No Respect for the Retcon
The thing about the fanboy community that has been getting under my skin lately is the somewhat hypocritical militant stance many within the community take with regards to what is and is not an acceptable approach to making a comic book movie. Head over to any one of our comment threads dedicated to X-Men: First Class, and you’ll find more than few fanboys boycotting the film because of how it “ruins” the continuity of the X-Men comic books and the first trilogy of X-Men films that helped kick off the geek era in the early 2000s.
Fanboys are big sticklers for continuity: for the uninitiated, “continuity” in the comic book community means formulating new stories in accordance and remembrance of the old stories that came before – a tricky task when in some cases you’re talking about half a century’s worth of old stories. This tradition of honoring continuity has inevitably leaked into the arena of comic book movies, to the point that fans often get up in arms if ever and whenever filmmakers decide to change one little aspect of what fans perceive to be “the way it went” in the comic books. Costumes, origins, relationships, age, even race – if a filmmaker decides to tweak any of these things, the fanboy community can (and does) turn on them in the blink of an eye.
However, when you really sit down and think things through, it’s hypocritical for fanboys to hold filmmakers to the standards of strict continuity – especially when comic books have always been big on the idea of “Retroactive continuity,” a.k.a., “retconning.” For those who are uninitiated: “retconning” refers to the process by which comic book creators of a new era go back and either rearrange or outright negate the continuity established by the comic book creators who worked on a book before them.
Green Lantern is a more popular comic book character today because Geoff Johns went back and retconned many of the sillier aspects of the character (powerless against the color yellow, for example) into a more logical and cohesive mythology. That same revised continuity finally made a Green Lantern movie possible by fostering a more universal and compelling story that a wider audience could relate to. For all the controversy amongst fanboys about changes the filmmakers made to the end of Watchmen (Dr. Manhattan’s giant bomb as opposed to the comic’s giant psychic squid), what really limited that film’s appeal were its comic book-faithful elements (the static narrative structure, long runtime, and Dr. Manhattan’s blue dong).
X-Men Origins: Wolverine urinated all over the character’s established history and continuity, but that movie was an epic fail because it sucked as a movie, not because it deviated from the comic book. The special effects were poor, the script (cobbled together during the 2007 writers strike) was weak as hell, and many of the film’s strongest aspects (Ryan Reynolds as Wade Wilson or Wolvy’s time with the Weapon X team) were shamefully underutilized. If those cinematic elements had been handled better, I doubt many people would be complaining that they changed Wolvy’s continuity for the film.
I say all that to say: filmmakers revising comic book continuity for the sake of making a movie more appealing to a wider audience isn’t only logical – it fits with the comic book tradition. Retconning is basically a process designed to make a comic book more appealing to a new generation that has different attitudes and views, or to negate aspects of continuity that aren’t really feasible – so how can fanboys call it a capital sin when a filmmaker essentially does the same thing in order to make a movie more appealing to a wider base? So long as the film still retains the core ideas and themes of its comic book source material, and can convey those ideas and themes to audiences in a compelling way, then do the small changes like a costume, or a character’s age or race really matter?
Answer: not to the larger moviegoing public. For your average audience member, the geeky details don’t matter nearly as much as the cinematic merits of a comic book movie (i.e., does it “look cool” and is the story an interesting one). It’s only the fanboys who like to nitpick.