Does Continuity Matter?

Does Continuity Matter?

With DC Comics’ change in Editors, they’ve also announced they’re going to be switching to something called “Omniverse” where there isn’t a single universe, but continuity will not be maintained between books.

If it sounds more confusing than simply admitting “there is no continuity,” it’s because it is confusing.

Comic have struggled with continuity ever since the events rush of the 1990s. There’s simply too many books flooding the stands and too much of a back history for editors to keep track of. The events are designed to “reset” certain aspects of the universe so they don’t have to worry about maintaining those backstories, and any inconsistencies that exist in the characters they can write off as “well it changed after the last Crisis.”

The illusion of a continuity keeps comic fans invested and engaged in their borderline-autistic collecting habits with a desire to read the “whole story” as it were.

In some ways, DC removing this continuity from its line is a good thing for writers as it allows them freedom to explore stories they wouldn’t be able to otherwise because of editorial mandate. On the other hand, it’s just a sign of lazy editing not wanting to keep everything straight.

But the classic pulps never had continuity. If you go back to Zorro or Conan in their original forms, the original authors never bothered to maintain much continuity between stories, didn’t set them in any particular order, and fudged the details. Even getting into a continuing story like Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern novels, one can find pretty blatant continuity errors with just one author. She never apologized for them, but kept moving forward in her work.

Marvel and DC separated themselves by creating these continuities, which were built largely by editor and writer Mark Gruenwald in the 1970s with his fanzines explaining how all the cosmic events in Marvel were related from a fan’s perspective. When his class became engrained in the company, the continuity became very important.

On the other side, DC decided to copy Marvel’s newfound push toward continuity once they launched Crisis on Infinite Earths. They realized they didn’t have a solid universe and aimed to rectify it.

But once the companies realized they could get away with changing events with some sweeping cosmic storyline, they kept doing so. No one stays dead, no one really changes, it became an “illusion of change” as Editor-In-Chief of Marvel Jim Shooter once put it. 

Shooter once did much better when he started Valiant Entertainment, where the comics actually had running storylines and those characters who died stayed dead. It was their marketing cry for a long time to differentiate themselves from the other companies when the industry was in such upheaval in the early to mid 90s.

Really, despite the efforts of a few, these companies not kept solid continuity in a long time and they’ve been duping fans all of these years. Titling the new conditions an “Omniverse” is still insulting to fans. Why not just admit they don’t care about it and tell the stories they want to tell? Because they know they’d lose their dwindling base.

It’s why so many people are turning to independent comics or Japanese Manga these days. You can trust that the author of the story will continue until where they see fit to end, and it will end at some point. It leaves little room for errors in the overarching story or changes or bringing people back to life haphazardly. You get a better story when you don’t have to worry about keeping your properties iconic for the movie form. The game is changing, and the Omniverse is only one of the first dominoes to fall.

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Comments (7)

  • Bonesaw Reply

    Continuity is vital as far as I’m concerned.
    Continuity of past events, and established character motivation.

    I’ve never liked DCs approach of dropping occasional ‘Crisis Events’ to retcon everything and dump some stories, while still keeping others.
    They almost always accidentally create even more continuity errors as the stories they kept now referred to, or were build around, other stories that now never happened.

    Yes, writing and editing for a character with decades of backstory is going to be tricky, but that’s why you’re supposed to hire skilled, detail oriented people.

    I have no problem with the timeline being squashed, so events that took place in the 70s or 80s for us are refered to as happening only a few years ago in a floating timeline for the characters.
    But I have a serious problem with events and continuity being ignored. I’d put it like this to a writer or editor when talking about continuity:
    Respect it almost always.
    Skilfully reinterpret it if you have a good idea and the skill.
    Ignore lesser or unpopular elements with great care.
    But always remember you didn’t create these characters, you’re being allowed to write stories for other peoples’ characters, and that many people read and even care about. If you dismiss that you don’t deserve to work on them.

    November 14, 2020 at 5:12 am
  • Patrick McNally Reply

    Continuity was great and essential. What you and Jim Shooter touched on was something equally important: retirement.

    If Marvel had been far-seeing then by 1990 there would have been a complete retirement of Peter Parker Reed Richards and the rest. A lot of the stories from the 1980s read as if Marvel were preparing to eventually retire it’s older characters. Then Jim Shooter was fired in 1987 and the new editorship seemed to decide to go back to just perpetuating the older characters as if Peter Parker could remain in his 20s forever. That spelled the beginning of the end.

    It was a slow decline because things like this don’t have clear expiration dates. If a lawnmower is worn out and broke then you can clearly see this. Was Spider-Man worn out and broke in 1990? Not exactly, but it showed signs of early stress. How about in 2000? The stress was visibly growing, but still not necessarily broken to the point of uselessness. By 2010 the signs were really showing bad, but someone could even then argue that there was till something to go with.

    But really by 2010 we should have had Spider-Man retired for 2 decades while a new heroine named Gwen Parker was just starting at Empire State University, only to be turned on by her hot young professor Franklin Richards. Then there would be the back story as the young professor Richards casually mentions his famous aging parents Reed and Sue to Gwen, and she responds by indicating that she might be a mutant of some kind. Immediately Franklin tells Gwen about how his parents know an old blind guy named Scott Summers who gets around with help from his aging wife Jean. Lots of possibilities could be developed.

    But instead Marvel tried to maintain the older characters indefinitely while always asserting that everything had happened within a 5-year time-limit. That became absurd since you would have to allow at least a 5-year span from the death of Gwen Stacy to the marriage of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson. Compressing the events in between (which included not just the death of Gwen and marriage to Mary Jane, but also events with Felicia Hardy, Debra Whitman, Jean DeWolff, among others) makes Peter Parker seem like a psychopath more akin to Norman Osborn.

    November 14, 2020 at 9:36 am
    • Bonesaw Reply

      I don’t have a problem with ‘comic time’ being compressed, or even some elements being ignored in modern continuity all together.
      Afterall, how many readers really care about, or even remember, plot elements from the 70s era Marvel? Or even the 80s and 90s?
      Do many modern readers (im including people who read these characters within the last 20 years, not just whoever’s mad enough to still read current marvel) know that Captain America was a promising comic book artist, or that Daredevil had an entire group of staff (who each had their own backstory and problems) who worked for, and with, him in his legal practice?
      How many people know about the many various plot threads and story elements that were created during the 70s and 80s that are largely ignored now?

      November 16, 2020 at 5:43 am
  • Bonesaw Reply

    That being said, I do generally agree that characters should age, but I’d argue that it should be at a slower rate than we do.
    Have them age a couple of years a decade, that way various writers and creative teams can thoroughly explore every facet of the characters development and growth.
    It would make time travel stories much more impactful too.

    The creative teams at Marvel could easily jump back to iterations of the characters from previous decades and continue their stories as ‘lost adventures’ etc.

    It would also make the few non-aging characters like Wolverine and The Vision more unique as they would serve as a connecting element from one crop of heroes to the next.

    It would add an extra level of poignancy to the Fantastic Four as a family of heroes.
    We could see Reed and Sue transfer from front line characters, to grandfatherly and grandmotherly mentor figures who use their experience and smarts to help Franklin and the others continue the fight.
    The Thing could easily be ageless as he’s so alien, and it would add to the complexity of his character as he hates being a ‘thing’ and now has to endure seeing his friends and family age, but he has the opportunity to help protect their children, etc.
    The Fantastic Force comic of the 90s would have been a great springboard for this, as it saw a teenaged Franklin headline his own team.
    I don’t mention Valaria as I hate what Chris Clairmont did in bringing her into continuity. Clairmont purposefully destroyed every story element John Byrne added to the FF during his iconic run because Byrne was given the FF to write when the Clairmont/Byrne X-Men run ended due to them having a massive falling out.
    Clairmont is a petty scumbag.

    Anyway, this is intresting to think about, but Marvel would never do it – they’re too focused in milking what was once great and innovative to spare any time or effort into creating what will be great in the future.
    They’re going to run these characters into the dirt, just like we are seeing at DC.
    It’ll take a little longer due to Marvel’s current cash reserves thanks to the MCU.
    Although that’s hit a brick wall now – it’s just that the ‘creatives’ at Disney refuse to admit it – yet…

    November 16, 2020 at 5:46 am
    • Patrick McNally Reply

      Aging in comic books should follow the One-Third Rule. 3 decades of comic book publishing equals 1 decade of actual aging in the life of a character. So by the early 1990s Peter Parker should be clearly a decade older than he was in Amazing Fantasy #15, and that aging should remain in place without alteration. Since Reed Richards and Ben Grimm seemed to actually be in their late 30s during the early issues of the Fantastic Four, then they should be clearly in their late 40s by the time the early 1990s role around. And so on.

      Doing anything else simply makes nonsense of the whole idea of grand continuity. Early comics like Superman simply printed random stories as if there was no continuity and this worked fine for a certain type of audience. But if that’s how it’s going to be done, then it should be done without pretense. Once the decision is made to actually follow continuity then something like the One-Third Rule becomes appropriate. This would then mean allowing a generational turnover in which the Fantastic Four would be allowed to slowly age their way out and make room for a new generation.

      November 18, 2020 at 1:15 am
  • Bonesaw Reply

    K

    November 16, 2020 at 5:47 am
  • Bonesaw Reply

    I don’t have a problem with ‘comic time’ being compressed, or even some elements being ignored in modern continuity all together.
    Afterall, how many readers really care about, or even remember, plot elements from the 70s era Marvel? Or even the 80s and 90s?
    Do many modern readers (im including people who read these characters within the last 20 years, not just whoever’s mad enough to still read current marvel) know that Captain America was a promising comic book artist, or that Daredevil had an entire group of staff (who each had their own backstory and problems) who worked for, and with, him in his legal practice?
    How many people know about the many various plot threads and story elements that were created during the 70s and 80s that are largely ignored now?

    That being said, I do generally agree that characters should age, but I’d argue that it should be at a slower rate than we do.
    Have them age a couple of years a decade, that way various writers and creative teams can thoroughly explore every facet of the characters development and growth.
    It would make time travel stories much more impactful too.

    The creative teams at Marvel could easily jump back to iterations of the characters from previous decades and continue their stories as ‘lost adventures’ etc.

    It would also make the few non-aging characters like Wolverine and The Vision more unique as they would serve as a connecting element from one crop of heroes to the next.

    It would add an extra level of poignancy to the Fantastic Four as a family of heroes.
    We could see Reed and Sue transfer from front line characters, to grandfatherly and grandmotherly mentor figures who use their experience and smarts to help Franklin and the others continue the fight.
    The Thing could easily be ageless as he’s so alien, and it would add to the complexity of his character as he hates being a ‘thing’ and now has to endure seeing his friends and family age, but he has the opportunity to help protect their children, etc.
    The Fantastic Force comic of the 90s would have been a great springboard for this, as it saw a teenaged Franklin headline his own team.
    I don’t mention Valaria as I hate what Chris Clairmont did in bringing her into continuity. Clairmont purposefully destroyed every story element John Byrne added to the FF in his iconic run.
    He did this because Byrne was given the FF to write when the Clairmont/Byrne X-Men run ended due to them having a massive falling out.
    Clairmont is a petty scumbag.

    Anyway, it’s intresting to think about this, but Marvel would never do it – they’re too focused in milking what was once great and innovative to spare any time or effort into creating what will be great in the future,
    They’re going to run these characters into the dirt, just like we are seeing at DC.
    It’ll just take a little longer due to Marvel’s current cash reserves thanks to the MCU.
    Although that’s hit a brick wall now – it’s just that the creatives at Disney refuse to admit it – yet…

    November 16, 2020 at 5:50 am

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