CV Roundtable User Discussion 018 - Continuity

Hello, I'm xerox-kitty (standing in for sora_the key) and welcome to another of Comic Vine's innovative Roundtable user discussions! Any new-comers, please feel welcome to comment below, whether you agree with us or not. After all, the whole point of this is to drum up discussion ;)

Today I'm joined by experienced Roundtablers Billy Batson (BB), danhimself (Dan) & Trodorne (Tro) and newcomer FadeToBlackBolt (Fade). How are you all today?

Dan: Hey everybody! I'm danhimself and I'm exhausted.

Tro: Hello again Humans! Trodorne is back for you future domination...Presentation.

BB: Hilo. I'm Billy Batson, Billy, Batson, BB, The Charmless Man or whatever you like to call me and

I'm joining this Moroccan People’s Revolutionary Bowls Club or the RT for short.

Fade: Hey, everyone, FadeToBlackBolt here; Batman nut and comic book cynic.

Okay, here’s the classic first question to every RT: What good comics have you read recently?

Dan: I really enjoyed Red Robin this week and Schism #1 was pretty good as well.

Inhumanly Good Comics

Fade: I have to offer a shout out for FF #5, and speaking as a Black Bolt fan (shocker right? From my name it's a huge surprise) it was a great issue. Black Bolt felt like the absolute powerhouse that he was in the Eisner winning Inhumans Vol 2 by Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee. For the record though, the Future Foundation don't appear. Which means no Valeria, wooo!

BB: John Constantine: Reasons To Be Cheerful, The Joker by Azzarello, Tank Girl and maybe something else.

Tro: Out of the 20+ comics been read in the past 2 weeks that is hard to narrow down, but if I had to pick.

Superman: Red Son

BB: oh yeah also Superman: Red Son.

Fade: I also finished Hellblazer: Original Sins quite recently, and that was fantastic. Certainly not for everyone, but let me just say that there is a reason Hellblazer has been going strongly since its inception.

It's also traditional to fire questions at the newbie. So, FadeToBlackBolt... What is Continuity?

Fade: Continuity, in my opinion, is what makes comic books such a unique literary art form. Whereas in a novel or film, you have a finite time to tell a story, the narrative of an average comic has no clear end in sight. So how do comic companies keep track of all the old stories whilst not mentally killing the reader? They bundle everything together under a blanket called Continuity, and anything outside of that blanket isn't important to the key story.

Of course, then you have smart-alecs who write stories that include multiple continuities, further confounding the reader. In a nutshell, Continuity is that fancy term given to a chain of events that occur within a single Universe thus creating a history for said Universe. That is, until someone decides to mess around with it and create a Giant Yellow Fear Bug. Then we're left with a cluster-bomb of no longer relevant characters, actions and events.

Seems clear that there's a lot of meaning behind one word. So is Continuity important to you?

Tro: I find it is very important. To me it gives a sense that this character is my own because I was there when he went through this moment in their comic book life. At the same time it’s good to have that past for future stories like a person who was sent to prison by Spider-Man was actually innocent but was caught at the scene, would want to seek vengeance against the Wall Crawler.

Parallel To Parallax

Continuity helps readers relate to the character.

Dan: To me it's one of the most important things about comic book story telling. I love stories where there are little hints dropped in here and there, then the writer gathers up those hints at the end to make the story complete. Some good writers can even take things from other writers' arcs that were originally meaningless and turn them into something much bigger.

BB: I agree with the rest of the guys. Keeping up with continuity is good, however if the character hasn't been interesting and the publisher still wants to spend money on that character, they might as well mess the continuity and start over.

Fade: For me, the importance in preserving Continuity is directly related to how well a story is written. To address my earlier example, I think Green Lantern: Rebirth is a terrible comic book, as it was largely used to turn a character who had experienced genuine growth into a ‘Gary Stu’. But the changing of Parallax into a Fear Entity didn't bug me (pun victory), it was the fact Hal's slate was wiped clean entirely, as such, the disruption of Continuity here greatly displeased me.

Torn Over Cyclops?

However, in a comic like Astonishing X-Men: Torn where Cyclops' inability to control his optic blasts is a result of psychological problems rather than a hit to the head, the arc was so well told that I honestly didn't care that my favourite Marvel character's Continuity was altered to accommodate the story.

So basically, the amount Continuity matters to me is dependent on how it is used (or abused).

There are some titles that thrive on "established Continuity". What do you think about titles that are set "out of Continuity" like What If...?, X-Men: Forever or Exiles? Are these any more or less accessible to new readers?

Thy Kingdom Come

Fade: I like titles that are out of continuity, like Kingdom Come or the Dark Knight Returns, but I hate series like What If? purely because they're sometimes better than the series proper, and then I just wind up mad :P

As for new readers, they're standalone stories, so they're much easier for the casual reader to pick up and enjoy. There's a reason Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth has sold so many copies; it's an iconic Batman story that stands completely on its own.

BB: What if stories? I think they're great for new readers (and for old ones) to stumble upon and explore different and new characters.

Exiles In Exile

What If...? was one of the first comics I ever bought. It was a rare issue, because it had a happy ending ;)

Tro: What If...? series was my favorite for out of continuity series. but if anything I don't read a series out of continuity more just read stories like Superman: Red Son where its separate worlds from the existing one. Cause I don't want to spend money on a new series of the same character in the same world with just another version of storytelling about him.

Dan: What If...? had some great books but for me they always ended up the same. Most of the characters ended up dead and everyone was in worse shape than the way the story originally happened. Now Exiles I loved. It was so cool seeing my favorite characters with new origins and powers. Exiles was like one big on-going What If...? series. It was awesome as long as Claremont wasn't writing it.

Tro: That’s because much of the What If...? issues were mainly used to justify the story lines the writers did at the time.

What about when a writer makes a mistake that goes against established Continuity? Do you try to compensate for the changes by creating a logic of your own? Or is it too jarring to accept?

For instance, when Robbie Baldwin was transformed from Speedball into Penance, there were huge changes in his character. As Penance he started self-harming & was emotionally disturbed, but changed into a devious schemer who’d carefully plotted his revenge against Nitro, and later became a drooling pawn at the hands of Norman Osborn. I found it difficult to deal with those kinds of inconsistent changes.

Beastly Behaviour

Dan: If it's just a minor mistake then I'll chalk it up to the "nobody is perfect" rule. But if it's something big then it'll upset me. Like when Felicia Henderson gave Beast Boy powers he never had before and gave no explanation on these powers. One issue Beast Boy can only turn into regular animals and the next he's turning into dragons and phoenixes then he's back to his normal power set once Henderson left the book. An editor should have caught that and said something to her like "maybe you should do some research".

Fade: That's an interesting point, and again, I'm going to be swayed by how good a story is. If a writer makes a genuine error, and it's of no real consequence (a name mistake, rearranging events, etc...), then I don't really mind.

Sentry Under Siege

HOWEVER, when a writer deliberately ignores a character's history just to make their own terrible story seem more interesting, especially at the expense of that character's core design, then I am mad. Siege is the worst comic book ever written and one of the key reasons for that is that it completely ignored the Sentry's prior characterisation. It was consistent with his portrayal in Dark Avengers, but that too was out of character. He was greatly weakened, his relationship with the Void was changed without explanation, and the message of the character was erased in order to give the Marvel Universe a scapegoat for all the terrible things that have happened since Civil War.

So that's my take on writers and their mistakes; little errors are fine, desecration of character and history are not.

Tro: Too me I thought him becoming Penance because of the damage he thought he did made sense, it was an evolution of the character that at some point would have to come. But in the end he overcame his problem and his brooding eventually. Robbie dealt with his failure much like quite a few of us have but took it to literal terms. We beat ourselves up when we make mistakes. And when he learned to forgive himself (mostly) he came back as Speedball.

And in the case of Norman Osborn, the man knows how to manipulate people. And in that context I try to make sense to an extent only if it follows characteristics of that character. But when it is totally way off base (One More Day), then that is when I get upset.

Cold & Vindictive; One Inconsistent Incarnation of Penance

Dan: Or you could let it slide depending on the character. Like if a character has history of mental illness then when they say or do something that's slightly out of character it could always be attributed to the mental illness. With XK's Robbie Baldwin example above I could brush that off and just say the guy was going through a hard time and his mind was having difficulty dealing with it so there were some moments of character breakdown.

BB: If the writer messes up but the story is still good, I don't mind.

Fade: And with regard to Robbie Baldwin, as a depressed guy who has self-mutilated, I LOVED the sombre and broody Penance, and was disappointed to see him go back to his more jovial Speedball personality (and yes, I know he still cuts).

Norman Osborn manipulating him was just garbage, as is pretty much everything to do with Norman Osborn since the night Gwen Stacy died.

I like the way that Christos Gage hasn't completely reverted back to the happy, joking Speedball & that he's accepted Penance as part of Baldwin's character now. But at the time, Penance really was a pretty inconsistent character.

Okay, Trodorne mentioned One More Day. With someone like Spider-Man there's so much Continuity that it can be hard to follow. Over the last 50 years he’s featured in 3 or 4 regular solo on-going titles, and now appearing regularly in other team books (ie FF & New Avengers), it can be hard to keep track of events. How do you keep up with events? Is it difficult to keep a continuous chronology with popular characters such as Spidey & Batman? Is there such a thing as "too much Continuity"?

Fade: WIKIPEDIA AND COMICVINE ARE A GODSEND.

What’s this “Wikipedia” you speak of? ;)

The Fantastic Avenging Uncanny Spider-Man

Fade: When I got into reading comics religiously, I was just jumping into Infinite Crisis. Let me tell you, learning about the Multiverse and Crisis On Infinite Earths (COIE) is not something that comes easily! I think I spent probably 90+ hours just reading through every character's biography on Wikipedia and CV. I didn't buy COIE until I knew everything that had happened before and after, which is only possible because I don't care about spoilers.

In a nutshell, I think if you're willing to do the work then keeping track of a character/title's history isn't that hard. But it is time-consuming. And when you do come across something/someone you aren't familiar with, just Google it. Honestly, people seem to have forgotten the concept of Googling. The amount of "Where Should I Start" Threads on CV attest to that.

And the Ultimate Universe is another way to go if you simply cannot be bothered with 616. Though obviously you should stop at Ultimatum, since everything from then on is completely terrible.

Dan: There might be but I don't think we've seen an example of it yet. While it may seem like characters such as Spider-man and Wolverine appear in a lot of monthly books what a lot of us forget is that these monthly issue may only be telling the story of an hour or two out of the character's day. Stuff going on in FF may not be happening at the same time as things happening in Amazing Spider-Man or New Avengers or Avengers or Fear Itself: Spider-Man. The example I like to use is that Blackest Night was an 8 issue series and we had to wait 9 months to completely read it but the events of Blackest Night only took place during one night in the DC Universe.

BB: Of course. Characters like Deadpool and Wolverine appear in many books which makes them hard to follow. Even the fans hate overdosing on appearances. Enough is enough...certain characters. Unless it's someone like Batman, it's never too much :p

Madam Web Struggles To Keep Up With Spider-Man's MANY Adventures

Tro: When it comes to things like Spider-Man I tend to ONLY stay with his main title of Amazing Spider-Man. For something like that it’s not so much the continuity of what they did; it’s the essence of the character that is being played out in Continuity. It does seem like a lot, but we also have to look back at comics back 50 years ago. Comics themselves were very episodic in nature and you could go through a story in 1 or 2 issues. Now, a single story in just one comic title lasts like 4 or 6 issues in plus continuity of previous stories being tacked on. And much of the continuity is barely re-used or brought up in any context unless it was a choice of the writer. So in the end the writer is the one who can make all the difference.

Back onto the idea of too much continuity I have to agree, that is what Comic Vine is for, or even the internet. We are given much more resources about comics now than we did back in the 80's or 70's so we don't need to changes like we saw in One More Day that we need to overhaul everything for the sake of a single story.

Personally, I found it flabbergasting that the New Mutants referred back to the Inferno as being only 4 years ago, when the X-Men cross-over took place way back in 1988. Marvel has their amazing 'sliding time rule' to cope with time problems caused by publishing, DC have previously used Crisis on Infinite Earths to consolidate dozens of Continuities into one.

Clearly each publisher has their own way of dealing with Continuity problems. Do you think that excessive Continuity can put off new readers?

Which Conflict Was It Again, Tony?

BB: I would say yes but only if the continuity is too long and the character has become too complex/hard to follow for the new reader.

Dan: Yeah it definitely can, especially if you're a ‘completist’ like me. If I hear that a book is good and it's at issue 20 then I have to start at issue 1. Now if there's another volume before the current then I'll need to read that volume before I can start the current. It gets expensive for new readers to get caught up.

You kind of have to applaud DC for their courage when it comes to their reboots. Marvel simply does very light retcons continuously from Tony Stark starting in Korea or Vietnam or Afghanistan. But DC does these huge relaunch events like COIE or Infinite Crisis or the current Flashpoint. I think while DC's method is a little more risky if it fails but it definitely gives new readers a definite starting point where they don't have to read tons of back issues to get caught up.

Tro: I think not. I would bet 90% of new readers don't care about continuity in the first place. I would imagine if they followed a series long enough then they would care about it. When I started off in Amazing Spider-Man back in the late 80's / early 90's I did not care about continuity cause I liked the series as I read it. Only after years of the comic that I wanted to read all those back issues and find out what I’d missed.

Big Bad Daredevil

Comics have been a niche, we can't bend over backwards to get new readers. People read because of quality, and it shows there is quality and history for characters when they follow their characteristics or gain new ones. Prime example, in the marvel mini event Shadowland we were given a chance to have Daredevil become a new villain because he crossed the line between good and evil. But they went with the Parallax route in order to bring him back and make him a new and improved character much like Hal Jordan.

Fade: Excessive continuity can certainly be daunting with new readers, but with the introduction of the trade paperback it's not that much of an issue. For example, if you were interested in Grant Morrison's Batman then you need to collect roughly 10 trades, rather than dozens of back issues.

And even then, new readers have so many Continuity-lite options. They have Astonishing X-Men, Batman Confidential, the Ultimate Universe and Earth One. The only problem with these is the little amount of material (Ultimate Universe being the obvious exception).

Really it comes down to what you want out of a comic; do you want a saga dating back decades that's infused with the social and cultural aspects of the time? Or do you want a standalone story that just reflects a character's core design and story as developed by a small group of writers?

Okay, so Continuity can be pretty heavy. When there are problems with Continuity it can lead to another situation... Retroactive Continuity. Also known as The Retcon!

Trodorne since I've already picked on FadeToBlackBolt, tell us what a Retcon is!

Crisis: The Multiverse's Hang-Over Cure

Tro: Retcon would mean changed continuity in a series. This can vary from changes in past issues, in a series history, or the re-introduction of a character.

DC is famous with their "retcons" being the Crisises..ses....sis. ssss. Where a big earth shattering event changes the DC universe and fixes some of the past errors and modernizes the character for future writers and stories to work around.

So how do you guys feel about the Retcon? Is it a useful tool for writers, or a bad thing that should only be talked about in hushed tones?

BB: Useful tool. Just like I said if the character/characters has/have been dull and too boring to read, the reboot could be the answer. Jason Todd for example wasn't popular before the reboot but now he's one of DC's popular characters.

Tro: Why I would give up my relationship with my wife to talk about "Retcons".

We're not about to retcon Trodorne's marriage in a deal with Mephisto!

Robin Reborn: Jason Todd Resurrected As Red Hood

Dan: I think it depends on how it's used. Just think how hard it is for these writers to come up with an original story that doesn't change or take elements from someone else’s past story. Some of these characters have been around for 70+ years and have appeared in thousands of issues. We need these retcons from time to time. Green Lantern was a B-list character before Geoff Johns came along and started on the series and while he's had to tweak some things to make others work, I don't really mind since it's made Green Lantern into one of DC's A-list and produced some of my favorite stories of the last 5 years.

BB: Oh yes about GL. Just shows that reboots are good.

Tro: To me Retcons can help and do add to the universe. Prime example (no pun intended) after Infinite Crisis when Superboy Prime shattered reality allowing Jason Todd came back as the Red Hood. Jason was an angry kid and turning him into a young Punisher-like character was a great thing to have hanging over Bruce's head. So in a way it does and in others it doesn't.

So what comes to mind when we mention Retcons? Is it a particular character? Or a certain storyline?

Tro: QUEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSAAAAAAAAAAAAAAADAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

I think I have one that comes to the top of my mind.

BB: Infinite Crisis and Jason Todd.

One More Day; Jumping The Shark?

Dan: One More Day was a horribly executed story but at the same time it was completely necessary story. Spider-Man had become stale and Straczynski had backed him into a corner. He tried to add all of these mythological elements to Spider-Man's 100% scientific origin, added new powers and unmasked him. He "jumped the shark" to bring back old new readers and find new readers. None of them worked. So they had to do something drastic to get Petey out of that corner. Like I said the story was horrible and they could have chosen a much better method of reversing Straczyski's run, but the story was necessary to keep the character alive.

Tro: *foams at the mouth and twitches all over in sheer anger*

What Dan said.....

BB: Scratch that. Misread. One More Day comes to mind :)

Fade: OMD gave us current Amazing Spidey, which is Marvel's best series. While Flash Rebirth gave us Flashpoint, and GL: Rebirth gave us GL: V4. All of which were terrible, Flash: Rebirth being an affront to the human race.

Will Anyone Miss The Franken-Castle?

Personally, I always think of Jean Grey as Dark Phoenix. Resurrection has got to be a major retcon that has come to be accepted in comic books. But when I think of 'Franken-Castle' or Gambit as Death the Horseman of Apocalypse I’m glad they didn’t remain like that forever.

It's fairly obvious that you can think of lots of BAD Retcons... but can you come up with any examples of a GOOD Retcon?

Fade: Good Retcons:

  • Clark and Lex being friends in their youth
  • The first Sentry series
  • Everything Grant Morrison has ever retconned
  • Punisher acting as an agent of Heaven stuff being forgotten. Geez that sucked.
  • Everything in Birthright
  • Catwoman NOT being a prostitute
  • Damian Wayne being alive and Son of the Demon being in Continuity
  • Hal as Spectre bringing Oliver Queen back to life
  • Returning the Multiverse
  • Final Crisis ignoring Countdown to Final Crisis
Good Kitty! Catwoman's History Was Retconned Out Of Prostitution

BB: Don't really care if she was a prostitute or not.

Dan: FadeToBlackBolt will disagree but that's ok. I'm going with Green Lantern volume 4. I've read all of the previous Green Lantern series before this and none of the compare to the quality of volume 4.

Tro:

  • Jason Todd coming back as the Red Hood
  • Pulling the Smallville thing and having Lex and clark friends when they were kids.
  • Bring back Oliver Queen
  • Making Sinestro a bad ass rather than a campy villain.

Fade: Danhimself is dead to me =P

Oh! I know I've said that everything Morrison's done is great, but I want to give a shout out to Secondary Mutations; awesome retcon.

You generally like a lot more DC Retcons than Marvel! Okay, so we're drawing to a close. But before we go, if you were in charge what character or event in comic book history would you Retcon?

Tro: GAAAAAAAAAAAH! ONE MORE DAY! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD CHANGE IT PLEASE.

Since Joe was so hell bent on getting rid of Mary Jane as his wife. I would have killed her after or during Civil War and find out she was a Skrull, bring her back at the end of Secret Invasion and have her become distant like Mockingbird was with Hawkeye. THERE YOU GO JOE! It was that simple.

Back For Good; Should MJ Have Been Replaced Like Mockingbird Was?

BB: If I was in charge with Swamp Thing, I would do as DC and retcon him. The series in the past decade didn't do any good to him (though I haven't read that series :p ) So I see that the retconing (is that even a word?) is the right solution.

Dan: I don't know if would retcon anything because right now off the top of my head the only stories that I can think of that I really didn't like were OMD and Ultimatum...but I can't really think of anything better other than maybe Pete and MJ just flat out getting a divorce.

Fade: I'd retcon everything that's happened in the Avengers franchise since Civil War (with the exception of Dan Slott's Mighty Avengers), kill Hope and erase the mess that is Utopia from existence. Repower about 100,000 random mutants, including "new" ones.

Age Valeria to about 15, and Franklin to around 19. I hate a three-year old being smarter than Reed, and a six year old being able to stomp Galactus >_<

Retcon the Hell out of Siege, and have an enraged Thor murder Norman Osborn. Make the death scene go for roughly ten pages, because I really hate Norman Osborn.

As for the Sentry; everything that's happening in my ongoing fan-fic (shameless plug time); Sentry: From the Ashes =D

Okay, it's time to Retcon ourselves out of this Roundtable!

Fade: Thanks for reading my inane rantings, Comicvine! And thank you for the invite, X-K. FadeToBlackBolt bids you all farewell.

BB: Bye and remember: "Don't go over the edge..."

Dan: BYE EVERYBODY!

Tro: This is Trodorne signing off, remember to treat each other with dignity and res.....SQUIRREL!

I would have been sora_thekey, but I was Retconned into xerox-kitty! But for the sake of Continuity I’ll be back again for the next Roundtable. Thanks for all your input & I’ll see you again soon!

12 Comments
12 Comments
Posted by haydenclaireheroes

great roundtable guys

Posted by MrUnknown

Pretty cool discussion although you guys were overly positive. I think I prefer Marvel's "reboot" over DC's. The current one seems to be a mess if Barbara is going to be closer to Damian's age than any of the other Robins. 
P.S. Val is awesome and Frank-en-Castle was beginning to get good near the end but oh well.

Posted by RazzaTazz

Interesting RT,  some of the best retcons are just tweaking of character histories.  They even had Zero Hour as an event specifically to do that. 

Moderator
Posted by torchbearer_d

Nice discussion, everyone =]
Posted by rogue_mar1e

Nice convo guys! :)

Posted by Avenging-X-Bolt

awesome, i gotta get in on this sometime.
Online
Posted by danhimself
@MrUnknown said:
Pretty cool discussion although you guys were overly positive. I think I prefer Marvel's "reboot" over DC's. The current one seems to be a mess if Barbara is going to be closer to Damian's age than any of the other Robins.  P.S. Val is awesome and Frank-en-Castle was beginning to get good near the end but oh well.
Barbara has been described as "right out of college"....Tim would be the closest to Damian's age since he's still a teen
Posted by MrUnknown
@danhimself: You mean Tim is going to be closest to Barbara's age?
I still think it would be a missed opportunity if they didn't try to rebuild the Nightwing and Batgirl relationship. Plus, if Killing Joke isn't retconned then it makes Barbara close to a teenager when she was assaulted and Joker a pedophile. I don't have trouble viewing the Joker as someone like that but one of his main stories shouldn't be about that. Also, the writer for the Outlaws stated something along the lines that Starfire never met Dick and met Jason who is going to shape her view of the world. I think all of these retcons happening all at once is going to be a hard act to follow and understand. It just doesn't make sense where some characters are de-aged and others aren't, some are completely changed (like Superman and Supergirl) and others aren't (like Batman and Damian)
Posted by adribones

you guys need to do a podcast:)
Posted by Jake Fury

 
Posted by Jonny_Anonymous

I knew Black Bolt was going to bring up The Sentry and I'm glad he did : )

Posted by Trodorne

Jake, Why so Mr.Negative?