So I was finishing up watching Gundam 00 a couple weeks ago, and, while I worked out whether it was an intriguing return to form after 2 absolutely terrible previous fanservice-obsessed series or so convoluted that it finally collapsed on itself, I began to think about a few things, specifically how Japan handles franchises vs. how we do across the pond, and the pros and cons of different approaches.
For those of you who aren't up to speed, let me explain it to you like this. By and large, TV series, like manga and other things, tend to have a finite run--the stories have a beginning, middle, and end, and once they're done, that's pretty much it. There are some exceptions, but usually, even if it has a long run, when the door's closed on it, it's closed for good.
Mind you, "over" doesn't necessarily mean "over." The story might pick up, but in Gundam's case it usually involves a several year leap with a new cast and if the older characters are referenced at all, it's either with substantial changes or they're little more than cameos.
Gundam's other trick is to start another story (the "alternate universe" continuities) which take the surface elements and a few plot points (maybe) from the original and goes its own way. Usually these will have the fingerprint of their producer all over them and the general effect is a little bit peculiar--sort of like seeing something very common with a nevertheless very familiar voice.
I should add, continuations don't always happen--thankfully some shows are such individual statements (FLCL and Cowboy Bebop come to mind) that repeating them would be pointless, insulting, and pretty much a fool's errand--some things are a non-recurrent phenomena, and that's all there is to it.
But back to Gundam, or more specifically, Gundam's example. I began to think, what with the common formula of popular producer/creator coming on to a corporate property, cherry picking what he does and doesn't want to use out of the property's vast mythology, getting their bang out and then leaving and doing something else . . .what if comics were like that.
Then I realised comics are pretty much like that already.
Because I've just described, more or less, the mechanics of a "run."
Ever notice, especially in this day and age that runs by creators tend to be these isolated things that exist independently of the ongoing "story" of a character in continuous publication? I mean stuff like Morrison's New X-Men, or Lee and Loeb's "Hush" storyline in Batman, or Morrison (again) in All-Star Superman--over and over again, especially lately, there's a tendency to create these kinds of runs wherein they're less an Ongoing Installment In A Continuing Narrative and more an island and law unto itself. Continuity as it relates to the story they're trying to tell isn't a problem, but continuity as it fits in to the larger ongoing soap-opera is.
Some of this, of course, is simply Ambition Collision, but I find myself wondering if some of it's just the birth struggles of the next evolution of the superhero comic. If the tendency of creators now is to ignore the idea that they're custodians of a larger narrative belonging to a character several generations old and all too often forcing them into either dead-end plots cooked up in their fevered brains or arresting the characters in neat little boxes from days gone by, maybe finally the idea of superhero comics as this big, long never-ending soap opera is winding itself down.
Maybe the future's full of stories that start and stop by their own rhythms and end on their own rhythms. The long continuous take on a character is replaced by shorter, self-contained takes on the character and his history that bear a more individual stamp to them since the creators in question would ideally consider themselves capital-C creative types rather than small-c custodians of enduring characters.
I'm not sure that's a good thing by any means--while you'd never know it by amount of people who try it, not everyone is a big huge Creator with Important Things To Say on a title--it does seem to be the way things are going. The real question is, will the corporations who hold the rights to these characters actually allow a clean break from the never-ending soap opera?