Movies & TV

Comics 411: Does Comic Book Continuity Matter?

June 22, 2022 | Posted by Steve Gustafson
Crisis on Infinite Earths Image Credit: DC Comics

Welcome back! I’m Steve Gustafson and if you enjoy discussing anything comic book related, you’ve come to the right place. Each week we cover something in the industry and I always enjoy your input in the comment section below.

Previously on…

Last time we discussed our Favorite Comic Book Cross-Company Crossovers. Here’s what some of you had to say:

Gold Any Ranger: “Any of the original DC/Marvel crossovers. Superman & Spider-Man, Batman & Hulk, Teen Titans and X-Men.”

SharkLasers: “Star Trek / X-Men also had a paperback novel that was really good, as the Next Gen Enterprise was sent to a planet where mutants were just emerging.

I liked the Batman / Judge Dredd crossovers, seemed every year or so for a while they’d revisit the teamup / rivalry.

Deathmate, the less said the better. Valiant got their stuff out on time. Image was the usual Image, too busy living their rock star life styles and not giving a damn about actually putting out products. I think the only books that were ever close to being on time were Spawn and Savage Dragon. The funny thing was that Todd McFarlane lobbied heavily to Diamond Comics to adopt a policy of dropping indie publishers that couldn’t get their books out on time, but made damned sure Image was exempted from the policy.”

Matthew Crider: “Batman vs. Grendel”

SynysterBob: “Spawn andCerebus the Aardvark?Groo Vs. Conan?”

Mondo Von Wer: “Star Trek / Legion of Super-Heroes
Star Trek / Doctor Who
Superman & Bugs Bunny”

D-Unit: “The original Batman/Hulk and Superman/Spider-Man crossovers were great and still hold up. Batman/Punisher was also cool just for Frank lecturing Batman on how everything the Joker does is Batman’s fault since he didn’t kill him. The Spider-Man/Batman crossovers in the 90s were cool just because those were two of my favorite characters, and Spawn/Batman was a shitty story, but I loved it at the time due to the artwork”

Great stuff and thank you to everyone who commented last week! Too many great comments to list so go and check it out!

This week we ask…

Does Comic Book Continuity Matter?
A new Avengers title is launching this fall that drops readers directly into the Avengers’ most breathtaking missions, according to Marvel. 

Written by award-winning novelist Derek Landy and drawn by Greg Land All-Out Avengers will start in the middle of the action as it races to a climax. From page one, panel one, the Avengers will be knee deep in adventure with no setup, no explanations, and no time for questions.

“When Tom Brevoort approached me with this concept, I thought it was an inspired idea, a slice of creative genius, and also totally unworkable!” Landy said. “But the chance to launch a new Avengers title, and the chance to write any character who’d ever been an Avenger, was impossible for this particular Marvel fanboy to resist. Add in the fact that Tom wanted to get Greg Land on art and my fate was pretty much sealed.”

“The trick was to work within the confines inherent in the concept, but also to find a way to deliver what everyone would expect: a continuity of ideas and the development of an overarching storyline. I needed to find the hook that drags the reader from issue to issue, and I figured the best way to do that was to put the Avengers in the exact same situation as the reader: they are aware that this is happening, but they don’t know why…”

“A continuity of ideas…”

Continuity is a funny word these days. As the industry loosens its continuity standards to draw in new fans, old diehards are fighting harder to hold onto the last remnants of making comic book stories matter. 

With each epic crossover, each everchanging event, comic books are fighting a losing battle in trying to keep everyone happy. With characters that have been around since the 1930s, it’s nearly impossible to keep things making sense. 

Batman first appeared in 1939. That’s a lot of years and a lot of stories. The average person can tell you that Bruce Wayne lost his parents as a child and dedicated himself to fighting crime. Like most superheroes, their origin remains true. It’s when you start talking about the details of their adventures is when things can get sticky.

It’s enough to give anyone a continuity headache.

The comic book industry has had a love/hate relationship with continuity since its inception. It’s an industry big on legacy but is also hampered by a weird sense of time. While weeks, months, years pass for us, a comic may only progress days, weeks, months. When you have popular characters who were first introduced back in the 1930s and 40s, it’s inevitable that you get tripped up on decades worth of storytelling.

The problem is compounded because when you’re dealing with a whole comic book universe, everyone’s backstory will never match up perfectly. Timelines are always shifting, events are always tweaking, and reboots are always confusing.

Comics intricate continuities were a point of pride for a while. Then slowly little questions started popping up about which stories actually happened and how to explain mixing old characters with new ones? Was this character around during WWII? It’s confusing.

Then we have the almighty reboots and relaunches that seem to come with more frequency now. In 1985 DC wanted to simplify things and gave us Crisis on Infinite Earths. Written by Marv Wolfman and illustrated by George Pérez, the series removed the multiverse concept from the fictional DC Universe, depicting the death of long-standing characters Supergirl and the Barry Allen incarnation of the Flash. Continuity in the DC Universe was divided into pre-Crisis and post-Crisis periods.

For a while it fixed things, mostly, but soon enough, continuity started to get confusing again. It seemed DC kept having to tweak things and launched Zero Hour: Crisis in Time! in 1994, Infinite Crisis in 2005, Final Crisis in 2008, Convergence in 2015. The New 52 in 2011 was a revamp and relaunch that gave us mixed results and that was followed by…well, you get the picture. Every solution brought new problems.

Marvel has had their own tweaks to deal with as well. In 2010 they started to rebrand their line with the ‘Heroic Age’ and ‘Marvel Now!’ initiatives. 5 years later they really turned it up with their ‘All-New, All-Different’ shakeup. This was soon followed up with Marvel Now 2.0! and Legacy and…it’s a lot.

I still forget how some timelines have settled so I can’t even imagine being a new reader.

If comics books didn’t have it tough enough, it faces a new enemy to its continuity with the arrival to the cinematic universes. Marvel and DC have put a lot of time and money into their big screen offerings and we are getting a trickle down effect from it. Add in television universes and it’s enough to throw your hands in the air.

For a new fan, comic books can be intimidating. Hell, long time fans are often left wondering what’s going on. Keith Giffen once said, “Continuity: How important is it? Not at all. Continuity hamstrings story and keeps comics inaccessible to casual readers.”

Is he right?

For me, as I’ve gotten older, continuity has become less and less important. The characters I’ve grown up with carry the same origin but I’m more for a good story with great art. If things don’t line up exactly…eh. I’ll deal. Keeping track of the various Spider-Men, which Superman did what, and when the Legion of Super-Heroes exact date of formation have become less important.

But that’s just me. What about you?

That’s all the time I have. See you next week!