NOTE: I still want to hear from artists and female readers, as I have some stuff in mind for future columns and contests, but I need to know that you’re interested. Drop me a message and let me know!
And as the Nightmare Readers Roundtable waits for dessert to be served, lets finish our discussion of Continuity. Let’s pick it up with Eric!
Eric: I think that continuity is one of the hallmarks of the genre, certainly of Marvel and DC. Heck, even events that alter continuity have continuity. I personally like the options inherent in today’s industry. There are events that are reliant on continuity, like Infinite Crisis, and there are great books far away from continuity like the Marvel Age books and X-Men: First Class. I enjoy both approaches. Essentially, I love that characters like Captain America have almost 70 years of stories behind them, and I like when writers bring in elements from past stories. But at the same time, I think it is great to have fresh takes on characters in the aforementioned books. Something I find interesting is the inevitability of continuity. For example, the Ultimate books started out to be a fresh start, but now readers have no idea where the other books fit in with regards to the Ultimates, and books like Ultimate Fantastic Four seem to negate established continuity in stories in Ultimate Marvel Team-Up.
Jeff: And there’s my biggest point perfectly laid out by Eric. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to try and explain to people who are all “Yay Ultimates, boo continuity!” that just by having a second issue of any title, YOU HAVE CONTINUITY. Hopefully MCF can shed some light on this paradox, being our pro-Ultimates guy! ;D
Brian: Wasn’t the Ultimate Universe just supposed to be an alternate universe where origins could be retold and ideas could be refreshing and new? Why can’t there be continuity there?
Jeff: There is. Everything that comes after that is NOT telling that refresh of the original story. Frankly, between the Internet, back issue boxes and Marvel Masterworks series, I can’t see how anyone could possibly not “get” continuity, thus negating any need for the Ultimates line. Hell, I didn’t start at Amazing Fantasy or Tales to Astonish, because I wasn’t even alive then. My first comic was an Avengers issue somewhere in the late #100s (I think. I remember the cover and the story was Vision vs. Wonder Man). I had no idea what came before. I didn’t care. I eventually got curios and went back and got a bunch of Avengers issues previous to my start point, but I was perfectly willing to accept the Beast as this blue monster guy. I didn’t know he’d ever been a white dude until I started getting into X-Men years later. Continuity doesn’t have to be “new reader friendly” because that’s a function of writers and editors organizing stories better. Even with ongoing sagas there’s ways of breaking things up enough for someone new to get in. Do more short arcs, even if there’s a higher overlapping theme. Fabian Nicieza used a method for telling T-Bolts stores that never stopped cleanly, but the focus shifted easily enough that the whole feel of the story felt like it was a new arc. Bottom line: if readers are too damn lazy to find out what’s going on, with all the avenues available to them in the 21st century, too damn bad for them. Quit catering to people who aren’t buying the comics anyway. Cater to the current readers, and we’ll go drag the heathens in kicking and screaming, at least until they witness the joy that is Ed Brubaker’s Captain America. Then the heathens will be like, “Hey, this is good stuff. Where’s the guy from the movies? Wolverine? Does he have a comic?” And now we got ’em.
Greg: EXACTLY. I think the same could be said for us all. When you’re a kid, I think the one thing that TRULY pulls you in is the colorful costumes…that’s all you really looking at. Then, once I actually started READING the words in the balloons and following the narration, I learned more about the characters…learning that Spider-Man was married didn’t make a bit of difference to me. I accepted it, and kept reading. I stopped if I came across a story that didn’t really mean anything to me, or if I didn’t like the art, and then I came back later. That’s all there was to it. Meanwhile, I looked up reprints or old back issues whenever I could, and I got a taste of what Spidey had been through before I came along. I didn’t even CARE about The Avengers until I read Busiek’s run, and for me, that was the definitive take on the team, its place in the Marvel Universe and what makes them Avengers, as opposed to say, Defenders, X-Men, Champions or even the Justice League. But now I care enough to find it a little annoying to see it split into New Avengers or Mighty Avengers…and it’s not because of WHO is on the team…but HOW they got there.
Colin: I am entirely for continuity, and I’ll tell you why; it’s impossible to get invested in a character or title if you know that what you’re reading doesn’t count. I have to know that this means something. What good is it to see Namor kick the crap out of the Hulk, why bother watching The Order (nee Defenders) take over the entire world, beating The Avengers, FF, and X-Men all at once if it “didn’t happen”?
In a nutshell: if there’s no continuity evidence, how can we debate Magneto vs. Dr. Strange on the Marvel boards? (Not_Your_Friend, thank you) I’d have to turn in my Nerd Card.
Best point, what is the point of reading a comic only to find out â€œit doesn’t countâ€ unless you know going into it that it doesn’t coincide with continuity (like for example, my earlier point of What If? books).
Jeff: I also agree with that reasoning. Why would I watch a TV show, say ’24’ or ‘Burn Notice’ or ‘Night Court’, if every episode was like Newhart and Dallas, where everyone wakes up and says, “Gee, that was weird! Narf! Poit! So what are we going to do tonight, Brain?” Jack Bauer could die over and over. Every city in the country could get nuked and half of the nation could be elected President and promptly assassinated as long as they keep ignoring the inevitability of continuity. Oh man, I hope Fox doesn’t read this. But if they do, “QUIT FUCKING OVER NATHAN FILLION!!”
Eric: While shows like 24 can be entertaining because of continuity and continuing stories, lots of shows (and comics) are great without factoring in the entire history and future of characters. Every episode of Seinfeld that I can think of is enjoyable in its own right. While continuity can make a reader invested in characters and a story, I think that a story can be well told (and drawn) and be a masterpiece by itself.
Planetary is an ideal series in terms of continuity in my mind. Yes, every issue builds on the mysteries of the previous issues, but each issue makes sense on its own and tells a wonderful, full story. The continuity is there if you want to get invested, but you don’t need a Who’s Who and editor notes at the bottom of every panel to know what is going on.
MCF: I think GREG said it best earlier, to quote; “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.”
Brian: I think strong continuity is important, especially if you are keeping the integrity of a great past storyline or a development of a character. For example, coming up with a story that Gwen Stacy fathered twins with the Green Goblin not only ruins the character of Gwen Stacy, a pure love for Peter Parker, not to mention Mary Jane Watson Parker, for supposedly harboring the secret, but also ruins one of the greatest most impact deaths in comics, and the reasons behind the death in the first place. By not paying attention to the continuity facts (like the time frame when Gwen was out of the country, discrepancies of Harry Osborn’s timeframe of his addiction to narcotics, etc) it makes the storyline seem like complete garbage.
Greg: A friend of mine and I once wrote a proposal for Spider-Man that would take care of that in a SNAP.
Brian: I am however in favor however of â€œalternate universesâ€ and â€œalternate timelinesâ€ like Kingdom Come or the Ultimate Universe. What better way to tell a new story and take a completely different take on a character without messing up a favorite storyline or character in current continuity for the rest of us! After all, wasn’t that the purpose of the â€œWhat If?â€ Titles from Marvel (great books, by the way).
I can also see reasons for tweaking continuity if it fits storyline purposes, such as changing the newspaper headline of the Wizard’s Society stealing the bodies of the Justice League in Identity Crisis. As long as it is small and does not affect the past storyline (I have the issue of the Justice League where the society switched bodies with the leaguers, and Identity Crisis did not ruin that for me) and does completely destroy a character, ANY CHARACTER, small or big, then I don’t have a problem. But continuity is definitely important in keeping order of the comic universe, providing depth of the character, and staying true to history.
I’ll give another example of where continuity would be awesome if used more to actually further a storyline. I picked up New Avengers/Transformers #1 recently. I found it to be a good read, and the art was fantastic. But you know what would have made that book completely awesome? When Megatron had Spidey captive is apparently going to administer tests on him, instead of saying â€œI am Megatronâ€ he would have said â€œRemember me?â€ since he and Spidey clashed in the old Transformers #3 Marvel title. After all, this storyline I believe is supposed to be in present continuity (though obviously taking place before the events of Civil War, since Cap is alive and he mentions Iron Man on the same team). Is Transformers #3 not a part of Marvel continuity?
Greg: I’m cool with that sort of thing too, but I actually feel as though the Ultimate Universe has worn out its welcome. Especially now, as others have pointed out, it has a continuity of its own…which I feel is a waste of time, since it’s just an alternate take of already existing characters. I wish Marvel showed this kind of commitment to something like MC2, where at least we could see a possible FUTURE with a whole new cast of heroes and villains. Why it wasn’t possible to line up this Hollywood writer or that celebrity author for those means, I don’t know.
Jeff: I should point out that I don’t have a problem, within reason, with tweaking continuity. If a character has been written into a corner, it might be the only way to free him. But manipulating is and ignoring it is two different things, and the Big Two cover them both. With the overkill of DC’s manipulations and Marvel’s indifference, I’m not real happy with either of them right now. I would also like to point out that Brian’s “Remember me?” scene between Spidey and Megatron gets my vote for “Best Moment Never Actually In A Comic.”
Brian: And yet, how easy would it have been for one minor detail like that? Thanks, Jeff.
MCF: The old Marvel Transformers series is not in continuity, despite the appearance of Spider-Man and the Savage Land. And the current (god-awful I might add) New Avengers/Transformers mini-series should not be set in continuity either (although IDW insists it is canon as far as their Transformers comics are concerned… bad bad IDW!).
Brian: Wait, if the Marvel Transformers series was not in continuity, how did Spider-Man make a guest appearance? ArghhhhhhhHHHH!
For Transformers fans, I want to throw out another 80s cartoon crossover with one of the Big 2. Superman fought with/against He-Man in DC Comics Presents. From what I understand since I don’t have that issue (but I some day will, oh, yes, I will), he somehow got sucked into a portal by Skeletor into Eternia and later returned back to Earth. Now, if today DC decided to do a crossover with MV Creations or whoever and do a Justice League/MOTU mini-series, there is no reason to upset the balance of the DC universe because the He-folks were never in the DC world. But I would think Superman would at least remember meeting the Eternians, and it would fall under continuity (unless it was Earth-2 Superman, or some other Superman, or good grief, I’m getting dizzy). But, I guess all that never happened either, huh? Superboy Prime probably punched that right into Didntreallyhappensville.
So, just because Transformers was at the time produced by Marvel, they were allowed to have Spidey guest star but it wasn’t the real Spidey? What about Red Sonja? That character is not owned by Marvel and is produced by a different company, but there is a Spidey/Red Sonja series where they keep continuity from Marvel Team Up. Granted, the Red Sonja persona took over Mary Jane or something, but was the Red Sonja/Conan titles part of Marvel continuity? Surely they weren’t.
What about crossover team ups? Do they exist in continuity? I’m assuming they do not.
I’m starting to feel like I’m leaving the original purpose of this conversation, but sorry, can’t help myself.
Adam: As a major Transformers fan I do remember reading that the Transformers universe is decidedly separate to the Marvel one despite the Spidey ‘cross over’. That said, it would have been an awesome moment. I’m totally with Brian when he says about the continuity providing the depth for characters we know and love (or hate). The problem lies with the fact that if you meddle with the history too much you change the character in the present too much. As Greg said; Iron man is a terrible casualty of this and a well documented example of how negatively such alterations can affect the readers perception of a well loved character. Overall I think apart from my complaints about writers forgetting about continuity, my major complaint lies in ret cons that don’t agree. Stuff like the Winter Soldier hits the nail on the head first time, sagas like Sins Past seem to fit in a little less neatly.
Jeff: Again with the Sins Past hate. You guys aren’t ever gonna let me live it down are you? Note to self: pick a new roundtable if I do this again. SUCKAS!!
MCF: In summary, continuity is good if properly utilized with care by creators who are willing to do the research. With literally thousands of stories written for characters such as Spider-Man, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain America, et al, it may be difficult to come up with a new/fresh angle on things but ignoring continuity wholesale is simply the wrong way to go.
Crisis style reboots/revamps/revisions are a good thing, and this allows DC to ensure their characters remain fresh and updated as the years roll by. The silly 10-year rule Marvel Comics employs for Earth-616 is just silly! All the Silver Age stories always happened 10 years ago? I don’t think there’s even time for the characters to have had all the adventures they had within the space of 10 years!
Tom DeFalco and Jim Shooter were the best EICs Marvel ever had… they ran a tight ship and ensured continuity was respected and adhered to. And I have to seriously disagree with Joe Quesada… you don’t need to throw the baby out of the bathwater (so to speak) to tell a good story! The only mainstream Marvel project I enjoyed in recent years were Grant Morrison’s New X-Men and Greg Pak’s Planet Hulk. The former because Morrison managed to introduce new concepts and changes without shitting on everything that came before, and the latter because Pak did a self contained story that did not ignore continuity, it simply didn’t need to reference it too much!
The rest of my Marvel read list? Ultimate Spider-Man. Franklin Richards: Son of a Genius. Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane. newuniversal. All titles that have no effect on mainstream Marvel Universe continuity whatsoever.
And while we’re on the subject of continuity… don’t the best TV series maintain good continuity and backstory? Look at 24. Battlestar Galactica. Gilmore Girls. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Angel. Firefly. Justice League Unlimited. ‘Nuff said.
And with that, I hereby stamp a ‘NUFF SAID! imprint on this roundtable discussion. I thank each and every one of my readers who send me emails almost every week and even those who don’t. But if you don’t, how can I invite you to join me on projects like this? All of us here at the Nexus love to get emails, especially Jimbo Trebold over at the Ultimate Marvel Handbook — he’s a total email whore, and Cory is his pimp! Or maybe I have that backwards. At any rate, I think we all enjoyed it despite all falling more or less on the same side of the argument, and we hope you all enjoyed it too. There’s a strong likelihood that we’ll do it again sometime in the future, and next time there might be some different people sitting at the table. Maybe even you.