The Continuity Trap

0THE CONTINUITY TRAP

Most adults are able to carry multiple versions of characters in their head. James Bond is Sean Connery, Roger Moore, and Daniel Craig. But when the creators and fans of the stories insist that all incarnations are the same person, that becomes a challenge for some people. Rather than accepting there can be multiple versions of one character, a Rashomon-style approach, some fans would prefer that the stories bend over backwards to accommodate all of the versions of the characters and their adventures to be part of one long narrative. This comic essay hope to explain why this mind set persists in the comic book world of superheroes.

Note that when I say “comics” I am generalizing, and referring to mainstream superhero comics.

What is buy-in?

When someone complains about a comic not matching continuity they are reacting to a conflict between what is presented and what has previously been presented. This break in the reality of the series brings the reader out of the work. Let’s start by looking at how that works:

Readers accept premises stated at the beginning of the story, no matter how outlandish. If they don’t, they put the comic down and move on.

 

Once the intro is over, any other bizarre premises added later carry the risk of alienating readers, unless they build upon the original ones. It’s like ordering a hamburger and finding a fried squid as a topping. Some people might love it, but it might surprise and/or bother others.

It is valid to critique a story for not staying true to its own setup and internal logic. So even though we’re talking about a zombie world, which is by it’s very nature “not real”, it has it’s own reality which it can not break, like how zombies became fast all of the sudden, or as done too often – the varying amount of time it takes to turn into a zombie based solely on when it would add the most tension to the plot.

The other thing that breaks buy-in is when the audience knows more than the creator about something. Before they even picked up the book, this specialized group of readers had a world vision that will conflict with the story’s reality. This can’t be avoided because it’s impossible for anyone to know everything (even the internet and Braniac). The creator and fellow audience members shouldn’t take this criticism too seriously. Especially if those Moan-it-alls are vocal about how smart they are in their areas of expertise and how everyone should know this.

What makes comics unique?

To see why continuity in comics is challenging, we first need to realize what comics are.

Comics are serialized stories

Serialized stories tell tales that go beyond one book or movie. Most North American non-stop storylines don’t ever change. Garfield still hates Mondays and loves lasagna. Homer still works at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant. Sherlock Holmes doesn’t get outsmarted. Due to syndication demands, characters were required to not change from episode to episode. That way, any episode can be your first episode, and that way fans receive a “consistent experience” like they do from Big Macs. It is through serialized stories that fans are able to live a parallel vicarious life. We think of these characters as family and friends who we don’t want to leave our lives. That’s the best gift of continuity – that a story you like goes on longer than one book or one movie. Most people don’t want a good thing to end. Our friends and family change over time with new jobs, new homes, marriages, divorces, deaths and births but sometimes we are surprised when our fictional characters have also moved on.

We can even discuss minutia and statistics instead of this fake world instead of dealing with the real world. This can vary from healthy play to unhealthy obsession. All entertainment without end caters to these outsider desires.


A standalone story more often than not, does not live beyond the pages of the book or silver of the screen. Any story with a sequel though, (and most superhero comics are non-stop sequels) automatically are given life beyond the control of the creator. They exist between books. These stories have great power to fuel our imaginations. It’s hard to picture what Nick Carraway would do in a sequel to The Great Gastby but another adventure for Indiana Jones? She-Ra? Batman? You probably have already come up with some, and feel confident about your vision of these characters in multiple scenarios. After all, we’ve have already seen them in multiple scenarios.

When a creator makes a character that exists beyond one story-line, he gives it life beyond the pages of the story. That also means they can not truly be killed. Perhaps the reason Superman is such a powerful, yet divisive character is because he made this apparent. Previous episodic characters like Miss Marple, Alan Quartermain, and Buck Rogers were immortal. If a gun was pointed at them, a disguised deus ex machina would come in and save them. They might be only injured, the gun might misfire, or a forgotten character might step in at the last minute and distract the villain but it all still amounted to the same thing. No dead heroes. Superman broke this layer of conspiracy between reader and writer and said “nothing will kill him!” He doesn’t need the hand of god to stop bullets. He is the god. Just like the greek myths, the 4-colour comic heroes are our mythology.

Even the creator can’t kill his own characters. Look at Sherlock Holmes. Doyle killed him off, but then realized he had more stories to tell with a smart detective. Plus there was guaranteed money in it. That’s why no one believes it when they kill off Superman or Johnny Storm. It’s like an ancient Greek telling us that Zeus died. Sure he did… but how’s he coming back? If a hero dies, that death’s impact is about the same as them laying low for a few months. At best it allows the other characters to role play in a “real” world without the main character(s), rather than having to make an alternate world story.

There are some characters in comics who have stayed dead, like Uncle Ben, Bruce Wayne’s parents and most of Krypton. But those characters didn’t go past one-issue. They were born and dead before the ink dried. These characters are key to the origin of the characters, and to change them is to change the essence of the character. An author can also kill off secondary characters in meaningful ways like Gwen Stacy or Borimir. But if the titular character of a story dies, the story dies. It would be a novel and exciting approach to a serialized story to part way through the series, have the main hero die. Can you imagine the next James Bond movie has him die at the half way point and Felix Leiter takes up the mantle to finish the job there… and in the sequel? It’s almost unthinkable.

Comic characters don’t age

The earliest novels were serialized stories as well, such as Dickens’ work, but many of those stories had a planned end. Several were coming of age tales, where you got to see a young boy grow into a man, from Pip to Philip. Because you get to see them grow, it defines a character by their journey. As I’ve already said, super heroes are defined, instead, by their origins. Batman is the story of a boy who’s parents are killed by criminals, thus propelling him to fight crime as a frightening vigilante. There is no time spent with little Bruce Wayne. That’s a 2-page flashback. While some authors may explore that part of Batman’s life it is not essential to his character. We know how Pip ends up, and should end up, in any remake of Great Expectations, but Batman’s future is unknown. As hard is it is to imagine Nick Carrway outside of The Great Gatsby, it is similarly hard to authoritatively say what Batman would be like as a fifty-year old or a ninety-year old. While stories like Batman Beyond and The Dark Knight imagine an old Bruce Wayne these stories are out of continuity and do not alter the established essence of the character – his origin.

The other important reason they do not age as characters is because they don’t have to age physically. While TV shows like Friends or General Hospital need characters to move on with their lives as the actors gain age lines or baby bumps, the hand-drawn superheroes need not age a day. And so they do not. The Simpsons is the same way but the openly flaunt their disregard for continuity by changing their neighbours, house layout, or any other detail, to suit the story and/or the jokes. Super hero comics do the opposite. They slavishly stay true to continuity.

Comics are shared worlds

That superheroes are gods is a common observation because they not only have super powers, are part of serialized stories, and can’t die, they also intermingle in the same world as each other, just like the characters from the classics. Hercules was one of Jason’s Argonauts. Both Perseus and Bellerophon had their turn riding Pegasus. All of of them had to contend with Zeus and the other Olympians. Today there’s occasionally a TV spin off like Laverne and Shirley from Happy Days, or Frasier from Cheers, but comics, kids’ animation and role playing games are the most common places to see shared world stories. Often because of copyright, you don’t find novelists sharing worlds.

Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four and the Avengers all have their own books, but they all can – and do – appear in each others’. So not only do you need to know what is happening in Amazing Spider-Man, Spectacular Spider-Man, and Marvel Team-Up (featuring Spider-Man), you might also need to read March’s issue of Power Pack and June’s issue of Dazzler if you really want to know what’s going on with the webhead. It’s even trickier to keep track of if it’s a villain like Doctor Doom who fights Spider-Man, then Fantastic Four, then Power Man, and then back to Spider-Man – all in their own self-titled books.

Comics publishers have not only facilitated this fun crossover world, but have taken advantage of it, so that they plan cross-over storylines which require you to buy lots of books you wouldn’t normally buy in order to keep abreast of the world and characters you love. You better buy that issue of Nova and The Incredible Hercules if you want to understand the Skrull’s Secret Invasion storyline. Many comic fans complain these event comics are simultaneously their favourite and most hated part about collecting comics – being amazingly epic and introducing them to new characters, while being amazingly tough on the wallet.

Comics are for kids

Superheroes were created for children and fed children’s fantasies. Batman didn’t use his millions to lobby the government to intervene at the root causes of blue collar crime. He hit bad people dressed in an animal costume. Superman didn’t get caught up in romantic entanglements with all the cute dames he rescued. He flew away with a wink and a smile. They are not adult stories. They even made a Comics Code Authority to make sure they stayed that way when comics like Eerie and Creepy started to create new gore-heavy titles.

The problem comes when the child grows into an adult and doesn’t want to leave this family behind. Sports nerds are able to age up their escape without ruining that much for children. Comic fans tried to add some adult value to their hobby by bagging and boarding their comics and claiming their issues were an investment strategy. That made other adults okay with what is essentially grown-ups reading children’s stories.

There’s a real peer pressure to grow up and abandon fantastic imagination for the more plausible dreams of winning the lottery, getting laid, and watching intense, joyless shows about serial killers. It’s hard for the average person to indulge the child inside them, although occasionally you have a break through where adults read Harry Potter or Twilight but those are usually aimed at a teen/tweenage audience, rather than the pre-pubescent children that super heroes were for.

X-men is perhaps an example of a teenager driven fantasy, with characters gaining their mutant powers at pubescence. Their villains are often the government, who are trying to control or eliminate the mutant “threat”. Or the X-Men battle people’s misconceptions of their kind, generated by and fought through mutants who use their powers for evil. They also come from across the globe, at least in the first reboot with Canadian Wolverine, Russian Colossus, Kenyan Storm, German Nightcrawler etc. The stories take a simple view of politics and globalization but by their very inclusion made them more mature than unquestionable patriots like Captain America and Superman. The revamped X-Men, followed in a trend that would eventually sweep up Cap and Superman (so they too question their government, Superman even recently revoking his US Citizenship), as super heroes grew up.

Whether it was the creators or the readers who drove the change, they both enabled it. And are still complicit in it. The publishers didn’t want to start over, and the audience stuck with their favourites, like Linus’ security blanket. Over the years, what had been children’s super hero books began to have story lines about drug abuse, wife abuse, rape, serial killers… and worse. When Kevin Smith wrote Batman he made the Dark Knight pee himself, freely associate with killers, and abuse his girlfriend (who creates a pet name for him based on him having had eleven orgasms their first night together). For the most part, the comic companies did not create new heroes in new worlds for these stories. It wasn’t like graduating from Bobsy Twins to Hardy Boys or Dora to Diego. These were the same characters the readers had been growing up with. This would be like Mr. Men or Curious George developing a heroin addiction and penchant for prostitutes. It could be subversively hilarious or dark and gritty (said in a cool voice) to teenagers and college kids but not appropriate for children or for grown-ups rediscovering the joy of innocence through their own kids.

It’s not surprising that a generation of people who want their escapism to age with them are also getting married and starting families later and later. They want to escape responsibilities or wait for the more perfect fantasy to arrive. This is the sweet spot for businesses to cash in on – employed singles. So the market caters to those childless homes with the dough. You know what guarantees a book doesn’t sell as well? An Elseworlds logo. If you tell the audience a story is outside of continuity they don’t buy it with the same religious fervour they do their regular monthly titles. It’s not “real”. It doesn’t count. This is hilarious ironic, that those who enjoy the more imaginative fare of children’s stories reject the more imaginative fare of “alternate world” children’s stories. Starting a whole new title from scratch involves patience and investment, so of course that route was not a popular idea on the publisher’s side either.

So you have what are essentially children’s stories that have been aged up to the demands of an audience who want realism from their books. You can see this in the new style of art. Or look how seldom the characters wear their costumes and masks. Flip through almost any comic on the stand and you will find a guy sitting in front of a monitor, instead of swinging from a rooftop – because that’s the world of adults. That’s how CSI solves crimes. They don’t use heat ray vision. And that’s how we watch CSI solve crimes. We sit in front of our monitors. We want our heroes to be more like us. This creates pressure on the creators to make stories more plausible, even though it is based on a ridiculous premise.

Super Heroes reflect the world they are written in

Super heroes reflect the times, geography, culture of the creator. That’s why Batman and Superman tend to call each other Bruce and Clark these days. In an age of 24 hour cable news, paparazzi and camera phones, the idea of a secret identity seems out of place. Previous secret identities tell you something about how we saw our heroes of the day. During World War 2, they created the soldier Captain America. In the atomic age they made Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic), Bruce Banner (The Hulk) and Hank Pym (Ant-Man) – all scientists. In the Dirty Harry days, there were anti-heroes like the Punisher (a war vet) and Wolverine (a government experiment). Etcetera.

This also extends to various incarnations of the same characters. In the 60′s Bob Newhart won the Album of the Year Grammy for The Button-Down Mind, a comedy album. Seriously. That’s a fairly unthinkable task now. Maybe the Lonely Island guys could do it, but it would be a long shot. The Batman from the ’60s was hilariously campy. It was also the era of the sexual revolution, so the Batman tv show was sexy in a fun and liberating way. Skip ahead to the Dirty Harry days of the 80s and you have The Dark Knight and then Tim Burton’s Batman. He is dark and serious and gritty and not sexy. Comedy albums were not charting. The sexual revolution was over. AIDS had made sex scary. It was a Batman for that era.

Comics are a collaborative art form

Most monthly books are done by a team. At best they are collaborators. At worst they are an assembly line. This means that the work has a variety of art styles for each character. This can be a change of an artist after 4 years of working on one character and wanting a change. It can also be a fill-in issue between issues, that buys the monthly comic artist another thirty days to catch up to the grind (or possibly take a vacation). It can even been a different artist within the same issue that’s running late on it’s deadline.

Comics are owned by a company

Comics are work-for-hire, which means that artists and writers who work on books are channeling their skills into the vision the company has for the characters and world. In the past this has meant that comics have a very narrow vision of what should be done, so as to not challenge the “consistent experience” model. They could experiment a bit within alternate universe books, from Bizarro Comics to What If? but every new attempt that failed could be a big loss.

Where these elements of comics conflict with buy-in

Comics are serialized, and in stories that have been going (in the case of Action Comics) sometimes over 900 issues, that supposedly all fit into one continuous story. The characters not only exist in those decades of comics with their name, but in the comics of their friends, teams and enemies because this is a shared world. Because the stories have gotten so long, they become unwieldy. Some amount of continuous story is a good thing – a great thing even. But letting the story go on for too long creates huge pockets of buy-in problems.

If each new reader is expected to jump on board with whichever comic happens to be their first – whether a new one from the stands or a dusty one from the dollar bins – then you have no idea what set of rules they’ve bought into. Yet, these rules become what the readers expect from the story from then on.

So for you, Superman might not be able to fly, only leap over buildings. He might be married to Lois Lane, or he might be dating Lana Lang. Lex Luthor might be president or might be a tycoon. Supes might be the last son of Krypton, he might be one of many. If you go back and forth in the continuous story-line you may find things as challenging as the zombies who are created by dragon wizards. You may have to assume it’s explained in the issues you missed.

Some people aren’t as forgiving and see the new version as a betrayal of the old. After all, the publisher is saying “This is Batman” not “This is a version of Batman”. It’s like how General Hospital and Sesame Street don’t claim to be something new even though they’re still going and have new characters. The difference is that super heroes have been aged up, and intentionally changed dramatically. What if it was General Hospital became a hard core porn and Sesame Street actually indulged juvenile jokes by making Bert and Ernie have gay puppet sex? Shouldn’t that at least be called General Hosptial: After Dark and Sesame Street – Brought to you by NSFW and 69? While an adult may be comfortable holding in their mind the differences between the Disney Robin Hood Fox and the ruggedly handsome BBC version for grown ups, a child might not be able to immediately see the difference between the Batman from their colouring book and the Batman who’s coming with his girlfriend eleven times and then pissing himself.

Some people aren’t as forgiving and want things spelled out for them. While hardcore fans will continue to buy continuity comics, I have met many people who are intimidated to get back into comics. The price point is one issue – how computer colouring, glossier paper stock, and the inflation of speculative market drove up the cost per issue – but that’s a separate argument (one that may be solved with digital delivery). There’s also the fear of not knowing what’s going on. Even retailers often struggle to find books to suggest to prospective clients as good lead-in books that will help you ease into current continuity. They often have better luck with self contained graphic novels. They also find that offering books with new characters that suit the needs of new audiences help. Books like Kick Ass, Hellboy, The Walking Dead, and Scott Pilgrim don’t have to worry about the baggage of several decades (though Hellboy and his BPRD spin-offs are sprawling towards a traditional comics’ messy model).

Another reason these characters are hard to separate from their previous incarnations is that they don’t age. The heroes still pretty much look the same as they did decades ago. The favoured in-house art styles may have changed but there have always been different art styles on these characters. While you can tell a Sean Connery Bond from a Daniel Craig Bond in a split second, the significance of an Alex Ross Batman and a Bruce Timm Batman is lost on most non-regular comic readers. People are used to identifying real people’s faces, not different artist’s penmanship.

Regular comic readers have a different issue with character design. The one thing that stays true for the art are cues like basic costume design and proportions. Batman always has those pointy ears. Wolverine is always short, with pointy hair. That’s why it can be difficult to adapt a comic into a movie, where an actor’s face can tell us who Wolverine is. It’s not important whether he’s much shorter than Cyclops. In the movie world, the continuity of costume isn’t important (which can seem uncomfortably non-continuity to long time fans). But comics readers are trained to accept different artists styles on the same story line. Its assembly-line process that an audience isn’t not supposed to notice as different. It’s one more thing that suggests no matter what this character looks like, it’s all one cohesive character and story.

Another challenge to continuity comes when a children’s concept is handled by well educated adults. Take for example, Magneto, a man who can control magnetism used to stop bullets and toss dangerous cutlery and tanks around. But what if the writer knows that iron gives human blood its colour? When you use adults to tell stories for adults with children’s characters, their powers can seem to get out of whack with the character’s original intent.

When it comes to the story itself, to make sense of problems with ageing and contradictions in continuity they introduce clones, criss-crossing alternate universes, magic, devils and all sorts of terrible exposition. All of this is done just so that the comic world can keep going. If you miss these world-reshaping comics, your buy-in is seriously strained. If you do see worlds remade, your suspension of disbelief may be strained too. These are often characters who are punching jewel thieves, not dabbling in alternate time lines. It’s like having those dragon wizards making the zombies. It’s not completely against the rules, but it can put the story on shaky ground.

The readers who want the non-stop story fixed and re-written via Crisis of Infinite Earths can be seen in two ways. It could be justified, like the reader who calls bullshit on a zombie comic for having a fast zombie in a slow zombie story. They are in the right to complain. After all, the publishers are claiming, for the most part, that all of this is one cohesive story. They need to make sure it all works together – especially if they’re going to plan something that elaborate. But at some point, since the readers have been reading so much of the comics and many new writers haven’t, you also have the situation with the reader who’s an expert on something that the writer isn’t. Most writers should only need to know what the general population knows about these characters: their origins. It’s like the guy complaining about the shotgun blast shape in the zombie comic: the Moan-it-all. They’re the ones who are memorizing every passage and looking for it to be true, instead of taking the general message and rolling with it. Hardcore nerds are basically religious fundamentalists for this era’s pantheon of gods. Yes, I just went there.

Perhaps that’s why more than a few writers, since fanboy Roy Thomas started the trend, are hired because of their familiarity with characters rather than their writing credentials. It’s easier for a questionable writer to learn how to write on the job than it is for an already experienced writer to sift through lifetimes of back story. (Going the opposite route would be the Hollywood way. They often hire people who know nothing about the franchise like Michael Bay and Transformers, and risk offending the small fan base to increase the properties appeal, assuming that even if the key audience hates it, they’ll still pay to see it.)

Shared world stories also carry with them the challenge to make stories that matter. It’s like playing World of Warcraft. There are so many people involved in the quest, that it can’t actually have deep meaning whether you come back with the quest item right now, or never bother. Sure, the publishers of the world can add a Cataclysm, but it’s an organization-wide decision and production. This doesn’t lend itself to variety within the story to allow for growth, death, or new ideas. The variations we see in the canon of comic characters are less wild than the ones we see from other un-owned franchises that have bean-counters and editors who are worried about maintaining “consistent experience”.

All of these things have combined to make ongoing comic series a mess that’s tricky to sort through.

Other ways it can work

The solution to the continuity trap is to reboot properties and put them in distinct boxes that allow creators to experiment with new, more relevant visions of these iconic characters.

Japan’s otaku are crazy about their comics, but over there they reboot properties without problem. Think about Final Fantasy video games where each one is a different story set in the same world. Lots of Japanese stories have the same characters and archetypes but meeting for the first time in a new storyline. Maybe in space, or a pirate ship, this time. If North Americans took a page from their structure, we could have each creative team tell their own stories with the characters, and we’d have a richer tapestry for the characters.

Because, while death carries little meaning in continuity-based comics, rebirth holds tons of it. Each time a story starts over from zero, it gives the character a new way to resonate with readers. It frees the characters to represent new ideas, or different aspects without being a slave to the original. Think again of Robin Hood. The original story has been lost to time. So we have him as a cartoon fox, a rakish young BBC rogue, Kevin Costner with and American accent, an electro-quarterstaff wielding hero from the future… you can make up your mind how to respond to each vision. Each version is different enough that they sit in their own box.

One of the great things about these boxes is that thanks to the cheapness of internet publishing, the investment on the behalf of the comic company to allow writers to do wild and different things without putting a severe risk on the bottom line. Maybe making the Spider-Man movie with Donald Glover would be a financial risk, but maybe not if it had been tested as a webcomic first. Who knows, maybe a black Peter Parker would resonate with fans. After all, he is an inner city kid who struggles both with poverty and a white boss (who’s initials that are one step away from KKK).

So new characters do help with becoming relevant and allowing story lines to have clear beginnings and endings, but it can also be done with existing characters, so long as a new box is made.

What I am advocating is that alongside some shorter, self-contained tales, that serialized stories should live a good and long life — but not too long. Just like anything with meaning. It needs an end. And a rebirth.

The reason we tell and read stories is to make sense of the world around us with some sort of narrative. When the boundaries of these stories are amorphous, it does a worse job of that. It starts to become messy and ongoing like life, instead of tidy and finite like a story.  Getting a complete graphic novel (like a film) or collected trade (like a season of a tv show on dvd) helps the reader come to grips with a story and find a point to jump on and off. Finite stories help comics find new readers and bring back absent ones. It’s great that comic publishers are doing more collections, especially when the content within is clearly marked.

How can I be sure that this is the way to go? Because the stories that lie outside of continuity or make dramatic changes are usually the best and most memorable ones. This can be done by craft, like how Joss Whedon’s best Buffy‘s were silent or musical. But those are fewer and farther between and sometimes pull people out of the story. The other story a lot of fans site as meaning a lot is *Spoilers* Buffy’s mom’s death. That one that has a significant change. Think about Star Trek and how people love the episodes where the space age group visited planets like 1930′s Chicago or World War Two. Dungeons and Dragons did a poll to see what people’s favourite modules were. In first place was Ravenloft, the horror adventure. Yes, in a world of Toklein-inspired elves and wizards, it was the Victorian gothic that took top nods. In James Bond movies, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the fan favourite because Bond gets married at the end.

In sports, each season the team has a chance to redefine itself on its quest for that season’s climax. The scorecard starts over at zero and the new rules, coaches, and players change the dynamic of the team.

With Doctor Who, the longest running science fiction show, they kill off the Doctor and allow the new actor and writers to find their own related voice with the latest regeneration. And unlike other stories, his stock-in-trade is parallel world and rewriting time lines so it seems less weird when these occur. These have helped it remain relevant through the decades.

Most movie franchises don’t have to worry about rebooting because they take so long to get a new movie out that it’s hardly serialized entertainment. Still, look at the Bond franchise: it was floundering to stay relevant with Dalton and Bronsnen, so they added a female M and tried to make him a deeper character. But the goofy one-liners, overly complicated gadgetry and over-the-top stakes were out of place. They needed to reboot the franchise with Casino Royale to get real change (keeping the most relevant of the old, like the female M).

If you look at comics, many of the stand out moments are from standalone stories or ones that pushed the boundaries of continuity. The Dark Knight was outside continuity. Truth was a mini-series that had a new origin for Captain America that made sense as we look back with a wider view of history. Batman: Year One is a seminal piece that revisits and rewrites his origins. Sure, you’ll get some duds in their too, but the freedom to fail or fly is necessary for a good story.

It might sound weird, but by giving each comic story boundaries, you give the characters more room to break boundaries. Instead of stretching from point A to F, you can have self contained, A, F, S and Z.

That’s why average people like Spider-Man movies and Spider-Man video games, but not Spider-Man comics. With other media, each re-invention tells you the new circumstances and catches you up to speed. It’s like reading a zombie comic. You get the rules for each particular zombie world and roll with it. We start with the premise that zombies are fast in this one? Sounds weird, but okay, let’s go. Spider-Man’s webbing comes from his body instead of web-shooters? Sounds weird, but okay, let’s roll.

This brings me to the one problem with this fix. There will always be people who can’t roll with new versions in new boxes. They want to apply the old buy-in rules to the new stories. I’ve known plenty of people who didn’t want to accept the fast zombies of the Dawn of the Dead remake or the non-web-shooter Spider-Man. Those people have a need for consistency in their lives beyond the normal person’s and is not an issue that can be solved without psychological help. The fix I suggest is an idea to help the average person get back into comics, buy the correct comics for their kids (the future readers of comics), and help fans who talk about comics to have a better set of guidelines for their discussions. Basically its a fix to make comics more accessible, and fall victim less often to the continuity trap.

When the publishers and creators are slaves to the names and dates of fake history the work suffers, just to make the die-hards fans happy. And yes, those fans literally find dying hard. They want to keep their life-long friends alive for as long as possible without changing the box in which they’ve put them. So, please, if you are like this, find the strength to let your heroes die and be reborn. And if you are a publisher or creator, reboot your comics with meaningful, significant beginnings and endings. Because right now in comics, they are kept alive in a tortured unlife that goes on and on. These zombies are crying out for a head shot.

This entry was posted in Essay. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Continuity Trap

  1. Ed McKeogh says:

    Terrific, cogent analysis, Brian, which also explains the strength of “limited series” (e.g., Nextwave), though it by no means guarantees their success. About 20 years ago, I noticed that the bulk of my pull list had, due to subconscious urgings to escape the continuity event horizon, become limited series and the efforts of small-scale independent creators. I found something profoundly disturbing about characters that didn’t grow, but instead seemed to regress (e.g., Green Arrow became a philanderer who had seemingly fathered [retroactively] enough children to fill a large, upscale, suburban boarding school in upstate New York).

    So I’d add that mature readers (i.e., grown-ups, not porn aficionados) can CHOOSE to end their relationships with characters/corporations they’ve outgrown. Once the dysfunctional relationship has been “mourned,” the reader has the opportunity to connect with (or produce!) material that better resonates with her life-stage–especially as we enter the Digital Age and explore the rich potential offered by the internet.

    And, by the way, Doyle reluctantly returned to the Holmes franchise because nothing else he produced or did (such as his failed experience as a consulting detective) was as profitable. A man’s gotta eat. (Same for Mickey Spillane. Every time his account called to tell him he was running out of money, a new novel got written.)

  2. admin says:

    Thanks, Ed. I agree that, for sure, one option is to just stop buying. I know I have. Except for trips of nostalgia through the dollar bins. Occasionally I’ll be lured in by a Strange Tales or New Frontier, but mostly I’m out of the super hero habit.

Comments are closed.