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It's the End of a World as I Know It

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It's the End of a World as I Know It Empty It's the End of a World as I Know It

Post by Spektre on Sat Aug 18, 2012 4:50 am

This was deemed too controversial for CBR and the original DC message forums.

June 4, 2011
First off, let me start by stating, I think continuity is a good thing in comic books. Continuity is a bad thing in comic books. Comics are found in collectible shops worldwide. The price of gold seems destined to increase as rising inflation will dilute the value of fiat currency. Ikura is the Japanese name for salmon roe which hardly anyone would refer to as caviar. As the diasthesis goes, so must waste forwarding. Jhu ysth ngbenk ulity mongt chxsasta.

PARAGRAPH #1 “Sentences will live. Sentences will die. And this article will never be the same! ”

First off, let me start by saying, I think continuity is a good thing in comic books. Continuity as related to fiction is, as Wikipiedia defines it, “consistency of the characteristics of persons, plot, objects, places and events seen by the reader or viewer over some period of time.” It is what enables the consumer of fiction to follow the events of the story. It is what makes one scene follow the other. It is what makes the “twist” at the end of a good Twilight Zone episode pungent. Simply put, without continuity, there is no story.

If you had trouble following the first paragraph you can see why continuity is a good and necessary thing, not just in comics but in any form of communication. I blatantly contradict the thesis statement of the paragraph by the next sentence. Going forward in the paragraph what thought is the reader to think is trying to be conveyed? As the paragraph goes on, I found the thesis statement too confining to tell a “new, fresh relevant story” and thus changed to something completely different midstream. Finally the constraints of sentence syntax, grammar, and spelling all felt too constraining, and thus I had to ignore these. As a writer, I feel psyched about my new, “extremely creative” work. Unfortunately as a reader, I have no idea what idea is trying to be conveyed.

Continuity traverses the gamut of fictional history from major plot elements to more mundane types of continuity. From the visual, “Wasn’t Rachael wearing a sweater when we just saw her outside the coffee shop? Why is she in suspenders now?” to the technical “If these two characters talking on the phone are in the same city, why is it daytime for one and nighttime for the other.” Without continuity stories become illogical and range from implausible to impossible. The enjoyment of the fiction is hurt as the reader’s “suspension of disbelief” is simply strained too thin.

Continuity as applied to serial fiction generally takes on special significance and means plot elements that are shown through the story, remain in the story’s history. Imagine if you will watching an episode of your favorite television show (Star Trek, NCIS, Glee) and having a well-established plot point simply being ignored (“We are completely helpless to stop the tragedy Number One. If only we had a method of instantly transporting ourselves from our ship way up here to the planet surface way down there instantly!”, “Thanks for your help McGee. No problem Tony, after all I am the senior NCIS agent and always have been.”, “This Glee club would be a lot better if Sue Sylvester hadn’t formed it.”). Wait a minute?! Don’t we HAVE a transporter? Isn’t Tony the senior agent? Didn’t that guy with the perfect hair form the Glee club?

Comic books are one of the longest running, most prolific forms of serial fiction. The amount of “story” you achieve through each issue is relatively small. For example an average novel consists of 80,000-100,000 words. The number of words in an average comic book has been shrinking as the years go by. By a few accounts I have read online a comic book in 1964 had over 4000 words. With much variance, a comic today typically clocks in at less than 1500 words. Much of the story is ‘told’ through the artwork, but the main point is you are only receiving a very, very small part of a story in each issue of a comic book. It is only though the knitting of many such story fragments that characters, settings and HISTORY develop.

I contend that for myself as a reader, it is this character, setting and HISTORY that makes a compelling experience with comic books. Without these characteristics, Superman is not Superman. He is some strong guy who can fly. In comics, especially those of the independent publishers that sprung up like weeds in the 90s, we have a LOT of strong guys who can fly. They are not Superman. (How are the sales numbers on those Image characters Mr. Lee?). You’re literally KILLING OFF many of your audience’s best friends, replacing them with cheap copies, and hoping nobody notices. Hasn’t anyone taught you that keeping existing customers is cheaper and easier than ticking them all off and trying to replace them with new ones? Are you trying to kill off your existing customer base and then hope to replace us with cheap copies, too?

Retcons, or changes to this continuity that do not occur as the result of a story, NEVER work well. (And I do not include Crisis on Infinite Earths as a retcon. There basically was no continuity prior to it.) Retcons are the result of sloppy editorial control, poor storytelling and/or a lack of respect for the material. This opinion is not born, as has been suggested, over some need to make sure that my copy of Batman #256 remains relevant. It is born out of a respect for the story. And the big secret of retcons? You cannot be selective about them. As every time travel story has taught us, changing relatively minor things in the past have unexpected ripples in the present. With fiction this translates to “uncertainty”. If you change ANYTHING about the past, EVERYTHING about it is uncertain until “retold” through clumsy flashback stories. It all happened, or none of it happened.

DC comics in their Infinite wisdom have decided that as of this September, they will reboot their universe. They claim they need to do this to make comics "more identifiable and accessible to comic fans new and old." More likely, this is just another in a long line of marketing stunts to try and prop up a medium with sagging sales. In either case, it is a bad idea. As a long term fan, I certainly have no problem enjoying the stories. For a new reader, an understanding of the history need only be cursory to understand and enjoy a story, AND they have the choice to go to amazing depth in reading about a character’s mythos.

DC plans to go digital with this retcon and offer their comics through download. This is a great move and is long overdue, but does not explain the need to change continuity. They also plan to cancel all ongoing series and restart them all at #1. While this move evokes some emotional chagrin for collectors (some of these titles had over 900 consecutive issues) I say, “Hey, if you need a very short term sales boost THAT BAD…go for it. Again, this is NO REASON to change continuity. Do you really believe your average 7-16 year old, who is not interested in comics currently and is glued to an Xbox and iPod, is suddenly going to start reading comics because Superman is 10 years younger, single and hasn’t met Batman yet? Also DC, if you intend to attract these new young readers, do you intend to change your storylines so that they are age appropriate for this group?

I purchase approximately 1000 comic books per year. The rich story over hundreds of thousands of words and tens of thousands of images is what makes the experience compelling to me. Some directions that are taken in stories I like. Some directions I do not. But the one constant….is that the universe’s past is fixed. I do not have to constantly wonder, “Why doesn’t Superman recognize Batman?”, “Aren’t Lois and Clark married?”, “Aren’t Batman’s parents dead?”, “When did Wonder Woman come from Venus?”

DC Comics, I have followed you through a near Infinite number of Crises, watched while you exploded and imploded, and when you said jump ahead One Year Later, I asked how high. But this is the end of the road. I will not be following you into whatever your next story is. Your characters, settings and histories will not be these ones. You may have a trinity of a strong guy who flies, a dark knight, and a woman in a swimsuit (or whatever you are playing Barbie dress up with her these days) but you will not have Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. I think I prefer to head off to my paradise dimension than continue. So until “Crisis 2020 – The Search for More Cash” hits the newsstand/iTunes store, reinstating the current continuity…Make Mine Mar….er….Retro.

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Post by tony ingram on Sun Aug 19, 2012 3:36 pm

Nothing controversial there, as far as I can see. But I don't think CBR like you very much, Spek...
tony ingram
tony ingram

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Post by Sam_Vimes on Wed Aug 22, 2012 1:50 pm

I couldn't agree with this essay more (well, maybe a little more). Continuity isn't just some stupid thing that only nerds care about; EVERYONE cares about it, and every good story needs it. Some people just haven't caught on yet.

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