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Cronin Theory of Comics – “Why Should I Change, He’s the One Who Sucks”

In the film, Office Space, there is a scene where two characters are talking about their names, and how much they dislike them. One character tells the other one, who is frustrated to be named Michael Bolton (the same name as a noted soft rock balladeer), “Well, why don’t you just go by Mike instead of Michael?” to which the Bolton character replies, “No way. Why should I change? He’s the one who sucks!”

That attitude describes the same attitude that I think comic writers ought to have with regards to continuity.

Too often, you will have comic book writers go out of their way to acknowledge other stories that do not add anything beneficial to their story, because the other stories are in continuity.”

The example I gave two years ago when I first discussed this issue was Gail Simone explaining how Black Canary’s actions in an issue of Birds of Prey, which might look odd if going off her actions in the comic book mini-series, Identity Crisis (She gives Batman a lot of grief, which would seem to be an odd knowing that Dinah was among the group of Justice League members who erased Batman’s memory because Batman walked in on them giving Dr. Light a lobotomy), was in keeping with the characterization of Black Canary.

It was a fine explanation and I had no problem with it (although, to be honest, it did not even occur to me that the scene would play out as hypocritical), but really, all I could think of while reading it was that the whole scene really had no reason for existence other than to deal with a story from ANOTHER COMIC BOOK.

While, really, Simone should not have to worry about the effect of Identity Crisis upon her characters. She should not have to worry if the characterization of one of her book’s stars is retroactively messed with in some other comic, she should be free to ignore it.

SHE shouldn’t change because some other book sucked.

Dwayne McDuffie should not have to feel the need to explain in Reginald Hudlin’s changes to Black Panther continuity in the pages of Fantastic Four, and I hope we will NOT see that in next month’s Fantastic Four (which features Klaw, who was pretty dramatically changed during Hudlin’s revamp of Black Panther’s origin), although I fear that we will.

Grant Morrison summed up the approach best when he described where his JLA Classified arc (the one that led into Seven Soldiers) existed with DC continuity:

Aquaman has no beard and John Stewart is Green Lantern so it’s pretty much set in some kind of current continuity but I’m afraid it’s not the gloomy ‘adult’ world of Sue Dibny’s shredded lycra pants; so keep well away if it’s attempted rape you crave. Cannibalism, yes, rape, no. My DCU is a day-glo, non-stop funhouse, where the world is threatened every five minutes and godlike beings clash in the skies like fireworks.

And that’s the way it should be done.

Use what you want, don’t use what you don’t want.

Don’t feel the need to change your story because someone else wrote a stupid story that involves your characters.

Don’t change because someone else sucks.

61 Comments

Captain Qwert Jr

August 2, 2007 at 3:22 am

With all other companies, depending on what they want to do, fine. Superman and Batman are so big, they are continuity proof, anyway.

With Marvel, strict continuity is a requirement. It’s one of the foundations, it is built on.

With Marvel, strict continuity is a requirement. It’s one of the foundations, it is built on

And that’s a fine dictum to follow when the universe consists of 6 comics starring 20 characters.

To insist it should still rigidly apply today is ridiculous.

Also, given that the really strict inter-book continuity didn’t come until the Thomas/Engelhart/etc. era of the late ’60s and early ’70s, it’s pretty disingenuous to claim it’s a foundation of the Marvel Universe. Stan and Jack (and Steve) were pretty much making that stuff up as they went along, and would frequently change/ignore things on a whim.

(As for Birds of Prey/Identity Crisis, I agree that Simone shouldn’t have had to address a shitty miniseries’ shitty characterization in her book, but given the circumstances, it’s likely she had to to keep her bosses happy.)

I agree that continuity shouldn’t, in theory, get in the way of quality. But Marvel and DC put a lot of effort in and call a lot of attention to continuity. You see references to other storylines thrown in all the time, developments in one title having an impact in another. But then sometimes to ignore continuity… I would find it confusing.

I think Sean nailed it, that continuity works with a limited scope, and each individual title in the two massive universes would be better off without it. In the end, though, it helps to sucker people in to buying books they wouldn’t otherwise buy, so I can’t really blame them for keeping it up.

Captain Qwert Jr

August 2, 2007 at 6:00 am

First, let me repeat myself: This only really applies to Marvel. DC and so many others never should have tried to ape it.

Marvel’s continuity may have been looser in the beginning, but tight continuity is what it solidified into. Ignore it and, you throw anything resembling sophisticated storytelling out the window.

For instance, Take a step back from FF example above. Details aside, The entire impact of the Klaw reveal is continuity dependent. It’s works because Klaw is one of BP’s and/or the FF’s old enemies. They fought in the past and it was remembered. Simple.

You are grossly exaggerating the difficulty of pulling this off. A writer just has to do a little research before hand. Where were the characters he want to use doing in the last story? What were they doing? How do I make them fit? It’s not like there is a limited amount of space anymore, given that all stories are 6-7 parters now.

Which brings up the most baffling part of this whole continuity debate. Given how everything is now written for that trades, and takes place in cross-overs, those who seek to ignore continuity are asking to read broken stories.
Issues are now chapters. That’s the way it is now. If you would tolerate a writer who can’t keep track what’s happening chapter by chapter,or writes characters with long-established personalities in a radically different way, I am at a lost as to what you expect from comics. Certainly not good writing.

D. Eric Carpenter

August 2, 2007 at 6:08 am

As long as a story or series is internally consistent, I have no problems with continuity issues. The perfect example, to me, is Starman.

Many items played fast and loose with established continuity, from Golden Age to Silver Age to the modern Age. But the series played in its own corner of the universe and was internally consistent with the characters, themes and history it told. Forcing the series to hold to all of the other current continuity across the DC universe would have been limiting–letting the writer tell a good story ruled the day there, and I appreciated it.

There was a lot of misunderstandings about Hypertime when Waid/Morrison tried to establish it. It really wasn’t about setting up a multiverse, it was really about giving creators a chance to tell stories unencumbered by too much continuity. If something didn’t QUITE fit…well, then it happened at a point where a couple of ‘universes’ touched.

I guess as I’ve aged, I’ve grown to appreciate the individual stories much more than universe-wide continuity. For instance, I’m not a fan of the Universe Wide continuity that Civil War has established, but I’m greatly enjoying ‘little’ books that tend to be self contained: Daredevil, Iron Fist and Runaways, for instance. They might make mention of the Big Picture, but they tend to ignore it and not let it get in the way.

Without fully suggesting doing what Brian doesn’t seem to welcome–which is to turn every new story into a stewing of “why did we act that way in the other story?”– I do think there is some value to the very character hypocrisy that infuriates a lot of people.

Take the Punisher, not many people’s idea of a deep thinker. In the late ’80s Mike Baron had a run where Punisher was more or less a ruleless cop, ivnestigating criminals ripped from the headlines and then killing them. He never bothered with the superhero or supervillain world.

But since he was popular, he’d show up in New Warriors or Spider-Man or Deathlok for two-parters. And they’d be EXACTLY THE SAME STORY, with Big Frank trying to kill a supervillain and the hero having to both stop him AND stop the villain. It dind’t quite gibe with the non-supervillains rule in his other book.

And then there were the darker writers, who often would ahev Frank do the exact same things other writers had villains do to show their evilness. Case in point: In a Baron-written Punisher comic, a villain shoots a torture victim, then says “Answer me, and win a bullet in the head.” harsh stuff. I think Chuck Dixon has Punisher then use the exact same line.

So how bad is the Punisher? Variously bad. Which is the same as all of us. Who hasn’t thought bad of someone drunk at a party, when we’ve been as drunk at other parties? it’s hypocrisy, but we’re all imperfect and thus hypocrites to our own lofty standards.

The Royal Shakespeare Company teaches that all Shakespearian characters are conflicted, wantign to act two opposite ways at once. Events like Dinah acting one way and then the other, or Klaw’s origin altering, can be used to give them more internal conflict. Every dud of a story can in fact lead to Shakespeare! In theory, at least.

jaythe1letterwonder

August 2, 2007 at 7:36 am

I think the biggest problem with creating strict continuity besides limiting the stories writers can do.It also makes it very hard to gain new readers.Which since this is after all a business should be a priority.Personally I haven’t read any of the crossovers (they really hold no intrest for me).As long as good stories are being written who cares if Spider-Man didn’t meet the Green Goblin until issue #12 or whatever?

Captain Qwert, if Marvel’ continuity is so “solidified”, why don’t we see any mentions of Namor’s puff-himself-up-like-a-blowfish powers or the magnets inside Captain America’s shield that he uses to make the shield return after being thrown? Both these things were established by Lee & Kirby waaay back when they were creating the Marvel universe – in Michael’s words, “when they were making that stuff up as they went along”.

Lee & Kirby only had use for continuity when it served their stories, and often introduced elements in one series that they would later ignore in other series. Continuity only became an obsession when the second-generation writers, who had grown up reading Lee & Kiry’s stuff, came along and turned the stories that they had read as kids into gospel.

Eric Carpenter, I’ve also found myself turning toward smaller, self-contained titles. Part of it, is, I think, that my tastes have changed over the years.

Another part, though, is simple economics. It’s prohibitively expensive to follow massive, mega-crossovers. Further, I’ve come to view them as shameless attempts to pick my pocket.

With every mega-event, I drop titles. I buy almost no Marvel any more, which adds support to Captain Qwert’s view of Marvel’s continuity integration, because every time a title gets sucked into an event, I drop it.

The other thing that concerns me is that ultimately I think continuity may be counter-productive from a business standpoint. While I could actually afford to buy all these titles, I simply won’t. I have trouble imagining readers shelling out several hundred dollars each month, though I’m sure they must exist. The few comic readers I know personally are pulling back, not buying more.

Actually, they dealt with that in a Cap story in ‘Tales of Suspense’–Cap had Iron Man remove the magnets because they were throwing off the delicate balance of his shield, and he felt that all those gizmos were fine for other guys, but not his thing.

Which is what I was going to say–most of the time, when writers say, “You shouldn’t make a big deal of continuity,” what they mean is, “I’m sloppy in my research or want to deliberately contradict previously established story points because I’m a prima donna.” Any writer, in any genre from spy thrillers to horror novels to historical romances, is expected to do their research, get their facts straight, and not make lazy mistakes that could be easily fixed by checking the source materials. Why should comics be any different?

If anything, consistency is even more important in comics to create a sense of verisimilitude; since you’re not bounding yourself by the real world’s rules, you have to abide very tightly to the rules you yourself create. When you change your own rules, you lose dramatic tension because readers no longer trust you not to break the rules whenever you’ve written yourself into a corner.

Which isn’t to say you should go looking for trouble; Brian’s right on that score. If I’m the writer on Namor, I try very hard to forget the fact that he can puff himself up like a blowfish, and trust that fans are doing the same thing I am. Gail Simone can safely assume that fans are trying hard to forget ‘Identity Crisis’, and not address it in her own series.

Great points. And not to pile on Gail, but I had this exact problem with how she handled Prometheus in Birds of Prey. He was painted as a real wuss in Lieberman’s Gotham Knights, a far cry from Morrison’s original depiction of him. In her attempt to redeem him, she has the Crime Doctor point out in-story how far he’s fallen and how he became Hush’s lapdog. She tried to explain the inconsistency, then have Prometheus reestablish himself as a badass, but trying to explain the lame depiction in Gotham Knights just called more attention to it. She should have trusted the readers to understand that Gotham Knights was just poor, inconsistent writing, and just ignore it. If you want to reestablish Prometheus as a badass, just show him doing badass things, don’t waste time explaining all his appearances where he acted like a wimp. All of us Prometheus fans are trying to forget those issues anyway, and all you do by bringing them up in another story is validate them.

T.: except then she’s open to criticisms that she’s ignoring whats happened to the character elsewhere.

Brian: so you’re saying that McDuffie should ignore Panther’s solo book, in favor of his own Priest inspired version? (I mean, I’m down with that, but then a Priest fan).

oops, i meant to blockquote the last paragraph of john seavey’s preceding comment and then respond to it. i’ve been messing up my html a lot lately.

Conversely, creators should *not* ignore parts of a character’s continuity that really don’t suck, and are in fact among the coolest aspects of the character. Especially, they shouldn’t ignore important features of the origin story, as told by the original creator.

E.g., Bendis should be aware that while Noh-varr is a Kree, he’s a Kree *from an alternate timeline*, and therefore can’t be expected to share anecdotes with the Illuminati about the Kree-Skrull War (at least the version the Avengers were involved in) or Captain Mar-vell’s betrayal of the Kree race.

I think that continuity should be followed, but that a story shouldn’t slavor to poor continuity to the detriment to itself.

Let me explain:

Character A is established as acting a certain way. Certain situations push his moral buttons, others do not.

In Mini-Series or Crossover X, Character A acts contrary to the way he is established.

In the character’s next appearance, he can go back to the way he had been established as acting, or use his new personality, depending on what the writer / editor thinks is best for the character. BUT, the story shouldn’t spend any real time or effort explaining it.

A one-off line of “I thought that once, but now I’m not so sure” is fine. This is how Nightcrawler’s personality changed dramatically after Secret Wars. Clairmont spent less than a page (as I recall) with Kurt questioning his faith in the face of the existance of the Beyonder, and then the story moved on.

Also, you have the Batman/Robin problem. For years Batman was shown as someone who regretted having a sidekick, and the consequences that can come of that. Then, Cassie dies and Jason comes back. Did Bruce replace Jason’s costume in the case with Cassie’s? Not that I’ve seen. Clearly the personlity has changed and Batman isn’t as regretful, but I also haven’t seen any expansive exposition explaining the change. The reader is left to assume the specifics of the change in personality and either accept it and keep reading or reject it and re-read back issues.

I think that continuity serves a good purpose. But, I don’t want to read Writer B’s No-Prize style explanation of how Writer C’s story wasn’t really out of character for Character X. I want to read Writer B’s story.

Theno

But Simone’s so *good* at the patches and fixes! Like Ostrander most of the time, like Geoff Johns much of the time, like Roy Thomas when the creativity was stronger than the trivia, like Gaiman and Moore when they played in the DCU, and like James Robinson when he could be bothered to pay attention, Simone can make it make sense (at least mostly) and get character moments that are that much more powerful for it.

The Black Canary- Deathstroke fight just before the OYL jump was an actually-pretty-satisfying payoff after the stupid JLA-Deathstroke fight in IdC– and Canary justifies the earlier stupid outcome by saying that the Leaguers had gotten in each other’s way (or, to be precise, in her way). It’s not perfect– but it helps. And I’d rather have had the one line comment about what was stupid about the other fight than not to get the payoff at all.

I believe Morrison addressed this again when talking about Countdown in an interview, expressing his discontent over the portrayal of Jimmy Olsen as a dorky, lame character. “Read All Star Superman, we’ve got a much better Olsen” was his point, pretty much. You get the feeling sometimes comic fanboys would rather read something that ties everything in a neat little bow and addresses all of their fanboy concerns, leaving nothing whatsoever to the imagination, like Green Lantern Rebirth. Rather than something, you know, good. The whole no-prizeyness of it rubs me the wrong way.

Besides, that issue of JLA where Prometheus gets cracked in the nuts by a bullwhip rates a read more than any of his appearances in Birds of Prey.

The Lee/Kirby argument is a little unfair. To use “they were making it up as they went along” to justify lax continuity is a misnomer (or something): they actually were making it UP, not in a “whatever pops into our heads” sense but in the sense that they were building something they didn’t quite know how to do. It’s like a kid shaping a fort out of a trash can, a chair, and a cardboard box, then a few weeks later building a new one with lumber: to say that the new fort doesn’t matter because the kid in the beginning was only making inventive use of junk misses the point that the fort was the kid’s eventual goal. Lee and Kirby (and friends) didn’t set out to build a Marvel Universe in 1961-63, but that doesn’t mean they hadn’t built one in 1964, nor that they hadn’t replaced the junk with lumber in 1965.

What disappoints me with the modern “universes” isn’t so much the laxness of continuity, but rather the almost ANTI-continuity attitude. It’s one thing to say “that story sucked, I’m ignoring it” if the story in question was some ’80s month-filler. But if you’re reading a Black Canary/Batman story based on a current big event (IIRC, the story was a “fallout from War Games” thing), why wouldn’t you wonder about the BC/Bats fallout from another current big event? Gail (like so many of the other Bat-related writers) got squeezed between the dueling War Games/IdC thing, so I can understand her difficulty working through that and applaud the skill with which she did it, but it’s what she had to do.

But that’s the trade-off you make with continuity-based shared universes. And here’s where I lay the blame at the editors (as usual): quit driving your universes with continuity if you’re not prepared to abide by it. DC barely (if even that) got through IC without the unwieldy structure collapsing, so how did it not occur to anyone that maybe next time they should build it better? But no, they just stacked more old chairs and trash cans on top of that cardboard box, apparently hoping that somehow gravity would wander off for a sandwich. The fort-building kid was not-retarded enough to know that maybe he should have some basic understanding of the rules of physics and architecture; apparently, we seem to think the universe-builder doesn’t need to know the basics of a universe. Even God had to know what He was doing.

To use the OFFICE SPACE example: yeah, not fair that sucky Michael Bolton made a mockery of your name. But good luck waiting for HIM to change. His suckiness overwhelms your not-suckiness and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it — either change or live with it, and quit yer bitchin’! Them’s the breaks.

I think that each title should have it OWN continuity, ala the All-Star books, but I guess that’s not the best thing for sales.

It’s one thing for a writer to ignore 1 sucky story affecting a character you’re writing. but it’s another thing when people just start throwing out all the development and work other writers have done on a character for years, right? or when half the people writing a character write them with one personality and the other half do it completely differently?

I’m thinking of Magneto, in particular.

Claremont put a ton of work into shifting Magneto away from being a standard megalomaniac villain to being a more complex sort of figure, never quite redeeming him all the way, but setting him up as more of an anti-hero. Several years worth of stories went into taking him from the guy who wanted to annihilate all of humanity to the one willing to subject himself to the judgment of the world court.

And then Acts of Vengeance comes along and John Byrne does his best to throw it all out the window. Claremont almost fixes it, but after that, half the Marvel writers used Magneto as a near-psychopath and utterly evil foe and the other half worked him as the anti-hero willing to cross lines others wouldn’t for the greater good, etc.

So who’s right? Which is the real Magneto in the MU? Which ever one the current writer wants?

I’m interested in reading about the anti-hero, but I find the megalomaniac version boring. (Including Morrison’s. Sorry, folks) Throw continuity out the window and I don’t have any idea what to expect. I might be interested in picking up a Magneto appearance in a book I don’t regularly get, but not if he’s there as the lunatic of the week.

Theno said:

I think that continuity serves a good purpose. But, I don’t want to read Writer B’s No-Prize style explanation of how Writer C’s story wasn’t really out of character for Character X. I want to read Writer B’s story.

This nails it on the head for me. If a new writer wants to ignore continuity, why don’t they just create their own character? For example, if Robert Kirkman wants to tell stories that don’t depend on prior MU stories, he can do that in Invincible. But when he tells Spider-man stories, I think he should be on the hook to respect continuity.

At the same time, there’s no need to obsess over dotting every i and crossing every t – real life is inconsistent, so having minor inconsistencies makes the stories more realistic to me, not less. Sometimes a person is nice and sometimes they’re a jerk; sometimes they’re brave and sometimes they’re afraid. There’s no need to go back and try to balance every previous appearance – just tell your story.

“I think that each title should have it OWN continuity, ala the All-Star books, but I guess that’s not the best thing for sales.”

Actually, the more crossovers I see, the more convinced I am that each title having it’s own continuity IS the best thing for sales.

The problem is that the Big Events sell well, and that the editors have a hard time seeing how the audience bleeding away over time negates their gains. It’s similar to how networks selling their old programs to cable channels for syndication helped to kill the demand for network TV. It’s easy to see the connection on paper, but try convincing a bean counter who’s gloating over the company’s current revenue.

I don’t have a problem with Big Events per se, except that from past experience they are obviously easy to screw up. Tight continuity forces ALL of a company’s books to reference a Big Event, and screwing one up can take years to fix. Every book they put on the stands that is written to fix a Clone Saga or a Sins Past is one fewer book that could be the next Preacher or the next Transmetropolitan.

Sounds like you’re describing Hypertime, Brian.

Yeah, that’s what I mentioned in the first time I did this piece, Dan, back in 2005. But since then, I did a separate bit JUST on Hypertime, so I thought it’d be silly to reprint the Hypertime stuff.

But yeah, it’s Hypertime I want.

I’m right there with you. Hypertime is the Occam’s Razor of continuity.

I want to hug it.

T.: except then she’s open to criticisms that she’s ignoring whats happened to the character elsewhere.

Sure, that may happen if there are people who actually liked the change she is ignoring, in this case Prometheus’ new found wimpiness, but as far as I could tell there weren’t many fans that did. Kind of like how Norman Osborn has appeared many times since Sins Past and no one is clamoring for writers to follow up on Gwen Stacy and the O-face.

Hypertime is the most logical solution. It’s the only way to reconcile things that make no sense whatsoever, no matter how much work you put into trying to force them to make sense. Take something as simple as Barry Allen or Hal Jordan. How the hell is either guy older than Batman or Superman?

Douglas Wolk implies in his book that, really, a single comic book issue isn’t a chapter in just that series. That ENTIRE SERIES is just a chapter in the Grand Corporate Narrative of each company (Marvel and DC).

He doesn’t do much with the idea in his book, but to me it’s a profound notion.

Continuity is just internal consistency writ large.

Would you read a book that contradicts itself in each successive chapter? You might, but unless it’s a postmodern attempt at subverting the conventions of storytelling, you might feel like the creator is doing a bad job (you might feel like that even if it is a postmodern attempt).

I agree that it’s absurd to expect every story to fit into continuity, since continuity cannot possibly make sense at this point (even without the reboots and retcons, the characters just don’t age as they should).

But it makes sense that an attempt at continuity should be the norm in these Two Grand Narratives.

“I agree that it’s absurd to expect every story to fit into continuity, since continuity cannot possibly make sense at this point (even without the reboots and retcons, the characters just don’t age as they should).”

This is what bothers me about the event mentality, more than the meaningless crossovers and multipart tales that I never bother to read. Specifically, the fact that we get a dearth of “THIS IS HOW THINGS SHOULD BE” type comics, from COIE to Green Lantern: Rebirth that grasp at universe shattering depth and world changing events but always fall short in their aims because of their self defeating insistence that this Important because it Takes Place In Continuity. Obviously, it works because it’s a workable sales strategy, but it drives me crazy when people try to defend it creatively. It’s unwieldy at best and completely nonsensical when you have six Batman franchise titles running concurrently.

I think the idea of a Shared Universe works because the average (i.e. non-obsessive lunatic) reader is more than willing to fill in the blanks as far as it suits him to the comics he chooses to read and enjoy. But all the continuity stuff can go screw, the number one priority should be to tell a good story.

This is both hilarious, and relevant.

http://homepage.mac.com/mperpetua/.Public/lettercolumn.jpg

Yeah, I remember that bit.

Funny stuff, although I think it’s also a BIT harsh of a response to some kid reader.

I think most of the times there is no a good story worth of ignoring past sories. I mean, recent lame stories of Hulk in Fantastic Four. If JMS wants to make a story based in previous continuity, shouldn´t he at least be sure of over what is he writing? And what are you giving us in exchange? What has Hudlin given us in exchange of screwing around with previous good stories with Black Panther? If you don´t like the character (or you simply don´t know and are too lazy to have a previous look), hell, make up some other one. If you don´t know how to use some kree character and how it works, what´s the use of misusing it and bust readers´ balls?

No, continuity shouldn´t interfere in a great story, but we can´t have Kenny dying in every issue and having him unexplainedly alive in next issue. Not if you want me to take you seriously.

Captain Qwert Jr

August 3, 2007 at 3:02 am

[quote]HammerHeart: Captain Qwert, if Marvel’ continuity is so “solidified”, why don’t we see any mentions of Namor’s puff-himself-up-like-a-blowfish powers or the magnets inside Captain America’s shield that he uses to make the shield return after being thrown? Both these things were established by Lee & Kirby waaay back when they were creating the Marvel universe – in Michael’s words, “when they were making that stuff up as they went along”. [/quote]

Respecting continuity does not mean characters give their life story, and medical history in every scene. The examples you gave were gave were trivial details, not inconsistencies. That Namor hasn’t used a power in a long time, does not mean he can’t. Lee, Kirby and the rest did pay attention to the major and minor details. If Dr Doom was lost in space at the end of one issue, not only would it be brought up on his return, but they would have used it to add some detail to aid the next story. This attention to detail became a hallmark of Marvel storytelling. You want further proof, look at all the “see issue ## for details” and “This story takes place before…” editorial citations.

It started to fray not because it became too complicated (It’s very simple, really), or because the writers had such heartbreaking stories of staggering genius that demanded that continuity be pushed aside in order to be told, but to stroke the egos of pencilers who thought they could write, TV writers going through a mid-life crises, or hacks who want to re-write the stories they read as a kid.

I only read Black Panther occasionally, so I don’t know how Hudlin changed Klaw, but I do know it happened at some time in the past few years, not 40 years ago. Klaw is BP’s arch-foe, and therefore a big part of BP’s title. Hudlin is still on BP. Their respective titles occur in the same universe. If Dwayne McDuffie altered something, so important to BP’s book, then despite the fact that he is more popular, and an overall better comic writer than Hudlin, McDuffie is in the wrong, and it could have been prevented with a small amount of research. (Though perhaps he will address it next issue). Sloppiness is not something to be celebrated.

Marvel does not put out done-in-one books, featuring all new characters. It’s puts out books written for trade paperbacks with established characters that live in a shared universe. Consistency is a basic component to this. No respect to continuity equals bad stories.

The main problem at the moment is that both of the big two are or have recently been involved in big line-wide crossover events that pretty much demand tight inter-title continuity… and then not enforcing it.

My problem with Hypertime is that the phrase, “It’s all true,” is in practice synonymous with “It’s all false.” (Whoa. Deep, dude.) If everything is equally meaningful, then nothing has any meaning at all. If Blue Beetle dies, why should we care because hey, Hypertime, he’s still alive in the next story. Continuity is, at its simplest, the idea that actions in one story will have consequences in a later story. By saying, “Every story is equally valid and continuity is meaningless,” you are saying, “Actions only have consequences when I, the writer, feel like exploring them. Otherwise, they don’t.”

This isn’t to say that I’m against alternate realities; I think Marvel’s handled them pretty well, by keeping them for the most part “off-screen”. Yes, there are loads and loads of realities, but this is the one that matters, this is the one we’re following, and if something happens here, the consequences of it will be dealt with. Tinker with that, and it’s a pretty straight line to “Nothing matters unless we feel like it should matter,” which to the reader is as close to “nothing matters” as makes no nevermind.

“Yeah, I remember that bit.

Funny stuff, although I think it’s also a BIT harsh of a response to some kid reader.”

I don’t know, Brian, my instinct is to believe that an editor should nip that kind of thing in the bud, especially in a kid. You don’t want him getting the impression that anal retentive taxonomy is more important than good storytelling.

It is tough, but fair!

“It started to fray not because it became too complicated (It’s very simple, really), or because the writers had such heartbreaking stories of staggering genius that demanded that continuity be pushed aside in order to be told, but to stroke the egos of pencilers who thought they could write, TV writers going through a mid-life crises, or hacks who want to re-write the stories they read as a kid.”

And, also, somehow, continuity is a the primary end served by mediocre writers to prop up their tepid work as being worthwhile because it takes place “in the important universe”. Narrative continuity is necessary within a title, but my expectations of a comic are very creator centric rather than character-centric, so I really honestly don’t care if Brubaker’s Daredevil is exactly like Bendis’. I like to be able to trust a writer to present an interpretation of a beloved character worth reading, which is the whole point of different writers and artists.

Egotism does enter into it, but frankly, there are some writers who can get away with it. It just boils down to bad writing and good writing, bad ideas and good ideas. Conceptual continuity is very necessary, but in my opinion anything else is up for grabs. This is not invalidated because Chuck Austen sucks.

“The main problem at the moment is that both of the big two are or have recently been involved in big line-wide crossover events that pretty much demand tight inter-title continuity… and then not enforcing it.”

And when they do make an effort to, you get completely unreadable stuff like Countdown and Civil War and the ancillary chapters.

“I think most of the times there is no a good story worth of ignoring past sories.”

Well yes, but I don’t think every shitty inventory story or bitter fanboy-ish retcon or radical take on a character should be addressed or explained away unless it serves the story. I guarantee you that every single great to excellent superhero story is very selective in what it chooses to take from the characters previous history. It simply has to be that way because almost every single character with an appreciable publishing history has a dearth of awful stories that are best left deteriorating in a barrel at a Superfund site.

Lots of times, good stories only become possible specifically because they do not wade through the bog of depressing minutae.

“My problem with Hypertime is that the phrase, “It’s all true,” is in practice synonymous with “It’s all false.” (Whoa. Deep, dude.) If everything is equally meaningful, then nothing has any meaning at all. If Blue Beetle dies, why should we care because hey, Hypertime, he’s still alive in the next story.”

To me, that’s not what Hypertime is at all. Hypertime is just an explanation of how we interact with comics – Blue Beetle died in this comic but I can go back and look at this comic and he’s alive again. Multicolored Kryptonite does not exist and it never did but I am looking at an issue right now that has multicolored K in it. Batman was in his 30’s in 1941, but he is also in his 30’s in 2007. It all happened. It’s all possible. This is why American comics are unique.

“Continuity is, at its simplest, the idea that actions in one story will have consequences in a later story. By saying, “Every story is equally valid and continuity is meaningless,” you are saying, “Actions only have consequences when I, the writer, feel like exploring them. Otherwise, they don’t.”

That’s the way it’s always worked, since day one. It is simply not possible or desirable for a writer to address everything that the previous one did. It’s completely stultifying, and in my opinion, is what distinguishes professional work from fan fiction. Instead of telling stories, maybe comics should open with a wall of expository prose, complete with references. It’s a writer’s job to interpret things in a way that are interesting and entertaining.

“This isn’t to say that I’m against alternate realities; I think Marvel’s handled them pretty well, by keeping them for the most part “off-screen”. Yes, there are loads and loads of realities, but this is the one that matters, this is the one we’re following, and if something happens here, the consequences of it will be dealt with. Tinker with that, and it’s a pretty straight line to “Nothing matters unless we feel like it should matter,” which to the reader is as close to “nothing matters” as makes no nevermind.”

I think this comes from an attachment to the entities and properties of the corporation rather than the desire to emotionally connect or react to a story. I just think that being overly deterministic about “what matters” is being arbitrated by fan mandate and editorial consensus rather than good stories v. bad stories.

It makes me madder that I won’t get to see Dan Jolley’s Bat-Man from JSA: Liberty Files, or Darwyn Cooke’s Wonder Woman or Green Lantern from New Frontier or Grant Morrison’s Jimmy Olsen from All Star Superman outside of those respective series, because frankly, they make the “important” mainstream continuity versions suck. A perfect example of this is Trials of Shazam/Monster Society of Evil, which basically ran concurrently. One of them is in canon and it sucked. The other one was totally great.

I don’t know, Brian, my instinct is to believe that an editor should nip that kind of thing in the bud, especially in a kid. You don’t want him getting the impression that anal retentive taxonomy is more important than good storytelling.

It is tough, but fair!

Interestingly enough (and I am pretty sure this is accurate, although I could be off), as it turned out, letters like that, rather than teaching readers what to expect, instread ended up “teaching” editorial that they SHOULD start paying attention to stuff like the different Atlantises, because, apparently, “that’s what the kids care about.”

So soon after that letter came out, DC actually DID start paying attention to silly stuff like that.

Ah, that evergreen tension of serialized fiction, do we trust the writers to serve the story or serve the fans?

D. Eric Carpenter

August 3, 2007 at 10:43 am

Don’t get me wrong–I can enjoy huge, cosmic storylines that depend on inter-title continuity. I can enjoy Crises and Annihilitions. What bothers me is when continuity for the sake of continuity intrudes on a good story.

A prime example is in all of the The Initiative books. Nearly any book in the mainstream Marvel universe seems to spend a page or two (admittedly down to a panel or two this far out) telling us what the Civil War was…what the end results was…and what the current scorecard is. That’s space that could be used for actual storytelling instead of constantly reminding us just what’s going on in the universe as a whole.

To show I’m not company-biases, it’s mostly the same issue I have with Countdown. There are a few titles that tie directly into Countdown that I like the concept of: Challengers, The Atom, and a few others. But the Countdown title itself is NOTHING but continuity concerns. I REALLY want to like the title, but all it’s done so far is present continuity connections (even identical scenes) between books, but all of the important events happen in the other books…not in the series itself.

I can think of an example of a book that came out this week that I thought was a lot of fun, but ignored previous continuity: Metal Men. The book was loads of fun, but ignored the previous mini-series that established the Metal Men as previously human. That was handwaved away in 52 by admission of mental illness…but if that’s all that’s necessary to ‘correct’ continuity, I don’t see how it’s any more valid than a writer just randomly changing things on a whim.

The issue also establishes that Ray Palmer was interested in miniturized dentists, and that Will Magnus wasn’t really interested in building robots…all things that contradict previous continuity. Heck, it even ignores the recent (atrocious, again, in my opinion) Superman/Batman Metal Men story.

But it was a darn fun book (for me, at least). As long as the whole series is consistent with itself in continuity, I really don’t care. If the next appearance of the Metal Men contradicts this series, I may like it or I may not, depending on the skill of the creators.

The Metal Men thing is a total revamp, you notice like All New Atom and Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters, based on stuff out of Grant Morrison’s notebooks. Being a fertile mind and keenly perceptive, it seems like his aim is to expand on the core concept – what if the idea behind the Atom exploded? How many different directions can we take this in? How can we make it fun or interesting to read? The previous comics and characters still exist, and these new characters are BASED on the concepts and ideas present in the original stuff.

It’s beholden to it but not chained to it, in fact my absolute favorite thing about it is that it shows you why that character is cool to begin with, and why that character is worthwhile by making it the conceptual center of the book, rather than spending so much time deciding what really happened and what didn’t. It moves forward, upward and outward AND it kind of makes you want to pick up a Showcase or two. It’s not John Byrne’s claw handed, cross eyed take on Doom Patrol.

ATOM HOTEP said:

“I think this comes from an attachment to the entities and properties of the corporation rather than the desire to emotionally connect or react to a story. I just think that being overly deterministic about “what matters” is being arbitrated by fan mandate and editorial consensus rather than good stories v. bad stories.”

On the contrary–I think that you can only emotionally connect or react to a story if the writer is willing to be honest with his/her readers, and playing fast and loose with continuity (whether accidentally or deliberately) is not.

I’ll give an excellent example (well, I think it’s excellent) that doesn’t involve comics or continuity. ’28 Days Later’. Nobody seems to have liked the ending to that movie, and while they all give lots of reasons, it’s very simple as to why–it broke its own continuity. They established early on in the film that there were news reports that the infection had spread to Paris and Manhattan–thus, to North America and Europe.

At the end of the film, when they realized they’d written themselves into a corner, they just said, “No. It’s confined to the British Isles. Never mind.” They cheated their audience by changing the rules when they needed a quick solution to a problem they’d put themselves into, and thus betrayed their audience’s trust.

You say, “What about ‘non-canonical’ stories like Monster Society of Evil or New Frontier?” (I say, “New Frontier sucks.” But that’s a whole other topic.) I actually say, those don’t present themselves as in-continuity stories. There’s an unspoken contract at the beginning of those books that says, ‘Let’s step away from the game we have established over there, and start a new one, with slightly different rules, over here. I’ll tell you what these new rules are, and some of them might be different.’ But, crucially, Jeff Smith doesn’t violate his own continuity. Mainstream DC’s, perhaps, but not his own.

To use another analogy, it’s a lot like chess. There is such a thing as “fairy chess”, where both participants play according to a mutually-agreed on set of rules that are different from the conventional rules of chess. But that doesn’t mean you can play chess without rules.

“On the contrary–I think that you can only emotionally connect or react to a story if the writer is willing to be honest with his/her readers, and playing fast and loose with continuity (whether accidentally or deliberately) is not.”

I am going to take “continuity” in the sense you’re using it to mean narrative or thematic cohesion within a particular story, which is a more agreeable definition to me.

“I’ll give an excellent example (well, I think it’s excellent) that doesn’t involve comics or continuity. ‘28 Days Later’. Nobody seems to have liked the ending to that movie, and while they all give lots of reasons, it’s very simple as to why–it broke its own continuity. They established early on in the film that there were news reports that the infection had spread to Paris and Manhattan–thus, to North America and Europe.”

I totally missed all the stuff about the disease spreading beyond the UK, though that may not necessarily be the reason that I liked the ending. 28 Days Later is thematically unified and narratively satisfying, so, to me, the fact that there were news reports talking about the spread of the disease (which I seriously can’t remember, maybe I need to watch it again) doesn’t really affect my enjoyment of the film.

“At the end of the film, when they realized they’d written themselves into a corner, they just said, “No. It’s confined to the British Isles. Never mind.” They cheated their audience by changing the rules when they needed a quick solution to a problem they’d put themselves into, and thus betrayed their audience’s trust.”

I guess so. I don’t really consider that a particularly effective example but I understand your point.

“You say, “What about ‘non-canonical’ stories like Monster Society of Evil or New Frontier?” (I say, “New Frontier sucks.” But that’s a whole other topic.) I actually say, those don’t present themselves as in-continuity stories. There’s an unspoken contract at the beginning of those books that says, ‘Let’s step away from the game we have established over there, and start a new one, with slightly different rules, over here. I’ll tell you what these new rules are, and some of them might be different.’ But, crucially, Jeff Smith doesn’t violate his own continuity. Mainstream DC’s, perhaps, but not his own.”

This doesn’t really contradict what I said here:
“I guarantee you that every single great to excellent superhero story is very selective in what it chooses to take from the characters previous history. It simply has to be that way because almost every single character with an appreciable publishing history has a dearth of awful stories that are best left deteriorating in a barrel at a Superfund site.”

Except for the part about New Frontier sucking, I’m not sure how a right thinking individual might hold that opinion! Any story that makes Wonder Woman, Hal Jordan and Martian Manhunter interesting is worthy of at least minor praise.

Does anyone know any comic-book story that sucked because of following a tight continuity?

I only know stories sucking because of bad writing. And not being consistent with what was stated before is bad writing.

Green Lantern Rebirth is so anal about continuity that it’s not possible for me to enjoy it.

I’d agree with that one, but I’d point out that it’s not just that it’s anal about continuity, it’s that if you take away its anal-ness about continuity, there’s nothing else left. It’s just a bunch of footnotes, followed by, “And then Green Lantern comes back to life.”

(As for my feelings about ‘New Frontier’, someday I’ll put up a full-length review in my blog so that I don’t have to keep explaining it piecemeal in various different comics threads. Let’s just say it was severely underplotted, filled with exactly the kind of continuity porn people have been complaining about, and that I wildly disagree with its central theme.)

Actually you forgot the most important part of the story, which was telling you incessantly how cool and great Hal Jordan was and all the supporting characters going on at length about how cool Hal Jordan was, sometimes in a “Devin Grayson Nightwing he makes me wet” kind of way, sometimes in a “my dad could beat up your dad” kind of way. It’s probably the most annoying thing I’ve read of Johns’, outside of his ridiculously lame motivation for Zoom.

Y’know, substitute “Cooke” for “Johns”, and you’ve just described ‘New Frontier’. :)

Bah! Barry Allen runs fast in New Frontier, John, did you forget that?

Also I’d really like to know about Cooke’s “ridiculously lame motivation for Zoom.”

I agree with the 28 Days Later comment. (Did you get to see the original ending, BTW? Before they added in the American Troop deus ex machina?)

Claremont’s final few years on Uncanny received a lot of criticism because of the continuity it brought with it made it inaccessable to new readers, but that’s different from sucking.

Usually, for me, a story sucks due to continuity when the new team on the book decides to devote their first or first few issues explaining why established continuity in the book, or in other books, was wrong, and then they reboot the character or team.

An old example is Power Pack. A newer one is Titans. I felt that Graduation Day served no purpose than to “graduate” the Titans to Outsiders and Young Justice to Titans for no real purpose. From my outside opinion as a reader, it seemed that the only purpose to Graduation Day was to kill Donna Troy (again), put Robin in as head of Titans (instead of Dick, wierd thinking, IMHO), and basically re-establish the Titans as the Sidekick-Team (Robin, Wonder Girl, Superboy, and Impulse from Young Justice.)

The story of Graduation Day might have been good, if it hadn’t so obviously been for the express purpose of relaunching a title that (again, IMHO) didn’t need it (Titans), rebranding a title that had been cancelled (Outsiders) and continuing a team whose title had been cancelled (Young Justice.)

Come to think of it, the Titans / Legion crossover had the exact same problem. I wanted to see Robin and Brainac 5 bicker over tactics, or at least put their heads together to come up with a fantastic foolproof plan. Instead, the story was a huge continuity fix/set up for a fix, and the characters and plot were so secondary to that goal that I couldn’t get into it, and couldn’t enjoy it.

Theno

Brian,

Did you stop doing these? I was really enjoying them.

Theno

Minor point: A couple of posters above have used the word “dearth” to mean “excess,” when in fact it means just the opposite: scarcity or lack.

Just trying to maintain some continuity in the English language … ;)

“Minor point: A couple of posters above have used the word “dearth” to mean “excess,” when in fact it means just the opposite: scarcity or lack”

I was going to make this comment, and suggest “a dearth” be replaced with “no dearth”, or possibly “plethora”

“With all other companies, depending on what they want to do, fine. Superman and Batman are so big, they are continuity proof, anyway.

With Marvel, strict continuity is a requirement. It’s one of the foundations, it is built on”

I think it’s actually the other way around. Marvel’s attitude towards continuity (‘ignore the lame’) is more relaxed than DC’s, who go out of their way to constantly officially re-write their continuity.

Mychael Darklighter

July 31, 2012 at 6:06 pm

agreed. dc invented the reboot. marvel just had a sort of vague sliding timescale.

grant morrison condenses all 150,00 years of batman into his stories

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