There’s been much of talk of “superhero fatigue” recently. As far as I see it, the superhero film is the popular idea of the moment, and while some people are bored of it, most seem to be okay with it. Either way, it’s undeniable that we see more superheroes on the big screen with every passing year. The success of Marvel Studios’ Cinematic Universe has boosted the confidence studios have in their properties, and we’re getting films based on comic books that didn’t even sell that well in the first place. But as these franchises live on past their sequels, prequels, spin-offs, and shared-universe outings, they are finding themselves in uncharted waters. When it comes to what’s canonical to the ongoing narrative and how both the creators and the audience think of continuity film-to-film, we’re through the looking glass. There’s really only one medium that is comparable, and that is, unsurprisingly, the comic book.
It’s easy to forget the humble origins of superhero comics when Spider-Man is hitting his 50thanniversary and his third cinematic adaptation, but they were never expected to dominate the market in this way. Even when DC and Marvel began to establish shared universes for their creations, they were fun gimmicks to sell comics and keep readers interested. When you’re creating a universe without knowing that it will stand strong over 70 years later, it’s unlikely you’ll safeguard against continuity errors or avoid writing yourself into a corner further down the line. This is why all comic readers will be familiar with the term “retcon.”