The Oxford Dictionary has three main definitions of canon along with subcategories of these; they are a broad rule or principle on which to judge something, creations proven to be an official work by a certain author or artist and a section of Catholic Mass, which holds words of consecration (Oxford Dictionaries, Date unspecified). In terms of analysing a media text the third definition is not relevant, but the first two definitions provide an interesting starting point for dealing with discussions of which texts are officially part of that franchise.
When we start to apply the first definition of canon to a text it begins to raise a problem. Basing an argument on whether a text is canon on a broad rule or principle is incredibly vague, for example if we establish the rule to be ‘does it tell a story about a particular character’ any text focusing on that character would therefore become canon. If the criteria were narrowed down to also include the second definition of canon, however, the analysis would become highly constrictive and canonical texts would be a rare pedigree, as only those made by one specific author would be considered official canon within the franchise. When these rules of canon are applied to Spiderman we face similar problems. Under the first definition of canon any text that tells a story about the character would be considered part of the canon or if we applied a different rule, for example ‘any character wearing the Spiderman outfit becomes part of canon’. It could be argued then that any parody of Spiderman or the behaviour of those in real life who are wearing the suit also becomes part of the franchise’s mythos along with both ‘Spiderman’ (Raimi, 2002) and ‘The Amazing Spiderman’ (Webb, 2012), despite their conflicting plots. Difficulties arise again under the second definition of canon, if a text can only be considered canon when created by a specific author it would mean that the only true canon of Spiderman is that created by the designers of Spiderman, credited to Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. If this is indeed the only accepted canon within Spiderman, would it not be the case that any aspect of Spiderman that was not created by Lee and Ditko, nor drawn by the original team of artists for the comic book, would not be considered part of the comic. The screenplays for both ‘Spiderman’ (Raimi, 2002) and ‘The Amazing Spiderman’ (Webb, 2012) were not written by the original writers for the comic, nor are both films by the same writer or director, would this not mean that neither of them are not part of the official Spiderman canon
In his book ‘Using the Force’ Brooker also tries to tackle this issue surrounding what texts can be considered canon using the case study of Star Wars (Lucas, 1977- ) and its fans to question what can and can’t be considered canon (2002). He begins this investigation by quoting Sansweet’s introduction to the ‘Star Was Encyclopaedia’, where he attempts to answer what exactly can be referred to as Star Wars canon. Sansweet’s argument declares that only the three movies that were written, directed and executively produced by George Lucas are the absolute canon within the franchise; also canon but not as high on the canonical hierarchy are approved adaptations of the text, while everything else is regarded as a quasi-canon (1998). Brooker then starts his own investigation into canon by looking at the opinions of Star Wars fans commenting on a forum called theforce.net (Anonymous, 1996- ). The final arguments that these fans put forward about what is considered canon can be simplified into three different types; if the original author created the text, if those aspects of the expanded universe are later proved to be true in the original text and a third argument stating that a singular canon is an illusion and the only meaningful canon is a personal one mediated by the consumer. Although the first argument is similar to the second definition of canon earlier, the second and third arguments offer us new ways of exploring the canon of Spiderman. Despite the third argument’s claim that there is no singular canon, Marvel’s website does contain a chronological summary of the Spiderman story (Marvel, Date unspecified) meaning that there is an official canon for Spiderman. Both of the films ‘Spiderman’ (Raimi, 2002) and ‘The Amazing Spiderman’ (Webb, 2012) are based on the events of Spiderman’s official canon, suggesting that they may in fact be considered canon, the events that make up the films are not in the chronological order suggested by Marvel’s summary. This raises the question of whether the chronology of a story affects it’s status as a piece of official canon, something not specified in either the original definitions of canon nor Brooker’s evaluation of fan opinions and may be something for debate as media continues to transition in the future. Ultimately, Brooker’s evaluation does offer perhaps the most useful opinion on the subject so for: “canon is a slippery thing” (Brooker, 2002, pg 106).