Welcome To My Nightmare

I interrupt my own regularly scheduled column for two important announcements.

First, my condolences to the family and friends and fans of Mike Wieringo. For those who may not have heard, the artist affectionately known as “Ringo!” passed away much too young of a sudden heart attack. He was one of the good guys in the industry, a phenomenal talent, and he will be missed.

Second, I am still waiting to hear from artists! I want to do a contest for you talented guys and gals but I don’t want to post something and get no responses. I’ve heard from one person so far, but I want to hear from the rest of you (I know you’re out there). If you’re an artist, let me know. If you know an artist, tell them to let me know too! Operators are standing by.

I now return you to my regularly scheduled column, already in progress.

Welcome to a whole new and decidedly different nightmare — the first ever Welcome To My Nightmare Readers Roundtable! This time, you’re driving. I’m handing the keys to a cadre of readers, a cabal of pontificators, and just some all around swell peeps. These folks were randomly selected from my inbox simply because they took a few minutes to write me, some from as far back as my Minority Report series. They’ve agreed to join me for a broad discussion of a singular topic. I’ll introduce our topic in a minute, but first, lets meet our players! We’re using only first names or whatever they sign their emails with to protect the innocent, even though we all know if you’re reading my column you’re already guilty by association.

Soak is an irrigation specialist from Pittsburgh (we’ve actually met!) who is working very diligently to bring the old Roman Aqueduct system back to prominence in America. He can usually be found at Pirates games messing up the words to Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung” when they play it between innings (it’s Aqua-LUNG, lad, not Aque-DUCT) but he does a very fine, American Idol finalist-worthy performance of the Pirates’ “It’s Time To Catch Some Meat” song.

Greg is a writer and comedian who has not appeared in such films as Caddyshack, The 5th Element, Waterworld, and the as yet unreleased Carlos Mencia biography. His favorite comic story of all time is Sins Past, but he’s in the closet about it. Greg lives out on the East Coast with a girlfriend from the Ultimates universe, and despite that being totally unnecessary with all the available babes in our own universe, we’re all intensely jealous.

Brian is a dog who enjoys his liquor, redheads and scooting his taint across the carpet. He also founded the “Invisible Classic” publishing house, where he writes and prints the greatest stories never told. Brian lives near at least two pro baseball teams but is a hockey fan instead. I mean seriously, who the hell watches hockey?

Colin is a hosehead from the Great White North, eh, who probably DOES watch hockey even though his nation’s official sport is Lacrosse. When not passed out from overindulging in Elsinore beer in the hopes of finding a mouse in a bottle, Colin serves as a cultural anthropologist and geography expert for the Royal Bank of Canada. Why a bank needs a cultural anthropologist is anyone’s guess, but no doot aboot it it’s a beauty gig, eh?

Adam is a man with no past but a bright future. He was a wandering amnesiac who one day found himself in a comic shop. It took three years of intense therapy with that psychologist from the Geico commercial to convince him that he wasn’t Adam Strange, just visiting Earth after riding a Zeta Beam from the planet Rann. But it could have been worse — he could have walked into a Sports Authority and thought he was Adam “Pacman” Jones.

Eric has asked me not to tell you about his leather fetish, his ability to either speak or read 16 languages but inability to do both in any of them or his love of kumquats. So I won’t. I’ll just tell you that you should never get between a biker and his kumquats, especially when he’s speaking Farsi.

MCF is fifth in the order of succession to inherit homeboy MCA’s spot in the Beastie Boys. When MCE became gravely ill with lead poisoning, MCF was “a person of interest”. However he was cleared fro suspicion when it was discovered that MCE liked to chew on Polly Pocket’s feet, and those toys were made with lead-based paint. The moral here is don’t have a foot fetish, because you could get gravely ill. And it’s gross. Fortunately for him, MCF does not stand for “Must Consume Feet” (as far as we know).

And of course I stick my $0.02 in as well from time to time. My picture is the one at the top, if you hadn’t figured that out by now. Now for our topic:

Continuity: For (like DC) or Against (like Quesada)?

Greg: The first time I truly understood the concept of continuity was when “Gargoyles” came to The Disney Afternoon on Friday afternoons. Before then, pretty much any cartoon I watched…unless it was the pilot or a multi-part story, it didn’t matter when an episode aired. But “Gargoyles” challenged and engaged 16 year-old me on a whole other level…suddenly I had to pay attention to actions, reactions, motivations and epiphanies. Because what I saw one day had a very good chance of being important next week, next month or even next season. I still think about “Hunter’s Moon” from time to time and get CHILLS.

So I am absolutely on the side of continuity. No successful story can thrive without it. You can’t build a fanbase without it. It keeps you invested in a story, a series, a group of characters…you watch them grow, and you feel as though you’re part of their lives. When it’s done right, it creates suspense and anticipation for the future, and makes you care all the more. Will the hero triumph? Maybe s/he did today, but what about tomorrow? Has the villain been truly neutralized? Will s/he be back? Oh man, what’s gonna happen when/if s/he comes back?!

Continuity is a very important and precious commodity. It binds a comic book universe together, and creates a history and tapestry that you can enjoy piece by piece, or as a construct that becomes bigger than any one artist. And indeed, continuity helps things make sense…especially when a universe is chock full of people who boast powers and abilities that boggle the mind.

Of course, I am a proponent of continuity because I am first and foremost a Marvel fan. From the very start, Marvel was all about continuity. Specifically, a very detail-oriented continuity. And they had to be – if they had any chance to succeed as a publisher, Marvel needed to give the readers something different than what was already on the market. And that’s what set them apart from DC.

I want to make this distinction, because DC too has it’s own continuity, but it is one that isn’t so intricate. DC deals in broad strokes – that’s why if you keep changing what Krypton looked like, it doesn’t really matter. The broad stroke of it is, Krypton was a planet full of extraordinary things, and yet for all their brilliance only one man knew the end was near. Does it matter what the buildings looked like? No. Does it matter what Jor El wore? No. Sure I would like it if they could pick one set of details and STICK WITH IT, but that’s only because I’m a Marvel dude at the core.

But understanding that difference, I can enjoy the “Under the Hood” Batman storyline even though Jason Todd’s resurrection was made possible by something as absurd as Superboy Prime punching a cosmic barrier. What’s important is how it affects Batman. And I can also enjoy “Superman: Birthright,” even though the “Man of Steel” origin story is still a fresh memory.

HOWEVER, over at Marvel, I do recognize that Ed Brubaker absolutely needed to make sure his explanation for Becky Barnes’ survival and re-emergence as the Winter Soldier had to be JUST RIGHT, or it wouldn’t have worked and nobody would’ve taken it seriously. And every time Tony Stark’s origin is re-written, I become VERY annoyed.

So with each universe, these details come with their own rules, that no matter what any given writing or artistic “superstar” may say, still apply even in 2007. I’ve heard people say that the modern age saw a lot of “cross-pollination” between the Big Two, and that may be so…but the core is still intact. That core is its continuity, and when comic book creators do right by that core, that makes me a satisfied customer and fuels my desire to be a part of the industry as a writer myself.
I could easily get into what it makes me feel to see that core abused, but that’s not the question at hand…not yet, anyway. 😉

And one more thing…why isn’t “Stan Lee Presents” on the Marvel title pages anymore? I asked Peter David once – he signed every issue I had of Captain Marvel…I’ll say this right now – I LOVE legacy heroes! – and he said it was some kind of contract buyout…but I think the removal of “Stan Lee Presents” is a very clear point of departure for all the things we’ve seen in Marvel that feels so wrong…look at your comics, literally it’s like “Stan Lee” disappears, then BOOM – “Sins Past!” No lie!

It’s just too peculiar to be a coincidence – it’s like when somebody takes off their wedding band right before they embark on an extramarital affair.

Jeff: Funny how things come full circle. DC’s early days were episodic and loose. Heck all the way into the 70s DC had a status quo policy. Nothing changed. Ever. Until the Watchmen and Dark Knight broke the wall down. Until O’Neill and Adams started doing some socially conscious material. Marvel was the place for the never-ending soap opera, DC was disposable entertainment. But when they grabbed hold of the concept, boy did they ever! Now they’re incredibly intricate with their continuity. But Marvel, under the reign of Quesada, just doesn’t want to bother with it. As long as it makes a buck, they’ll keep telling the same old story as many new was as possible. They’ve become what DC once was.

Greg: You couldn’t be more right…but that’s not to say an episodic approach isn’t cool – I’d like that from time to time, no matter the universe…sometimes I don’t wanna feel like I’ve committed myself to a long, drawn-out roller coaster if all I wanted was a quick spin on the merry go round. BUT, I don’t think it’s asking too much for any single-contained story NOT to contradict something that came before it…

But yeah, as far as Quesada goes, it’s almost as if he’s trying to transform Marvel into what DC used to be, in some strange attempt to preserve the marketability of the characters and add to their longevity…and then wonders why he’s being met with so much resistance! It’s because you’re messing with the rules of the Marvel Universe, and messing with what made the Marvel Universe so special! That’s like deciding halfway through a chess game, that you’re gonna take your knight, and multi-jump half your opponent’s pieces. And then when he looks at you cross-eyed, you go, “What? More people will play if we do it this way! Oh, and by the way, I jumped your rook. Draw four.”

Brian: In talking about cartoons, I think the best example of continuity done right is the Justice League/Justice League Unlimited shows. I especially have loved the development of Hawkgirl/John Stewart GL. Again, that made me actually care about those characters, particularly Shayera, who would have normally just been a role player for me. Too bad that show ended.

Greg: Absolutely…I think there was an obligation there, too…Paul Dini, Bruce Timm and company had created something that started with Batman that just kept building and building…and you were left with a full-blown animated universe that resonated with the fans, and the expectations were there…I remember tuning in to the series premiere of Superman: TAS, just thinking…”are they gonna mention Batman?” and then Ma Kent makes a remark about “that nut down in Gotham City” and I PLOTZED inside.

Jeff: Why is it when you said PLOTZED I immediately thought of Berke Breathed’s “Bloom County”? Man I miss that. Vote Bill the Cat and Opus in 2008!

Soak: I guess I would have to say I am for it. I understand that is hard to deal with years and years of stories, but these people are professional writers. They should be able to do at least a little research for stories. Right now I think DC is way ahead of the game with keeping things in continuity than marvel is.

Greg: Totally. I keep coming back to the rules…but anybody who decides to flat out ignore the rules of the universe they work in…from the writer to the editor who ultimately lets it through, is cheapening their profession and cheating their readers out of a truly good story. Avengers: Disassembled won’t ever be in the same league as Ultron Unlimited, Kang War, or Avengers Forever…and it’s not because Kurt Busiek is a better storyteller. It’s because Bendis was a LAZIER one.

Jeff: But is DC more guilty than Marvel of rewriting history? They keep everything on the same page, so to speak, across the board, but with Crisis #1, Zero Hour, Crisis #2 and presumably Countdown, aren’t they doing just as much to rewrite continuity as Marvel does by simply ignoring it?

Brian: Hey, it’s okay Jeff, if there is a problem in DC continuity, Superboy Prime will just start punching a wall, and everything will be OK.

Greg: DC is way guiltier…but I think DC’s universe allows for the flexibility. Sure, thinking about multiverses and hypertime and this and that makes my head hurt, but that’s how DC has always been. That universe can withstand change for change’s sake, because of the pure-iconic, larger than life nature of their characters.

MCF: I have to agree with SOAK with DC keeping their continuity consistent. Sure, they may revise continuity ever decade or so, but at least they continue to acknowledge history as accurately as possible at the time of publication. Let’s see Marvel pull that off, especially in everything they’ve done since Tom DeFalco left the EIC seat oh so many years ago.

Adam: I’m not a huge DC fan so everything I have to say about them is admittedly biased. That said I do think they’re continuity has been so bastardized that it has tarnished the overall history. That’s a real shame as a lot of their characters have rich histories, it’s just now I struggle to take them seriously. I think in this instance Marvel is certainly less guilty of retcons.

Colin: But at least DC doing these events is an admission that they’re going to switch things up a little. Marvel ignoring continuity just seems like they’re trying to pull the wool over our eyes so they can get away with not doing any research, or perhaps saying “no” to Bendis. “Sorry BMB, but we can’t have you doing such-and-such because precedent was set before that so-and-so doesn’t do this-and-that.” That’s an actual conversation that Joey Q’s never had.

Greg: And let’s not forget – let’s NOT forget, Dude – there is something to be said for your boss telling you “No, we can’t do this.” Because for another thing, there’s good reason behind it – because if you go the route you want, you may write yourself into a corner for instance, and that results in a story best left for “Elseworlds” or “What If?” And for another, it forces an artist to really get clever…and THAT may result in something even better than you planned. I have a writing buddy Ryan, who just got back from the San Diego Con, and he got to meet one of his favorite writers of all time – Karl Kesel – and had a lengthy discussion about his run on the character that inspired Ryan to become a comic writer – namely, Kon-El/Superboy. Now, as it turns out…Karl Kesel had wanted to make Superboy a clone of Superman or of Lex Luthor HIMSELF – which is what Geoff Johns eventually got to do in “Teen Titans” – but DC told him he couldn’t.

As it turned out, basing Superboy off of Dr. Paul Westfield as Karl did, is EXACTLY what resonated with my friend in the first place. Because here you had a character who had NO link to Superman whatsoever, but was given the once in a lifetime chance to BECOME Superman during the “Reign of the Superman” storyline and beyond. To my friend, that was a powerful testament to the nature of heroism, and the innate ability that we all possess, that potential to BE a hero. All because somewhere, an editor said “no.”

To Be Continued…

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