Warning! Minor Spoilers for Spider-Man: No Way Home.
Canon and mainstream comics have a very peculiar relationship. The concept is a very important part of any franchise, allowing stories and characters to progress and create new installments. The importance of canon is never questioned in something like a modern TV show. Viewers assume that what happened in one episode will carry on into the next and even into future seasons. If anything, canon is essential. But when comic book writers have been telling stories using the same characters for decades, canon can become a problematic burden — and for good cause! But it has been getting a bad rap lately and I would like to change that.
Canon can be cited for some of the best moments in the recent Spider-Man blockbuster No Way Home. One such moment occurs when Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man uses his organic web shooters. Every Spider-Man fan knows that the idea was a controversial part of the Sam Raimi– directed movies. It could have been ignored as a subject during No Way Home. Instead, the filmmakers decided to utilize it as a very interesting difference between the three Spider-Men. Canon for Maguire’s Spider-Man made that possible.
But there’s also the dark side to canon, and this isn’t just restricted to comic books. Fans can become so obsessed with canon that it prevents them from just enjoying a good story. This happens often in universes like Star Wars, where there are tons of different installments across multiple mediums with a wide variety of characters. It’s hard to keep track of it all, and filmmakers are too often criticized for missing minor details.
These pros and cons to canon are often a burden in the realm of comics. It’s not so much a problem when there’s a strict timeline to stories, but that comics exist in a time-fluid world. Characters can remain the same age for decades. So how can writers keep track of everything that happens in their lives? They’re not necessarily expected to, yet canon is still essential to the job. There are monumental moments in a character’s history that forever alter who they are. If the rule for comic writers is to use canon but not be restricted by it, then essentially there are no rules. Each writer can pick and choose what’s important and what’s not and then the next writer can do the same, completely undoing all the work from their predecessor. It’s not a perfect system, but the concept of canon is absolutely essential to all forms of storytelling, and comic writers in general should do a better job of respecting it.