If there’s anything more divisive in the comic community (aside from organic vs mechanical web shooters) I can’t think of what it is. With as many creators as it takes to create a line of comics nothing can stay 100% consistent. That’s
okay, we’re all human. Stan Lee invented the No-Prize as a way of poking fun at just that thing and we’ve all found our own ways to adapt with the ever-shifting reality of our favorite fictional worlds. But the real problem with continuity is that all of us have different burdens of acceptability for variation.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen someone ask how Spider-Man can be fighting the Scorpion in Amazing at the same time he’s fighting Doc Ock in Web or Spectacular. I’ve never really had this problem: comics don’t operate in real time. One issue is probably several hours to a few days (out of 30 in a month) so there’s plenty of time for Spidey to be somewhere else. Yes, it is an insanely nerdy solution to a nonexistent problem, but that’s how it works in my head. I didn’t ask for it, that’s how it happens. But even that example shows I buy in to the very idea of continuity. There must be a place and order for everything that happens.
Even with my (eminently reasonable and sensible) rationalization* I’ve been struggling with continuity lately. I’ve set up what I consider a relatively low bar for continuity: I just want to know where everything fits in. Normally this isn’t a problem. We have the DCU and the 616 Marvel U. The Ultimate line is its own consistent universe. The Adventures line (along with DC Kids/Johnny DC) is the all-ages line that focuses on done-in-one stories and doesn’t worry about continuity. No problem there. But then there are books like Thor: The Mighty Avenger, anything involving the Legion of
Superheroes, or umpteen one-shots and mini-series (like the recent glut of Captain America titles) that feel like they should have a place in core continuity but don’t.
While some of these are very good stories, I want them to fit in. Somewhere. Anywhere! And that they don’t fit into a certain established chronology is frustrating me to no end. Marvel launched their Ultimate line as a means to escape the burden of continuity and start from scratch without making the same mistakes. But now, 10 years in, Ultimate comics are in the exact same predicament. It’s just by the nature of serial storytelling that a backstory gets built up. The Adventures line is great, and you can miss any issue without missing a critical piece of story, but then again none of the stories in the have as much weight, because everything has to be reset by the end of the issue. There’s no character arc. In addition, these stories cheat in a sense, because we already know the characters from years of their primary stories already established. As much as I love Jeff Parker’s MA Avengers, they wouldn’t work as well with brand-new characters. To some extent it is by piggybacking on established continuity that he is able to skips the characterization and focus on the adventures.
It’s not just comics in this dilemma. Less than a decade after Spider-Man finally made it to the big screen, relaunched Batman and Superman movies are looking to get rebooted, too. Where does X-Men: First Class fit in? Good luck figuring it out! Imagine if comics worked like the movies, where three stories represented a burden of backstory and required a reset!
It looks like I’ve been picking on Marvel, but stay tuned for Part Two next week, where I finally share my thoughts on DCNu and explain why I’m so befuddled by the whole thing.
*Your reasonable and sensible rationalization is neither reasonable nor sensible because it’s different than mine. That’s just how it works for us comic nerds, sorry.