I believe I know who is responsible for decompression in DCU storytelling.
In recent conversation, a friend and I were marveling at a paradox in the creation and consumption of modern entertainment. It's supposed to be common knowledge and unquestioned wisdom that "our average attention span has grown shorter and shorter." TikTok, Twitter, and memes, those repositories of contemporary sententiae, are proof of our current desire for 'fun-sized' infotainment. We consume popular culture byte by byte at a buffet, rather than ordering a several-course meal from a menu.
Yet, at the same time, our entertainment formats are increasingly long-form. Television used to be primarily, if not entirely, episodic; shows were written to be watched in any order. Nowadays series are much more, well, serialized. Not only is there an order the episodes are to expected to be watched in, but there is one or many overarching storylines that will be ruined if you do otherwise. Cinema, formerly composed of individual films, is now composed of franchises and universes.
Once upon a time, television teemed with variety shows (like Sonny & Cher Hour of The Carol Burnett Show or the Ed Sullivan Show). What kind of people watch AN HOUR of Sonny & Cher? EVERY WEEK?!
|I bet you can't last ten minutes.|
Trapped people, that's who; there were only three networks, after all; at any point in the evening you had only three choices of what to watch, and, boy, did the networks take advantage of that fact. Late night shows still have embedded vestiges of that era; could anything be more objectively incongruous than the musical guest spots in sketch show Saturday Night Live?
Similarly, vignette shows (like Love, American Style, The Love Boat, and Fantasy Island) used to rule the small screen, like on-air retirement communities for faded and secondary stars. Whitman used to make SAMPLERS, for heaven's sake.
All those are gone (except for SNL); even Sabado Gigante was cancelled.
|I would have imagined such entertainment as immune to time.|
So, too, comic books. Originally, comic books were full of, um, comics. Comic strips, that is, reproduced from newspapers. These books were also variety shows; one book would contain features with wildly different tones and styles. Those were the days of broadcasting; entertainment was designed to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, since everyone was vying for the same audience (unlike today, where the world of on-demand entertainment fosters "narrowcasting" to niche audiences).
Even the Justice Society was a variety show. Most modern comic books readers think of the Justice Society as a 'team', which shows only that they've never actually read a Golden Age Justice Society comic book, which was as anthology series of different heroes having different adventures in different styles of art and writing, with a wraparound plot summed up by Captain Stubing and Mister Rourke.
|Or something like that.|
I've been reading the early adventures of Doll Man lately (as you may have noticed) and they take place in something literally called "Feature Comics".
|This month's special guest star: DEATH.|
Here's a SAMPLER of the kinds of co-stars in "Feature Comics":
|At home activity: kids, arrange these characters in order of gay joke potential!|
|If you want to sleep tonight, do not think of Blimpy.|
|It's hard to believe those characters were in the same comic where Baby Groot tried to rape Doll Man.|
|And often just as stale and dry.|
|Superman may be vulnerable to magic but|
Shazam is vulnerable to lawsuits.
|Just like Brad Meltzer!|
|It's the future of comics, Billy, and you're to blame.|
|Or, at least, your villains and publishers are.|
|Oh, and "also the Nazis and Japs." |
One needs manpower, after all.
|Even the later, post-Kingdom Come, interpretations of Mr. Mind preserve the idea that he control minds through invasive means (from inside their brains).|
|And, yes, this IS where Bane got the idea.|
They still read Captain Marvel in Santa Prisca.
|This is what it sounds like|
when worms cry.
|What did you expect? It's the Golden Age, of course they fried him, stuffed him, and put him on display.|
|I am SO tempted to check yes/yes/NO, and mail it to that address, but I can't find a penny postcard any more.|
"We truly were amazed at the electrifying response...letters pouring in...and believe me, with a readership of over one million as we had in those days, the mail can become pretty imposing. A rousing consensus simply loved Mr. Mind! Why? We never figured it out.
As a result, the writers revivified Mr. Mind.
|With a renewed joie de vivre.|
Apparently, the readers loved not just Mr. Mind, but the serial format as well. As much as they enjoyed the immediate fix of an exciting story, they also loved the payoff of longer-term commitment to a title.
We are still paying the price of that discovery.