ROBERT GREENBERGER: On continuity
I like continuity. Always have, always will. It enriches serialized fiction as found in pulp magazines, comic books, movies and television. In an ideal world, things would be consistent from the beginning of any new creation, but it rarely is.
Johnston McCulley altered his own reality after one Zorro novel because he decided more people saw the Douglas Fairbanks silent film than read his book and anyone coming to the second book should recognize elements.
Gene Roddenberry was building his worldview for Star Trek so details such as the name of Starfleet and the United Federation of Planets evolved over the course of the first season. Unlike many of its peers, it actually had more episode to episode continuity than the majority of prime time in the 1960s.
In comic books, after 60+ years of publishing, even I recognize that it’s impossible for a singular continuity to exist for long-running characters from Captain America to Superman. What editors need to strive for, today, is consistency so the reader isn’t left scratching his head week after week.
During my tenure at Marvel, I pointed out to the editorial team that three different titles released the same week gave Henry Peter Gyrich three different jobs. That serves no one well and meant no one was paying attention at a company that prided itself on its shared universe.
More recently, DC Comics released, a week apart, a Nightwing Annual and an Outsiders Annual. Both were solid stories that wrapped up some long-standing threads and filled in gaps left by the time between Infinite Crisis’s conclusion and the “One Year Later” re-set. Read separately, they were fine, but read against the largest context of the DC Universe they massively contradicted one another.
At the conclusion of Infinite Crisis, Nightwing was completely zapped and left for dead. In his own annual, we’re told he was in a coma for three weeks and then so badly banged up he needed additional time to recover and retrain his body. Finally, when he was deemed ready, he left Gotham City with Batman and Robin for what we know to be six months of bonding. And from there, he returned in time to meet the new Batwoman in the pages of 52.
A week later, though, we get the Outsiders Annual where Nightwing is running around with his teammates to break Black Lightning out of Iron Heights prison and once that’s done, he goes with the team for an underground mission that lasts the better part of a year.
OK, so what is the reader to accept as the actual sequence of events? He cannot be in two places at once, yet these annuals ask us to believe exactly that.
Or, take for example, the current mess with Wonder Woman, where she seems cursed to forever deal with the legal ramifications of her killing Maxwell Lord. During Allen Heinberg’s aborted run of the relaunched monthly title, he said she’d been cleared of the murder charge. This conclusion was supported by comments made in JLA, Green Lantern and Superman. But suddenly, under new writer Jodi Picoult, she’s a fugitive again in her own title.
Speaking of Mr. Heinberg, he had the traditional Greek Hercules show up in Wonder Woman as a villain while an entirely different Hercules also appeared in The Trials of Shazam. Within the same period of time, this only causes reader confusion.
We can all be forgiving of not being consistent with obscure stories from 20, 30 or even 50 years ago. But stuff that contradicts itself from the major continuity-resetting event of the last year, is unforgivable. Editors and writers should be following a singular road map and they should all be capable of doing efficient research so when they sue a supporting character or villain, it’s consistent with the last known appearance. When that does not occur, the reader is annoyed and the talent comes across as sloppy or uncaring.
It’s not unrealistic to expect such consistency, and the consumer should be demanding that the product delivered make sense. It’s incumbent upon editors and writers to check with one another. Given the wealth of research material in print and online, it is no longer a daunting task to find background information on even the most unremembered people. Editors should no longer be accepting lazy artists crowding pages of gang shots with characters that may no longer look like they do or were even alive at the time of the story – thumbing through 22 year-old copies of Who’s Who should no longer be accepted.
Marvel and DC both have editors with long-term recall of places and characters, as well as deep libraries with easy-to-research material. Part of the job needs to be doing your homework so the reader gets the best possible story. The story needs to make sense with a beginning, a middle and (hopefully) an end that is consistent with what the reader has read the month before. Anything less should be unacceptable.
Star Trek novelist and regular ComicMix.com contributor Robert Greenberger used to be DC Comics’ “continuity cop,” until that unfortunate Crisis on Infinite Cops thing. Casey won. Of course, the outcome was pre-ordained: DC owns Casey!