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Quote of the Day | ‘Comics have a problem, and that is continuity’

Legion of Super-Heroes, by Neal Adams

“Comics have a problem, and that is continuity — the obsession with placing the characters in an existing world, where every event is marked in canon. You’re supposed to believe that these weepy star boys of now are the same gung ho super teens fighting space monsters in the sixties, and they’ve only aged perhaps five years. It eventually strains credulity, and can shackle a writer who wants to try a something new. Very few narrative forms have to deal with this principle, and a fan base that gets mad when it’s violated, except for maybe soap operas (which is what comics are).  So there are these periodic memory wipes and start-overs. But to me, it never felt right with the Legion. There are just too many of these kids, none of them is iconic, the whole pleasure is the continuity– the evolution of comic styles and sensibility encoded in their being.”

– author, humorist and Legion of Super-Heroes fan John Hodgman, on why the DC Comics property has been rebooted so many times over the past 55 years

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I completely disagree and ESPECIALLY when it comes to the LSH since their stories are not sent in the present day and since there were no other books competing for the continuity that the LSH themselves established. Writers bent on making them grow up and random editorial decisions are what have messed up the Legion. There was no requirement that their timeline be exactly 1000 years in the future from our real time. That was simply a trope of the book concept that could have been abandoned at any time prior to the 1st reboot in the 90’s.

Regarding books set in the present that have a shared universe, yes it’s difficult and I don’t think every story told necessarily needs to be part of continuity. I regard each comic as one person’s POV on what happened – that’s how we can have multiple retellings of a particular story that layers new things or revamps old ones (take Superman’s origin for example).

Continuity was not a consideration really until the 70’s, 40 years after comics had come into their own, so even though I didn’t like the DC reboot after Crisis at the time, I came to appreciate it later and was glad that it happened. I however did not feel that the new52 was warranted from a creative standpoint though I do understand it from a business standpoint since selling books is DC’s #1 priority and not being a slave to continuity.

To me writer’s who complain about how continuity stifles creativity are really saying “I’m not very creative so I’m going to blame something else that I have no control over.”

There is this side that appreciates trying something new, and there is this side that appreciates that they are rewarded for being longtime readers. I know there’s a synthesis above these two somewhere, but I can’t articulate it as well.

As with a company trying to keep old readers while drawing in new readers, how exactly does one go about solving that dilemma?

Continuity is the backbone of serial storytelling.

No, the problem comics have is hiring writers who don’t know how to take advantage of continuity and make it work for them. Continuity is only an anchor around the neck of a bad writer, to a good writer it’s an asset to be exploited.

My opinion: without continuity, story-telling would be really random. Can’t fix a villainous situation? Give the hero a new power and the day is saved. Superman once molded his face into another shape through force of will. Another time, he discovered that his super-hypnosis was always active at a low level, causing everyone to see Clark Kent as being a bit older and more frail than Superman. I prefer continuity because it provides a foundation and context for the story.

I think fans need to be more flexible with how strict a writer adheres to continuity otherwise there will be a lot of missed opportunities. Take Hickman’s recent Fantastic Four run. A core theme in his run was family, the bonds of family and the quality of relationships in a family. “Uncle Doom” was a recurring character and the relationship between Doom and the Richards children was something special that Hickman did a great job at cultivating. Now, if Hickman had been a “slave to continuity” this would have never have happened because Doom was a homicidal maniac at the start of the Fantastic Four.

My point is that you are now getting 50, 60, 70+ years of continuity— I’m happy with just a writer appreciating continuity from ten years ago. If these characters are in an “endless fight,” I think expectations on continuity need to be cranked way down.

Detroit has a cancer. That cancer is crime.

Right on David

Continuity is Story!

The properties that struggle to find a market are those without a compelling archetype or no continuity.

Continuing narratives are flat out more COMPELLING.

Stitch let me answer that for you with an analogy. Take team sports. When a youngster is intrigued by the Dallas Cowboys, he jumps in and watches Sunday afternoon, he then builds his fandom, he might check out the team web site, he may ask mom for a t-shirt, he may read/watch video about the old champions of the 90’s (so long ago!) He will find out that the star QB of that team is now a star broadcaster. And he either sticks with it and tunes in every week, or not.

Like any Fandom or hobby, new entrants have to be willing to jump in. Serial comics are daunting to newcomers, just like Lost, Star Wars, etc….

The real point here is that continuity itself is not a problem, continuity without time passing is. The chatacters must get old or the universe must reboot. Peter Parker still beeing young after thousands of comic books is what make comics kind of lame.

andillformthehead

October 30, 2012 at 10:29 am

@ David

wow, that is a very articulate response to that. I’ve been trying to wrap my head around exactly how I feel about the topic RE: continuity and creators, and I have to agree with many of your points.

Where I kind of part with you is the thought on creators not being creative enough to work within continuity. I don’t think you get a chance to write for the big two without a serious amount of creativity. What I tend to glean from creators speaking out publicly against continuity and editorial interference is that they are unhappy with the conditions that the toys are in. They want to play with the Spider-Man and Wolverine that they have in their heads, not the one on paper that is a result of editorial ideas and restrictions. When they are upset they can’t mold the toys into their image, they get upset. Bendis has mentioned in the past that comic book writers these days have massive, fragile egos, and as I see it, the inability to compromise your vision of the character (especially after getting your figurative taint licked by the internet over your quite possibly great creator-owned book), with the vision that management has put in place, is probably what’s honestly driving creators away.

And I’m sure it’s to different degrees too, I’m not saying creators are crybabies and that editorial is always right, but if you can’t learn to work WITH management, and not FOR or AGAINST, then you aren’t gonna hack it. This is true for all businesses, creative or not.

The comics world needs more guys like Rick Remender. Look at his track record, did a half dozen or so well received creator-owned comics, got the call up to Marvel, did a bunch of WELL received runs on C and B list titles (which he either worked with editorial or was creatively strong enough to pitch to editorial), and is now working on straight up A list titles. But is he a corporate stooge? Fuck and no. He’s putting out two creator owned titles in 2013 that look fucking awesome.

I honestly wish there was a better answer. Very few things are as disappointing industry-wise then seeing a great new talent just fail at one of the big two. I could def buy into editorial being a little bit more lax and letting new talent takes risks with established characters, looking at you DC, but I do think that a strict evangelical devotion to continuity is bad for all. I just try to enjoy the books I read and not wonder why Iron Man’s armor looks different in one comic and different in another when they come out on the same Wednesday.

I think Hodgman is saying that he DOES like continuity when it comes to the Legion.

what the hell did he just say?

RegularSyzedMike

October 30, 2012 at 10:31 am

ugh…point: missed. At least Hodgman tried I guess…

I agree, Kal-el was the foundation on which the Legion was built, once he was removed the Legion fell apart and has not recovered to this day!

That said if there is a DC comic that should take advantage of the Multiverse it would surely be the Legion of Super-Heroes!

It shouldn’t be about continuity, it should be about consistency.

Continuity is a tool that can be used for good or ill. Allowing yourself to be hamstrung by it because of an obsessive portion of your fanbase (and ex-obsessed fan writers, yes, I’m looking at you Geoff Johns) is a fool’s errand.

On the Legion specifically, I was never happier than when they disconnected from the Superboy-specific continuity trap from the group and sneered when it was forced back in.

I strongly disagree. The problem is that the characters are not allowed to age. If they were allowed to age, the stories could be different and at the right time a reboot could occur.

Is there any other DC title that relied on Continuity more than the Legion – even with the several reboots, its had a strong continuity. I enjoyed the “Archie Legion’ of the 1990’s – perhaps the best post-Crisis take on the series.

I really think Hodgman meant that the LSH should never have been rebooted, a notion DC itself eventually came around to via convoluted means. The beauty of the classic, pre-any reboots Legion is that it was a soap opera with a giant complex continuity. Characters did age (slowly), they got married, they retired, they died and (mostly) stayed dead. It had a magic that was simply lost when they rebooted and they’ve never been able to regain.

It always pains me when people refer to classic Legion comics as Soap Opera, because there always seems to be a grand scale to the various arcs. I would say that Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne X-Men and Wolfman/Perez Teen Titans were Soap Opera, in comparison the Legion, when done well, is more truly Operatic, with Wagner level conflicted characters and situations. I keep on with it because some good Legion stories take a long time to bear fruit, but the last time I was truly excited to buy an issue was during the DnA run (even though it wasn’t MY Legion).

Comics have a problem, all right — that editors and writers don’t appreciate how VALUABLE continuity is. They don’t have the smarts to recognize how valuable CONSISTENCY is. Great writers like Alan Moore and Grant Morrison don’t have a problem with continuity — they use it to the fullest extent and even add to it. Poor writers and editors can’t get a grip on it and believe they have to reboot characters from scratch and retell their origins and reintroduce Dr. Doom or Luthor for the zillionth time.

What I have to say applies to Marvel as well as DC, but I’ll stick with DC just for an example: Does anybody really believe this nu version of Superman is better than the one DC spent decades building and perfecting continuity for? Does anybody really believe the DC universe is better for having lost the history that made it unique and special? Those years of continuity is what made Superman, Batman, the Justice League unique from all the other super-heroes and super-teams.

Any publisher can create a new issue #1, with a new hero and a new costume.
But how many publishers can create a hero that lasts FOUR OR FIVE HUNDRED ISSUES without his origin being significantly altered or his costume being redesigned?

Very few people seem to have read past the headline.

Knee-jerk for the win, internet!

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