a new DC universe would be formed, all the books would begin with number 1 starting with a new origin in each, and Crisis would never be mentioned again because, as I set it up, the Earth would be reformed at its origin and so what had been had never happened as a new Earth was created. The Crisis itself therefore "never happened" though its effects would last. But ultimately the Powers That Be decided they didn't have enough people to pull that off and so the Crisis was constantly referred to which I always felt was a mistake.

But as for how it fits into DC Continuity, it's always been my belief that every generation needs the comics recreated for them. This happened by accident in the past: Comics were created in 1938 with Superman. About 25 years later, between 1956-1961, the Silver age was created with no direct regard for what happened before. About 25 years after that, I did Crisis with George Perez and that once again updated the DCU. And now, 25 years after Crisis the New 52 has been launched.

Comics need to be changed, they need to evolve, and they need to keep fresh in order to stay relevant. As for things like Watchmen, those are not part of the DCU. They exist in their own world. Those kind of stories are one-shot "novels" that are allowed to tell a great story and then it's over. I hope there will always be room for those so that not everything has to be part of one ever-sprawling continuity. Comics, which are simply a combination of story and art, should be able to tell any kind of story and not be hampered by constraints.
And that tells just why DC is making yet one more severe mistake by shoving a whole stable of Wildstorm protagonists (and to some extent, the Milestone creations) into the DCU proper, far more than previous editorials did when they injected the Marvel family and a handful of Charlton cast members into the DCU in the mid-80s.

However, the part about DC Comics not having enough people to pull off his initial proposal is confusing, because they did have plenty of writers working for them at the time. But he may be correct in his argument that continuing to reference the Crisis on Infinite Earths for many years afterwards may have been a mistake, depending on the circumstances.
Who was involved in the decisions over which characters to kill off and how contentious did those talks become? What are your feelings when some of those characters, like Wonder Woman, were subsequently revived?
My attitude was that characters had to die in order to prove to readers that DC was not only changing, but it would never again be predictable. But I always felt some of those characters would come back, reformed, like the original DC characters of the 40s were brought back and changed into the Silver Age characters of the 60s. So we killed Supergirl, but I thought a new one would eventually be created who would not have the same problems the original one had. As for Wonder Woman, George Perez, who did Crisis with me, was going to be taking over that book as both artist and writer, so we set it up for him to recreate her from scratch. We knew up front she was coming back.
It may not be mentioned here, but, did he ever forsee DC's following up on the the deaths in Crisis with a lot of editorially mandated deaths that were in far worse taste, and victims could be major (Green Lantern), but also an alarming number of minor rankers because they were considered easy prey on the assumption nobody would care? It's utterly cheapjack, and trashes the chance for aspiring writers to come up with a potentially worthy story. It also symbolizes their inability to market according to title and definitely story value.
Did you foresee the rise of crossovers megaevents when you wrote Crisis? And now that the Summer mega-crossover has become an industry staple, do you see ideas that in retrospect you would have liked to have used in Crisis, and do you see others using your motifs from Crisis in newer megaevents?
No. Crisis was created to solve a specific problem: to make the confusing DC universe accessible to new readers. I had thought it would do its job and the focus of attention would then be on the new books and not the title that changed them. But what happened was not only did the book sell incredibly well, but because I was able to develop its story and concepts over time, and not rush it into print, the book was actually quite good beyond serving its purpose. But its sales is what made everyone suddenly decide to copy the concept. Unfortunately, from what I know, most of the mega-crossovers that followed didn't have a core reason for their existence as Crisis did. The creators did not have the time to work out their stories and they sort of rambled without purpose. In a way, Crisis spawned an entire industry of mega-events when it should have only given birth to those kinds of events where something vitally important had to be achieved. Sadly, it didn't turn out that way so these days you often here the term "event fatigue" being bandied about.
Though not mentioned, Marvel's Secret Wars, produced a year before Crisis on Infinite Earths, also contributed to much of the problem. Granted, one could say that it was decently written just like Crisis, but that too eventually led to a whole flood of crossovers that were increasingly pointless (in fact, Secret Wars II may not be held in as high a regard as the first one).

However, if were were to compare crossovers, one of the noticable differences between Marvel and DC crossovers is that the initial crossovers from Marvel weren't built on the same kind of "intentions" as DC's were: they weren't promoted on the grounds that a character was going to die - most stories where one did were usually just found in more stand-alone stories - and they usually offered a more fun/interesting storyline than the ones DC did. For DC, I'd say it was with Armageddon in 1991 that they really went downhill, killing off Hank Hall at the time, and subsequently turning him into Extant (sometimes, I wonder if they made the former half of Hawk & Dove into a villain because he was a proto-conservative, suggesting they saw such a protagonist as an easy prey too). Eclipso: The Darkness Within and Zero Hour were another problem of the same sort, and Bloodlines had similar problems too: killing off a whole slew of bystanders at the hands of an alien race just in order to introduce a handful of new protagonists who vanished very quickly afterwards. I'd say the method of introduction alone was the biggest mistake.
How important is maintaining continuity in comic book universes? Putting on your editor's hat for a minute, how do you balance characters' history with authors' need to make a fresh mark and re-imagine old standards? With Crisis and more generally, how does one balance the expectations of longtime and older fans with the need to cultivate newer and younger ones?
I am actually not a fan of overarching continuity, and Crisis was partially conceived to wipe that all out and start fresh. The line I've been using since before Crisis is, "Continuity holds the best writer hostage of the worst." I believe continuity held to the extreme stifles creativity. Comics should expand your thoughts not restrict them and the more continuity that exists the smaller field you have to explore. I think you need to clear the field every so often and let the writers breathe. Let them come up with the wackiest, craziest ideas and not worry that ten years before someone did a story that prevents that new great idea from being done. Finally, to me, continuity of character is much more important that continuity of story ideas. You need to know and understand the characters and they need to be consistent so we can believe they are real. But there is a vast difference between consistency and continuity.
In reply to that, I'd argue that the best way to maintain continuity that doesn't overarch is to avoid the very crossovers he helped lead to, and keep at least 90 percent of the majors' output self-contained. But there's no chance they'll take that advice, and even after the so-called reboot, there's still every chance they'll resort to more crossovers out of desperation. I fully expect something along those lines next year, all in the name of "celebration".

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