Where Have All The Editors Gone?
Something is going on in comic books. Have you noticed? It’s been happening for a few years now. For some reason, certain comics are not making sense with the rest of the established universe and history. For some reason, things that don’t make sense have been running rampant throughout the fictional realities of DC and Marvel.
Have you noticed it? Sure you have. I’m not the only one, right?
Have you checked out DC Decisions #2? It’s very interesting. Guy Gardner is on Earth rather than Oa. And Power Girl is around instead of still trapped on the new Earth-2. Does this story take place before the current JSA storyline? Or afterward? It would be nice to be told in a brief footnote.
Then there’s the recent Hawkman Special where Carter Hall was told that his memories of being the Ancient Egyptian Prince Khufu were a lie and it basically was said that Khufu couldn’t have existed. Okay, um, wait a second. Black Adam and the wizard Shazam were both there and lived alongside Khufu. And the JSA actually went on a time travel mission a couple of years ago and worked with Khufu against a younger Vandal Savage. How can all of that be explained by false memories? Has the entire JSA been infected with identical delusions?
And Reign in Hell. Where do I begin? Nevermind that this version of Hell doesn’t agree with any previous description of Hell in DC Comics. Nevermind that Devin Grayson and Geoff Johns both established in different stories that there are actually multiple Hell dimensions that are connected to each other and thus there could be various rulers already. There are just some aspects of the story that I know are flat-out wrong.
The Creeper is said to be a demonic spirit inhabiting the host body of Jack Ryder. Yet I know full well that the Creeper is the product of Ryder’s exposure to bizarre science, there’s nothing mystical about it. In issue #1, Linda Danvers is being hunted by the Shadowpact because they consider her evil and dangerous. Why? She was Supergirl for a while and then retired for personal reasons. In what way was she a threat? And why is it, when attacked, that she summoned up fiery angel wings? She lost that ability in Supergirl #50. Ask Peter David.
There’s also a problem with the back-up feature in Reign of Hell.The basic plot is that Dr. Occult is seeking out Rose Psychic, yet their souls have been bonded together in the same body for years, a concept Neil Gaiman introduced in Books of Magic and which James Robinson explained in The Justice Society Returns. I remember it very clearly. So how is Rose now separate from Occult?
And the more I think about it, why hasn’t Alan Scott shown up? This is a war involving magical forces and he is the wielder of the greatest source of "random magic" in the universe, the Starheart. And hey, wait a minute, why isn’t the demon Etrigan speaking in rhyme? That wasn’t just a character trait, that was actually a badge of office, signifying he was one of the "rhyming demons."
Look at Ultraman. He’s introduced as Lt. Clark Kent of the anti-matter universe who gets his powers from his reality’s version of Kryptonite. Yet when he shows up in The Brave and the Bold, this is definitely not the case. He also showed up during the Supergirl "One Year Later" story, having set himself up as lord of Kandor. Yet in Trinity, he’s back in the anti-matter universe and makes no reference to his time in Kandor. What’s up with that?
And it’s not just in DC. Over at Marvel, I’m very confused. According to the text of Mighty Avengers, the team has formed for only several hours before Tony Stark is injured and Spider-Woman subsequently joins. Then how did the Mighty Avengers have enough time for the events of Captain America’s funeral to happen in Fallen Son, a story which clearly showed the Mighty Avengers as having been formed for a few days and Spider-Woman still operating with the New Avengers? And why did Doctor Doom behave and speak to Ms. Marvel in a way that seemed anti-thetical to his whole character?
Come to think of it, what’s the deal with Wolverine? He’s with the X-Men in San Francisco, but he’s also living in New York with the New Avengers? Plus, he just became leader of X-Force, which is supposed to operate separately from the X-Men and which no one is really supposed to know about, yet they just acted in broad daylight during Secret Invasion: X-Men. Given that evidence, I’d have to say there are at least three Skrulls pretending to be Wolverine, plus the real one. Or perhaps Wolverine now has powers identical to Multiple Man and is able to make living copies of himself.
And that’s when it hit me. It’s so simple. Obviously, half of these stories are not meant to be taken seriously. These are all just Elseworlds stories and DC forgot to label them as such. Much like Marvel must have forgotten to put the words "What If …?" at the top of some of their most recent stories.
I mean, that’s the only explanation, isn’t it? Unless … unless it’s just that the editors haven’t been doing their jobs. Wait, is that why Avengers/Invaders says that Captian America was the product of "Project: Super-Soldier" when any Marvel fan knows that’s wrong and the project was actually called "Operation: Rebirth"?
A lack of editing could also explain why gravity is no longer a factor in the Marvel Universe. In his recent battle with Thor, the Red Hulk is able to bring the thunder god into a zero-gravity environment under very dubious circumstances. Even if you allow for that, there’s then the fact that the Red Hulk, right after explaining that there is no gravity around them, hits Thor across the head. Um, how would that have any strength in zero-G? Likewise, in Secret Invasion, how is it Agent Brand of SHIELD is able to kick open a spaceship’s escape hatch from the outside? Does "zero gravity" mean that gravity only works if you kick and punch? That’s not even continuity, that’s just plain science.
And yes, I realize it seems silly to argue about science in comic books, but all you need to do is come up with a way to explain whatever impossible thing you’re doing. You give Hawkman Nth metal and we accept that he can fly now, because we are told Nth metal manipulates gravity. You show Spider-Man lifting a car and we are okay because we know Spidey has the "proportionate strength, speed and agility of a spider", due to an accident that mutated his body. But when the Red Hulk and Agent Brande seem to have no means of just defying the forces of gravity (or lack thereof) by force of will alone and then do so, something is wrong. It’s like if Pepper Potts and Lana Lang could suddenly read minds, I’d want to know how this became possible, that’s all.
But wait a minute, maybe this is an over reaction. A few minor mistakes are part of the bizz, right? Sure they are. But too many mistakes and the wrong kinds of errors point out to sloppy work and some folks just not stepping up to their job description. Here’s a recent example of what I’m talking about.
A few years back, Brian Michael Bendis introduced the character Eddie Brock AKA Venom into the Ultimate Marvel Universe. The story began when Peter, whose parents died in a plane crash when he was a boy, found a video tape showing himself as a child playing with the older boy Eddie while their parents had a picnic together. In this video, Peter was a few years old, maybe already in pre-school. Peter later meets his old childhood friend and Eddie talks about how their parents used to hang out all the time when they were growing up and then were killed on a plane crash they took together.
It was a good story and it’s easy to look back on since it is collected in trade and was originally published only a few years ago. So if you, for instance, had to double check information and continuity established in that story, it would be very easy to do so.
Now, Bendis has been writing Ultimate Origins. And in issue #4, we see the initial transformation of this reality’s Bruce Banner into the Hulk. As a green-skinned monster, Banner freaks out and starts causing some damage. Richard Parker is at the lab where this is happening and is visited by his wife Mary and his newborn son Peter, only a few months old. When the Hulk rampages, Richard and Mary are apparently killed. Ultimate Nick Fury then picks up the infant Peter Parker and remarks that at least the child is so young that he won’t remember this incident. He walks away with the baby, leaving behind the bodies of the Parkers amidst the debris.
So how could it be that the Parkers died at the Hulk’s hands when Peter was not yet old enough to crawl and speak yet we were previously told that they died when he was years older? Even if you say that the plane crash was a cover story, the fact is we saw video tape evidence that Peter was noticeably older when his parents died. And they didn’t die alone, Eddie Brock’s parents were on that same plane. If the plane was a cover story, what about the Brocks? How is it that Eddie would remember several picnics with the Parkers growing up if they had been dead for years?
It seemed strange Bendis could make such an error in continuity when he was the guy who wrote both stories. At Baltimore Comic-Con, a fan asked him about the apparent mistake and Bendis explained that the Parkers were not actually killed by the Hulk’s rampage in Ultimate Origins #4. They were injured and unconscious, but not dead. Therefore, they were indeed still alive only to die in a plane crash years later.
That night, I looked over the issue again. Frankly, artist Butch Guice does a pretty good job of making them look like lifeless bodies rather than injured people. As I said, the scene ends when Nick Fury picks up the kid and walks away from the forms of Richard and Mary Parker lying on the ground. Not only do the Parkers look pretty dead, but if they were alive or just unconscious, wouldn’t Fury be shouting for medics and staying with them until help arrived? Instead, he looks like he’s leaving casualties on the battlefield.
But then I thought, you know, Bendis isn’t dumb by any means. So this could just be a miscommunication between the writer and the artist. You know what? That happens and it’s not a huge deal, nor is it Guice’s fault. That’s why we have editors to step in and say "Look, it’s okay to have Fury walk away with infant Peter, but please draw an extra panel with paramedics putting Richard and Mary Parker on stretchers."
But apparently an editor didn’t do that.
And then, four days after Bendis told fans in Baltimore that Richard and Mary Parker did not die at the hands of the Hulk, Marvel Comics released March on Ultimatum, a free booklet that summarizes the history of the Ultimate Marvel Universe for anyone who needs to catch up and be prepared for the upcoming Ultimatum series. And in March on Ultimatum, the following is said concerning the first transformation of the Hulk:
"Banner foolishly tried his prototype Super-Soldier serum on himself, and was transformed into a brutish behemoth, which would become known as the Hulk, and accidentally killed Richard Parker and his wife in front of their infant son Peter. Too young to remember what he had seen, Peter would grow up raised by his aunt and uncle, May and Ben Parker, believing his parents died in a plane crash."
So …. who is it at Marvel that doesn’t know what they’re talking about? Is Bendis unaware continuity was changed in a story he himself wrote? Did no one tell Stuart Vandal, who wrote March on Ultimatum, what was really going on?
No matter what the explanation, the fact is the mistake shouldn’t have occurred. An editor should have stepped in and cleared it up, making sure everyone was on the same page, especially the readers.
Editors. We need editors. Some of them are doing their job, certainly. Matt Idleson has been keeping the continuity of the Superman books fairly clear recently, using things such as footnotes in Supergirl #34 so that readers know how that issue relates to recent stories in Action Comics. The Batman family books have begun clearing up just how the tie-ins relate to the main "Batman R.I.P." story. The Ghost Rider and Batgirl titles have been very up front with tackling contradiction-laden pasts of their characters. With the exception of Wolverine’s apparent new ability to be everywhere (perhaps he copied Multiple Man’s abilities), the X-titles have been doing a pretty good job co-existing. Rahne leaves X-Factor so she can join the cast of X-Force rather than being in both books at once, for instance. While "One More Day" ticked off a lot of people, the stories since then have been slowly doing a fair job clearing up how things stand in the new Spider-Man continuity. And Avengers Initiative seems keenly aware of what’s going on in the rest of the Marvel Universe.
So obviously there are editors out there. But that only emphasizes how strange and, at times, ridiculous it is that some of these mistakes and gaffes occur. I discussed this matter with our own Robert Greenberger. Bob and I noticed a few of the new errors happening in continuity and even though we are both mentally disturbed enough to have memorized so much comic history that we can recall tons of trivia on the spot (at least Bob has the excuse that it used to be his job to do that), we decided to see how easy it wold be to perform information checks on things such as how Ultimate Peter Parker’s parents died, what Dr. Occult’s relationship is to Rose Psychic, the nature of Creeper’s powers/spit-personality, and whether or not you can effectively punch someone in zero gravity.
For each question, we were able to find the answers within one to six minutes. That’s all it took. So why is it so hard for the two major players in the comic book industry to keep track of their own stories? Why is it I haven’t seen Clark Kent’s new futuristic apartment since Busiek left Superman? Why was I never given a straight answer about who Xorn was?
Editors could also remind writers that every comic is someone’s first and that it may be helpful to re-introduce the basics and certain characters at the beginning of major story arcs. Reign of Hell #1 does not tell you who half the characters are, nor does it mention that Zauriel is an angel who achieved mortal form and that John Zatarra is a dead wizard who was a hero during the 1940s and father of JLA member Zatanna. A single panel could’ve explained that and helped readers understand the importance of what they were seeing. Likewise, many friends of mine did not read DC’s horror stories from the 1970s and 80s and thus were unaware who Andrew Bennett was, much less that he was supposed to be a vampire with a good heart. Justice Society of America, Justice League of America, X-Men First Class and Avengers Initiative all do their best to do role calls and briefly explain who’s who, so I know I’m not asking for the impossible.
I remember when footnotes were always there to tell you what back issues were being referenced or why the Fantastic Four weren’t around up to help Spider-Man fight a herald of Galactus. I remember that when a magical blizzard was unleashed in Thor’s title, you could then read that month’s Amazing Spider-Man and see the web-slinger wonder why it was suddenly snowing. It was great and it not only made you feel like this universe was more cohesive, more real, but it helped you always feel like the comics were welcoming to new readers as well as to older ones who may have forgotten a story they’d read years before.
The errors I have mentioned are maddening to me because they seem easy to spot and fix. So what’s going on? Or should we just stop expecting care and consistency from the editors? I leave that up to you.
Alan "Sizzler" Kistler has his own thoughts about Xorn but the truth would rock your face off. He has been recognized by Warner Bros. Pictures and mainstream media outlets such as the New York Daily News as a comic book historian, and can be seen in the "Special Features" sections of the Adventures of Aquaman and Justice League: New Frontier DVDs. His personal website can be found at: http://KistlerUniverse.com. One of these days he’d love to write for DC, Marvel or Doctor Who.