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Off My Mind: Continuity in Comic Books is No Longer Important

Characters often appear in different titles with no explanation when they are occurring.

There was a time when comic books strived to maintain continuity. Readers often can be sticklers when a character appears in more than one title. We want to know when each story takes place in relation to one another. A character can't be in New York in one story while appearing in another dimension in a comic published in the same month.

As certain characters rose in popularity, it made perfect sense that publishers would try to capitalize on that and have their character guest star in as many issues as possible. It was a toss up of how much coordination was given in keeping track of all the appearances. Eventually, readers simply had to accept that the popular character suddenly gained the superpower of appearing in just about every comic book title the publisher put out.

With more big and small events occurring in comics these days, characters are appearing in more titles than ever. We are sometimes getting an explanation where each story falls in a timeline but it's becoming more of a common practice to simply ignore the timeline. Does having a character appear in several stories enhance the reading experience or does it ruin the integrity of the publisher and writers?

== TEASER ==

One of the first major crossovers that comes to mind is 1984's Secret Wars from Marvel. The twelve-issue mini-series kicked off in several character and team books with the heroes suddenly disappearing when investigating a strange structure that suddenly appeared. The following issue showed the heroes return, many with major changes as the mini-series began it's twelve month run. There was a lot of coordination here. The individual writers for the Avengers, Fantastic Four, X-Men, Spider-Man titles and all the other characters involved had to know the outcome. Some characters got new costumes while some teams had new rosters. It was clear when Secret Wars took place in relation to each individual issue.

When Superman was appearing in four different monthly titles in the 80s and 90s, readers knew which book to read first. Put out on a monthly schedule, the cover of each comic had a number that told you which week it fell in. If Lois Lane was in Africa writing a story, the chances were she would still be there in the other titles or on her way back to Metropolis. Each issue often featured its own villain and showdown with Superman but there was an overall connection within this Superman-universe.

Spider-Man and Batman also had multiple titles. Spider-Man might be fighting Hobgoblin in 'Amazing Spider-Man' but battling the Spot in 'Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man.' Batman could be at the mercy of the Joker in 'Detective Comics' but also in another country talking to Ra's al Ghul in 'Batman.' It wasn't always clear when each story took place unless the editor put in an editor's note somewhere in the comic.

A week in the life of Wolverine.

In the 90s, Wolverine, the Punisher and Ghost Rider all rose to popularity. It got to the point where you practically couldn't open a Marvel comic without seeing one of these characters. To this day, Wolverine remains one of the busiest heroes around. He has numerous solo adventures in his two solo books while remaining an active member of the X-Men, X-Force and New Avengers. It was in Wolverine #73 where Marvel decided to give us an idea how he manages to appear in so many different books.

DC has 'The New 52,' which has given all its titles a fresh start. We have seen a couple minor guest appearances in other books by Superman and Batman but each titles is focusing on the individual character rather than try to show their place in the new DC Universe. Marvel appears to have thrown out the idea of continuity. Some titles such as 'Captain America' and 'The Mighty Thor' are taking place in their own continuity. Fear Itself is the major Marvel event with both characters heavily involved. Their main solo titles make no acknowledgement to the event. Captain America, while struggling with the loss of Bucky and his shield being shattered in 'Fear Itself' has his shield back in 'Captain America' and is still in his old Super Soldier uniform in the pages of 'Secret Avengers.' To make things worse, unless I missed something, he was turned into the Spider King in Spider-Man's Spider-Island mini-event. We have no idea what the order of each story is.

When does Avengers: Children's Crusade take place? Actually, who cares? The story rocks.
Does this story still count in 'The New 52'?

Perhaps continuity shouldn't be so important. It just might be something we should let go of. Batman has 'Batman,' 'Detective Comics,' 'Batman and Robin,' 'Batman: The Dark Knight' along with other Bat-related titles such as 'Nightwing,' 'Batwoman' and 'Batgirl' he'll probably appear in as well as 'Justice League' and 'Justice League International.' With a less tighter control over Batman's continuity, readers won't feel obliged to read every single appearance. If one particular title isn't to their liking, they can choose to pass on it. 'Captain America' is giving us an interesting story that doesn't have to worry about where he's appearing in each Avengers title. 'Avengers: The Children's Crusade' with it's bi-monthly schedule has been one of my favorite stories this year. It screams against the idea of continuity and because I enjoy it so much, I really don't care how Doom's appearance relates to his Future Foundation time. DC finally released Teen Titans: Games, a book twenty-three years in the making. This book is 100% pre-'New 52' and I couldn't be happier to finally read it. It doesn't matter how it might fit in with any tweaks that have occurred to the characters. It's an exciting read with characters I love so that's good enough for me.

Also with 'The New 52,' there's been the question of what has happened before and whether or not those events and story arcs still exist or have been erased. This is a little bit different than worrying about regular continuity. Having Batman popping up in several titles in one month is one thing but if major story arcs are no longer considered part of his history, that's another story. Most of us know the story of Damian's...conception but that was later modified when Grant Morrison brought the character back. I don't want characters' history erased but worrying about when each individual story happens currently isn't worth fretting over.

Readers have to be flexible. Having multiple appearances of their favorite characters is a good thing (assuming they're all well-written). If we get hung up on which event happens before the next, it takes away from the reading enjoyment. Unless there are major repercussions happening, it shouldn't really matter. Comics are being collected and read in trade paperback format so continuity is becoming even less important. Superheroes can do a lot of amazing things. We just have to accept that one of those things is appearing in several good stories. As long as the quality is there and we're having fun reading them, when they happen in relation to each other doesn't really matter anymore.

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Posted by Nightshade50

Superman has been appearing everyone in the new 52

Posted by MagmaGazer

You've raised some interesting points. I gave up with tracking when stories occurred ages ago what with the plethora of story arcs Marvel puts out in recent times.

Edited by lorex

G-Man I am a huge continuity fan and I hate it when a character appears all over the place an there is little to no reference made to an absence, or a question 'Hey weren't you just in Russia this morning, how can you be in New York by noon?'. The main comic book publishers decided some time ago continity dosent really matter and we as the comic buying public just role over and accept it. I for one would rather have 3 or 4 well written apperances by a character each month rather than 10 apperances a month many of which are not very good and conflict with each other because a person cannot be in more than one place at the came time, well accept Madrox but thats a special case. Yes I am primarily refering to Wolverine, but as you said it also applies to Batman, Superman, Captain America and others. I would love for the publishers to release a list of what order things happen in for the more popular characters but I doubt this will happen because that might require different creative teams to confir with each other and compare notes so maybe their stories might fit together better.

Edited by The_Tree

I like keeping continuity in effect when it involves big changes like the death of a character, or an event.

But when normal comic stories are going, I don't really care if a hero appears in several titles. I just think of these things happening closely together, and that you can mix and match which comes first, unless it's actually officially mentioned which came first.

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Posted by ninjacommando

Its definitely getting out of hand. I don't even try to figure out when stuff happens anymore.

Edited by FoxxFireArt

Well, calling continuity no longer important is a subjective statement. If it doesn't bother you, then that's perfectly fine. To some readers it means a great deal. It's also the publisher's own fault for how they make the comics interact with one another. So, of coarse your readers are going to want to know when something is taking place in relation to another. By that argument, why even give them sequential numbering. Why aren't they all then just Part 1 of whatever number the story lasts?

There is also the problem of how publisher's fracture their reader base by making multiple titles with the same characters in place of one strong title. One place where everyone who wants to know that character's story can go. The readers don't know which story to follow, Again, that's the publisher's fault for trying to milk a cash cow. Instead, they are spreading themselves too thin. Making more titles does not mean more people will buy them.

Saying its no longer important is just making excuses for them. Readers shouldn't be asked to have to let go of continuity if it means something to them. The reader just shouldn't expect it, because publishers have done nothing to encourage continuity in years. In a way, they just cant. There's no way one author is going to be able to know every little detail of the things that came before him. That's unrealistic. The series of constant events is another symptom. In many ways, comics are no longer 'books' as much as they are a collection of short stories.

Why should a reader become emotionally or financially invested in characters or series when nothing that happens ends up having any meaning? That's when they become soap operas or sitcoms.

As I've been saying recently. If continuity means that much to you that constant re-writing history gets on your nerves. Check out some manga. You will get continuity in most titles. They have stories in every genre and for any age group. Even Tom Pinchuk seemed impressed with the story of Fullmetal Alchemist. One volume of this series averages at around $10 for over 200 pages of content. Your average comic trade paperback can range from $15 to 30 and at times not have 200 pages,

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Posted by Eyz

@ninjacommando said:

Its definitely getting out of hand. I don't even try to figure out when stuff happens anymore.

Exactly...

Better not think too much about such questions (anymore)...

Edited by ArtisticNeedham

Comics used to be solo comics, a character only existed in their own comic... I think, pretty sure.

And it was sort of a revolutionary thing to suddenly have them crossing over and existing in the same universe. If you have these characters exist in the same universe it should be treated that way, so in that regard I think continuity matters. Its not just a comic book thing though, anything that tells multiple stories has continuity, right? Otherwise it pulls your audience out of the story. Venture Brothers builds on their characters history. Even a show like the Simpsons, which jokes around with continuity, has continuity. I still enjoy comics and don't worry too much about continuity. I read Invincible graphic novals out of order. I read old trades like Titans: Games, or the old Amazing Spider-Man or Uncanny X-men. And even if most of the stories I liked are wiped out in the New 52, like the original JLI, at least they still existed. They can't be altered, except in new comics that retcon stuff.

Sometimes there can be too much continuity though. As much as I like Dr. Who, the current stuff isn't something you can just start watching, you have to go back and watch the previous episodes to understand what is going on. I tried watching one episode of the new season after not seeing the last season or any of the current season, and I was completely lost. At the comic store I wanted to help a friend to understand what was going on in each comic, this was months ago during Blackest Night, and I realized to understand what was going on in most comics you had go back really far to understand what was going on. To get blackest night you might have to read War of the Red Lanterns, or go even further to the Sinestro Corps. Other comics were similar, it would take a lot of explaining.

Without continuity its not really a real world and your not building onto it story by story. They are more just stories floating out there, One story doesn't relate to the others and it doesn't matter where you start or if you get the next issue, which is what I think comics used to be in the beginning right?

Posted by tonis

continuity is definitely shot in anything we knew as history, so now the real challenge is BELIEVABILITY.

bottom line is you can insult my memory, but not my intelligence ;)

Posted by IcePrince_X

I hate it when continuity isn't followed or made non-essential to a story line or a character's profile. You end up with a chaotic universe with overly-powered beings.

It is affecting the actual understanding of limitation which actually makes a story and characters interesting.

Posted by FoxxFireArt

@Eyz said:

@ninjacommando said:

Its definitely getting out of hand. I don't even try to figure out when stuff happens anymore.

Exactly...

Better not think too much about such questions (anymore)...

That in itself sounds more like a sad commentary. As if to say. Give up on continuity in the series you care for. There's no hope.

Online
Posted by Mr. Kamikaze

Spider Island takes place before Schism and Fear Itself. In Herc #7, the group of X-Men who came to New York to deal with the lizard infestation in the sewers (in X-Men) claim they were "in town helping Spider-Man with a lizard problem" (or something to that effect) and that arc of X-Men took place way before Fear Itself and Schism.

That's all I can contribute :P

Posted by Jamiracles

@tonis: @tonis said:

continuity is definitely shot in anything we knew as history, so now the real challenge is BELIEVABILITY.

bottom line is you can insult my memory, but not my intelligence ;)

Seconded. I think whats also important is letting history speak for what was good and what wasn't and counting those stories in the lexicon of the character.

Posted by Mercy_

@tonis said:

continuity is definitely shot in anything we knew as history, so now the real challenge is BELIEVABILITY.

bottom line is you can insult my memory, but not my intelligence ;)

I cosign this so freaking hard.

Moderator
Posted by Fantasgasmic

Ironically, we were all talking about THIS IMAGE 1 year ago. …I tried to find your post about it, but there's not an easy way to search for it. It's the pic where all the events are mapped out on a timeline.

Click the link to see the full size image, and all the events.

Knowing where Schism is, and how far it is from 5 lights, and assuming "Fear Without Man" is Fear Itself, I'm starting to look forward to Ultron War being a real event.

Posted by Baddamdog

I AGREE WITH EVERYTHING SAID IN THIS ARTICLE.

Posted by Grim

i forever feel like there should be continuity control. Not nessisarily knowing what happened before what, but making sure that they all make sense with each other.

We NEEDED this superman fix, and we need someone to regulate consistency of characters so we dont get another Aquaman fiasco. Every time a writer under/over powers a character, i want to punch them. YOur getting paid for this. Do the job right!

Posted by ThanosIsMad

Strict continuity no longer matters. Loose continuity does, and is arguably better from a storytelling standpoint in a shared universe. Loose continuity provides writers with a greater range of storytelling possibilities since they don't have to worry about Character A being unavailable due to them being in another dimension or whatever in their own book.

Where each issue takes place is ultimately secondary for the most part, and it's better that way. Except in instances where it's ridiculous to believe that a character can be in 49 different books and maintain any sort of social life, like Wolverine. Batman has a plane and immediate access to teleporting tech, so it's somewhat reasonable to believe that he can be in six different books. Or you can imagine that each Bat book is Batman out on a different night. Detective could take place on Monday, Batman takes place Tuesday and Wednesday, and then whatever story arc that was in Detective is resolved on Thursday. Day/night breaks for Batman make it easier to believe he's everywhere.

Posted by ssejllenrad

Marvel is more notorious in ignoring minor continuity issues. Especially in the more recent arcs. You just don't know how to make up the timeline.
 
DC is more notorious in rebooting if they feel they don't like the major continuity.
 
Nyehehehe!

Edited by Daveyo520

Good read Tony. I am glad I won't have to keep up with all the Batman titles. Only super major plot pints should mater. So if he fights two face in one comic but not another it doesn't mater, but if Robin dies in one it does.

Posted by yteez

Good point. To me knowing what story took place before some certain other story isn't so important as to sticking to the events and changes they introduce form time to time. For example in ASM Spider-Island it has not yet been explained how the Jackal knows Spidey's identity even after the deal with Mephisto (I wouldn't expect Pete to have unmasked before the Jackal). But stil as in the case of Cap even this isn't taken into consideration with Cap having his shield back and no reference to Bucky's death.

Posted by SC

Erm, I always feel like an alien talking about continuity. All sources and definitions for it I know of, comic or non comic related refer to it as essentially the timeline of events and its consistency. What gets confusing is when people assume all the books they read, all happen at the same time, at the same speed, and those things are consistent? Which I mean... have these fans ever tried to write anything? In fiction the author controls the time, time is even more relative than usual.  
 
Anyway, continuity will always be important, because each issue of Batman can't have his parents dies in various ways only for everything to rest the next issue. What's more important is peoples understanding of continuity. Can't assume that comics are so real, that the moment you read one and then another that those two stories are covering the same fictional timeline. So its a matter of preference? Do you want time accurately presented in comics, and have everyone fail in trying to get there because its literally impossible, or do you want consistency in characterization, plot details so on, and apply your own discretion aware as many of the best writers in comics tend to shout at fans, its not real! 

Moderator
Posted by LordRequiem

Having a thing for order, I would much prefer all the work to be co-ordinated, if Spidey appears in the fear itself main arc his issues should be Fear itself chapters, otherwise the heroes might as well be everywhere all the time. I think one thing that dents the publisher's integrity in terms of continuity and character appearances is the overusage of major events in which multiple teams and characters are involved. If these were lessened, maybe it would be easier to keep track.

Posted by Sir_Deadpool

@Baddamdog said:

I AGREE WITH EVERYTHING SAID IN THIS ARTICLE.

exactly!

Without continuity i will no pick up any story lines. i always want to know which characeters apear and stay for a long time

Posted by KainScion

it's a freaking comic book not a history lesson you study for a quizz. jeez. enjoy the art, the story.

Posted by gethere
@Mr. Kamikaze: Actually spider island happens after fear itself because the herc comics go though fear itself first than spider island. 
Posted by Eyz

@FoxxFireArt said:

@Eyz said:

@ninjacommando said:

Its definitely getting out of hand. I don't even try to figure out when stuff happens anymore.

Exactly...

Better not think too much about such questions (anymore)...

That in itself sounds more like a sad commentary. As if to say. Give up on continuity in the series you care for. There's no hope.

Well, I liked Ted Kord/Blue Beetle series from the 80s (and his appearances in later comics) and was a fan of Jamie Reyes' original Blue Beetle series from a couple years back.

From the looks of his new current on-going series... I shouldn't think about continuity too much anymore... :/

Posted by G-Man

@FoxxFireArt: I think you totally missed my point. I'm not saying past things don't matter. I'm saying if a character appears/guest stars in five titles in one given month, there's no need to worry about when each took place with each other. That is in no way saying nothing important could ever happen. It just might take the next month to see it in another title. Avengers: The Children's Crusade is pretty out of continuity with its release schedule but with Scarlet Witch being there and the huge affects it had (so far) for one member of X-Factor, I'd say it's a pretty huge thing that's happening.

@SC: Again, not saying past continuity doesn't matter. I never implied you could change a character's history. Batman's parents died the same way. It just isn't worth worrying about if you should read Batman or Detective Comics first each month.

@imsirius: I'm not supporting reboots.

Staff
Posted by Daveyo520

@G-Man: But do you support robots?

Posted by G-Man

@Daveyo520: Only some of them.

Staff
Posted by Joe Venom

I like Saturdays! sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.....(well sort of)

Posted by CombatCraigFM

I used to be SO hung up on continuity but the new 52 has actually allowed me to let go. Your example of Captain America was perfect. While reading Spider Island and seeing Cap was a giant spider I just said to myself - "this is just Cap in Spiderman's world" and Bucky is Cap in the Secret Avengers world, etc.

To me each title bring it's own continuity. As long as things stay continuous WITHIN each book I'm totally cool with characters doing other things in other books. They all still exist in the same universe (and same city in some cases) but each story is taking place in it's own time.

Edited by mikeclark1982

superman/batman was a book which really was not continuity laden either.

Posted by Daveyo520

One thing the new 52 let me do was get back into comics after months of not reading them. A lot of the reason was I had to catch up on so much stuff and the longer I waited to more I had to catch up on; a lot has happened since April. Nice to not have to worry so much about the books I missed, but will eventually pick up.

Posted by SC
@G-Man said:

@SC: Again, not saying past continuity doesn't matter. I never implied you could change a character's history. Batman's parents died the same way. It just isn't worth worrying about if you should read Batman or Detective Comics first each month.

Oh, my bad G-Man, I wasn't particularly referring to your piece *smile* more the perception of a lot of fans idea of continuity. Continuity is inherent, its like time. in real life. If you have two panels in a comic, thats continuity. Good continuity could be if a character is wearing a red shirt in one panel, and in the next panel, that same shirt if they were just standing there. Its bothersome to recognize that as continuity but its still technically continuity. People only tend to care about mentioning it is when its there preference or prerogative to. Which is okay. So for anyone to dismiss continuity is to like someone to dismiss time in real life. I mean, its sort of impossible to. Its more of a matter of how much you care about how its presented to you as far as accuracy vs lack of accuracy. (those things being of a subjective value given the medium)  
 
I agree with your sentiment as far as knowing or worrying about what comic issue out of Batman or Detective Comics to read. *nods*
Moderator
Posted by Xenozoic Shaman

"I don't want characters' history erased but worrying about when each individual story happens currently isn't worth fretting over."

Those would be my sentiments as well. The history of a hero/villain is what typically adds richness to their character, making them more interesting. While I sometimes wonder how Wolverine can be in so many places at once, I usually give up trying to figure that out, simply imagining that it was all possible.

Posted by G-Man

@Xenozoic Shaman: That's why I put that sentence in bold. That's the point I want to drive home. I've been enjoying the hell out of Children's Crusade and just can't let the detail of when it's taking place get to me. X-Factor has shown some results already. Just give me great stories month after month and I'll be happy. Wolverine's current continuity was thrown out in the 90s.

Staff
Posted by KainScion

you want continuity?? check out Green Lantern 1. WTF??? how is that tied to new guardians???

Posted by fodigg

Here's the thing, I want:

  • Continuity within each book
  • General continuity over time
  • Important crossover events to matter

Yet when you consider those three bullet points, they conflict. The whole "too many events" debate comes down to point 1, continuity within a book, conflicting with the third. A book's internal continuity/status quo suffers from being impacted by too many events. The ambiguity of point two--making it general instead of everything lining up each month as the article describes in the earlier superman titles--is my attempt at a compromise, but this will always be a tension in major comic book publishers. I want the universe to be shared because that's what makes it feel "real," but I don't want that shared universe to screw up good books, and sometimes the best books don't use the current status quo.

Posted by nukethewhalesagain

I am not a continuity nit picker. I don't really care that Spider-Man couldn't have possibly spent all that time stuck in the past in Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine because its a good story. If a story is good then screw however many continuity rules it breaks. There are two reasons, though, that I like to keep track of continuity: 1. It lets me know how the character has grown and changed and 2. It's fun.

You really can't have a good story without a character arc. The character growing and learning from the actions of the plot is the basic reason for fiction. Without continuity it becomes a lot harder to keep track of how the character has developed over time. It can still be done, but it requires the writer to set time aside to set up the character each time he starts a story. Imagine if, every six issues, the writer had to set up that Peter Parker had been traumatized by Gwen Stacy's death.

There also wouldn't be all this continuity if it wasn't fun for the fans. Someone above me posted the picture of the timeline from Avengers #5. For those who have that comic book, how fun has it been seeing all those events come to pass?

Edited by Orange_Pork

I stopped caring about comic book continuity years ago. It is a complete non issue. Every page of Gates Of Gotham could have had something that contradicted the continuity of all other ten billion other Batman titles and it wouldn't change the fact that it was a fantastic story. Don't get mired down in that type of stuff.

Posted by Hector

I think it's too much to keep track of all those stories, I rather attach a version of a superhero to one comic and one comic only.

Posted by YoungFrey

I have not cared about continuntity since pretty much when I learned it's definition.  When I was a kid I learned the histories of the characters, but even then I read a pretty limited selection of comics.  I didn't have the cash to buy lots of 75¢ books.  I wasn't reading 5 Spidermans, or The Avengers and the FF.  So I mostly wasn't exposed to it.  The idea that the incredibly convoluted, intricate, and (almost by definition) unbelievable stories should hold together into some cohesive whole is insane to me.  A good story isn't about how well it adheres to continuty, it's about how interesting the characters and interactions are.  When a book comes out and the first comment I hear from a fan is "the hair is wrong" I feel like they are cheating themselves of so much. 
Posted by buttersdaman000

How can people even blast DC for their continuity? At least they try to maintain it.

Posted by difficlus

Lmao the wolverine 'average day' stint is epically cool. But no sunday? lol

maybe he sticks with the girls until sunday night haha

Posted by etragedy

Waitaminnit!!!

 
When did that Teen Titans book come out? That looks like the REAL Teen Titans - not what passed for them in the New 52 last month. By Wolfman and Perez!!! HELL yeah! I thought I had every appearance of that incarnation of the Titans, even in crossovers.
 
It's new?
Why didn't anyone tell me about this?!!!!
Posted by pspin

At least Marvel never had a character punch time to fix continuity... The way I see it, the main titles are continuity and the others just happen where they fit in.

Posted by RedheadedAtrocitus

The historian in me strives to want continuity in my comic character's history. Just like in a previous post I had made, I like to know just what events/histories are part of the general scope of things in order to see where the character has come from, where the character is going and so forth. Now, with characters that have multiple titles that can be a sensitive issue for some. Personally for me I read comics with regard to the storyline/arc/event in question so continuity in the story itself is important while as a fan overall continuity is just something to be slightly nit-picky over. I can overlook the inconsistencies easily since at the end of the day comics are for purposes of entertainment and not something to be so serious over.

Posted by mk111

I think that continuity is still somewhat important...

In fact, I usually ignore comics that have no continuity.

Posted by bigsoto74

Atleast Wolverine gets booty on Saturday. They all seem to know him so I guess he is popular with the hookers...lol
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