Continuity. The bane of many a comic book reader. At times, when used right, it can add to the reading experience but other times can make for a frustrating or downright miserable one. But should it matter that much? Is it that important? I say no, so continue on, Dear Reader, and find out why!
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
Lets start by defining continuity. Webster’s defines it as “Uninterrupted connection, succession, or union. Uninterrupted duration or continuation especially without essential change.” Encarta’s definition: “The fact of staying the same, of being consistent throughout, or of not stopping or being interrupted.” A couple of those phrases stick out: without essential change and consistent throughout.
So, what does it mean for the comic book reader and how important is continuity to comics? Some would say it’s critical for all the history and facts of a character to be precise and never contradict each other. I disagree and say continuity isn’t as crucial as many believe. Sure, certain aspects of a character should never be changed. Superman needs to be an alien from Krypton and Batman should be scarred by the death of his parents causing him to dress up as a bat and fight crime. This falls in the “without essential change” category, as these are crucial traits that make the character the ones we know and love. But is it important that a story written in 2013 isn’t consistent with ones written in 1963 or even 2010? No, it isn’t and it shouldn’t be.
WHERE DOES THE REAL PROBLEM LIE?
Think about it. If it wasn’t for writers and comic companies attempting to tie their worlds together and not contradict we wouldn’t have multiple earths, universes and reboots. Sure, those can be fun storytelling devices but they generally cause more problems than they’re worth. DC’s universe got so convoluted they had to make Crisis on Infinite Earths to solve the problems that had arisen from writer’s stories having to all work together. Granted, we got one hell of a great comic out of Crisis but the reasoning for its existence is, to me at least, humorous. The Killing Joke is another example. DC felt the need to make Moore’s story canon, resulting in Barbra Gordon being crippled and later having to explain why she can now run around as Batgirl in the New 52.
What’s the real problem here? I believe it lies with us, the readers. We can get so caught up with the facts and whether the continuity is correct or the story is canon that we lose sight of what’s most important: Is the story good? Continuity should only matter in the story being told. If Grant Morrison wants to write about the effects of Batman sitting in a tank for days, validating stories from the 60’s, that’s fine but I don’t expect the next writer or storyline to follow those events. This is where the second part of the continuity definition comes in, “consistent throughout.” As long as the continuity in the story I’m reading is consistent (because if it’s not, that’s just bad writing) then I’m happy. Continuity doesn’t need to be consistent throughout the whole of a character’s existence, just the story being told at the time. In fact, Robin, Nightwing and all the other supporting Bat characters don’t even exist to me. That’s not the Batman I enjoy but if a writer wants to use Robin in their story that’s fine with me. To me, the Batman in his own title isn’t even the same one that’s in Justice League. That’s my personal preference but if a writer decides to bring the Justice League into Batman, I don’t get upset or care if it’s true to a different story. It’s up to the reader to decide what’s important to them but it shouldn’t detract from our enjoyment of a comic and a writer shouldn’t be constrained by continuity. Many a title has been cancelled due to lack of readership because it’s not in canon or fits the current continuity. Does that mean it was a bad story? Those that didn’t read it may have missed out on a great reading experience because of their own hang-ups. Would you rather read a great story out of continuity or a bad one in continuity? You are dropping $3.99 on a comic book nowadays so wouldn’t you want to get the most enjoyment for your money?
A reader can get so hung up on the facts and worry of continuity that they forget to focus on the enjoyment they should be getting. To many, continuity is important and that’s where their pleasure of comics comes from. That’s certainly valid but it shouldn’t create anger or stress. These are fictional characters and worlds after all. If a story and its events from 1950 are important to you, great, that story still exists. You can read it any time you want but a writer shouldn’t feel the need to stick to a past timeline. Everything doesn’t need to fit into a complex web. In fact, it’s better if it doesn’t. Comics are suffering from lack of new readership and I believe that companies, the big two especially, are creating such a jumbled mess that it’s confusing for a new reader. Sure, you may get one who is so enticed that they’ll want to go back and consume all the history they can, but a majority just want a cool story where Spider-Man ties someone up with his webs. Look at Hawkeye by Matt Fraction, probably the best title Marvel is putting out right now. Why is it so good? Because it tells short, quality stories with little to no connection to each other or outside events. A new reader can pick that up in a second and get immense enjoyment. That’s what it comes down to, great stories.
BOTTOM LINE: WE REALLY ALL WANT THE SAME THING
I get it, some readers love a universe that is connected and shared by characters. That’s some of the coolest things about comics, the interactions between superheroes. There’s no problem if that’s what you love but we can’t let continuity bog down our stories and, even worse, affect our enjoyment of them. We, as readers, should worry less about the facts and more about the fun and greatness of comics. Focus less on continuity and more on the tale. Because, in the end, we all want the same thing: Good Comics.