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Thread: Comic Book Continuity

  1. #1
    The Man called Wil Wilfredo Martinez's Avatar
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    Comic Book Continuity

    To those of you still waiting for another fanfic out of me: sorry, but I still can't seem to get one ready. So, since I *still* need to practice my writing, I've decided to do another article, this time about comic book continuity. It's just something I've been aching to do for a while.

    Mention "continuity" in any comics forum and odds are you'll get at least one "not again!" reaction, and possibly even a full-scale flame war. Even some comic book professionals have posted how much they hate the term.

    But why? What exactly is "comics continuity" and why is it such a controversial topic?

    Let's define the term first:

    "Continuity" means keeping your facts straight from one story to another in serialized fiction- not just comics, but also TV shows, cartoons, movie sequels, novel series, etc. In short, everything that happens in one story is supposed to count for any other stories that come later in the series. The idea is to simulate reality, and to slowly build a particular "mythology" of their own- introducing new characters, changing or eliminating others, and so on. This is something most people understand and expect, since that's how the real world works.

    How is comic book continuity different? Well, for one thing, most comic book companies (in America anyway) have a tendency to establish continuity not just within specific series, but between others they also publish, effectively creating their own "fictional universes." This also happens in other media, but comics are the most noted for this. In the case of Marvel and DC comics -the two leading American companies- almost EVERY series they publish is assumed to be part of their respective universes, no matter how unusual a combination that might make (Yes, Howard The Duck DOES exist in the same universe as Spider-Man... O.O ) Exceptions exist in both but are specifically singled out.

    Another important factor is that comics continuity is OLD. While the continuity of say, a TV series, usually covers only that series, and a new version with no connection to the original can be introduced years later, American comics tend to use characters who are DECADES old, in some cases extending all the way back to the 1930's!! As you can imagine, having to keep tabs on who did what when can get difficult when you not only have to keep an eye on dozens of other current comics, but also THOUSANDS of comics published over the course of 70 years, especially back when resources like the Internet didn't exist! And yet, that's exactly what Marvel and DC try to do (well, to an extent, as you'll soon see.)

    Let's look at the history of comics and see how the obsession over continuity developed...

    THE GOLDEN AGE
    For some reason that I've never understood well (other than that it sounds cool) comics historians have divided the publication of American comics in "periods" named after the "Ages of Mankind" from Greek mythology. (In case you don't know the myth, the human race supposedly originally existed in a era of perfection known as The Golden Age. Then afterwards came a not-so-good era known as The Silver Age. Then the even-less-good Bronze age and- you get the idea.) It should be noted that these "eras" refer mostly to superhero comics, since they're the ones who ultimately came to dominate the American market, though there have always been other types of comics published, and some were even more popular than superheroes at given times.

    The Golden Age of Comics stretches from its beginning -which can refer either to the *actual* beginning of comics publication, in the 1920s, or more usually, the publication of Action Comics #1, in 1938, where Superman, the first big-name superhero, debuted- to the early 1950s, where comic sales shrank greatly and most superhero comics were canceled.

    Comics were originally just reprints of comic strips published in newspapers; as you can imagine, they were prominently humorous cartoons such as Popeye, with little continuity between them, although adventure serials such as Prince Valiant and The Phantom already existed. However, it wasn't long before original material was being made for the comic books. Continuity existed only when a particular writer wanted to have it, and crossovers were hardly ever heard of. And sometimes even a particular series intentionally changed its continuity without explanation, as well. An example of this would be how Superman, only about two years after his origin, started to fly rather than just "leap over tall buildings in a single bound". This was because the popular Radio Show version had Superman flying, so the comics version starting doing it as well, with no explanation of how.

    In addition, comic companies operated on the assumption that their readers were only children, and that they would lose interest in comics in about five years or so; however, they also expected to have a new audience of kids by then, who would most likely have never heard of the stories they had published previously (since comics were intended, as *shocking* as it may be to modern collectors, as throwaway entertainment) and so they felt free to ignore older stories if they wished, and in some cases even *reused* older scripts whole with new art, thinking nobody would notice! And they were, in fact, correct in these assumptions... for the most part.

    But it wasn't long before someone realized that having two or more of their currently published characters interact could be greatly profitable.

    The first "big" superhero team-up happened in Marvel Comics -not the company, which didn't exist yet, but its predecessor, Timely Comics, which published *a* magazine called "Marvel Comics". Two highly successful characters had premiered in this series: Namor the Sub-Mariner, who's basically a superstrong Aquaman (though he actually *precedes* DC's hero by about seven years) and The Human Torch (not the one from the Fantastic Four, but rather the original, an android with fire-based powers). Crossing them over was a no-brainer; not only were they appearing in the same magazine, but Namor was actually an antihero who attacked New York city for what he perceived were humanity's crimes against the sea (never mind he was half-human himself.) So having a superhero based on New York (The Torch) defend the city from Namor was almost a given (especially if you throw the whole "water versus fire" symbolism in.) This might also have been the origin of the old tradition of having superheroes fight when they first meet for whatever reason.



    The crossover was a hit, and soon other comics were doing team-ups as well. Establishing a "shared universe" in the process probably was an unintended effect of this, but still that was what effectively happened: from then on, it was fair to assume that every Submariner and Human Torch took place in the same world, even if there were no specific clues to it in the stories.

    DC Comics (then known as National Periodical Publications) did Marvel one better, though, when they created the first superhero team: The Justice Society of America! Like the Namor/Human Torch crossover, the Society was formed by characters who happened to be published in the same title at the same time: The Flash, Hawkman, Hour-Man, the Spectre The Sandman, and others. Curiously, most of the early adventures of the Society had the heroes split off to investigate separate aspects of the same case, with very little time actually working together, which was almost as if they still were starring in their separate strips! Still, this was enough to establish that the heroes belonged in the same universe. Eventually, other superhero groups would also appear.



    Overall, despite crossovers and team-ups, continuity simply wasn't as big a deal in the Golden Age as it would become in later eras.


    NEXT: THE SILVER AGE- DC goes wacky, while Marvel gets serious.
    Last edited by Wilfredo Martinez; 09-08-2009 at 09:25 PM.
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  2. #2
    The Man called Wil Wilfredo Martinez's Avatar
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    THE SILVER AGE
    When the Golden Age of comics ends and when the Silver Age starts is debatable. Comics started to sell less well after World War II, especially superhero comics. By the early 50s, the only superheroes from the 40s who still had ongoing series were Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. On the other hand, Horror and Crime comics, in many ways the polar opposites of superheroes, were selling well now. So much so that a company called EC comics basically specialized in those.

    And then came the Comics Code.

    The 50s were highly paranoid times, mostly due to fears of a nuclear war with the Soviets. The very government of the USA held investigations on anybody who was remotely connected to socialists, and ended up ruining many people's careers and lives. So, when a book titled "Seduction of the Innocent" by a psychologist named Frederick Wertham came out, accusing comic books of causing the rise in teenage crime, the fear that the comics industry got that the government would look into their business and ruin it was justified. So they decided to self-censor themselves by creating the "Comics Code Authority", a board that reviewed all comics before publication and gave them their literal seal of approval (in the cover) without which they could not be published. The Code listed all the things that would no longer be acceptable, some of which were rather silly, like prohibiting the use of the word "zombie" regardless of the context.



    This marked the end of Horror and Crime comics (except in much tamer forms) and effectively drove EC comics out of business. And indirectly, it led to the return of superheroes, since they were among the genres least affected by the code's restrictions.

    All the above means that DC and Marvel's early continuities were mostly interrupted for a number of years- or at least the parts involving superheroes. Both companies had published many other genres, including westerns, war comics, romance comics, horror and science fiction titles- and most of these would eventually end up being accepted into the main continuities later on, when both companies started obsessing over it (as we will see later in The Bronze Age). Still, many consider that it wasn't until 1956 that the Silver Age truly began, with the debut of the new version of The Flash. As DC chose to try out superheroes again, it was decided to reinvent them all, rather than just start publishing the old characters again (even Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, by that time, had suffered enough changes along the way as to be considered distinct characters from their original versions- Superman, for example, was now assumed to have begun his career as a teenager (Superboy) rather than as an adult.) Soon, new versions of Green Lantern, Hawkman, the Atom and other previously popular characters, with no direct connection to the originals, were invented, and proved successful. By 1960, most of these were teamed up as as the Justice League of America, obviously inspired by the Justice Society, and establishing that they all coexisted in the same world.

    In effect, this was a new "universe" for DC, unconnected to the earlier one- until Gardner Fox, a writer who worked on Flash and Justice League and who had worked on many of the original comics as well, had an idea. Fox was a science fiction fan, and was familiar with concepts such as parallel universes, in which variant versions of the universe existed naturally at the same time, but invisible to each other. Using this premise, Fox brought back the original Flash for a team-up with the new one, establishing that the original stories had taken place in the same continuity, only in a separate world that would be called "Earth-2".



    This was meant as a one-time story, and might have even been forgotten, except comic book fans of the time (including some who remembered the original Flash) loved the idea. So, from there, it wasn't a long-shot for Fox to reintroduce the whole Justice Society of America, in the pages of the new Justice League series:



    Not only this firmly re-established all the Golden Age DC comics as still being canonical, but it set up a story device that would be used, over and over again, whenever DC comics either needed to bring in characters they bought from other comics companies into their continuity (such as Fawcett comics, an old rival of DC comics that had invented the popular hero Captain Marvel) it was also the easy answer given whenever some story contradicted a previous fact: "It happened in another Earth!" (Since the Multiverse was supposed to be infinite, they could make up new Earths on a whim.)

    Meanwhile, the company that had been Timely Comics, and later Atlas Comics, also suffered important changes: it was now Marvel Comics. Under new administration, in particular a group of editors and writers who worked closely together and were known as "The Marvel Bullpen", most notably writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby, also decided to try superhero comics again. Unlike DC, these would be all-new heroes, starting with The Fantastic Four in 1961 (though the Human Torch in this series was clearly an homage to the original.) At first, there was no obvious connection to the company's earlier universe; this too seemed to be a new one. However it wasn't long before Lee and other writers started bringing back characters from the Golden Age, beginning with nobody less than the Sub-Mariner in Fantastic Four #4:



    Unlike DC, however, Marvel decided that the previous continuity took place in the same world as the new one- including the passage of time. Thus, Sub-Mariner had really fought in World War II, but had simply not aged too much because he wasn't human; Captain America had been accidentally frozen in the Arctic and was revived by The Avengers; etc. They didn't have DC's easy "Parallel Earth" excuses; any discrepancies had to be explained away in the stories themselves. This wasn't that hard to do, however, because, also unlike DC, Marvel had decided from the start (or restart, depending on your point of view) that their superhero comics would not only be set in the same universe from the beginning, rather than tying them together as they went along, but kept reminding the audience of the fact, not just with team ups and crossovers, but with in-story references; for example, the Fantastic Four would be shown reading the Daily Bugle, the newspaper at which Peter Parker (Spider-Man) worked, or weapons used in The Hulk would have been manufactured by Stark industries (from Iron Man) and such. This, coupled with stories that included more human angst, added a much greater sense of realism and cohesion to the Marvel Universe when compared to DC Comics'. Lee even got the comic fans into the act, by inventing the "No-Prize", a fictional prize that would be "awarded" to a fan who managed to explain any seeming contradiction that might have slipped by their editors. It proved very popular.

    Of course, Marvel had the advantage of having a relatively small, friendly staff, that kept in touch with each other; DC, by some accounts, was the opposite. Editors there tended to be control freaks who may have even had petty feuds with some others. For example, the Superman and Batman editors did not want their characters to appear in Justice League covers! In addition, stories were still being written in self-contained format, with few continuity nods (other than the occasional team-up) and not much attention was paid to contradictions (for example, the sunken city of Atlantis as seen in Superman comics was inhabited by merpeople, while the one in Aquaman had water-breathing humans. This had to be explained away years later by saying they were actually two different underwater cities in the same sunken continent.)

    Not helping DC much was the fact that, while Marvel was trying to make their comics more realistic, DC went the other way: characters developed their powers to absurd levels, ignoring the laws of physics (such as with Superman pushing planets out of their orbits) or featuring gimmick-driven rather than character-driven stories, such as the infamous "Super Dickery" stories where Superman spent his time playing practical jokes on his friends (often rather mean ones) though to be fair, he was just reacting to the abuses THEY committed on him, especially Lois Lane and her constant attempts to discover his secret identity. Definitely, the Marvel and DC universes were very different at the time, and continuity only mattered to DC when they decided to bring back a popular character.

    Next: The BRONZE AGE- DC catches up to Marvel, and the obsession with continuity really begins!
    Last edited by Wilfredo Martinez; 09-13-2009 at 09:41 PM.
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  3. #3
    ! Lex's Avatar
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    Love these expositions of yours, Wil. You're like Alan Cross, a popular radio personality in Toronto who has a radio show called The Ongoing History of New Music, only with comics and cartoons.
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  4. #4
    The Man called Wil Wilfredo Martinez's Avatar
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    Thank you, Lex. Sometimes I worry that my comments might be too long-winded. :)

    And hey, anybody with questions or comments, feel free to post them!

    OK, on to the next part:

    THE BRONZE AGE
    As with the Silver Age, the start of the Bronze Age is also debated. Most people point out to Amazing Spider-Man #121, (1973) as its beginning- because thatís where Gwen Stacy, Peter Parkerís first love, died, and in a really tragic way too- the Green Goblin threw her off a bridge, and while Spider-Man caught her, the impact snapped her neck. This realistic application of the law of physics, so typically disregarded during the Silver Age, was a shock to most fans of the time; the death of the innocent Gwen has been equated (by fans and pros alike) with the death of the innocence of comics.



    Iím not sure I agree; oh, it was a tragic moment, for sure. But Peter didnít mourn her for long. Soon he was back to fighting goofy costumed villains while cracking jokes (and then going home to mope about how much his life sucks.) Heck, it wasnít long after that Mary Jane Watson (who would become THE love of his life, relegating Gwen to a semi-forgotten footnote in his career) was introduced. Spider-Man (and Marvel at large) was still pretty much the same, although the quality of the stories increased as new, younger writers came to work for the company.

    Much more definite were the changes brought to DC by Editor Dennis OíNeil. In 197 , he took over the writing of the Batman comics, which up to that moment were based on the utterly goofy Batman TV show, and brought Bats back to his grim avenger roots, while also giving him modern sensibilities. Compare this:



    With this:



    It was OíNeil, NOT Frank Miller as many assume, who invented the modern version of Batman (and Joker, Two-Face etc.) that still reigns to this day (Miller did help popularize it, though.) OíNeal also tried the same with other titles- he had Supermanís power levels reduced (and all Kryptonite on Earth eliminated) so that villains actually had a chance to beat the formerly godlike hero without pulling out the same old glowing rock bit. (These changes, sadly, were reverted over the years.) He also turned Wonder Woman into an Emma-Peel-like powerless adventurer (!) again probably to bring more realism to her, though that particular approach didnít work (as you can see in my Wonder Woman retrospective.) Still, in general, there was a feeling in DC that times had changed, and the company finally started putting out stories of the same quality as Marvel. By the end of the Bronze Age, about the only comics still occasionally doing the former goofy type of stories were a few Superman comics (but no more Super Dickery, thank goodness!)

    Still, most comics tended to be self-contained, with little or no references to other comics set in the same universe. Often, the only way to tell if a particular series was a part of the DC Universe was to wait for a team-up to happen. There was, in fact, a series whose specific goal was to team-up different characters every issue: The Brave and The Bold. This series actually predated the Bronze Age, having started in 1955 -thought not as a team-up book; they started doing that in its 50th issue. By #67, the series had adopted the idea of starring a regular character (Batman) and a ďguestĒ one; still, since Batman is such a central, well-connected character, this still helped to establish other characters as being part of the DC Universe. (Though some of the B&B stories, usually those written by Robert Haney, tended to play very loose with continuity, such as for example using an elderly Sgt. Rock character, when in his own series, it had been established that Rock died at the end of World War II. This infuriated many fans.)

    The Team-Up Book formula caught on, and soon Marvel had two such titles (Marvel Team-Up, starring Spider-Man, and Marvel Two-in-One, starring The Thing from the Fantastic Four- no, I donít get that last one either- while DC added a second title, DC Comics Presents, starring Superman.

    Meanwhile, changes in the guard would also have effects in the continuity at Marvel. New writers who had actually been comics fans in their youth came to work for the company. For example, Roy Thomas (writer, later editor) brought back many Golden Age characters in his stories, further connecting it to the current Marvel Universe; but it was Mark Gruenwald, also a writer/editor, who would take things to the next step, the one that REALLY got the fans (and writers) obsessed with continuity. He would write a series that would bring together ALL of Marvelís heroes in one adventure: Contest of Champions, in 1982. This was based, of all things, on a failed idea for an Olympics-based comic book; the idea was to invent new heroes from other countries and have them meet and compete with Marvelís American cast. Although only about a dozen heroes actually had an active role in the story, the fact is that now any two Marvel heroes could actually say, ďOh, right, we met before, during the Contest!Ē

    Even more importantly: CoC included pages dedicated to simply *describing* the new characters. This was so popular, Marvel decided to put out a book series (edited by Grienwald) that featured nothing but such pages- FOR EVERY CHARACTER EVER PUBLISHED BY MARVEL! Known as The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, this proved a hit as well.



    Now fans didnít actually HAVE to read a characterís series to find out about him or her- they could just read the OHOTMU! And in the process, discover characters they didnít know about, and the detailed connections between each other.

    The era of the Continuity Geek was born. :P

    But that wasnít all. Inspired by Contest of Champions (and the need of a background story for their new toy line) Marvel produced Secret Wars, a 12-issue limited series starring all of Marvelís major heroes in 1984. This is known today as the first big ďCrossover EventĒ because, unlike CoC which was self-contained, the story had an effect on several other current series, mostly by introducing changes that would last for a time (such as giving Spider-Man a new costume, which, as most of you probably know, ended up becoming the Venom symbiote.)

    DC didnít take these developments sitting down. As it turned out, they were going to celebrate their 50th anniversary in 1985, and they already had plans to publish a big story to celebrate. Whether this story was supposed to be in the same year-long, multi-title format as Secret Wars is a matter of debate; they claim that was their plan for years, but even in that case it's hard to believe that Secret War's success didn't influence them. And look! At the same time, DC published its own Universe Encyclopedia, Who's Who in the DC Universe. That was too much to be coincidence; Clearly, DC was also exploiting the new fad of knowing (and using) every bit of previously established story continuity.



    DC however, also had other plans. Or rather, it would be better to say, that DCís writer/editor Marv Wolfman, had other plans. Wolfman saw the DC Universe as being too convoluted, and he vocally disliked the idea of the infinity of parallel earths. So, the ultimate point of this limited series- Crisis On Infinite Earths- was to *eliminate* all but one of them, and rewrite history so that ALL of DCís characters had always shared one world- the first full-scale retcon a fictional comics universe had ever had.

    It wouldnít be the last.

    Next- The Modern Age (not the Iron Age?): DC reinvents itself! ÖOver and over againÖ and Marvel *gasp!* starts borrowing DCís tricks!!
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  5. #5
    Friendly Neighborhood Flying Spaghetti Monster d Galloway's Avatar
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    Gotta correct you on Mary Jane. She was in the comics for YEARS before Gwen Stacy's death. Originally, she was simply Gwen's best friend, a major party girl, and wanted little to do with Peter. Likewise, Peter saw her as an annoying pest and irresponsible loaf. After Gwen died, though, Mary Jane was so shellshocked that she cleaned up her act and reached out to Peter (pretty much the only friend she had left) for comfort. That's how poor Stacy became nothing more than a comic geek's trivia.

    And then she had kids with Norman Osborne. Oh, wait, that never happened.

    EDIT: So, are you covering the Dark Age, as well? Do you consider it to be part of the Modern Age, or a separate entity?
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  6. #6
    The Man called Wil Wilfredo Martinez's Avatar
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    Sorry about the delay, folks, I had some projects to finish. But I’m good to continue now. Oh, and thanks for the MJ correction, d!

    Here’s a quick summary of what we have covered so far for those who want to refresh their memories (feel free to skip to the next paragraph if you want): American comics had very little continuity among themselves during the Golden and Silver ages. It was more a token effort for the sake of selling comics than anything else. That only really changed with the coming of the modern Marvel Comics, who decided to have a continuous universe from the start. DC jumped late into the bandwagon, but by the Bronze Age, both Marvel and DC were exploiting fan interest in continuity with team-up comics and character encyclopedias.

    THE MODERN AGE

    Wait a minute, shouldn’t this be The Iron Age? Well, if we follow the Classical Eras pattern, yes, but you rarely see comics people use the term. Possibly because it was around this time (the 80’s) that the classification system started to be applied, and “Iron” sounds primitive and not modern. Or maybe DC Comics didn’t want people to think Marvel’s Iron Man comics dominated the period. :P

    Anyway: Was Crisis on Infinite Earths the definite ending of the Bronze Age? That’s (again) a matter of opinion. Stylistically, comics would remain much the same until the 90’s. However, for continuity purposes, it cannot be denied that it changed things forever, in many senses of the term. First, it did change the continuity of the DC Universe; it also introduced the idea of just wiping out a previous continuity in one sweep, making a big story event in the process instead of just quietly sweeping things under the rug. It’s an approach DC would use again (as we’ll soon see) and so would other comics companies.



    Crisis was supposed to fix DC’s problem of having a 50-year-long continuity. Some people (such as Wolfman) resented not being able to tell certain stories their way because a previously established fact contradicted it, especially if the fact came from a nearly-forgotten comic. That’s a valid point… though that was NOT the reason given to fans at the time. No, instead DC claimed that “having multiple universes was confusing to fans”. Riiight. Stories featuring superpowers, aliens, magic and time travel were OK, but the *occasional* use of parallel universes wasn’t? Naaah. This was a case of Wolfman being personally annoyed by the concept. And I can see why, when you stop and think about it, this concept has all sort of questionable implications (Who is the “real” version of a character? Are the rest “less real”? Is history doomed to repeat itself (with minor variations) on all worlds? Etc.) But please don’t tell us that the concept itself was too hard to understand, especially when DC had only *TWO* comics set on a different Earth at the time (All-Star Squadron and Infinity Inc., both set on Earth-2).

    In any case, NONE of Crisis’ goals worked as intended, in the long term. For one thing, there was confusion even among DC’s editors regarding how the change would work. For example, Roy Thomas (remember him from Marvel?) was now also an editor and a writer at DC, where he was writing All-Star Squadron, a comic set in Earth-2’s past (so he could use the Justice Society and other such Golden Age characters in World War II stories.) Thomas apparently thought that the changes to the DC universe would only affect all comics set in the present or the future, but that ones set in the past like A.S.S. (no pun intended) would not be affected; not so. At the end of Crisis, history was changed so that the universe never split in several, therefore everyone always lived in the same world, and no one (except a few privileged characters) even remembered that parallel Earths had ever existed! This meant that Thomas could no longer use characters such as the Earth-2 Superman, Batman, or Wonder Woman- since technically they now never had existed (DC only wanted to keep the modern versions.) In fact, it seems there was a misunderstanding or a change of plans at some point. A.S.S. in fact took a few months to “catch up” with the rest of the changed DC Universe while Thomas finished a plotline he was writing at the time (with the bizarre excuse that a time-traveling robot villainess was somehow preventing the changes from taking place!!)



    That was just the beginning of the post-Crisis editorial troubles. The *official* plan for the new DC Universe was that NO comic book published before 1986 would “count” for purposes of continuity; so, the next time, say, The Joker showed up in Batman, it would be considered his FIRST appearance (or, it could be claimed that he had been around for years, but only new stories set in the past could be used to establish his background- no references to older comics.) Had everyone in DC followed this edict, there would have been little trouble; but they didn’t. SOME comics –most notably Superman and Wonder Woman- were rebooted so that their characters were effectively new versions. However, others just continued doing their own stuff, and if what someone else did didn’t fit with their plans, too bad! As you can guess, this resulted in some very big contradictions:
    -If Superman was never Superboy, who helped found the Legion of Super Heroes?
    -If Hawkman and Hawkgirl just arrived on Earth, who were the Hawkmen in the Justice League?
    -If Wonder Woman had just started her career, then she couldn’t have been a founding member of the League;

    And so on and on. Seriously, DC had always suffered from editorial clashes; in the Silver Age each editor treated his own line of books almost like a separate universe. But now that the whole thing was supposed to be set on *one* Earth, they couldn’t get away with it. DC’s company managers really should have put down their foot. But I guess DC’s staff has never been as united as Marvel’s has. Despite some friction with *some* of their editors-in-chief, in general the Marvel people respected the chain of command. The comic fans were only too happy to protests the writing errors, especially now that they had sources of information regarding DC’s continuity. The only reason the backlash wasn’t bigger was because the Internet had not yet come into its own. Writing to the comics' letters page was their only chance of expression.

    Speaking of Marvel, how were they doing? Well, Marvel never needed the parallel Earth excuses, though they DID have some such worlds in their universe. Which doesn’t mean they didn’t suffer continuity problems; most notably, most of their original comics were now twenty years old, and it was obvious that their characters had not aged 20 years. They handled this by using what is known as “comic book time” which means that the passage of time in the comics was not in “real time”; rather, only a few days were assumed to pass between published issues. This adds up to about a year of events every four real years. (DC also made use of comic book time.) Their comics also had to deal with another problem all long-lasting series do: topicality. Simply put, some events make no sense being part of a character’s history as time passes. For example, the Fantastic Four’s origin involved the space race with the soviets to reach the moon first. Obviously, that cannot have been when the FF debuted anymore; it would make them too old. Marvel simply handled this by publishing a new origin for the characters in which they were testing a starship instead. This is in general how Marvel has handled its continuity problems, as opposed to DC’s let’s-toss-the-whole-thing-out-in-a-big-showy-story approach. But, as we will see, not only DC continued to using that trick, but Marvel would start to do it at well.


    Next: THE DARK AGE! (Dun dun!)
    Last edited by Wilfredo Martinez; 10-12-2009 at 09:51 PM.
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  7. #7
    The Man called Wil Wilfredo Martinez's Avatar
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    THE DARK AGE

    This era of comic book publication was named that way for two reasons: the first is the rise in popularity of "dark" heroes (read: antiheroes); The second is the fact that the comics market almost crashed, nearly bringing an end to the whole thing. As you can guess, it is not an era remembered fondly by fans.

    The anti-hero thing started in 1986 with DC's publication of The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen, both deconstructions of the superhero genre- not the first examples, but the first to draw mass attention. (Curiously, neither of them was set within the continuity of DC's brand-new universe, though they would eventually be folded in anyway, as we'll see later.) Suddenly, everybody wanted to have the next big antihero, but most efforts in this direction produced characters who could hardly be called heroic, and often even lacked the background that made characters such as Watchmen's Rorschach interesting.



    The market crash came about due to the abuse of the speculator market- by this time, comics collecting had become such an obsessive hobby that a LOT of money was spent by many people just to get the truly "special" issues. The problem was, everyone, including the comics companies themselves, caught on to this and starting putting out "special" versions of everything- dramatic "turning points", deaths, crossover events, etc; sooner or later, the customers were bound to realize this and just stop buying comics in large quantities. This, coupled with some bad financial choices, made Marvel Comics file for bankruptcy in the late 90's, and nearly stop publication. Thankfully this was averted and Marvel has recovered spectacularly by now, though overall comics readership today is much smaller than what it used to be.

    Is the Dark Age over now? Depends on your point of view. Things have stabilized, although I fear that a TRUE dark age, one where the superhero *stories* have started to abandon what they used to stand for, has taken its place. But more on that later; right now, let's see how comics continuity was like in the 90's.

    As mentioned above, DC's "new" universe was just a hodgepodge of old and new versions of characters, and a lack of good editorial cohesion brought about many blatant contradictions. As the years passed, some writers tried to clear up things as best they could. The Superboy who helped found the Legion of Superheroes? He actually came from a pocket universe created by their enemy, The Time Trapper, as part of some unbelievably complicated scheme to manipulate them! Wait... isn't that the same thing as a parallel universe? Didn't DC swear off those?? Not that it matters because soon, the false (not that he knew it) Superboy was killed off, and his homeworld was destroyed not long after that. As for Hawkman, they just had the *original* Hawkmen (the ones from the Golden Age aka as Earth-2) join the Justice League in place of the Silver Age ones (apparently having aged slowly due to magic); Similarly, they made Black Canary the League's female founding member in place of Wonder Woman. And so on.

    While the whole thing still felt kinda weird to old fans such as me, it worked well enough. However, in another strange choice, DC decided to change the history of their universe *again* in 1994, with Zero Hour: Crisis in Time, that year's "big event" which by now both companies where having every year. The idea was that all the contradictory changes would never had happened as a result. Yes, only eight years after DC rebooted their universe, they were doing it again! And it felt really unnecessary by now, too. Why did DC do this? They claim they were attending the fan's complaints, but it strikes me like they were out of ideas and just wanted to recapture the glory of the first Crisis. They did also use the event to launch several new characters however.



    Did Zero Hour succeed in its goals? Well, in general yes, although in Hawkman's case it only made things worse, since they opted to reinvent the character by having all the Hawk-characters merge into a single "Hawk God." That didn't go terribly well with what fans the character still had.

    But DC's continuity matters actually extend beyond its official universe. By the 90's, they had a subimprint, Vertigo comics, which started as part of the DC Universe but slowly went on its own direction, featuring mostly horror and dark fantasy stories. As a result, exactly what is canon for the DC Universe in Vertigo books has been unclear for decades, though usually only those stories with a non-vertigo character in it (such as Zatanna the Magician) tends to count.

    DC has also been putting out "Elseworlds"- miniseries or graphic novels featuring alternate versions of their characters, such as Red Son (where we find out what Superman would have been like if he'd landed in RUSSIA rather than America.) Like Watchmen, these were considered noncanonical- until the DC multiverse returned, that is. (Oh yeah, it did! But again, more on that later.)

    Similarly to DC, Marvel also experimented with comic lines outside their regular continuity. In 1986, they invented the not-too-originally named "New Universe" as a way to celebrate their 25th Anniversary (counting from Fantastic Four #1.) This was separate from the Marvel Universe- an Earth where superheroes were only starting to appear, and which would avoid some basic superhero cliches such as costumes.



    However, The New Universe was a failure; it sold poorly, possibly because next to all other superhero comics of the time, they looked boring. Marvel tried to boost sales with the gimmick of World War III happening in this world, but it failed too. Eventually the line was discontinued, and (years later) it was revealed that they were a *gasp!* parallel universe to the main Marvel Universe, allowing for crossovers. Not that there have been many...

    But wait, you might say, what about comics publishers other than Marvel or DC? Well, there's not much to say. Although there have been -and still are- several other comics companies in America besides the 'Big Two', few have been as influential, and most eventually either broke up, or were absorbed by the larger ones. The only exception I can think of is Archie Comics (most famous for, yes, the Archie characters, though they DID have a few superheroes that DC later bought.) By the 90s however, some companies that have lasted until now came about, including Image Comics (formed by several ex-Marvel artists) and Dark Horse Comics (known more for their non-superhero stuff.) In the 90's, many companies tried to come up with their own "superhero universes" to compete with Marvel and DC's. In general, none of them lasted- either they were canceled, or they were bought by the Big Two basically just to eliminate rivals (a particularly sad case was Malibu Comics' Ultraverse, which, thanks to some professional comics talent, put out some VERY good comics like Ultraforce or Nightman. Marvel bought it, used it a few crossovers, and now refuses to use the characters again supposedly because they would have to pay royalties to the characters' original creators. Bleh!)



    Note: while Image comics still publishes superhero comics, each title is pretty much independent, and the occasional crossover (such as the ironically named "Shattered Image") cannot hide the fact that for the most part they don't care about what the rest of them do.




    NEXT: THE PRESENT, or: why Wilfredo doesn't buy comics regularly anymore. :(
    Last edited by Wilfredo Martinez; 10-15-2009 at 11:09 PM.
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  8. #8
    The Man called Wil Wilfredo Martinez's Avatar
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    THE PRESENT

    The current "era" of comics (the 00's) has no name yet, but trust me, it stands on its own as clearly as the rest.

    For one thing, in general the fad of the hyper-muscled (or, in the case of women, hyper-breasted), ultraviolent antiheroes has passed, though several characters from those times (such as Wolverine and The Punisher) are still popular. More idealistic heroes like Superman made a big come back. And economically, things are more stable now, though the newsstand-sold comic is selling less well than the book-format graphic novels that are sold on bookstores (though many of them are just reprints of monthly comics anyway).

    However, it might be argued that a *second* Dark Age has started, this one more literal. Starting in 2004, DC comics took on a new editorial policy: superhero comics now featured a LOT of deaths, including many superheroes, most often in gruesome detail. (Seriously: people have been decapitated, ripped in half, even eaten!) This may have come about because the Comics Code Authority has lost its power; since most comics are now sold via comics-specialty stores, they can be sold regardless of whether they have the CCA seal on them or not. Comics are such a niche now that publishers are not afraid of offending the general public anymore. In case you think I'm exaggerating, DC is currently publishing an "Event Crossover" called Blackest Night, in which every superhero ever killed (who hasn't come back to life already, that is) is now back as a murderous zombie- and there's a LOT of them!



    Marvel has also turned somewhat dark, though it hasn't gone that far. Instead of killing people in gruesome ways, they have changed the Status Quo of their universe so that superheroes are not fully trusted anymore. This began with "Civil War" in 2006, in which a rookie team of superheroes caused the destruction of an entire town, thus bringing about the passing of a law that forbid heroes from acting without government supervision. This split the superhero community in half, as they either complied or refused to, and put each half at odds with the other. While this is an interesting idea, they twisted their heroes out of character to do it, such as having Iron Man become dictatorial and Captain America dangerously reckless. This scenario has lasted even today (though the current crossover, "Dark Reign", which has Norman "Green Goblin" Osborn, of all people(!) now in charge of Marvel's government forces) obviously begs for a definite resolution soon.

    The point is, both Marvel and DC seem to feel that superheroes don't sell just on the strength of their idealism anymore, and need to be "darkened" to appeal to modern fans (us old fans can get lost, apparently, never mind that we have always supported them.)

    But we're here to talk about how continuity has been affected by these events, so let's focus on that:

    In 2005, DC launched "Infinite Crisis" yet another reality-altering crossover, in fact one that actually continued from events in the first Crisis from 1985. Why? Beats me. As I mentioned above, they had *already* fixed their continuity again with Zero Hour. There was nothing major in need of fixing. It was just an anniversary celebration of the first Crisis, I guess... except, following right after, they had ANOTHER event, named "52" because it was a 52-part miniseries (!!) that ran weekly FOR A WHOLE YEAR! And at the end of this series, it was revealed that the events in Infinite Crisis had in fact RECREATED THE DC MULTIVERSE!! That's right, after all that whining decades ago, now they went back to having multiple Earths with different heroes (though limited to an arbitrary number of 52 Earths, to justify the series' title I guess.) These Earths, however, were "brand new" rather than being recreations of Pre-Crisis Earths, so for example, the current Earth-2 is not the same as the one that existed before, despite similarities. Most of them have not been explored yet.



    52 was followed by ANOTHER year-long series, "Countdown to Final Crisis" which was followed by, you guessed it, Final Crisis (but at least that one was only 7 monthly issues.) Altogether, the DC Universe can be said to have been in a state of constant crisis from 2005 to 2008!! Not only is this getting old fast, but DC produced some truly unbelievable blunders during its publication:
    - After Infinite Crisis, ALL of DC's comics jumped ahead one year. The idea was to introduce some shocking changes (for example, making the (new) Batgirl a villain!) and then reveal (over the course of a year, in 52) how those changes came about. Not a bad "hook"... Except the writers lost track of what they were doing, instead telling stories of minor characters, and only rushed to explain the changes in the last four issues or so.
    - Countdown was even worse; it was supposed to set up the events of Final Crisis, but DC apparently forgot to consult that series' writer (Grant Morrison) and as a result the events they set up simply did not match with those of the actual story!!

    It should be noted that, in Final Crisis, we once again had the *whole multiverse* in danger again, and the possibility of yet more continuity reboots, thought so far none have happened. Honestly, we fans hope that Final Crisis truly lives up to its name.

    How about Marvel? They took a different approach. Instead of trying to modernize their universe while getting rid of their old continuity, in the late 90's they decided to create a whole NEW version of the Marvel Universe -one where ALL of their heroes existed but were just starting out, instead of having been active for the (subjective) ten years that the ones in the main Universe had- to be published at the same time as the old one, but with absolutely no crossovers. They called this line "Ultimate Marvel" and for a while it proved successful. I approved of this, since it meant they were trying to satisfy BOTH old and new readers, unlike DC.



    I didn't care much for the Ultimate Line, mostly because their writers used it as an excuse to write the Marvel characters the way they wanted- this is why their Nick Fury is black, Colossus is gay, Captain America is fowl mouthed and the Scarlet Witch has an incestuous relationship with her own brother! But as long as I had *my* old heroes to read about, I didn't mind.

    Unfortunately, Marvel eventually lost sight of the point of this, and allowed the writers of Ultimate Marvel to come over and write regular Marvel titles as well, and to do so with the same kind of attitudes. This is why Civil War became such a character train wreck, for example. Recently, the ultimate line has undergone a major revision, which involved lots of deaths and even- cannibalism. Sound familiar?

    Marvel has done other experiments regarding continuity. Also in the 90s, they actually HIRED some of Images comics' writers and authors to reinvent their major heroes, in a storyline called "Heroes Reborn." Storywise, what happened was that The Avengers and the Fantastic Four "died" fighting a mutant menace called Onslaught, and Franklin Richards - Mr. Fantastic son, a child with latent godlike powers- unconsciously revived them by recreating them -along with a whole freaking planet!- in a pocket universe, with no memories of their previous lives. This freed the Image people to reinvent the characters, while the rest of Marvel's comics had a "year without major heroes". The Heroes Reborn comics were a failure, however, probably because they were done in the same ultra-exaggerated style they were doing their Image comics. By then however the fans were getting tired of that style, and the heroes eventually recovered their memories and came back to the true Earth... which btw left that world to the mercy of its villains. Oops.



    The most recent of Marvel's continuity experiments was decidedly the worst: They decided to retcon Spider-Man so that he was back to being the single, miserable hero he had been until he married Mary Jane in 1987. That's right, instead of divorcing him or widowing him, they decided to make his marriage never happen- and as if that wasn't bad enough, they
    made it happen by having Peter MAKE A DEAL WITH THE DEVIL!! In a storyline known as "One More Day" Aunt May is shot, is dying, and then Mephisto (who is Marvel's sop for Satan) shows up and offers to save her... if Peter will give him- no, not his soul, his marriage! Huh? No, it doesn't make sense to me, either. Anyway Peter (and MJ) accept, and POOF! The marriage never happened. MJ and Peter are no longer an item, Aunt May is alive and... somehow, several other changes that had taken place over the years (Spidey gaining the power to spin webs without webshooters, Harry Osborn being dead etc) were also undone. Don't ask me how. The whole thing seems to have been a very contrived way to fix the fact that Peter had revealed his identity to the world during Civil War, with the writers abusing it to undo decades of character development in the process.



    The message here seems to be: Marvel was bent in copying DC's continuity tricks- even the BAD ones.

    NEXT: THE FINAL ANALYSIS, where I try to make sense of what comics SHOULD do about their continuities.
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  9. #9
    gona kill myself GunslingerGuy's Avatar
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    Was The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe the only book like that? I remember having a book like that but I only remember it having X-men related characters.

    EDIT:
    Never mind, you already answered it.
    Last edited by GunslingerGuy; 10-21-2009 at 05:48 AM.

  10. #10
    Friendly Neighborhood Flying Spaghetti Monster d Galloway's Avatar
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    You better not be dissing 52.

    52 was one of the best series in recent history.

    Now Countdown, that can burn in hell for all I care. Final Crisis? It was confusing, but all right until they KILLED BATMAN! Damn you, DC! DAMN YOU!!!
    I think I've learned my lesson
    I'll never follow my dreams again
    I wont waste any more of your time
    So kiss my ass
    I wont be back

    -Reel Big Fish, Last Show

  11. #11
    The Man called Wil Wilfredo Martinez's Avatar
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    Oh, you bet I'm dissing 52! Wanna make something of it? Come over here, yo!! :P

    But seriously, while 52 had many things going for it (it was pretty well written and drawn, and spotlighted characters who would probably not have gotten the spotlight otherwise) in had plenty of bad things too. I HATED The Black Adam storyline, which starting with him RIPPING A MAN APART IN HALF, IN PUBLIC, and not only nobody did anything about it, the FREAKIN' SHAZAM FAMILY, his ENEMIES, even attended his wedding!!! And of course, he ended up losing everybody he cared for (poor Isis) going insane and then killing MILLIONS OF INNOCENT PEOPLE AROUND THE WORLD (including a few heroes) out of spite. Yeah, that was cool- NOT! And don't get me started on how they teased us about Elongated Man getting to resurrect his dead wife, killed so horribly two years before, only to die himself instead... The Question dies (from smoking!!) just so DC could pass his identity to Det. Montoya, who was alright the way she was, thank you! Batwoman reinvented as a lesbian just for the cheap thrill of it (it blew up on DC's face too.) Batman cured of his emotional problems (read: being a dick) just by meditating inside a cave for nine days... The utterly Un-PC Great Ten of China... The return of EGG FU (Why God, why??) Hell, I think the only storyline I cared for in the end was Doc Magnus's. He even got to bed Veronica Cale, heh heh.) ;p Well, Steel's was OK too, except for all those poor new heroes killed, and the odious cannibalistic Everyman... The New DC! There's No Stopping Them Now!


    PS: Batman is about as dead as Superman was in the 90's. He'll be back by this time next year. you'll see.

    The Last Part of the article still in progress btw.
    Last edited by Wilfredo Martinez; 10-21-2009 at 06:00 PM.
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  12. #12
    Friendly Neighborhood Flying Spaghetti Monster d Galloway's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wilfredo Martinez View Post
    Oh, you bet I'm dissing 52! Wanna make something of it? Come over here, yo!! :P
    Bring it on, bitch.

    I HATED The Black Adam storyline, which starting with him RIPPING A MAN APART IN HALF, IN PUBLIC, and not only nobody did anything about it, the FREAKIN' SHAZAM FAMILY, his ENEMIES, even attended his wedding!!! And of course, he ended up losing everybody he cared for (poor Isis) going insane and then killing MILLIONS OF INNOCENT PEOPLE AROUND THE WORLD (including a few heroes) out of spite. Yeah, that was cool- NOT!
    The Black Adam storyline was probably my third favorite (behind Elongated Man and Booster Gold). First off, he ripped up Terra-Man. Nobody gives a shit except you, and maybe the five other people that knew who Terra-Man was.

    Second, the characters DIDN'T forgive him, even at his wedding. Black Adam was ready to form alliances with other countries to launch an attack on the US. Then he meets Isis, who gradually shows him that yes, there are people worth defending. The Marvel family shows up at the wedding more because Captain Marvel actually DOES sense that Adam is changing, and wants to help.

    Third, his genocidal war is not just because Isis died. Black Adam Jr. (or whatever his name is) is rejected from the Titans because of his family history. They get blamed for a lot of shit they didn't do. Terrorists keep attacking his country. His attempts at using his powers to make his homeland prosperous backfire. And then, THEN, his family gets killed off by their team pet. And on her deathbed, Isis, one of the sweetest characters in the story, rejects everything she told Adam before, and urges him to take revenge. (OOC, but a little understandable.) Oh, and this is the EXACT SAME THING that turned him evil thousands of years before!

    The Black Adam storyline was cruel, but I really loved it.

    And don't get me started on how they teased us about Elongated Man getting to resurrect his dead wife, killed so horribly two years before, only to die himself instead...
    I'll be honest; I know fucking nothing about the Elongated Man. (I wisely chose to dodge THAT Crisis crossover.) I do know the backstory behind his quest, however. The fact is, his wife didn't come back, and yes, he died. But take a look at what his death did. He outsmarted Neron, one of the BIGGEST BADS in the DC Universe. Not to mention all the asskicking he did to get that far.

    And they DO get reunited in the afterlife. That is, until Blackest Night took a big piss on things, but that's a different story.

    The Question dies (from smoking!!) just so DC could pass his identity to Det. Montoya, who was alright the way she was, thank you! Batwoman reinvented as a lesbian just for the cheap thrill of it (it blew up on DC's face too.) Batman cured of his emotional problems (read: being a dick) just by meditating inside a cave for nine days... The utterly Un-PC Great Ten of China... The return of EGG FU (Why God, why??)
    True, those ones weren't handled as well. Still, they weren't massively important, save for the Question and Batman arcs. And Batman will always be a dick.

    PS: Batman is about as dead as Superman was in the 90's. He'll be back by this time next year. you'll see.
    He's already a Black Lantern. No telling if this will actually bring him back or if he'll stay dead.

    Spoiler: Seriously, I love you, Wil.
    I think I've learned my lesson
    I'll never follow my dreams again
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    So kiss my ass
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    -Reel Big Fish, Last Show

  13. #13
    The Man called Wil Wilfredo Martinez's Avatar
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    I don't care much for Terra- Man, but he was a human being who was ripped alive in two IN FRONT OF A BUNCH OF NEWS REPORTERS (including Lois Lane, who got splattered with blood.) There is NO excuse why every powerful moral hero in the DC Universe didn't attack him then and there instead of saying, "Well, he has diplomatic immunity". Waiting only made things worse. And while yes, I agree the later events would drive him nuts, the fact remains that lots of innocent people died just to give him some sort of story climax- and he's not even been punished, since he's recovered his powers by now. Then they cheated by saying it was his powers that made him evil too. I just don't get this character's appeal at all.

    As for Neron, Scooby-Doo could have tricked him, he's THAT lame. Again, that was just another attempt to bring closure to one of 52's rambling plotlines (don't be fooled, d, most of it was made up as they went along- they had what, four writers?)

    Batman's DEAD BODY may be a "Black Lantern" but it has already been established that despite appearances, the souls of the deceased are *not* inside them, some of them (like Deadman) are even watching the events! Also, Batman was "killed" by Darkseid's eyebeams, which (if you saw the Mister Miracle miniseries) can "unstick" people in time. My guess: that's Batman dead body FROM THE FUTURE (same trick they did with Booster Gold in 52- that was clever, I admit) while the real Bats (as was shown in the last panel of Final Crisis) is stuck in Earth's prehistoric past. So enjoy the shuffling of the Bat-cast while it lasts.

    Spoiler: I love you too, Man.

    Just not that way.
    Last edited by Wilfredo Martinez; 10-22-2009 at 12:10 PM.
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  14. #14
    The Man called Wil Wilfredo Martinez's Avatar
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    THE FINAL ANALYSIS

    Let's go back to the original question: "Why is comic book continuity such a controversial topic?"

    The truth is: it isn't, at least, not in and of itself.

    Continuity is just a storytelling tool, just another gimmick to nab the audience and make them follow a particular series. It just happens to be an *important* one- without it, you don't really have a series, just a collection of unrelated stories. Only stuff like Archie Comics gets away with that.

    Of course, comics make a big deal out of continuity because, as we saw above, one of their big selling points is the idea of shared universes- each series shares the same setting with several others. Sometimes this is very obvious, and sometimes you only find out if somebody specifically points it out.

    This is all pretty basic, and hardly unique to comics. So what's all the commotion about?

    True, there's a lot of obsession with getting all the facts about the "universe" right from story to story. But whose fault is that? That's right, the comic book companies own! As we saw, early on continuity wasn't a big deal; even after Marvel established the first comics universe that was fully interactive from the start (as opposed to DC's who basically stitched it together after the fact) it wasn't until they came up with big yearly crossovers and character encyclopedias that the fans became obsessed over it- and have continued to do so ever since.

    But this in itself isn't so bad- it's supply and demand, after all. Heck, I myself am quite the continuity nut fan, as you might have noticed. ;) The problem comes when a company presents a continuity and then flagrantly violates it, as we saw DC did right after their big showy reboot. The reason for this is, simply put, poor editorship. One of your jobs as an editor in a complex entertainment company -which is what comics are- is to make sure that what your writers produce doesn't contradict what has gone before, or more importantly, what is going on in other comics that are also being published at the same time. If they do, you're not doing your job. The fans can hardly be faulted for being annoyed by that.

    Not that Marvel isn't free from continuity errors. It's just that they handled them better than DC did; they explain them in a case-by-case basis. Sometimes they simply stopped making references altogether to stories that were, um, problematic. Like that story where it was revealed that Gwen Stacy had sex with Norman Osborn! And then had CHILDREN with him that she gave away in adoption... all without telling anybody, not even her boyfriend Peter!! While not technically a continuity error, pretty much everybody, fans and writers alike, have agreed to just assume that this utterly awful and poorly thought-out story simply *never happened.* No recreation of the universe needed.

    Of course, the coming of the Internet only made things worse, for two reasons. First, it provided a forum where fans on a national -even international!- scale would talk about comics right as they come out. In the old days, the only way to share your opinions was via the letters page that nearly every comic had- and you had to wait months to see what every body else thought of a previous issue. Now? They don't even wait for a story to be over (and most comics stories these days are multi-parters) before going, "This story RULES! No, it SUCKS!!!" That's not really very fair, but it's typical human behavior- comics forums are not the only place it happens.

    On the other hand, the Net also makes data available that even the published guides do not cover. There are sites for EVERYTHING, even very obscure Golden Age comics! If you are a writer and you're going to take over a comic series, there's really no excuse not to have done all the necessary research when you can get it from one afternoon at a laptop! Which makes disasters like the infamous Amazons Attack! miniseries all the more pathetic (the writer of the series latter admitted he hadn't even read recent issues of Wonder Woman!!)

    Worst of all, is the belief held by some people (including apparently some comic pros) that many comics today don't sell because the fans won't accept any deviation from continuity. This sounds like a lame excuse to me. First of all, not all comics fans are old (like me) or obsessed with continuity; second, since the companies are the ones who decide what goes in the stories they publish, how is it the public's fault if they don't like it and choose not to buy it? I guess some people see some comics as "works of art" that deserve to sell regardless of whether they appeal to enough people.

    My Personal Stance

    Comic books are a business; their purpose is to be sold, to make $$$ for their publishers. Of course, if they want the comics to sell, then they need to bring what the audience wants (or at least what the majority do) and, in many cases, that means a clear continuity.

    Now, I'm not advocating for a continuity that has to include everything that a company ever produced. That's very hard to do, even with the Internet. But they should definitely set a *clear* starting point on which to base their current stories. DC almost did that with the first Crisis (in 1985) but screwed themselves up because their editors could not agree on it.

    In fact, clarity is really the most important thing regarding continuity; not so much "everything HAS to fit together!" so much as "Sure, you can publish things outside the canon- just LET THE PUBLIC KNOW what counts and what doesn't." As I pointed out above, many of the best comics put out in recent decades are alternate versions of known characters- such as the Red Rain graphic novel series, in which Batman is a vampire(!) Obviously such a story would not work as part of the official DC Universe, but on its own, in can be very interesting. On the other hand, DC has sometimes put out comics (such as many of their Vertigo lines of books) that have the fans confused as to whether they are considered part of the main universe or not. Would it *kill* DC to make an official statement about that?

    In short: all that arguing over continuity is much ado about nothing- and the fault isn't even the fans' to begin with. If Marvel could keep its continuity (mostly) correct and clear without big sweeping changes, so could DC if they ever get their chain of command to work right. There IS room in the market for both canonical and non-canonical stories; All we ask for is clarity.


    Wilfredo Martinez, 2009

    (PS: Any questions? ;) )
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  15. #15
    Friendly Neighborhood Flying Spaghetti Monster d Galloway's Avatar
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    This was, by far, the best retrospective on the site so far. You obviously know a great deal about comic history, especially the cumbersome clusterfuck that is each company's twisted mess of backstories and character developments-that-soon-become-undevelopments.

    The only thing I hate about long continuities is that they can very easily lock someone new out of the loop. That's one of the reasons I never got into comics as a kid; you pick up an issue of X-Men, and are expected to know who everyone is, what their deals are, and why things are happening. It's even worse if you end up in the middle of a story arc, and thus have NO IDEA why anyone's doing anything. The early 90s was a nasty period, to be sure.

    You're right; it's not so bad now, thanks to the Internet. Too bad that same thing is seriously killing the comic industry.
    I think I've learned my lesson
    I'll never follow my dreams again
    I wont waste any more of your time
    So kiss my ass
    I wont be back

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  16. #16
    The Man called Wil Wilfredo Martinez's Avatar
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    Heh, thanks d. Considering your own *titanic* retrospective efforts here, I am flattered. :)

    And yeah, to me continuity has always been a plus, not a detriment. When I read a story and I find out, for example, that Robotman's doctor turned out to be a living relative of (Earth-2's) Robin, I always go, "Cool!" I love to see things interconnect, because that brings more story potential. On the other hand, you CAN have too much continuity: Did they have to use the unresolved plot of "what happened with Cyclops son?" to explain Cable's mysterious past? That was NOT what was originally intended (for either character) they just decided to tie up loose ends that way- never mind the clusterfuck that would result. >_< Really, some writers have no vision for the long-term effects of their choices.

    And you're right, many comics (especially today) are not written in a way that can stand alone on their own. It IS possible to do it- just give us the right amount of exposition -not too much, not too little- and have each issue BE a story, with a beginning, middle and end *in one issue*, even if technically the plotlines still continue in the next. Don't take six issues to beat a villain! That will only frustrate the readers. (Of course, part of the reason they do this is because, since trade paperbacks sell *better* than individual issues today, they specifically write comics so that they read better *when collected*- screw the monthly readers. -_- )

    And I don't think the Internet is killing comics- not by itself anyway. Comics have LOTS of problems: too expensive, too brief storywise (see above), too convoluted, etc. Seriously, when you can rent a videogame and play it for hours, why buy a comic *for the SAME price* that you'll be done reading in 20 minutes or less? Comic companies only get away with this because they know they have a rabid following, that will buy anything they put out- but that fandom is growing smaller every day, mostly because they are not doing more to bring in new, younger readers. I was like 7 when I first started reading comics; how many comics for kids in that range are there today in America? (Not counting the insultingly dumb ones that are more like PBS shows than the thrilling, all-ages action/fantasy comics we used to have.)
    Last edited by Wilfredo Martinez; 10-27-2009 at 08:51 AM.
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  17. #17
    The Man called Wil Wilfredo Martinez's Avatar
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    ADDENDUM

    Or, stuff Wilfredo forgot to mention above :P

    After rereading the article, I think I still have a couple of things to add.

    First, I want to make clear that, despite the problems mentioned, American comics still are very good and enjoyable. There's a LOT of talent, both writing and drawing, in today's comics. So please don't think I've given up on comics; it's just that I'm disappointed by certain trends going on today. In particular, I don't feel I can follow *any* DC Comics series regularly anymore because they insert cheap shock stuff when and where least expected (like when they had Wonderdog EAT Wendy and Marvin in, of all places, Teen Titans.) I still check out comics regularly and read those that I find interesting enough (and I will keep reviewing them here) and I'll wait until this dark "Hollywood trend" passes.

    The other thing that I feel I didn't cover properly was the Writer's angle on things. Let's face it: the main reason people write comic books is because they WANT to. Not the money or anything else. Oh sure, those things matter, but unless you happen to be a "Big Name" writer (and that depends entirely on the customers' fancies) you won't make any real money as a comics writer. No, the real reason is that they want to write certain characters, or have specific stories that they feel they *must* tell. The problem is, these characters belong (or will belong, unless you get a special deal) to a comics company, and they have certain needs (continuity for example) that need to be met.

    Personally, I believe in artistic freedom. If you're working on something mostly for its own sake, you should be free to do it your way. If it doesn't fit in continuity, then offer it as a non-canonical project, like DC's Elseworlds comics. Besides, people are usually at their most creative when they have total freedom, so it's for everyone's best.

    Of course, there is such a thing as *too much* freedom. John Byrne, who helped make Fantastic Four a hit again in the 80's and also was hired by DC to reinvent Superman post-Crisis (and was one of the Big Name artists I mentioned) once said that he misses the Comics Code Authority- because, as restrictive as it was, it *forced* writers to avoid using the cheap stuff (like sex and gore) and to try to bring in the audience by being more creative. I agree; in my opinion, the Bronze Age superhero comics were the best, because, while the code was still in effect, it had relaxed enough so that more serious stories could be told. It was in the 90's, when the code lbegan to lose its power, that story quality began to decline overall; that was no coincidence. A good writer knows when to resort to shock, and when not to.

    In the end, good writing it's a matter of common sense, on everybody's (the writers', the company's and the fans') part.
    Last edited by Wilfredo Martinez; 10-29-2009 at 01:33 PM.
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  18. #18
    The Luckiest Guy Arac's Avatar
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    I always found the death of Gwen Stacey to be pretty important, but maybe that's because I read those comics when I was a kid, and they had more personal resonance with me.
    "I believe in my tusks.
    Long live freedom and damn the ideologies"
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  19. #19
    The Man called Wil Wilfredo Martinez's Avatar
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    Hi John, thanks, and welcome.

    Assuming you're not another Spambot. :p
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  20. #20
    Mad Duck
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    Just wow. As I started reading all I would think of was the Big Picture from the Escapist web site. I'm a comic fan and I started reading comic heavely over 10 years ago starting with Heavy Metal Magazine. As for the traditional ones that was only only a few months to a year ago. I've been a Marvel fan since I was a kid though. Saturday morning shows and lat afternoon weekday shows on Fox. I have to say I'm kind of glad for the Big Who's Who book that comes out every couple of years since I can at least open a Title and not go what the fuck. Although some of the stand alone/crossover type 4 issue shots make me still feel like I've missed something. They just reinvented Captain America' s back story becuase they have no idea what to do with him after Civil War. It was a good Title Paitriot but is still a total how does this fit in deal. Since I do like the continuity that the older Title have it odes piss me off a bit when they do things like that.

    I also have to thank the movie trend since it reintroduce me to my Marvel faves. Not thrilled with the Fantastic Four though, I fell like they cut someones balls off with those. First one was nice, second was seemed like they sodomised Silver Surfer. Okay in actuality I have a feeling I'm going to be eating my movie praise in the next year but for now they are doing a good job of making me yes I really want to go back to reading about that one.

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