Wednesday, April 29, 2020
Continuity is Everything/Nothing.
Once upon a time there was the DC Universe...
And it was good.
But after decades of history it became harder and harder for the writers to reconcile the facts that characters like Superman and Batman had been created in the late thirties and were still young and vibrant in the seventies. Additionally, some characters had more then one version–there was two different Green Lanterns and Flashes with different personalities and origins.
In order to keep using everyone, they hit upon the idea of using parallel worlds. The modern heroes lived on Earth-1 while the older versions, such as Jay Garrick and Alan Scott lived on another world that was similar to our own called Earth-2.
That sufficed for a time. And as the comics continued, gradually other worlds were introduced–Earth-3, where everyone was evil instead of good. Earth-S, Earth-X, Earth-Prime and so on. After a while, it got confusing to keep it all straight.
The solution? Destroy everything and reboot the DC canon as one singular Universe with one definitive version of each hero, villain, etc.
And so, in 1985, Marv Wolfman set about to do just that with the maxi-series, Crisis on Infinite Earths. After twelve issues, everything was rebooted and the stage was set. But, due to publishing schedules and lack of coordination among the writers and editors, every comic did not immediately reboot at issue #1 and start anew.
This eventually caused problems. Some characters (Psycho Pirate, Animal Man) could remember the original continuity while most couldn’t. Some characters origins were botched up while other errors slipped in–like Superboy’s contribution to the Legion of Super Heroes (despite not supposed to having existed in the new continuity). Over time, the errors piled up and fans got annoyed.
This called for a fix. Enter 1994's Zero Hour: Crisis in Time. This new event would fix everything! Except it didn’t. Later on, we had Hyper Time (parallel realities/timelines), Infinite Crisis and also Final Crisis.
At one point, Dan Didio, the DC Co-Publisher explained that his company was going to stop fixating on continuity and just try to tell good stories. An excellent choice. Indeed, some characters have had multiple origin stories since the original Crisis. Superman has had several as has Batman.
Continuity is important in storytelling. In fact, it’s essential. Completely ignoring it leads to utter chaos. And yet, sometimes it does get overemphasized. In DC Comics case, there were too many cooks in the kitchen. They needed to pick an origin story after the original Crisis and just get on with it.
If they’d done as Marv Wolfman intended and done a coordinated reboot of everything all at once the following mess could’ve been easily avoided. Alas, that was not the case and readers had to suffer the consequences for decades afterward.
Ultimately, it’s the stories that matter not the minutia. Yes, Superman is an alien orphan from another world. So what? Where do you go with that? What will Bruce Wayne do once he dons that Bat costume? What will Barry Allen or Diana of Themyscira do when faced with wielding incredible power?
People complain about the storytelling in comics today–and with good reason. We want tales of heroism and villainy. Of sacrifice. Of loss. Of triumph. Nobody ultimately cares how you get there or which Green Lantern you use as long as they get that emotional and intellectual fix.
Perhaps dropping the monthly comic issue scheme all together and focusing exclusively on telling stand-alone stories would ultimately work better. Yes, the monthly floppies are a long-standing tradition but maybe it's time to move to a new model in the interests of telling better stories?
Forget about continuity fixing events. Forget about mega-crossovers that ultimately make no difference. Stop searching for schemes to sell us monthly comics and increase your short term profits. Just tell us a good story and we’ll be there...