Saturday, March 26, 2005

I Don't Hate Continuity...

... I just hate the obsession that people seem to have with it. Or at least am strongly annoyed by it. I tend to think you should save a word like hate for people and things that really deserves the full fury of all of your being, like Al Qaida or people who use l33t speak. The true scum of the Earth.

Because any story with a sustained narrative is continuity. Jaime Hernandez's Locas stories have continuity. Preacher had continuity. Every story ever written in any medium has continuity. Your life has continuity. It just a series of events that happen in order, and sometimes build on one another.

So, continuity happens, if you have a narrative. The problem with continuity when we apply it to superhero comics (the only place where people actually obsesses over it, at least by calling it continuity), is that it's importance is overrated. I'll tell you why. Because it's fluid.

To be obsessed that every niggling detail in a long running superhero comic (or any kind of comic), constantly be validated is patently absurd. And not the fun kind of absurd that helps you to believe that men and women in tight fitting clothing with strange powers who beat the shit out of each other can be worth reading and caring about; the plain stupid kind.

Because, let's face it, superhero continuity is fluid. Details change all the damn time. In a world where retcons and reboots are a common occurrence and death is a temporary vacation at best, nothing besides the characters core (or at least most recognizable/marketable traits) is set in stone. That's part of why I love the iconic superheroes. Because you change all of the details around on them, put them in any time period, and they're still the same characters. Sure, that's led to a lot of crappy Elseworlds comics, but there's something endearing about the idea that no matter where that rocket lands, Kal-El of Krypton will become Superman.

Also, let's completely divorce ourselves of any notion that any long running superhero serial is the complete life story of the characters. Because it isn't. Because they can't die, or change, or grow much beyond what makes the characters work. That's another reason why I can't take continuity ultra-seriously; because it's not really leading anywhere. The difference between Preacher, Locas, and Amazing Spider-Man in this regard is that Preacher had an ending, the characters in Locas get age, change, and grow (hell, Maggie got fat. You'll never see that happen to Wonder Woman in a million years. Seriously, she wasn't fat in DC 1,000,000). The recurring characters in Amazing Spider-Man pretty much have to stay in their established roles forever, or at least until the series is cancelled or the world ends or somebody overthrows Avi Arad and Joe Quesada in a violent coup. Hell, they couldn't even let Aunt May stay dead! I don't care what sliding scale for aging you use, that poor woman must be getting close to having her birthday read on the Today Show (if they still do that. Sometimes I'm just stuck in the glory days of Willard Scott). So, really, what does whether two stories contradict matter if nothing ever changes anyway?

And don't even get me started on stories that exist solely to "clean up" or "fix" continuity. Unlike some folks, I don't hate Geoff Johns's writing. Maybe that's because I've read about two of his comics ever, but I don't have anything against the man. That said, I have no interest in something like Green Lantern: Rebirth, solely because I have a hard time thinking of anything more boring than reading a story solely dedicated to reconciling a bunch of stories I've never read before just to clear the decks for the real stories they want to tell (I had the same reaction to Bendis's first Avengers story, and I like his work most of the time).

Sorry, wake me when the new series comes out in a couple months. Darwyn Cooke's excellent New Frontier did whet my appetite for Hal Jordan stories, and Carlos Pacheco's work is gorgeous, but if you start pulling out the Yellow Fear Monster to explain to me why something happened, I just have to pass. I'd rather you just skip to the fun comics, thanks.

And one last thing; anyone who didn't like New Frontier because it was an Elseworlds or not "in canon"? Pray I never hear you say that. I might... tell you why Rob Liefeld sucks or something. I'm kind of a pussy. I can play a mean game of Street Fighter though. Never cross me in Street Fighter if you don't like New Frontier because of some continuity nonsense. I'll hadoken your ass until you appreciate the gorgeous art and great evocation of the period, fanboy!

Added DVD Bonus material to this post- Suggested alternative spelling for nerd terms:
hadoken- haddocks
Bendis's- Bend's, Bender's, Badness' (I didn't make that last one up, I swear!)
l33t- retard language* (*I made that one up. I hate l33t speek).


Blogger Greg said...

Amen to that! (It's Easter tomorrow, so I need to throw in an "amen.") The strange thing is it seems that only in the past ten years or so have fans become truly obsessed with continuity. Old letters columns were full of writers trying to explain it, but Marvel usually pulled the old "No-Prize" card out and everyone went on their merry way. We can't have that these days! If we're really obsessed with continuity, we should be trying to figure out how Flash Thompson fought in Vietnam! Let's see JMS work that into his book! I don't like continuity in two instances: when it violates the character's core principles, and when it's done simply to please the fans. Let's face it, love "Rebirth" or not (or, like me, feel nothing but indifference), Hal Jordan is back because DC caved to a bunch of true fanatics. That's not to say it's a bad thing, but when art exists ONLY to please a group of people (because you have to consider the audience a little in mainstream comics), well, that's a problem.

3/26/2005 05:40:00 PM  
Blogger Lex said...

Don't tell me there are actually people who didn't like New Frontier because it wasn't in continuity. Just the thought of that makes me sad.

3/26/2005 06:36:00 PM  
Blogger Chad said...

The Continuity Problem is all DC's fault. It was that damn Crisis. Up until then you had massive amounts of continuity and everyone played in their little sandbox and that was it. Then they decided to simplify things and made them hideously more complex.

I think Crisis really gave birth to the retcon craze that has dominated the superhero genre for the last 20 years or so. Instead of acknowledging the past but choosing to let it remain in the past the companies have decided it's far better to make everything fit through retroactive continuity.

Look at Wolverine. Once the coolest of cool characters. But then they started monkeying with his past. And then they had to monkey more because what they'd changed didn't fit with something else. Then if someone tried to do something new they had to change some more to make the new stuff fit. And in the process they've sapped everything of interest from the character and have made it impossible to move forward at all.

I can udnerstand the other side of it as well. I've been a fan of the Legion of Superheroes since the 70s. I know an awful lot about their past. In the time I've been reading the book it has completely rebooted twice and partially rebooted once. And each time I've got to re-learn how the characters fit together and wait for the inevitable moment when Ultra Boy and Phantom Girl first look lovingly into one another's eyes (which invaraibly signals the start of the contionuity return from the previous series). It irks me because I get tired of having to see the same stories played over and over again. If they'd just stuck with the original continuity I wouldn't have to endlessly see Ultra Boy and Phantom Girl start their sickeningly sweet relationship all over again.

I think I've lost my way again. I always intend to make a single point when I start typing and I keep babbling.

3/26/2005 09:08:00 PM  
Blogger Tim O'Neil said...

Maggie is not fat! Maggie is voluptuous.

3/27/2005 09:46:00 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

One niggling point: It's not just superhero fans who get obsessive about continuity. It happens with other longstanding niche properties too. Trek fans, Star Wars fans, Dr. Who fans, etc. The eternal question of "Where does it all fit" plagues pretty much any fandom.

It does get the most ridiculous in comics, though, I will give you that.

3/27/2005 10:39:00 AM  
Blogger Brad Curran said...

Michael: Yeah, you're right, but I was confining this just to comics. I know that any long runnning property has its hard core fans and what not. Hell, I am a Simpsons and Whedonverse nerd. And even the wretling fans I interact with want some continuity.

3/27/2005 04:27:00 PM  
Blogger Brad Curran said...

"Maggie is not fat! Maggie is voluptuous."

Wonder Woman could never look like her, though. Well, except when Darwyn Cooke drew her.

3/27/2005 04:28:00 PM  
Blogger Chad said...

Wonder Woman's too busy trying to look like Penny Century.

3/28/2005 08:21:00 AM  
Anonymous plok said...

I saw an interview with Kirby once where he said that what makes the whole superhero thing go 'round in the first place is simply the conceit of the secret identity. Sounds obvious, I know; but the more I think about it, the more I realize that most of the big cardinal superhero plots all revolve around the secret identity issue, no matter how gussied up they are with villains and fights -- the secret identity really is the heartbeat of the status quo in superhero comics, because it's only after Superman knocks Luthor on his ass or something that he can go back to being Clark Kent. And what's interesting about Superman without Clark Kent? Nothing. So he has to go back, and so naturally he must create a status quo that can be endlessly returned to because of that.

I think this is a rich vein: after all, when you've got a convention, the most exciting thing you can do with it is to push at it a little. The FF didn't have secret identities, how weird! And Gwen Stacy actually got killed because she was Peter Parker's girlfriend! Possibly the ultimate disruption of the whole status-quo-supported-by-secret-ID thing. Then in the 80s you get X-Men #137, and Byrne's best art, no I'll fight you, it's his best art...more convention-pushing, and affecting stuff because of it. But push and push and push, and you push the status quo right out the window, and along with it the ability to tell continuing superhero stories at all, much less be affected by them. Like, the trope is that villains can die but then always come back; what happens then when heroes start to die and come back, die and come back, again and again? Functionally, it's confusing, because the hero and the villain are mixing up roles. But at a deeper level it isn't just confusing, it's corrosive: everything that's meant to be fluid in superhero continuity has suddenly become static, and everything that's meant to be static has become fluid. I contend that it's at this point that continuity becomes a straitjacket. It is this type of continuity, rather, the type that misses the point about how the comics world works differently from the real world, that becomes a straitjacket. Whenever it occurs.

Unless you take the ride all the way to the end, that is. Watchmen, DK, Miracleman, most of what Morrison turns his hand to, it's all about what happens when the status quo can't be easily re-set anymore, and it's brilliant because of that. But back in the land of your garden-variety super-guy, written by your garden-variety superhero scripter, good continuity is still necessary. Except it can't be gotten anymore. It's been largely discontinued. Retcon after retcon just demonstrates how unfixable the problem is in terms of getting people to realize what the schizoid nature of superhero continuity is for...if in playing around with conventions you put new, previously plastic elements into the stable world of the secret identity's status quo, they pretty much are stuck there and have to be regarded as inviolable from that point on, or you don't have anything worth reading. You can't fix 'em by applying the same technique you used to fuck 'em up, or there won't be any stability in the status quo at all for Clark Kent, or Peter Parker, to return to.

And eventually people will just get fed up with the whole thing, which is where we're at now. Continuity has eaten its own breadcrumbs; it's become its own nemesis. It's because of continuity that you can't trust anything to stay the same, and you always have to be paying some kind of pathological attention to things that should've been well-settled years ago, because they just can't be counted on to stay dead. It's neurotic.

Excuse the long-windedness. I guess what I'm saying here, in a roundabout way, is that I don't think Crisis is to blame for the retconning craze. I think it's all down to Gwen Stacy. Every writer wants to play with the (ultimately) secret-identity based status quo by killing off a favourite character in some secret identity's life, but then other writers come along who insist on bending things back the opposite way by having them come alive again. And after a certain point it all just snowballs, like this comment.

Just one more thing, though: Wolverine was only a cool character for about thirty issues of X-Men. Look it up if you don't believe me.

3/30/2005 11:39:00 PM  

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