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« 6/28/2006 | Main | In a Democracy, no one can hear you vote »

Continuity - it's up to you!

From the best editor in comics today (and next in line for EIC if i have my way), Tom Brevoort:

Continuity. Some people have asked about it, and its role in comic book storytelling. So here's what I can tell you:

Continuity is a tool. It is not an end in and of itself. The purpose of continuity is to enhance stories, the purpose of stories is not to enhance continuity.

Every reader has their own continuity that's important to them. One guy won't mind if you disregard a story published ten years ago in some way, where to another guy, that was his favorite story of all time, and the reason he's a fan in the first place. You can never please everybody.

Continuity was never as seamless as everybody seems to remember it being. We may have spent more effort concealing it, but there was never a point where everything came off flawlessly. But again, see previous point: for people reading ten years ago, they may not have cared about the continuity of twenty years ago the same way the older guys did.

Most continuity is off-the-cuff. Which is to say that we sort of know vaguely which storyline in the assorted Spider-Man books happens when, but we don't obsess over it needlessly, to the exclusion of everything else. As said previously, it's never going to be perfect, and spending too much effort trying to make it so has diminishing returns.

The Marvel of the 1980s, embodied by Mark Gruenwald, promoted a specific approach to continuity, one that the readership as a whole has been trained to accept as "proper" continuity. But even Mark's guidelines, much as I love him, are crazily restrictive at times. And, for example, now that Mark is no longer with us, neither are his rules for how time travel must function within the Marvel U.

I'm going to be explaining Nick Fury in IRON MAN every month until the storyline is done, I can see. Short answer: when we began work on that storyline, we couldn't be sure A) when these issus were going to ship, because we weren't sure when the Warren and Adi run would be wrapped, and B) when the end of SECRET WAR was going to ship. So we proceeded with Fury in place. As it worked out, SECRET WAR #5 came out first, and finally established Fury's status quo at that point in the Marvel Universe. But we've already established in the NEW AVENGERS ILLUMINATI Special that SHIELD has been using a sophisticated Fury LMD to stand in for Nick and cover his disappearance--so you can assume that the Fury in IRON MAN is probably the LMD (same as in HULK #88-91, as well as one or two other places that I'm not going to point out--why ask for trouble?)

It used to be that the fans were the ones who worked at making the continuity function, coming up with rationales for how mistakes weren't mistakes. Heck, we used to give out No-Prizes for just that. But in the last decade, that seems to have changed, and rather than being challenged by continuity, most vocal fans today seem irritated by it, demanding explanations for every seeming inconsistency, and not bringing any thought to the matter themselves. Not that they're required to especially, but it seems like a somewhat more productive approach if something bothers you than just complaining about it everywhere.

So who wants to help me read through all my comics and make sure they're in chronological order?

By fnord12 | June 28, 2006, 9:27 AM | Comics



Here's Keith Giffen's (longtime comic artist/plotter) currently writing annihilation & storyboarding 52) on continuity. It's from his Wizard column on-line.

"Continuity: How important is it?

Not at all. Continuity hamstrings story and keeps comics inaccessible to casual readers. Consistency�d be the more important thing. No, they�re not the same thing. Think about it."

While i agree with Breevort, i don't agree with Giffen, or i don't understand his distinction between continuity and consistency. It's important that, if Spider-Man fights Dr. Octopus in issue #3, he remembers and acts like he fought Dr. Octopus when he meets him again in issue #11. That's the basics of continuity. Some writers (HUDLIN!!!) believe that if they think they can tell a better story by having Spider-Man meet Dr. Octopus and react as if he had never seen him before, they should be allowed to do so with no regard what's already happened. If the goal of the comic company is to attract new regular readers, this seems to be more confusing than appealing.

The appeal of Marvel, from the early days, has always been that the characters lived in a shared universe and there was an internal consistency to that universe. If the X-Men fought the Juggernaut and send him into a different dimension, he wouldn't just show up again in the X-Men without an explanation of how he escaped, and, even better, he actually shows up next in a Dr. Strange story where Dr. Strange was travelling through dimensions and sees him, and then later in the Hulk where scientists trying to get rid of the Hulk by sending him into a different dimension actually bring the Juggernaut back by mistake. It just makes for a larger, more epic story, bigger than any one writer or comic book. I agree with Breevort that there were always mistakes and craziness and that continuity itself shouldn't be the focus of storytelling in Marvel comics, and that fans shouldn't freak out when something goes wrong, but it shouldn't be disgregarded.

Giffen is primarily a DC writer, and DC has gone through so many contortions trying to get their continuity in shape, so maybe that's where he's coming from. I wonder if DC needs to just sort of let go on their continuity a little bit, stop trying to "fix" it. It was always a Marvel innovation and maybe it's not an area that DC needs to compete.

It's always nice when your anti-DC bias shows up. While I know your not saying this, your final argument basically feels like, "He's DC, I don't like DC, so he's wrong." Besides, he did write the best silver surfer issue in a long time.

Anyway, I feel like he's actually of similar mind to Brevoort, unless I'm completely mis-interpreting him, and is trying to create a new vocabulary in which to communicate. Continuity has become this crazy, morass of concepts, which, in many places hampers many writers abilities to tell a basic story. I'm talking about the nit-pickers out there who need to know how every little detail fits, rather then accepting minor 'mistakes' and assuming such things happen. thus "Spidey tore that shirt in issue 250! how dare the artist/editor/writer/printer not know that! This story sucks!" to "Spidey bought the same shirt. Ok." Consistency, as I think Giffen is using it, is how you and I tend to discuss continuity. Here, batman isn't shown with a different robin in every single issue (without an explanation). hulk can show up in ff in NYC when he's in vegas in the same month in his own book. let the continuity-nuts figure out exactly how this happens. They'll do it. we don't have to. (super-large stories are the exception to this in my mind like the current planet hulk/annihilation bit, and that awful busiek Kang thing.) I, think, this is how brevoort, giffen, you and I view continuity. (although I think you and giffen maybe on opposite ends, but closer than you think.)

And, it should be noted, Roy Thomas really invented the concepts of continuity using the characters owned by DC of the 40's fitting a ton of disparate stories together. and we saw it in the fifties comics of dc as well (granted, not like at marvel). The continuity of Marvel (which I love, mind you) was only new based on its scope. Stan Lee wrote all the Marvel titles. Every writer always connected the various stories/characters they wrote to some extent. didn't howard (who wrote conan, i think) have all his characters in the same 'world?' (though there were shipping rules that said within anthologies, there must be at least two stories with no repeating characters. it's complicated). granted, noone did it like Lee. and he was a great self-promoter/salesman. Having hulk pop-up in captain america for a panel promoted the Hulk comic. Just like avengers was put together to promote some 'lesser' characters. it was all to sell comics and since lee was editor and writer it was easy to do. (and he did it great, and comics were better for it.) It was thomas, in an insane fannish way, that really formalized continuity. anyway, since the 50's at least, DC clearly had a shared universe (but, again, not the continuity of marvel). there is no doubt about either one of those statements.