Welcome To My Nightmare

I interrupt my own regularly scheduled column for an important announcement.

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.

ALSO: I want to hear from some of my female readers. I’d like to do a piece on women in comics, and it doesn’t matter if you’re a ergular female consumer or a female creator working in the industry (c’mon Gail Simone, I know you’re out there). Give me a shout and let me know your around, and I’ll dedicate a future column to you!

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

We’re back and we’re discussing the pros and cons of Continuity in my first Readers Roundtable. Let’s pick it up with Adam!

Adam: Damn that’s a tough question to answer in a few words so I won’t even try. I have to say I’m leaning more towards saying a big fat ‘for’ but I as I have said in emails to the Insidepulse Nexus team before I do long for singular stories where Spidey beats on a villain. Not everything has to be billed with ‘long term repercussions’ to be good. I also think it does make it hard for new readers to pick up issues, get involved with stories, and support titles long term.

I think from the standpoint of these big events it depends on how the event is handled. For me House of M felt forced, Civil War had real big holes in it, it’s only WWH that I am really enjoying but that is largely due to the back story of Planet Hulk.

If used right continuity can be the greatest weaponry writer (or artists) arsenal. I’m sure I’ve marked out for nods to “the little things” before. But by the same token most of us have probably cried out in horror at blatant memory lapses by creative staff and editors.
I guess I would only want to lose continuity as a reader because it got in the way of enjoyment. Currently it’s not at that level but in ten years who knows?

MCF: I agree with ADAM almost 100%, in the sense that not everything has to be important or significant in that character’s history. There are times for stories with major impact (or at least the creator hopes to have a major impact, e.g. JMS’ Sins Past), and then there should be small done-in-one stories that provides a good solid story within the span of 22-24 pages (Paul Jenkins and Zeb Wells are 2 writers that excel at the latter).

Jeff: I would think singular, self-contained stories would or could still be in continuity. I absolutely agree that blatant memory lapses make me cry. In the heat of the Avengers getting whooped by the Scarlet Witch, Dr. Strange shows up and finds out that Wanda was freaking out about her kids. Doc asks, “What kids?” There’s a two or four page flashback to West Coast Avengers and then the good Doctor declares, “I delivered those children myself!” AAARRRGGH! C’MON BENDIS! Proofread!! And I can blame him directly because it obvious nobody in editorial is going to tell Bendis to fix anything. Strange remembers where he keeps the Eye of Agamotto and recalls how to conjure a Seraphim Shield but doesn’t remember his delivery of magic/mutant/imaginary twins who may or may not be running around with the Young Avengers? Grrrrr…

Greg: House of M was forced because Disassembled was, and atrociously so. Not only that, but because Avengers: The Crossing and Onslaught are still fresh memories for me, there are way too many parallels for me to not think maybe they should’ve waited another ten or twenty years before they tried “A longtime Avenger ‘snaps’, betrays teammates, results in a mutant transforming reality while Tony Stark gets screwed up somewhere along the way” again. I can’t even form a coherent thought about Civil War without frothing at the mouth and barking hysterically.

World War Hulk actually works in a way that the others don’t, because the chain of events have a natural flow, they don’t contradict anything else to my knowledge, and even if you took out the bulls*** shoe-horn of the “Illuminati,” the story would work just fine on its own:

* SHIELD calls Hulk in to defuse a HYDRA gamma bomb out in Nevada; it goes off in his face.

* Now loaded with an even higher level of gamma-irradiation, the Hulk goes on a crazy-ass rampage.

* The Thing and the Human Torch BARELY stop him this time, and as a result the “Illuminati” decide to send him to another planet so as to keep Earth safe.

How hard was it to let the story unfold in a natural way, here? Not at all, right?

Brian: I think one of the great points here that Adam is making is that every time a writer wants to write an individual Spidey story, he shouldn’t have to do hours of research to make sure everything is in pure continuity. I have more of a problem with a writer forgetting something or ignoring something major. If you are going to do your own take on a character, fine. But respect the character enough to know if “oh, whoops, a few months ago, that hero/villain was actually killed. How are they showing up here at this moment?”

Greg: I can agree with this somewhat…I mean, for an individual Spider-Man story, if you want to use, say, Electro, you shouldn’t have to know every little thing about him…BUT, you should at least be aware of two things – (1), what happened the VERY LAST time Electro and Spider-Man met, and (2) anything that might relate to the story you want to tell. One of the things that bugged the holy hell out of me when JMS was writing “Fantastic Four” was how he wrote the return of Doctor Doom when Mjolnir landed in Oklahoma. Doom made his big entrance and the only thing the FF said came from Reed Richards: “No…it’s not possible…we left you in hell, with no way out.”
I’m sorry, but…WHAT?! You say this to the guy who possessed your daughter, trapped your son in Hell, and set your wife on fire?! As of their last encounter – Mark Waid’s “Unthinkable” and “Authoritative Action,” specifically – the antagonism between the FF and Dr. Doom was full-blown HATRED. And not only that, Reed was able to retrieve Doom from Hell HIMSELF, and he even acknowledged himself that Doom would be “running Hell within months.”

For another example…how about Mark Millar’s “Marvel Knights: Spider-Man” – the 12 issue run that some people nicknamed “SHUSH” (Spider-HUSH) – specifically, the auctioning of the Venom symbiote…which is all well and nice, but it ignores the fact that over in “Spectacular Spider-Man,” Paul Jenkins had the Venom symbiote PERMANENTLY bonded to Eddie Brock. Granted, this may have been an unpalatable dead-end for both the symbiote AND Eddie, but shouldn’t there have been an explanation of some kind as opposed to just plain ignoring that point?

Brian: I’m curious to read the She-Hulk issue that is supposed to fix all of Marvel’s continuity problems.

Jeff: Um…I like Dan Slott, I really do, and I tend not to like “funny” books, so for me to champion the Slottster is high praise. But should She-Hulk really be the “cure all” book for the Marvel Continuity Conundrum? After all, the last issue seemed to admit to a readership of under 30,000. Back before WWII average comics were seeing 15-20 times that sort of circulation. Jim Lee books do big numbers. Dan Slott books, while fun and refreshing after a dozen issues of Iron Man fascism and Mutant oppression, just doesn’t do the volume. What good does it do to fix continuity if only 27,000 folks see it? Or is that the point? Like a tree falling silently in the woods if nobody’s there to hear it, maybe Marvel figures fanboys like us are a small enough minority that they can appease us without really reversing their policy. “Here, retcon the whole Marvel Universe in She-Hulk, use Exiles if you have any spill-over, and that’ll keep those 27,000 clods who read She-Hulk and Welcome To My Nightmare happy.” To which I say, “Hey, Fabian Nicieza reads my column! Are you calling him a ‘clod’? Because while I didn’t often agree with his T-Bolts, he still does a lot of things right. And the Nightmare-In-Chief protects his own!”

Brian: But then, when the rest of the comic fans realize that particular She-Hulk issue might be a key story, it will shoot the value of the comic up to about $25 in thirty seconds, just like She-Hulk #8. Sigh. Sometimes I hate the comic book industry.

Colin: “I’m sure I’ve marked out for nods to “the little things” before” How great was it back in the day, when characters would reference past events and whatnot, and an asterisk would lead you to the box telling you in what issue to find it? They were even better when they had the Stan Lee hacky alliteration.

Adam: Maybe a future roundtable or Nightmare write-in could feature the worst continuity blunders? Actually scrap that, it’d be too heart breaking to try and read…

MCF: I am definitely pro continuity, simply because many of my favorite comic book stories would not have been possible without the rich history both Marvel and DC Comics have accumulated over the years.

Writers who take the effort and care to use continuity to build their stories (e.g. Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, Kurt Busiek) have given us very enjoyable projects such as Crisis on Infinite Earths, JLA/Avengers, 52, and Identity Crisis. It is also my belief that continuity enriches the characters, e.g. the marriage of Superman and Lois Lane, Kitty Pryde growing up, Tim Drake growing into the role of Robin. It gives these fictional creations a sense of history and background, making them more three-dimensional and real versus new characters.

I mean just read titles like JSA, Starman, and Animal Man for crying out loud!

Of course there is a downside to being slavishly devoted to continuity or the creators’ ego getting in the way of producing a good story (e.g. what John Byrne did to Donna Troy, Spider-Man: Year One, the Spider-Clone saga), but overall I think the good outweigh the bad.

By choosing to tell stories in a vacuum without acknowledging (or worse, ignoring altogether) past history, I always felt that the resultant stories are hollow and unimportant. How many of those Chuck Austen or Joe Casey Uncanny X-Men stories are referenced today? What about Joss Whedon’s over-hyped run on Astonishing X-Men? Christopher Golden and Berni Wrightson’s Punisher?

Maybe that’s why I tend to gravitate towards DC Comics titles. Even at their absolute worst in the dark 1990s with the death of Superman, crippling of Batman, turning Hal Jordan into a psychopath, they still acknowledged continuity (acknowledgment does not necessarily mean respect though).

Any decision to simply undo history (good or otherwise) smacks of desperate revisionism and Marvel Comics is more guilty of this than anything else with god-awful stuff like Sins Past, Tony Stark’s continually revised origins, the constant backpedaling of Wolverine’s history, or the god-awful Avengers: The Crossing crossover from the late 1990s.

In my defense, let it not be said that I expect every single comic book story I like to be weighed down by decades of continuity. I totally love what Brian Michael Bendis is doing on Ultimate Spider-Man, Mark Millar on Ultimates, Garth Ennis on Punisher, Grant Morrison on All Star Superman, and many others that have slipped my mind at the moment.

Brian: Great point about Robin and Kitty. I think that’s what the basis of continuity should be all about, development of character.

Eric: I think that DC is guiltier of re-writing continuity than Marvel. With all of the Crises rewriting continuity (Along with their Year One series, Hawkman edits, and Superman: Birthrights off the top of my head), DC tweaks its history almost constantly. What I like about DC is that it is acknowledged and part of the universe, in an almost meta way. For example, all of the worlds destroyed in the first Crisis in the DC Universe did exist, even when no one remembers them, and that is why characters like Lady Quark and Power Girl are around. A favorite example of this is when the JSA was traveling through time, and when they hit the year 1985, Power Girl essentially had a seizure. OK, talking about continuity gives me a head ache. I need to sit down.

Greg: I think on the one hand, A lot of the above examples were more of creators’ egos, and I think we see a lot more of that these days…Spider-Man: Year One is one example. I couldn’t speak on Donna Troy as I don’t know what happened there…the Spider-Clone saga just got away from Marvel, I think…but I did enjoy it – and I will place that storyline over “The Other,” “Back in Black” or anything else I’ve seen since “Sins Past” precisely because at least there, the characterizations weren’t forced …even if some of the dialogue was. Not only that, but at least the Spider-Clone Saga didn’t undermine any other storylines going on in Marvel at the time – not like how “Back in Black” did to “”The Devil Takes a Ride.”

Jeff: Hey, I liked “Sins Past“! What? I did! I know it tarnished lil’ Gwen’s squeaky image, but there’s probably a reason why Pete still pines for her even though he’s married to a crazy pornstar-esque redhead. Gwen was a SUPERFREAK! SUPERFREAK! SHE’S SUPERFREAKY, OWWWWW! Oh yeah, I don’t know that Austen’s X-Men will be anything greatly remembered, but I give him props for trying. For the longest time we readers were begging for someone other than Claremont to tell some X-Stories. Do something new. And then Chuck did and got all manner of s*** for it. Poor guy. Frankly, I miss him (drop me a line, Chuck Austen! I enjoyed the Boys of Summer manga too!). But waitaminute…did my homeboy MCF just say he likes Ultimates stuff?!? Roundtables, transform and attack!

Adam: Hey I’m cool with (some of) Ultimate Fantastic Four. It’s just the other stuff disappoints me a little. I think Sins Past is a fantastic example of retconning dividing the community. It stands both as a ‘clever’ take on an old story and helps try and shake up the modern Spidey universe. In doing so it does (obviously) change the Spideyverse history a lot. It alters our perceptions of one of the defining characters that have since made Spidey who he is. In case anyone’s wondering, this is one of those times I hate continuity. 😉

Soak: I’ll give me 2 cents about the ultimate-verse. I was a big fan at 1st. Being out of comics for as long as I was this was a fresh new start with some of my favorite characters without me worrying about what had happened in the years I took off from reading comics. For me that was a new continuity that I could jump into. Just recently though I have dropped ultimate x-men even though I have the full run so far and the same with ultimate FF. I just wasn’t enjoying the stories anymore.

MCF: In defense of the Ultimates line, yes, it has accumulated quite a bit of continuity over the years but the various titles under this imprint have managed to keep themselves separate for the most part with the exception of the occasional guest appearance. This keeps things simple! (I don’t read Ultimate X-Men and Ultimate Fantastic Four, so I’m not familiar with what’s going on with both books). Its just that things are much more solid and consistent with the Ultimates line, without any of the reboots or retcon normally associated with decades old superhero comics.

This is partially due to the relative youth of the Ultimate line, but I think it is also due to the effort made by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar to keep things straight and not simply revising a character’s history simply to tell a “shocking” story.

And that is why I no longer read the mainstream Marvel Universe books… they’re a frickin’ mess! I don’t want to read comics that are set in a place where Tony Stark is a douchbag, Steve Rogers is dead, Elektra is a Skrull, Wolverine and Spider-Man are members of the Avengers, and Scarlet Witch is a nutball! I do buy Marvel Comics titles… but none of them have anything to do with Earth-616.

Worst of all is the use of continuity, but conveniently forgetting/ignoring details such as what’s going on in the Marvel Universe over the past 6-7 years.

Colin: And just what is Joe Q thinking, anyway, that “Continuity should not get in the way of good stories”. If that’s the line, ok, but why does every new event have to be a continuation from the previous one? They’re trying to create more excitement for a story by conjuring up memories of the one before it, why not put their moneys where their mouths are?

I’ve had it with this just hope they don’t notice attitude regarding continuity errors. I just wish that Marvel would get the balls to really ignore the continuity for a “good story”. If, as Quesada says, many a good Spidey story is not being told because he’s married, have him not be married anymore. Publish the next issue of Amazing with Spider-Man using his costume to bang every girl in town who ever told Pete to buzz off, and when everyone asks why isn’t Peter home with MJ, “MJ who? Oh, you mean that girl Aunt May set him up with years ago? You remember that?” “Yeah, they’re married. Have been for years.” “No they’re not. Who said they were really married?”

Greg: And somewhere, right this moment, Grant Morrison’s just popped a woody and he doesn’t know why. Because Colin’s above remark is a storyline just waiting to happen…

I have a long list of people who I hope have what I like to call “The Revelation.” That’s the moment where the collective memory and impact all of the truly crass, callous, self-serving, narcissistic and flat-out stupid things you’ve done in life hits you all at once…and it makes you realize just how much of a putz you can be at times. I only pray that I’ll be in earshot when Joey Q. has that moment and asks himself: “Holy wow…why didn’t somebody SLAP me?” Because if THAT’s not a job for Greg, I don’t know what is!

Point being…A GOOD STORY IS NOTHING WITHOUT CONTINUITY. NO professional artist or storyteller should be allowed to think otherwise. The alternative cheapens us all.

Jeff: But the alternative, to Quesada’s way of thinking, is going to sell more books. If they take away the trappings of continuity, they’ll be free to play in the sandbox again. They won’t have to tiptoe around what Stan, Claremont, Roy Thomas, Mark Gruenwald or anyone else has done before them. And Joe is absolutely convinced that he doesn’t have higher sales because new readers don’t know what’s going on. Heaven forbid you work WITH continuity instead of against it. Paul Jenkins made a tremendous case for this with The Sentry. It was fabulous how he shoehorned this character into the Marvel Universe without falling into that Alternate Reality/Time Traveler trap.

Greg: I think we were all ready for someone other than Claremont and Lobdell to take a crack at the X-Men, and I think Chuck Austen did try to do some pretty cool things…except that from what I read, his forays into adult themes were way too clumsy…and that’s me being generous. Remember that one scene during his attempt at mimicking Romeo & Juliet, that depicted Paige Guthrie and Warren Worthington, engaging in intimate behavior with Paige’s mother watching? Naturally, I didn’t but that issue so I can’t cite the number, but…EUUGH!

And then there was She-Hulk and Juggernaut…followed by a quick trip to the Avengers, where he had to go and shove Wasp & Hawkeye at each other…the man just wasn’t right in the head, and I think somebody in editorial should’ve smacked him with a rolled-up copy of his script and said…NO.

Brian: Man, if there was a case for destroying continuity, you just made it. I used to be probably the biggest She-Hulk fan in comics, but now she’s Juggy’s sloppy seconds? Ugh. So, should really, really bad stories be retconned?

Greg: See, what I think the overall thing that the present generation of creators and editors don’t seem to understand, is when you have the chance to work on characters and a universe that has been around for decades, they are being given the opportunity to contribute to something that is BIGGER THAN ANY ONE OF THEM, and they are not treating that like the privilege that it is.

And by the way…before we go after MCF for liking “Ultimates,” maybe we need to take a good look at YOU for liking “Sins Past,” hmmmm? LOLOL!

Eric: Sins Past? People liked Sins Past? JMS is the king of retcons for shock value. Hell, he needed his own Squadron Supreme universe so he could tell the story he wanted to tell unhindered by continuity. And then he couldn’t even be bothered to finish the story. Although I do like that the Spider-Man-powers-come-from-a-mystical-totem thing at least seems to be largely debatable, although I hear The Other (which I couldn’t stand to read) tried to make this aspect of the origin fact and not just a theory.

Jeff: “Sins Past” was right up there with “Kraven’s Last Hunt” or “The Death of Captain Marvel” and I don’t care what you think, so there! Hee. Hee-hee. Ha. HAHAHAHAHA HOOOOO HAHAHA! OK, I couldn’t do it. Couldn’t say that with a straight face. But it wasn’t as bad as everybody makes it out to be (though the second part pretty much fumbled it) and at least it acknowledged continuity. If Joe had his way Gwen would have just showed up one day freshly raped by the Director of Thunderbolt Operations, Pete would have divorced Mary Jane and Aunt May would FINALLY be revealed as a Herald of Galactus.

Brian: By the way, “Kraven’s Last Hunt” was the one of if not the greatest storyline of all time. That has nothing to do with this conversation, just thought I’d mention that.

To Be Concluded…

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