In February, Zack Snyder, the director of the then-forthcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, got testy with his critics. During an appearance on the Hall of Justice podcast, the hosts asked him about his decision to have Superman kill the villain Zod at the end of Man of Steel. “People are always like ‘You changed Superman,’” Snyder said. “If you’re a comic-book fan, you know that I didn’t change Superman ... You know I’m a bit of a comic-book fan, and I always default to the true canon.”
Canon—the established facts and backstory of a fictional world—is a concept common in fan spaces. To discuss anything from Doctor Who to Star Wars to Superman without demonstrating some familiarity with canon is to risk being undermined as a dilettante. So while the reaction to Snyder’s comments was swift and predictably furious, as fans and critics alike argued about the validity of his Superman interpretation and fought over his understanding of comics, few questioned his fundamental embrace of canon as a concept.
With the rise of mass-media intellectual properties and ascendant geek culture, the tendency to treat the original comics, novels, and video games like holy writ has spread out of fan communities and into the larger cultural conversation. Creators and critics alike now are expected to be well-versed in source materials. J.J Abrams’s 2009 Star Trek reboot went to great lengths to establish itself as canonical; the very existence of The Force Awakens spurred a cottage industry of writers to analyze the film’s departures from the Star Wars “expanded universe” it had replaced. A good portion of the Internet firestorm around Batman v Superman has been couched in terms of its fealty or deviation from comics. Canon, in other words, is king, and if you want to talk about anything geek-related, you’d better have your credentials at the ready.