[List] - 8 Of The Best Franchise Continuations In Other Media
2.8.13 Books , Buffy , Comics , Doctor Who , Featured , Firefly , Joss Whedon , List , Luther , Movies , Star Trek , Star Wars , TV , Video Games , X-Men Edit
Canon is a weird thing. First appearing in the modern context in 1911 in relation to, what else, Sherlock Holmes, to distinguish between the original and "official" Doyle stories, and those written by other authors. The concept of canon has exploded in the internet era, and reached a level of cultural penetration that even movie studios, during their bouts of rebooting, will refer to separate franchise canons.
Over the last decade or so, the "canonical continuation" has appeared, adding a new level of head scratching puzzlement to the issue of what counts in fiction. Essentially, a canonical continuation is additional material concerning characters or stories that is either created by, has some involvement from, or has the blessing of the original creator, and can be viewed as having "actually happened" in relation to the original TV series, movie or book. And wipes out of existence any noncanon works that might have been written for less artist and pure motives, like capitalising on brand recognition.
After the jump, I look at 8 of the best canonical continuations of popular franchises, and at the form they continued in.
Star Trek/Star Wars - Pretty Much Everything
I'm putting these first, not because they are necessarily good, but they do offer a illustrative point for both sides of the canon argument. And because, like so many things in geek culture, the phenomena we're exploring started with these two franchises.
The Star Wars Expanded Universe is one of the largest and most elaborate out there, spanning novels, video games, comics, action figures, cartoons and more. And apparently, everything counts. Because of the copyright on the franchise, until recently LucasFilm approved all potential works, and decided to adopt a uniform policy in regards to content. Namely, that everything would tie together, nothing would be contradictory, and that everything could be viewed as one massive universe. According to Lucas employees Steve Sansweet and Chris Cerasi, "The analogy is that every piece of published Star Wars fiction is a window into the 'real' Star Wars universe. Some windows are a bit foggier than others. Some are decidedly abstract. But each contains a nugget of truth to them." The policy was, what happened in the films superseded anything else anywhere else, but so long as the EU didn't contradict what was established, it was considered valid.
Star Trek went solidly in the other direction. After Star Trek became popular, Gene Roddenberry was notorious for micromanaging what was canon based on his personal feelings towards the final product, which in some instances meant he would decanonise bits of dialogue or specific scenes. He disliked many of the films, and once TNG was going, starting regarding the Original Series with some ire. The general rule became, only the various live action series and films counted. Everything else was extra. Each of the extensive run of the Pocket Books novels therefore, is self contained as far as it's effects on future novels, and whether any authors wants to maintain a continuity with a previous book is up to them, so long as it doesn't contradict the series. Some details, like Sulu and Uhura's first names, originated in novels, and made their way onto the screen by appreciative screenwriters, but most details are ignored, which has lead to many cross overs, with franchises like the X-Men and Doctor Who, and many characters dying several times, each in a different medium.
Luther: The Calling - Novel
Luther creator and writer Neil Cross began his writing career as a crime novelist, and so when he created his dark procedural for the BBC, it only made sense that he would continue the series in novel form. The book, published in 2011, covers the time immediately preceding the first series, and ends as the show begins, with Luther watching Henry Madsen fall to his near doom. What Cross was able to do in the novel that he never would have been able to broach on the series was a level of uncomfortable detail and horror that makes the book both nearly unreadable and unforgettable.
There is a harsh realism to the crimes in the books that few authors are able to recreate, and for good reason. It is a gripping book, and even as you start to feel sick about what you're reading, you don't want to put it down. With recent calls by Cross and Idris Elba to move Luther onto the big screen, the logical source material would be the novel, which is the first of an intended three that will delve more deeply into the psyche of John Luther. I can only hope that the second novel fills in the blanks regarding the flammable beginning to the most recent third series.
Ghostbusters - Video Game
Let's be honest with ourselves: there will never be a third Ghostbusters film, no matter what anyone says. At least, there won't be a third Ghostbusters film that is a continuation to the first two. There might eventually be a reboot, or a Ghostbusters The Next Generation with a cameo from Aykroyd, but there will never be a proper third film. There is, however, this game. Reuniting the original cast (minus Moranis and Weaver), and with the added bonus of having the guys look like they did twenty years ago. And it even continued the franchise tradition of not coming up with an original idea, but endlessly feeding off of what made the original film so fun and exciting. And really, it didn't matter, because you get to hunt down Slimer with Venkman, and get to cross the streams against Mr. Stay Puff. If you didn't get to do that stuff, there would have been chaos in the streets.
There are issues. The controls are a pain to operate effectively, the proton streams makes for a crap melee weapon, the PS3 and XBox 360 versions were a bit buggy what with the photo realistic graphics, and the PS2 and Wii versions went with a generic cartoon version of the characters rather then the actual cartoon version of the characters. Perhaps the biggest misstep of all was the lack of character customisation on the nameless recruit the player embodies, though considering this was early days of the modern generation, that can be forgiven. As it stands, it is the best possible follow up to the two films, and the franchise should come to a rest with it.
Unless they want to make a followup for the next generation console, with character customisation, in which case round up Murray and get voice acting fellas.
Angel: After The Fall - Comic Book
I'm going with Angel over Buffy Season 8 on this for a couple reasons. Firstly, Buffy had run it's course. Even in it's last two television seasons, it was obvious that the writers were scrambling to find stories to tell about characters who had largely told all their stories. Secondly, Buffy Season 8 fell apart hard. It started strong, and had it lasted for the intended 25 issues rather then going on to 40, it might have come out the better. But dragging out the Twilight story, and filling in the gaps with strange detours that didn't feel like Buffy (including the crap "Dracula in Tokyo" sorjourn) made the series a difficult one to follow through to the ending. Season 9 has suffered from the same distracted feeling that it's all just running in place, that the stories are there to fill a gap rather then be important stories needing telling. And I can only assume Season 10 will be more of the same.
Angel, on the other hand, had stories left. Or rather, it had one story left: After the Fall. Brian Lynch had proven himself on the exceptional Spike: Asylum and the just plain fun Spike: Shadow Puppets, enough to catch the attention of Joss Whedon, who thrust upon Lynch the early ideas for would have been a season 6 of Angel, had the series not been unceremoniously cancelled. Considered a mix of what season 6 would have been and what they never could have done, the comic saw all of LA dragged into a hell dimension by Wolfram and Hart, Angel turned human, Wesley a ghost, and Spike in charge of an all female commando unit of she-demons.
With fantastic art by Franco Urru, the first sixteen issues of Angel's ongoing IDW series are exactly what the show needed in addition, and somewhat in conclusion. The mistake was continuing past that point. Issue 17 is pointless, and undercuts a far better conclusion in 16, and the ongoing series which lasted a further 28 issues struggled with the same issues that the Buffy comics did: the story was done, but was being forced to continue. The Angel and Faith series running with Season 9 has seen a bit of a pick up, largely down to being based on previously written material for the Giles Ripper spinoff, but it still bares the unmistakable signs that these characters have had their stories told.
8th Doctor - Audio Dramas
Paul McGann got the ruddy end of the stick when it came to Doctor Who. Appearing only once on film, in one of the worst and most maligned episodes the series has ever produced, certainly the most ignored. But McGann's performance showed promise, and that he hasn't had the chance to revisit the character on screen again (and doesn't look to be given the chance anytime soon) is a crime. However, we know that his potential greatness as a Doctor was certain, because of the good folks at Big Finish. And not just 8, but all of those that have reprised their roles. Where else can the original actors reprise their characters, Doctor and companion alike, in stories set during the initial runs without having to explain away age, but in an audio drama? When well done, they are just as powerful and entertaining, if not more so, then the television series proper, and from 1999 to the relaunch in '05, it was either Big Finish or the uneven novel series.
There are currently just under 200 Big Finish Doctor Who dramas either available or planned, impressive consider the TV series is at 240 stories. And like the TV series, the quality of the writing and the acting varies from drama to drama, and the continuity has the consistency of rice pudding, though considering that Doctor Who has the worst continuity of any science fiction series ever, this isn't too much of a concern (to the extent that many who work on the show believe that, because of time travel, the show has no continuity at all). And with Tom Baker recently returning in earnest to the role of the Fourth for the first time since his departure, the future of Big Finish is as exciting as anything happening over at the BBC.
Hellboy: The Science of Evil - Video Games
Let's be clear here, Science of Evil is not a good video game. It is a PS2 generational game that was bumped up to the PS3 generation without changing the graphics or controls. So it looks rough, like five years older then it is, and controls like a rock with a steering wheel attached to it. It's a quick application of a branded product onto the basic mechanics of the God of War series, without any finesse, and continues the grand tradition of licenced games being generally crap.
But, considering the current (and long standing) feeling that a third Hellboy movie will never get made, this is as close as we're going to get. And the story in the game is the strongest point. Both Mike Mignola and Guillermo del Toro oversaw the creative direction of the game, which saw Ron Pearlman, Doug Jones and Selma Blair return to the roles of Hellboy, Abe and Liz respectively. And, added in Bruce Campbell as Lobster Johnson in a perfect piece of casting. It also head-in-a-jar comic villain Herman von Klempt to the film continuity, in a way that probably would have stretched credulity on film.
Farscape - Comic Book
Farscape, despite my enjoyment of the way the series proper ended, got the shaft. Cancelled not only unexpectedly, but when a fifth season had all but been previously assured. So, the writers had planned to continue the story of John Crichton, and were cut off mid story. Happily, they got a miniseries to wrap it up, and while it has it's charms, it suffers from extreme compression, as the Jim Henson Company were wary (and as it happens, correct) that this would be their last shot at the universe. So, many of the planned season 5 plot points, expected to take 22 episodes to tell, got crammed into 3 hours. So, the film feels a bit rushed, especially when it comes to things like Aeryn's pregnancy, the Eidolons and the Shaggy-doggedness of their arc, and the whole broader notion of a war between the Peacekeepers and the Scarrens.
Jump ahead to 2008 and enter BOOM Studios, who also produced a pretty hilarious Muppet Show comic around the same time. Working with series creator Rockne S. O'Bannon, the series initially was limited mini series, using up the remaining season 5 ideas. The series was a success, and BOOM turned it into an ongoing series. The art fluctuated between artists, some far better at capturing the Henson creature creations like Rygel and Pilot, while others captured the images of Ben Browder and Claudia Black with more accuracy. The tone of the run matched that of the TV show to the extent that it felt like one of the more organic continuations out there. However, once the series became ongoing, and more arcs began to develop, the further the series drifted from reason.
The edicts set down by the last season and the miniseries were ignored in favour of conflict, and instead of dealing with lingering series introduced notions, like the Nebari STD plague, the series introduced the Kkore, who were less effective then the Scarrans in doing essentially the same thing. Good stories like Rygel finally retaking his throne or Aeryn doubting herself as a mother were counteracted by weird deviations like Noranti regenerating into a younger, hotter version of herself. Like the TV series, the comic was unexpectedly cancelled after 24 issues, leaving many storylines unfinished, and fans no closer to a final conclusion to the story then we were in 2003.
Serenity - Film
Failed TV shows don't become movies. Until Firefly did. And they still don't, until Veronica Mars does. But Whedon still got there first, and is still the first of few. And of all the items on this list, Serenity is the only one that did it "for real." This isn't a comic book, though there have been some, and while they haven't been fantastic, they've been swell. This isn't a video game, or a novel series. This isn't pretending that the series continued. This is the series, continued.
Whedon's task was daunting, yet simple: make a film a newbie can watch and not need to watch the series, and provide a conclusion to a TV show whose belovedness was only in its infancy. When I saw Serenity in cinemas, I'd seen the series on TV, but not yet on DVD (meaning I was missing out on three episodes, and some order issues). I saw it with someone who didn't know Firefly existed before we went into the theatre. This same person has since stood in lines at cons, blushed when meeting Adam Baldwin, and uses shiny as part of their everyday vocabulary. That's as good as a success story as I know.