Friday, February 20, 2015

The Importance of Continuity or: How Marvel and DC Comics Lost Me.


Over the course of 2011 and 2012, I stopped reading mainstream comics. There were a variety of factors (loss of interest, event fatigue, boring stories, rehashed plot devices, etc.), but perhaps the death knell was DC Comics' New 52 universe reboot. I dropped DC Comics before that event took place. Not soon after, I stopped reading Marvel Comics. Though Marvel was not rebooting their universe at that time, they shared the same narrative problems as DC. Plus, I could instinctively see that they were going to reboot their universe as well -- it was just a matter of time. My prediction was right; Marvel is rebooting their universe in just a few months via the Secret Wars event.

Above all other aspects of a shared narrative universe, I value continuity most of all. Continuity is what holds a fictional universe together. Without continuity, you've just got a series of unrelated and inconsequential stories that have little bearing on each other. Ultimately, continuity is what adds importance to the stories that take place within the universe itself. Without it, those same stories are cheapened and bear little reason to exist.

If I'm going to take the time to read your story, then I need to know it has merit and value. Without continuity, then your story is meaningless because it bears no consequence. That's something I just won't waste my time reading. Hence, this is why I don't read mainstream comics anymore. The continuity factor has been devalued and nearly forgotten. Marvel and DC Comics stories carry no gravitas.

When a narrative universe undergoes a reboot, the continuity isn't the only thing that goes out the window. By essentially wiping the slate clean, you're saying that the old stories simply don't matter. Because they've been deleted from the current continuity for the sake of a fresh start, their bearing on the universe is no longer valid. Hence, they're merely useless exercises in story telling -- practice, to put it simply. No matter how well written and interesting those older stories may be, they're still irrelevant. It's no coincidence that I began selling my vast comic collection after I stopped reading mainstream comics. Without a continuity to add value to their existence, those old issues were pointless. Why would I want to keep old pieces of paper with stories that didn't technically happen? Other than the potential aftermarket collector value, the stories were worthless.

Why am I speaking about this today? I recently read an article on BleedingCool.com about DC Comics and their presentation at the annual 2015 ComicsPRO retailer summit. During their presentation, DC Comics senior staffers Dan DiDio, Jim Lee and Bob Wayne discussed what was going on at DC Comics. Specifically, they detailed the upcoming Convergence event, which again alters their all too brief current continuity (post New 52).

'Raiders of the Lost Ark' employs the tired deus ex machina plot device, thereby saving Indy at the very end by a contextually nonsensical magical act.

Using the villainous character Brainiac as a deus ex machina plot device, DC Comics will shuffle past and present iterations of characters, many from defunct and erased continuities to do... well something. Who knows what they will do at this point. Ultimately, does it even matter? There will be dozens of mini-series released during this Convergence event, profiling a plethora of characters. By the end of the series, Jim Lee stated that only the best stories would become canonical (meaning the "official" continuity). It's like Survivor for comics, only everyone loses. Wait, I have a better analogy...


Convergence is the Thunderdome of comic events. Two (or more) continuities enter, one continuity leaves.

I have a real problem with publishers and storytellers treating their universal continuity like a steel-cage combatant. Inherently, stories are subjective. Some readers may like a tale, others may not. Best is a relative term not easily defined. Also, by implying that you're only going to select the "best" published work, doesn't that reflect prior knowledge of an inferior product also being sold to readers? Why don't you only publish your "best" work to begin with?

History within a fictional narrative, once written and published, can not be erased. No matter how much you don't like something that happened in the past, it can not and should not be altered. The legacy of a story and the characters involved is what makes the present possible. Gutting your past just to make your current storytelling process easier is cheap and lazy. A great writer within a shared fictional universe, no matter how much they may dislike an event or something in a character's past, can build upon that failure to make something successful. Erasing continuity is a reflection of weak, confidence-lacking storytelling.

While I am most certainly in the minority with this opinion, I stand by my words. I don't know if the two mainstream publishers can ever win me back. This is one of those point of no return scenarios. I'd be curious for you to share your thoughts with me on this matter in the comment section. Does continuity matter to you? If not, please explain why.


1 comment:

  1. What is the point of having a history if it will never affect your future? Why bother? It is just lazy.

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