With a new version of Star Wars out, I’ve been doing some thinking about how audiences react to creators making changes to “their” works. The presence of the dream sequence in Bladerunner drastically changes how one interprets the film, and fans enjoy its addition in the director’s cut. I think if George Lucas had made only minor alterations to Star Wars, fixing continuity errors and maybe tastefully inserting unused footage, fans would have been completely fine with it. In general, I think audiences enjoy alterations to works if they’re done tastefully and for good reasons.

Over the weekend I was rereading some of Grant Morrison’s work on Batman and noticed three mistakes. I’d seen all three before, but with Star Wars on the brain they jumped out at me in a new way.

  1. In a panel in Batman and Robin no. 7, the speech bubbles for Batman and Batwoman are swapped.
  2. The location of a cave in Final Crisis no. 3 is stated as New York in the original editions and is changed to Gotham in subsequent collections.
  3. A coloring mistake implies that a fantasy actually happened in Batman no. 676.

All three mistakes were corrected when the comics were reprinted as hardcovers.

A Typo

The first one is easy. Artist Cameron Stewart explained what happened on his blog:

[T]he page was laid out with the characters oriented consistently from left to right, but after I’d completed the final artwork I was asked to reverse panel 3 because the dialogue (which is written after the art is completed) required Batwoman to be on the left. I did make the change but somewhere along the way the original art file was used by mistake, and thousands of readers scratched their head in puzzlement.

Simple, then. A mistake was made that’s confusing but not life-threatening. It’s very obvious in the printed version that the dialogue is wrong because of what’s said, so it’s not like the change alters the meaning. DC fixed the mistake in later printings, and it’s obviously the right call.

A Change Made to Accommodate Later Plot Developments

When Morrison was first teasing Final Crisis publically, he made a point to say how it was a huge, universe-affecting event. From Ernie Estrella’s report of the 2007 San Diego Comic-Con for Comics Continuum:

Morrison mentioned in other panels that the first page of Finial Crisis will have Anthro the First Boy and Kamandi the Last Boy on the last page. [sic]

Anthro "the first boy” is a character in the DC universe’s stone age. Kamandi: The Last Boy in Earth is the only human survivor of a "great disaster” that leaves the Earth populated by talking beasts. Basically this is Morrison saying that every character from A to Z will be in the book, and that the story would be the story of the entire DC Universe from beginning to end.

Kamandi, a now-classic Bronze Age Jack Kirby book, wore the fact that it was a Planet of the Apes copycat on its sleeve, right down to the depiction of a ruined Statue of Liberty on the cover of the first issue. Thus, when Anthro meets Kamandi in Final Crisis, it’s in New York. A scene in the third issue of Final Crisis shows a team of archeologists discovering Anthro’s cave, creating the idea that Anthro lived in a stone age New York. Half a year later, the last page of Final Crisis no. 7 wound up not showing Kamandi (that happened in the penultimate page of the first issue) but a time-displaced Bruce Wayne in a cave with an elderly Anthro.

A year-and-a-half after that, when Morrison was ready to bring Bruce back to the present, he had a problem. His original idea was that he’d feature Bruce jumping around time and space, but that changed as he developed the story. As he told Comics Alliance’s Laura Hudson:

When I first started I had the caveman one, and then I really wanted to do gladiator Batman; that was a story I was so excited about – Batman racing across the Forum in Ancient Rome. But then I realized that he can’t really do that. He can only jump around [time] in his own area, and that allowed me to tie it into the history of Batman’s family… It allowed me to deal with a very specific space that we know to be Batman’s. So he starts off in the caveman era and you get to see the actual Batcave as it was then, this kind of place initiation for tribesmen. In the Puritan days, it was a hideout for a girl who was accused of being a witch, and so on through the different time periods… Each of them also has their own distinct atmosphere and genre.

The new plan required Anthro’s cave to be near what became the Batcave, with Anthro’s descendants coming into contact with Batman and becoming a tribe of Bat-worshippers who would linger on for thousands of years, instilling in all of Gotham’s citizenry a subtle fear of bats that Batman would eventually use to his advantage. So the line in Final Crisis had to change, moving the cave to Gotham’s outskirts from Manhattan. (There were in fact a number of changes made to the collected edition of Final Crisis, including many other dialogue tweaks.) Is this one a big change? No. But it does enhance the meaning of other stories that hadn’t been written when it first came out. It’s not nearly as big as if Lucas had removed some of the sexual tension between Luke and Leia in A New Hope once he’d decided they’d be siblings, but more impactful than changing Boba Fett’s voice to Temuera Morrison in The Empire Strikes Back.

Unintentionally Changing the Meaning of a Scene

Finally, there’s a coloring mistake in Batman 676. The scene depicts The Joker having a fantasy in which he’s killed Robin and Nightwing. The scene ends with Joker snapping out of the delusion covered in blood. The implication is that he’s killed the doctor who’d just been giving him a Rorschach test, imagining he was killing Robin. Except that the doctor character shows up alive a few issues later as villain Le Bossu. Morrison explains:

Joker wasn’t supposed to have any blood on him at the end, because he’s in an asylum cell having just had a fantasy that he projected on a Rorschach blot card. And the colorist didn’t quite get it, so there’s blood all over the place, [laughs] and a lot of people didn’t understand that scene. Which is quite a simple scene, but a scene that people went online trying to explain in some of the most outlandish ways. But it was a coloring error. There shouldn’t have been blood. It should have just been the Joker having a fantasy. The doctor shows the card to Joker, the Joker’s sitting in his cell and he suddenly realizes that something interesting is up.

IGN: Okay, that explains a lot. So the Joker was imagining most of that?

Morrison: Yeah. Obviously the entire sequence where he’s visualizing Robin and Nightwing dead is a fantasy that he’s projecting on a Rorschach inkblot. As soon as we come out of that blot, the character holding the card – the doctor – is actually one of the members of the Club of Villains. And that moment we’re back in the real world, so the Joker shouldn’t have blood on him. A lot of that confused people, and the coloring confused people. But sometimes mistakes get made and wires get crossed.

This error, also, is corrected in the hard and softcover collections. But this one is much more severe. The scene reads entirely differently depending on the coloring. Either the Joker killed his doctor, or he imagined it. But since the doctor is a named character later on, he needs to be alive, and the mistake has to be corrected.

I’m not arguing at all that DC shouldn’t have made any of these corrections. On the contrary, DC absolutely should. Over time many more people will experience the stories as trade paperbacks or digital downloads, and the confusion caused by these points will have been averted. But there’s a huge difference between correcting errors and adding material that changes the substance of scenes. Morrison can get away with it in the Batman 676 case because that’s just one minor, mostly unmemorable, scene of a larger story whose subsequent parts came along just a few months later. Compare that to Han shooting first in A New Hope, which was the version of that scene for decades before it was changed. (No one really needs me to argue the merits of changing the Han/Greedo scene, of course.) I guess the takeaways are one, that either Morrison needs to read his proofs more carefully or DC’s editors need to be less afraid of the myth of Grant Morrison as God of All Comics and be more willing to correct his and his collaborators’ mistakes (and there are others–elsewhere the Batmobile is drawn as a British-style right-side drive car); and two, that producing large epics is difficult. Plans change over time, and fans are I think generally forgiving if they understand the reasoning.