Movies & TV / Columns

Comics 411: Is Comic Book Continuity Necessary? 

August 5, 2020 | Posted by Steve Gustafson
Batman: Three Jokers Comic Book Continuity

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 week we discussed our Worst Comic Book Sidekicks. Here’s what some of you had to say:

James Fabiano: “Wendy, Marvin, and Wonder Dog. Moreso the cartoon version, as they DID try to flesh them out in the Superfriends comic series, by explaining why they are allowed in the JLA as trainees (both characters were somehow related to the heroes…Wendy was the daughter/niece of one of the detectives who trained Batman, for instance)”

rf: “I may get heat for this, but I always thought Rick Jones was annoying. Lets not forget Jim Wilson as well.”

Solomon Grundy: “Aqualad and Aquagirl. I mean, could there be two worst sidekicks ever? Hell, I’d pick the wonder twins and gleek over these two.”

Al Lobama: “I always hated Snapper Carr in the JLA (although to be fair, he might have been more popular with the target sixties audience of the time), but Tom Peyer did one hell of a job of making him an interesting character in the criminally short-lived Hourman series in the late nineties. Likewise, Woozy Winks was a more enjoyable character in Kyle Baker’s equally criminally short-lived Plastic Man series from 2004.”

El Atomico: “I didn’t notice until somebody pointed it out, but it’s funny how Batman’s costume was all dark while Robin’s looked like a neon sign, as though Batman wanted foes to see Robin and shoot at him first”

No Sell: “I was never a fan of the sidekick gimmick in general. I think it was a crutch used for writers that just ran out of ideas. Not always, and sometimes it worked ( Batman obviously), but Captain America, come on, it’s just not needed.”
Thank you to everyone who commented!

This week we ask…

Is Comic Book Continuity Necessary?

Have you heard of the upcoming book Batman: Three Jokers? It’s a continuation from the Justice League story ‘Darkseid War’ from writer Geoff Johns and artist Jason Fabok and it’s being marketed as “the ultimate story of Batman and the Joker.”

Looks like we’re dealing with multiple Jokers again that was first broached when got hold of the omniscient Mobius Chair and asked, “What’s The Joker’s true name?” Looks like we don’t have one but three Jokers to contend with. 

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, and 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. 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 to 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!