Further defending the DC Relaunch – Continuity

Zero Hour's timeline - the perfect example of why continuity shouldn't matter

It was inevitable I suppose, but a bunch of angry fans have decided to launch a protest against DC’s relaunch at San Diego Comic Con. Maybe I don’t remember it correctly, but I was almost positive that the protest was supposed to be against the entire idea of the relaunch, but now, the Facebook event says that it is a protest against the costume redesigns (perhaps the event was so renamed after so many came to DC’s defense and the creator of the event realized that she had to be more specific and pointed in her argument if she was ever to win). At any rate, there has been some response to the event with “fans” doing exactly what I begged them not to do which is overreact to the relaunch.

It seems that the majority of the negative reaction to the relaunch stems from a belief that continuity is important (despite the fact that DC has repeatedly said that this is not a reboot and therefore storylines that have occurred technically still do exist, but “fans” tend to only want to hear what they want). So, let’s talk about continuity and set the record straight about what the philosophy of continuity should be. 

On the importance of being continuous

Continuity can be a good thing. When stories build upon one another, they create a sense of importance and ground stories in a sense of reality. When references are made to past events, fans smile and nod because that means creators acknowledge the shared universe that they are contributing to. To take Batman as an example, Grant Morrison has gone to great lengths to take previously forgotten moments of Batman continuity (the International Batmen, the Batman of Zur-en-Arrh) and by simply mentioning them in his stories, they still exist which gives those once forgotten ideas from the 60’s a sense of importance because he is making them relevant.

The Continuity Conundrum

The problem is that sometimes comics are so ingrained in continuity that they have no room to grow. Perhaps the finest example of this comes from Marvel’s Ultimate line of comics.

Designed to capture new readers with stories that were free from the confines of continuity, the Ultimate line gave a fresh take on classic characters which was inviting to readers who knew nothing about comic books. And this worked . . . until continuity invariably started to weigh the line down. Suddenly, this line of comics that was designed to be accessible to new readers had a natural history that was created because stories will invariably build upon one another and because of this continuity the Ultimate line couldn’t help but become inaccessible to readers because the stories it was crafting became dependent upon reading previous stories.

Yet, if every story arc was crafted in a vacuum that never referenced previous stories, there would be a sense that nothing really mattered and character growth wouldn’t occur.

But perhaps character growth doesn’t really matter. After all, superheroes are like mythological gods in that they represent certain ideas and symbols. Maybe character growth isn’t necessary because these characters have no end in sight. If a typical story in normal books and films involves a character going through trials and tribulations to learn something in the end, and comics were held to this same standard, then surely characters that have been published for over 70 years have attained human enlightenment after all of the “growth” they have achieved over time. Then again, maybe their lack of growth also should tell us something about human nature.

I’m getting off subject now.

Continuity and the sense of nostalgia

Perhaps the central problem with continuity is that it is the biggest contributor to the sense of nostalgia that permeates comics today. Fans want comics that call back to the comics they liked because these ideas are familiar to them. Comic readers of the 60’s believe that Batman is a bright and shining “Caped Crusader” while readers of the 80’s see him as a “dark knight” of vengeance and different writers use references to continuity to touch that sweet spot of nostalgia so readers can connect with that idea that they loved.

The problem is that by constantly referencing these ideas keeps comics from evolving and moving on. Batman is a character that allows for a diverse range of story-telling. His very nature allows for detective stories, far-out superhero tales, supernatural horror stories, and much more. Yet, some insist that Batman can only be one type of story because a certain type of continuity worked for them and they believe it is the only one that matters.

When fans close their minds to the idea of possibility, they are limiting the scope of what comics can achieve. When we hold continuity as being the utmost important thing to comics, then we are holding comics to the same compositional standards as novels and films when really, comics are something completely unique and should be treated as such.

How important should continuity be?

Continuity should only be as important as the story necessitates. If a writer wishes to call back to a previous story in order to make a new point or to touch a sense of nostalgia, then that’s fine. Continuity should neither be seen as an enemy of comics nor as an absolute necessity. It is a tool to help create importance, but when it becomes the object of importance itself, then stories lose their meaning.

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7 Responses to Further defending the DC Relaunch – Continuity

  1. Donny Fleischer says:

    Nothing good comes out of SDCC…especially when it’s geeks protesting against their fav. medium. Good luck Reboot-bashers!

  2. Chance Thulin says:

    I’m…not quite sure how this defends the DC Relaunch, Cody. While this article is a good definition and explanation of continuity and its inherent problems it doesn’t seem to connect to the relaunch defense to me. As for me, I am one of the proponents that, while excited for the relaunch am also simultaneously furious. You could argue the idea of continuity being fixed so it does not weigh people down, but the relaunch itself will utilize a philosophy of selective continuity. Batman will not be touched. Green Lantern will not be touched. Most other heroes will get changes that range from the small to the HUGE .

    The biggest change to me is the implications of Superman being the first Superhero and the JLA, now being the first hero team, only being around for 5 years. Does this negate the existence of the JSA? Does this negate the entirety of the Teen Titans history until the new relaunched title? There are many characters whose development depend on these other titles and will have their continuity pretty much remain untouched, thus making a confusing continuity for long time fans and new readers at the same time.

    While I can agree that protests against DC for the issues with costumes are silly, regardless of how I feel about any given costume such as Superman’s “power armor” look, I do think that protests against continuity issues or pointless “continuity fixes” can be legitimate.

    Why would the JSA need to be taken out? World War II Superheroes? That is a simple concept that DC could have kept and no one would have had a hard time understanding that. It doesn’t age DC much either. The act of being “fresh” and “relevant” as their ads describe makes me think DC is trying to improve their success by being more like Marvel and not trying to embrace what they already had that was unique.

    So yeah. Those are my opinions on the topic.

    • Popgun Chaos says:

      I suppose I wasn’t as explicit in my thesis as I meant to be.

      “Does this negate the existence of the JSA? Does this negate the entirety of the Teen Titans history until the new relaunched title? There are many characters whose development depend on these other titles and will have their continuity pretty much remain untouched, thus making a confusing continuity for long time fans and new readers at the same time.”

      Ultimately, these issues don’t matter. The Teen Titans exist and whether they are part of a lineage of Teen Titans, or their origin story is that they are the first, does not diminish what came before it. The only continuity that should matter is what is brought up in the stories themselves. Therefore, if they want to make Superman the world’s first superhero, that’s fine because it logically makes sense since he technically WAS the first superhero.

      I’ve read a lot of similar arguments about the JSA and how they should matter, but you know what? Until Geoff Johns took over the title, the never really mattered all that much anyway. They are a team that has appeared and disappeared out of continuity for decades, but now that their title has been cancelled, fans are acting as if this is some legacy title that has been published consistently for decades now.

      This is the power of the retcon because it creates a sense of importance when no importance really exists. Yeah, they were technically the first super team and there have been great JSA stories, but they really are no more important than the JLA and in recent years their roster has been so inflated that none of the characters have much of a voice. Don’t get me wrong, I love the JSA, but if they have no place in the new universe, I won’t be upset.

      Getting caught up in “what has happened before” is antithetical to comics. Continuity is dangerous because it keeps fans from enjoying stories that aren’t meticulously crafted in order to fit into the little box that continuity has placed the universe into.

  3. Michael Frizell says:

    Here’s a further wrinkle. I’m sure you’ve read this, but just in case:


    How could “seasons” potentially affect continuity? Could the retcon mavens literally rewrite books year after year? Or, would these seasons, if say months were skipped between, follow traditional serial television and mean little because nothing story-worthy happened? Could these gaps explain why Batman pops up as much as Wolverine in different titles without committing egregious errors to continuity?

    I, for one, love the idea.

    • Popgun Chaos says:

      I think Ultimates proved that it could be done and still have a sense of continuity without being confined to it. Personally, I’m all for it.

  4. Otto66 says:

    Grant Morrison writes great comicbooks. Except, when he is writing the Bat Man. Period.
    As previously stated, the new changes to the DC universe are welcomed. Looking forward to the new books and the new stories of favorite characters. If I want my old stories, I’ll break out the long boxes and have at it. But honestly, how often do any of us do that?

  5. Ryo says:

    My biggest problem with comics has been the lack change. I believe more readers are lost, but they wake up one day to the fact that the comic/s the like will never evolve.

    It become a question of, when will the hero I like be reset? Maybe not so much with DC as I read more marvel when I was growing up, but after reading them for a while, I saw the cycle of “change, then return to original, change, back to how they were.”

    How maybe time and in how maybe ways has Thor (for example), grown and or changed only to go back to ‘god/man share body, etc etc.” The Thing finds a cure, oh wait no he does, yes he does, nope failed again.

    I’d rather see a character played out. Changing (growing old, etc) then getting a rebooted, than being an immortal hero who can never truly change.

    Why even have writers? Just update old comics. Although, I guess you’d need writers to make the dialog modern.

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