The Great American Novel Act 1: the danger Act 2: rising action Act 3: the ball Act 4: crisis Act 5: triumph the Franklinverse part 2, act 1: the new danger

Continuity: comics' unique strength

Inigo Montoya says 'Continuity - I don't think that word means what you think it means.'.

Why continuity?

'Shaxper' says it best (this quotation is used by kind permission):

"The one thing comics can offer that no other form of literature can is a sense of legacy. An author can publish a series of books and, if they're truly committed, pump out 20 to 30 books starring the same character in their career. Now, either time will barely pass across those 30 books, preventing the character from undergoing much change and growth, or the writer will have to leave out entire years between stories, making us feel somewhat divorced from the character (who is now somewhat older and different from the one we saw in the last book) and relying upon the author's explanation to fill in all that we missed between books.

"A comic, on the other hand, can provide 30 issues worth of near-continuous character growth over the span of less than 3 years.

"For me, it's not the pictures, the action, the easily accessible writing, nor even the superheroes. It's the opportunity to watch characters grow and develop slowly and organically over the years, ideally earning each major change and new phase in their lives. Granted, writers who ignore continuity throw all of this out the window (and piss me off to no end in the process), but Claremont's X-Men, Wolfman/Perez's New Teen Titans, Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo, and many short lived story arcs on other titles that did their best to acknowledge continuity and growth all offer an opportunity to watch characters grow and change in response to all that they encounter over the years. It's not always more character-intensive than a good book, but it can offer greater/better earned transformation and growth.

"That's why I love comic books -- the opportunity to grow alongside my favorite characters and chart how far we've both come.

"I can tell you right now that if I hadn't read New Teen Titans #39 when I was eleven, I probably would have quit collecting comics after the novelty wore off. This was the big issue where Dick Grayson gave up being Robin for good, all while reflecting carefully on his entire career up until this point. I knew then what potential comic books had, and I instantly became a fan for life.

This above all else, is why I can't stand when writers ignore or just plain violate continuity, as well as why I think fans who feel that it shouldn't really matter are off-base. Continuity is one of the greatest advantages that the comic book medium can offer."

New Teen Titans 39

Is "continuity" a dirty word?

Here's Keith Giffen's take from his Wizard column:

"Continuity: How important is it? Not at all. Continuity hamstrings story and keeps comics inaccessible to casual readers."

Does he really mean continuity? Let's check the dictionary.

con·ti·nu·i·ty [kon-tn-oo-i-tee, -tn-yoo] –noun, plural -ties.
1. the state or quality of being continuous.

2. a continuous or connected whole.

Does he really prefer stories where the parts are not connected together? Or is he talking about something else?

"Continuity" does not mean "complexity"

com·plex   [adj., v. kuhm-pleks, kom-pleks; n. kom-pleks]
3. So complicated or intricate as to be hard to understand or deal with.

Comic readers often complain about continuity when they mean complexity. As 'Roquefort Raider' wrote:

"Continuity only becomes a hindrance when events that make no sense whatsoever have to be acknowledged in every book, especially when their sheer absurdity makes a lot of explaining necessary (or futile!!!) each time. (Superboy Prime punches, anyone? Or Hawkman continuity?)"

"The ideal 'in continuity' mag does not contradict said continuity, but refers to it as little as possible and only when warranted by the book's own storyline. It must be an asset, not a chain. A shared continuity, paradoxically enough considering the mess many have made of it nowadays, should help clarify things for the reader. Just like knowing the geography and history of the world makes reading most real-world stories easier to appreciate and understand, a shared universe can enrich the canvas against which our little morality plays are staged. "

"Continuity" does not mean "trivia"

Continuity: uninterrupted connection, succession or union.

Trivia: unimportant matters.

People often complain about continuity when they mean trivia. TV and movies have continuity people who make sure that actors wear the same colored socks between scenes. For some reason this is important on TV and in movies. It is not important in comics (that's what No-Prizes are for). Continuity does not just mean the right socks, continuity means ALL connected ideas. Continuity means good story telling - do events have consequences? It means good acting - can we believe that this could really happen? It means your TV remembers to broadcast the right show each week. Continuity applies to everything. If you think continuity just means the right colored socks then you don't have a problem with continuity, you have a problem with trivia.

"Continuity" does not mean "constancy"

Continuity: uninterrupted connection, succession or union.

Constancy: a state of being constant or unchanging.

Time and again people complain about continuity when they really mean constancy. Steven Grant, an otherwise excellent writer, is guilty of this. For example, he writes, "The DC universe books, with their obsessive continuity and continuing underlying golden age/silver age fixations, keep subliminally telling the audience that what they're getting is really, really old." No, the problem isn't continuity. Continuity can say "one day a big bomb killed all the old heroes and here are some new ones." As long as event A leads to event B, that's continuity. Steven Grant does not mean continuity, he means constancy - the desire for everything to be the same. It's a different word.

The real problem: the dragging time scale

Here is a typical problem that's blamed on continuity:

"Someone mentioned Gwen Stacy's death, which was and still is an important part of Spider-Man's character. But that happened over 10 years before I was even born. Nearly 35 years before I even considered picking up a Spider-Man comic. Actually, I have no idea when the hell it happened. And that's part of the problem. That's the sort of baggage is what ultimately kept me away from a lot of superhero books, that makes it hard as hell to get into them these days."

Continuity is not the problem, it is the solution. Consider the 1960s, when comics moved in real time: they sometimes referred to the early 1960s, but it was "years ago." they referred to the 1940s (twenty years earlier) and that was rightly considered ancient history. They moved on: they did not drag their history behind them. The real problem is that modern comics cannot move on: they must pretend that their past all happened recently. It's nonsense: confusing nonsense. The sliding time scale the real problem

An example of continuity

If a story is bigger than its pages, that's continuity. Consider the biggest story of them all, the coming of Galactus (Fantastic Four 49):

The Coming Of Galactus

Note the appeals to continuity:

1. Comparison with previous stories. That's continuity!

2. We know this is important, because the Fantastic Four comic does not contradict itself. That's continuity!

3. This is only important because we know his previous behavior. That's continuity!

4. We believe him because the stories are consistent. That's continuity!

5. True Marvelites are expected to know their history. That's continuity!

6. We care because this civilization fits into the Marvel Universe that we know. That's continuity!

7. References to earlier stories. That's continuity!

Galactus was not the first 'alien threatens Earth' story - 1950s comics were full of them, and they didn't have much impact. Why was Galactus different? Because of continuity. In the example of Galactus, above, continuity created the character and lack of continuity destroyed him. The modern Galactus is a joke character: he appears and is defeated almost every month. Even the original story has been undermined - recent stories (see 2010's SHIELD miniseries) show that he appeared (and was defeated, as per the usual routine) before his 1966 appearance. Continuity creates, Marvel Time destroys.

Continuity inspired some of the greatest stories ever

A deep understanding of a story is what separates the genius fro the hack. Stan Lee realized that super powers would NOT lead to instant happiness, and this led to some of the greatest comics ever. Alan Moore and Frank Miller asked "what would logically happen next" and it led to The Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. Jack Kirby asked how subspace works and this led to the Negative Zone. Tolkien analyzed the structure of myths, and this led to The Lord of The Rings. The magazine Cahier Du Cinema over-analyzed Hollywood movies, and it led to the French New Wave. When Agatha Christie analyzed how some little technical apparatus worked it became the key to a classic mystery. When Dirty Harry said "Do You Feel Lucky" it mattered that his gun fires EXACTLY six shots.

Continuity is easy

When a writer has freedom, adjusting to continuity is easy, as Dave Sim observes:

"Well, he [Sim's unnamed contact at Marvel - BC] went and ran that past whoever he had to run that past and phoned back a couple of days later and said, “No, Joe Straczyinski just did Spider-Ham in Civil War, so Spider-Ham is out.” This is one of the things I have trouble understanding about mainstream comics. I’m not talking about Joe’s Spider-Ham, I’m talking about Dave’s Spider-Ham. It has something to do, I would guess, with creating the illusion that they’re actually documenting real-life characters and if Dave’s Spider-Ham shows up too soon after Joe’s Spider-Ham that will make Spider-Ham less believable in an overall Marvel continuity sense.

"The real world part of me thinks “We’re discussing a cartoon pig in a Spider-man costume. `Believable’ is a relative concept with very, very big quotation marks around it.” You know. “Let’s get a grip, here.” But Dave Sim, fanboy, understands perfectly. Mark “Marvel Universe” Gruenwald (God rest his soul) has been dead and gone for some years, but the urge to make everything conform to One Giant Marvel Comics Flow Chart of Internally Consistent Reality has survived him in spirit if not in fact (a die-hard Marvel fan would know better than I would). Dave Sim, comic-book writer, who has a foot in both the real world and the fanboy world thinks, “I made twenty-six years of a cartoon aardvark plausible to an audience made up largely of grown-ups. Send me what Joe did and I'll figure a way to turn his Spider-Ham into my Spider-Ham in two panels that will have Mark Gruenwald weeping in the great by-and-by at the sheer symmetrical and internally consistent inventiveness of it all. But “real world” Dave understands that that’s VERY unlikely to happen. “Real world” Dave is “new around here”. When in Rome do as the Romans tell you to do."

The role of the "No-Prize"

Keeping track of history is easy, because there are legions of fans willing to do that work for you.

Walter Simonson explains:

"I never had a problem with it [continuity] back then [with Thor]. Nobody cared back then. I mean, it wasn't like if Thor's in Asgard for three months, he'd be out of The Avengers because, God forbid, he couldn't be in two places at once. [...] my feelings are [that] there's somewhere out there, there's some berzerko fan that's going to figure out how the time line works so that Thor can be in The Avengers this month, and also be in Asgard. And that's fine. That's the way it should be."

Hey, did he just call me a berzerko fan? :)

Well anyway, this was the whole purpose of the No Prize. Writers and editors can focus on the big picture, and let us berzerko fans worry about the details.

"But it still works that way?" I hear you cry. No, it doesn't work that way at all. Not any more. The No Prize was official. If you spotted an error and explained it away then it was published in the letters column, preserving the explanation for posterity. "No Prizes" proved that the editors cared.

Hey, editors, work with the fans, OK?

The alternative to the No Prize is for editors to either ignore continuity entirely, or try and micro-manage in advance. I don't know which is worse. Remember what Simonson said about Thor? That worked while Jim Shooter was in charge: he cared about the big picture but let the fans sort out the details. This all turned on its head when Shooter was forced out. The big picture no longer mattered (leading to the end of the Marvel Universe), but instead editors micromanaged the details: they wouldn't let Simonson use Thor in the Avengers because he was supposed to be off in space in his own book. That was crazy! It was entirely possible for the Avengers stories to take place a little earlier or later: fans could work it out. This micromanaging drove Simonson to leave the Avengers with issue 300, then leaving Marvel altogether a couple of years later.

Editors, let the fans do the berzerko detail, and give them No prizes when they do. It's the only way to make continuity work.


The rest of this page is abridged from several articles by Doc Nebula, AKA John Jones of Martian Vision, and is used with permission. You can read the full articles on his Martian blog. He also says some interesting things on what makes comics sell, on superhero science, and on other topics. Doc Nebula also blogs on other personal and geek related business at 'Miserable Annals of the Earth' He also very occasionally blogs about political subjects at, under the handle 'Handsome.' Much of his original fiction and some other essays can be found here. In the following summaries, subtitles and other text in [square brackets] are by me. If these quotes appear disjointed, blame me then read the original.

[ Why continuity was invented ]

In melodramatic stories telling tales of good vs. evil, the villain invariably died horribly at the end of the story. [...] The idea that villains could, maybe, actually return to menace the hero anew was probably what gave someone the original idea for what gradually became that thing we call 'continuity'. Doubtless this came about through some overworked, stressed out writer/artist, at some point, saying to himself, "You know, King Boilermaker was a great bad guy, and he'd fit perfectly into this particular plot, I wish I could use him again..." and then realizing that, if Cap Cannister and Pat McFlack and Jumpin' Johnny Jupiter could all survive various deathtraps and seemingly inescapable dooms every other episode, there was no reason why Dragon-Queen or the Black Pharaoh or Professor Dexter Diabolico couldn't, either.

And, of course, if you were going to bring an old villain back, it would only make sense to have your heroes go "Gosh -- didn't you plummet screaming to a horrible demise from your own antigravity Death Moon back in 1939?" And thus was born, in its crudest and most elemental form... continuity.

This gave an additional level of depth and credibility to their characters that had previously been lacking. After all, real people remember their pasts, in fact, to most real people, the past is very important. [...] These heroic protagonists suddenly had something in common with their readers, and that was an infinitely valuable attribute for a fictional character to have

[ What Stan Lee did ]

For most of the Golden Age, this was pretty much the extent of 'continuity' [...] Even the Justice League of America, when it came along in 1960, failed to take the next step forward, although they did go the JSA one better and actually fight their villains as a group. Still, the individual members had no apparent memory of League cases in their own separate titles, and rare guest appearances by other heroes in those titles were never remembered from one story to the next. No, continuity, like the rest of the world, was going to have to wait for Stan Lee.

Stan didn't waste any time establishing cross-title continuity in the nascent Marvel Universe. In SPIDER-MAN #1, a cash-strapped Spidey tried to join the FF, and reference was made to that meeting in future issues of both titles. Similar crossovers fairly quickly occurred between AVENGERS and THE X-MEN, AVENGERS and the FANTASTIC FOUR, and unlike the JSA or even the contemporary JLA, the various members of the Avengers, who all, at one time or another, had their own series somewhere in the early Marvel Universe, remembered their adventures in the team and made reference to them when their fellow Avengers would frequently show up for cameo appearances.

[ Why this deeper continuity was good ]

We very young comics fans of the time responded to it with huge enthusiasm [because] it MADE THE CHARACTERS MORE REAL.

We could more easily 'willingly suspend our disbelief' in super characters who acted more like real people, and who lived in a world that was more recognizably like the real world, than we could in those who never remembered their adventures in other hero's titles, and who inhabited a world full of imaginary cities that had dopey sounding, iconic names, with one hero neatly assigned to each of them.

This is what continuity is FOR: to add depth and credibility to fictional characters, to make them seem more real, by giving them realistic traits that we recognize, like a memory of their own histories and a capacity to run into other characters in the same line of work who lived in the same fictional realm.

[ How continuity can make better stories ]

In addition to being a characterization tool, continuity is also a valuable plotting aid, as well. A character with a detailed history can always draw on that history for future story ideas. The best writers mix in fresh, original ideas with older plot concepts, or even better, bring back previous story elements in new and unpredictable, yet entirely consistent and intelligent, ways, but nonetheless, the fact that the characters have a history, remember that history, and that that history is creatively valid and available to writers to use as the basis for new storylines, is a priceless addition to any creative repertoire.

And this is one of the many reasons why DC's universe-wide divorce from their lengthy past history, the Crisis on Infinite Earths, was, in retrospect, such a spectacular misjudgment. DC had the longest running, richest, and most intricately complex heroic history in the industry, and rather than try to find ways to intelligently use that utterly priceless resource, they simply tossed it away, and then placed their collective trust in a lot of good artists who for the most part wrote poorly, to create something better.

[ Examples ]

There are endless examples of good, creative, satisfying uses of continuity in comics. From Steve Engelhart's brilliant explanation of the origin and history of the Watcher's blue area of the Moon, originally created as a weird, mysterious, throwaway reference by Stan and Jack in FANTASTIC FOUR, through Alan Moore's astoundingly moving "Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow?", which, despite being nominally an Imaginary Story, is clearly actually the final adventure of the Classic Superman, through a hundred or a thousand or a hundred thousand other wonderful little plots and bits and adventures that simply could not have been done, or would not have been as good, without the element of depth and credibility added by 'continuity', these myriad and all but infinite examples make it clear that 'continuity' is, when used properly by creators who understand their art, an overwhelmingly positive element in any fictional milieu.

[ How continuity earns money ]

Continuity can also be a circulation booster on lagging titles, as I've already mentioned Stan using it at times in the early Silver Age. By exposing readers of a popular magazine like SPIDER-MAN or FANTASTIC FOUR to the hero of a less well selling comic, like the Sub-Mariner or Daredevil, and writing huckstering panels like "Check out the astounding adventures of the Man Without Fear in his own title, on sale NOW, True Believer!", Stan hoped to get some of the Spidey or FF fans to try an issue of the more lackluster comic, as well... and the technique seemed to work fairly well, too... but this was a side effect of continuity, a little piece of serendipity that never should have been allowed to come to dominate and all but define the term, as it very nearly did at the height of Marvel and DC's crossover frenzies in the late 80s.

To say that 'continuity' is somehow causing comics to lose their popularity is to ignore the fact that over the past twenty years episodic fiction on television has been all but made obsolete by growing elements of continuity, and similar elements have even shown up in such overwhelmingly successful movie franchises as STAR WARS.

[ The dark side (1) Continuity and nothing else ]

Continuity is also not supposed to become such an out of control, omnipresent, front-and-center, overwhelming element in a comic book that NOTHING new is ever done and no story ever seems to begin or end, but rather, all current plot developments grow out of past plot occurrences, constantly looping and feeding back into and on each other until it becomes virtually impossible to figure out exactly where certain characters came from, who they actually are, or where they're going.

This is especially a hazard in large team books, and almost guaranteed to happen under the auspices of a writer who combines certain dangerous attributes: namely, laziness, a lack of knowledge of how to do real, interesting, three dimensional characterization, and, last and most hazardous to actual story quality, popularity [because] editors don't tend to interfere with writers who sell well.

[ The dark side (2) causing older readers to leave ]

The most disturbing consequence of continuity abuse [is] the nominal professionals who use bad continuity as an excuse to refuse to do research on the characters they're given creative control over. Claiming that continuity is nothing but a fetter on their brilliant and innovative plotting, [they] distort the personalities and powers of these characters often out of all recognition to fit the exigencies of their trendy, superficial plots, and responding to criticisms by sneering in their superior tones that they're doing original and brilliant work here and they can't be bothered to worry about little things like the actual history of the title they're currently writing.

Unfortunately, the worst and laziest writers seem to have the loudest, rudest, and dopiest fans. Of course, that's really not much of a surprise when I think about it, since the smart, mature people are too busy reading Alan Moore's and Tom Peyer's and Chris Priest's stuff to pay any attention to X-MEN..


If we assume [as Marvel Time teaches] the Avengers have been together as a team for around ten years, then that means it is currently 1971 in the Marvel Universe. In the year 2000 in the Marvel Universe, on the other hand, Peter Parker is around 65 years old.

Neither of those things threaten or frighten me. In fact, I find the idea of living in a Marvel Universe in the year 1971 (as a superhero, of course) to be extraordinarily attractive. As for Peter Parker being ready for Social Security in the year 2000, that doesn't trouble me, either. He might not be that old, because he might be long since dead. He might have aged well. He might be in suspended animation. Or, he might have gotten married and had kids, and his kids might be currently carrying on his heroic tradition. Certainly, someone is. Many someones.

Which is another thought I find fascinating about the idea of an objective, actual Marvel or DC Universe out there somewhere... who's running around fighting evil in it right NOW? Wouldn't it be nice if we had good, solid writers, who cared enough about the characters and the world they lived in, to treat it the way it should be treated within the pages of the comics they're writing... as a reflection of actual events taking place in a real, actual world?

Where comics started going bad was [around] 1974 or 1975.

See, the thing of it is, the time line wasn't TERRIBLY distorted by then. We were only 15 years from the very beginning, that initial rocket flight back in 1961. Johnny Storm, allowed to age with the clock, would have been 30. Reed and Sue and Ben could all have still been adventuring, just a tiny bit slower and grayer. The senior generation in the Avengers would have been of a similar age, or around it; Hank Pym might have been in his 40s, Tony Stark in his mid to late 30s, Thor... who cares? Even allowing for condensed Marvel time to keep Peter Parker still a grad student, Marvel time was not yet distorted completely out of recognition. So it was, oh, 1967 in the Marvel Universe, and 1975 in ours. That's... not an insuperable difference. I could have dug it. A sensible and strong editor in chief could still have saved it all, could have declared, at that point, either to let the universe age more or less naturally, and start bringing in new generations of characters, or to start retarding the passage of time, and dating the stories as taking place in earlier years. Either one would have saved us so much grief, twenty five years further down the road. Would have let us keep looking at the Marvel Universe as real, and would have kept Joe Quesada from ever pushing an ULTIMATE X-MEN book as the shape of the future for Marvel Comics.

The Silver Age died... when editors and writers stopped seeing the characters and places they were writing about as being, in some way, real.

There is, I think, a whole 'nother article to be written about why those particular out of continuity stories published at DC during the early Silver Age, in which Superman and Lois Lane got married and had twin boys, one with super powers, one without; or where Superman died and the whole universe mourned; or some such other thing that simply wouldn't fit into the established 'reality' of the DC time line at that point, had to be prominently labeled "Imaginary Stories". And it's because, back then, superhero comics were all assumed to be REAL, unless we were specifically told otherwise. Editors edited the stuff, writers wrote it, artists drew it, and we bought and read it, all with the implicit understanding that that was the deal... it was all REAL... unless we were told otherwise, by that simple little yellow box saying "This is an Imaginary Story".

Since the death of the Silver Age, it's all been Imaginary Stories. Alan Moore might smile at this point, and say, "Aren't they all?"

To which I'd reply, "Yeah, Alan... but they're not supposed to SEEM that way."


Apparently, there are at least some intelligent, analytical comics pros and fans who look back over all this and wonder why the hell, if comic books were selling a million copies a month in 1947, the same comics, featuring, in a few instances, the same characters, sell only 60,000 copies a month now. They trace the steadily diminishing sales figures, and they compare these figures with what they feel they remember about what was happening with the product and the story content during this period, and they arrive, with a triumphant bellow, at a conclusion: It's that god damned continuity that did it.

To an extent, it's hard to fault them. The people who have made this claim live and breathe comic books, they are immersed in the mainstream and have been forever, and, perhaps coincidentally, many of them seem to be huge Grant Morrison fans, and Grant Morrison is on record early and often heaping scorn and derision on the entire concept of continuity. So, if Grant Morrison says continuity is EEEEEEvil, and if a glance back over what we know and remember about the development and evolution of storytelling in comic books also bears out that continuity has grown more essential to superhero comics at, seemingly, the same time sales figures have declined... well, by God, it must be true! Continuity sucks! Bring back Good Stories!

I have to tell you, I have my own somewhat different perspective.

[ Continuity and believability ]

Virtually every plot element in [the best comics series I have ever read] grew out of something that had been done, previously in that series, or elsewhere in the self contained, internally consistent, Silver Age Marvel Universe. The three Gerber books pretty much fed each other continuity bits, with Howard the Duck, for example, showing up for the first time in MAN-THING, and eventually crossing over into DEFENDERS. DEFENDERS itself, at its wildest, wackiest heyday, concerned itself deeply with previously established Marvel continuity, like Nebulon, the Celestial Man, and a bunch of old characters from single shot horror stories Gerber dug out and gathered together into the biggest pack of nutty supervillains you EVER saw, the Headmen. Englehart's books were equally heavy in their continuity emphasis; in fact, storylines he started in CAPTAIN AMERICA he later finished in AVENGERS, at one point. A large part of stories he ran in both CAPTAIN MARVEL and AVENGERS centered around the history of the famous "Blue Area" of the Moon... perhaps Englehart's own most enduring addition to the Marvel continuity canon, and one directly deriving from Kirby and Lee's previous work on FANTASTIC FOUR.

Continuity was a key part to these stories, and in all honesty, I don't think it had anything to do with the fact that they only sold, oh, around 150,000 to 300,000 copies a month. I will tell you what continuity did have DIRECTLY to do with: ... it was the Marvel comics I loved, and the reason for it was simple: they seemed more REAL to me.

I'm not demanding ORDINARY PEOPLE with costumes. By the same token, I also don't want SUPERGOOF MONTHLY, either. What I want, basically, is a superhero comic book that doesn't insult my intelligence. I don't mind suspending my disbelief, but when I need a crane to do it, and when the things I'm willfully ignoring are just egregiously, blatantly, grotesquely STUPID...[various examples are given]

Excuse me for preferring characters that, while superhuman, dressed in head to toe leotards, and frequently engaged in hand to hand combat with other guys similarly afflicted, nonetheless, seem to inhabit and interact with a world that operates on a somewhat more believable physical level.

[ Out-of-continuity characterization ]

'Continuity' is not synonymous for 'evil' or 'stupid' or even 'too convoluted for anyone but an obsessive idiot savant to understand'. When those who apparently hate continuity say this, they invariably point to examples of comic books storytelling that I, myself, would not label, primarily, as continuity. What would I call them?

Bad writing.

Do you hate the last 20 years or so of X-MEN continuity? It's not the continuity you hate. It's the stories. They make absolutely no sense, and no one I know of claims to be able to actually explain them in any coherent manner. Do you hate the entire 80s post Crisis run on JUSTICE LEAGUE? Don't blame you, they sucked, but they have nothing to do with the continuity of the DC Universe at that time, for two reasons: first, the DC Universe at that time had no consistent continuity (and it blew because of it) and second, the editors kept telling us on the letters page that if we didn't like the way the characters were portrayed in that particular comic, we should consider those portrayals 'outside regular continuity'.

Did you hate all the big crossover events of the 80s and 90s? Okay, me too, but don't blame continuity, blame marketing policies that put sales gimmicks ahead of telling good, character driven stories

[ Continuity in good comics ]

Moore's early work on SWAMP THING, and the entire run of Neil Gaiman's SANDMAN, I will admit here and now are as good as the six comics I listed as an all time best... but I don't think of them as superhero comics. I can't come up with a handy label for them other than 'fookin BRILLIANT', though. But they weren't superhero comics. However, for what it's worth, they are also very intensely built around a coherent and intricate internal continuity. Just more evidence for my 'continuity is not a BAD thing' argument

[ Why sales have declined ]

So, what do I think is responsible for comics dwindling popularity?

Well, as I said far above, I think it's a mixture of things, but if you put a gun to my head and make me pick out just one, I'm going to have to go along with a big vast crowd on this one and say: Television.

However, movies and TV shows utilizing comic book type superhuman, heroic, good vs. evil themes, have also proliferated. [and] There's plenty of continuity on various TV soap operas, (daytime or evening) and they have audiences numbering in the millions. The average teen age viewer right now could sit down and list off the cast and characters of every show on the WB Network and accurately chart all their relationships with each other...

I will also take a moment here to point out something else: one of the general effects television seems to have, especially in prolonged exposures, is to kill the active imagination. ... various studies have indicated that in fact, watching TV over a lengthy period causes an almost complete cessation of electrical activity in the areas of the brain associated with active visualization and creative conceptualization. [...] For those of us who are still comics fan, this may be something that we don't give much thought to. We know how to read comics, to understand comics, to enjoy comics. We 'get it'. In fact, it has so much become our second nature that we really do not understand that to an adult who never read comics as a kid, comics are a somewhat frustrating medium. They're boring. They seem stupid. These folks can look at a panel to panel sequence that we think is absolutely stunning and all they'll say is 'real people don't look like that'. What we don't get is that they don't get it. They can't 'see' comics the way WE see them.

I know none of us like that or want to accept it, but please... let's stop blaming continuity, and PLEASE, let's stop blaming those of us who like continuity. I did not kill the comic book industry. Hell, I didn't even kill the radio star.

[ My comment on TV: Manga sells phenomenally well in Japan, where television is at least as common as here. However, Manga is famous for phonebook sized comics that can be read at the rate of three seconds a page, giving the illusion of movement. The Doc may have a point. Maybe superhero comics can learn from Manga.


The First Dimension of a Superheroic Continuum is Length, by which we mean, a goal the hero is moving towards.

The Second Dimension of a Superheroic Continuum is Width, also known as, a Context, or memory of the past.

The Third Dimension of a Superheroic Continuum is Depth, which applies to both the individual superhero (and all other characters) in the form of more detailed, realistic characterization that allows one character to be told from another, and which also applies to the super heroic continuum itself, in the form of cross and multi-title consistent continuity.

In both 2D and 3D Universes... there will only be an illusion of change, with superficial alterations made for a year or so...

The Fourth Dimension of a Superheroic Continuum is Time, which might better be called an acknowledgment of Entropy, or, even more succinctly, real Change, as opposed to the illusion thereof often used to in Three Dimensional Continuums as a technique for imparting Depth to characterizations and continuity.

[ Examples of four dimensional comics ]

(The) Four Dimensional Superheroic Continuum (w)as manifested by Alan Moore's seminal and groundbreaking work in his revival of an obscure and laughably unoriginal British superhero 'picture paper' strip named MARVELMAN

Superheroes created by amoral government conspiracies. Origins and entire memory sequences that turn out to be false. The gradual rediscovery of the truth, and the relentless, and vividly credible, display of the consequences of superhumanity on real, realistically detailed characters with actual jobs, bills to pay, worries any of us could recognize and relate to, and sex lives. The eventual application of vast superhuman powers to the reshaping of human culture into a benevolently governed social utopia. All these things that nowadays, trendy young writers simply press a key on their computers in order to automatically incorporate into their latest series proposal or character design, but which had never been even remotely a part of the cape-and-cowl mythology before Alan Moore wove his own particularly brilliant version of a super heroic tapestry for all to... well... marvel at.

Lesser luminaries than Moore seized on the darker elements of 4D Superheroics, as it's much easier and more viscerally exciting to reproduce such, and apparently confused Grim N Gritty for the essential element of the 'new superhero template'. And with the proliferation of shallow, relatively untalented 'writers' throughout superhero comics that was to begin in the late 1980s and dominate the field throughout the 1990s, Grim N Gritty came to be thought of as synonymous with brilliant innovation.

[In 4D stories] the 'illusion of change' had now been supplanted by real, ACTUAL change as an element in the Superheroic Continuum.

HEROES REBORN was, arguably, based around the various ideals of Change that are fundamental to 4D Superheroics, but it was designed by imaginative mongoloids, and fortunately, it was just a sales stunt.

Jim Shooter's New Universe, on the other hand, was a pretty direct and irrefutable attempt to create a 4D Superheroic Continuum from scratch, [and it] showed remarkable promise, before it finally fell apart in a welter of mean spirited animus aimed at its creator. Although even in its dissolution, certain bright sparks, like Cary Bates' riveting demolition of the SPITFIRE AND THE TROUBLESHOOTERS concept, were thrown off. [For more about the New Universe, click here. ]

[ Attempts to make Marvel four dimensional ]

[Miller attempted genuine changes into Daredevil, but] the one time changes Miller introduced became part of the constant, unchanging fabric of DAREDEVIL, pretty much proving that DD was not, at that point, a Four Dimensional Superhero.

Attempts to implement any sort of real Change in either [Marvel’s or DC’s] super heroic continuum, as they currently stand, are conceptually abortive and pretty much doomed to accomplishing nothing positive, for the simple reason that both continuums are still, fundamentally, not Four Dimensional, and as such, will not incorporate Change well.

[Miller attempted genuine changes into Daredevil, but] the one time changes Miller introduced became part of the constant, unchanging fabric of DAREDEVIL, pretty much proving that DD was not, at that point, a Four Dimensional Superhero.

To transform either universe/continuity into actual Four Dimensionalism, a quantum phase shift would have to be accomplished, and one of the first things that would have to be abandoned is both publishers' decades long, false to fact, and utterly ruinous devotion to collapsing entropy as an intrinsic part of their internal time lines.

[ Marvel Time ]

Instead of constantly updating their time lines so that their current comics always reflect their release date, thus enforcing a sense of timeless stasis at the direct expense of any credibility or rational, willing belief any long term reader might be able to repose in their past continuity, both universes could incorporate a sensibly entropic internal time line, embracing as an intrinsic part of their storytelling the natural aging and generational replacement process. This would free the various writers, artists, and editors to tell stories in which characters aged naturally and in which Change was an essential thematic element, allowing the development of multigenerational continuities told through titles and series each set in different historical periods, with perhaps the same characters appearing from one title to the next at different ages and stages of their lives.

The first time the 'illusion of change' and the intrinsic collapsing entropy of Marvel and DC's time lines was explained to me, I wanted to puke. And I still do. To my mind, such false to observed fact fictional contrivances are vile, objectionable, and should not be tolerated or validated by men or women of good will anywhere.

[ Heroes as brands, not stories ]

Given that both DC and Marvel are subsidiaries to vast corporate conglomerates that care about absolutely nothing except the commercial bottom line, it's unlikely that any such sweeping, innovative, evolutionary step forward would ever be initiated. Instead, we seem to be entering a sort of Cheyne-Stokes respiration period for the comic book industry as a whole, in which corporate money men and shareholders are in a mostly unwitting race with the development of competing entertainment technologies to milk every last conceivable drop of profits out of an industry, medium, and sub genre that has been on the verge of becoming obsolete for the past decade, and that gets closer and closer to financial and technological lack of viability with each passing year.

While the superhuman, and even the super heroic, mythos seems to have an enduring appeal, and will therefore most likely survive in other medias and other forms well beyond the death of the two dimensional comic book art form, nonetheless, if it is to evolve further, it would seem it will have to do so in those other medias and art forms.


The Annoyances of Internal Entropy In Ongoing Imaginary Universes:


[ The good Doc begins his series by describing some of the problems in Marvel Time. These are outlined elsewhere on this site, so let’s move on to the Doc’s proposed solution ]

There is a solution, and the solution is as follows:

Abandon the second tenet of the Marvel Time justification. Accept that if we want it to be six years since the Marvel Universe began, well, then, in the Marvel Universe, it's 1967. And... deal with it.

Now, am I saying we can't have any modern day adventures in the Marvel Universe? Oh hell no. We can... just... with new characters.

The upshot here is that we'd have MORE cool characters, and if Marvel could find enough good writers and artists, they could publish them ALL. Some would live in the 60s, some the 70s, some the 80s, some the modern day. Keeping track of the time line would get a little convoluted, but hell, it's not like that's something new to a comic book editor or fan, and at its worse it couldn't make less sense than the current X-MEN continuity.

[ M2 ]

Tom DeFalco seems to recently have tried to get something like this off the ground, with the hastily aborted M2 Universe. [But] it made no real sense, because for all that Spider-Girl, daughter of Peter and Mary Jane Parker, was running around in the modern day in her own M2 title, Spider-Man, without a daughter in sight, was vaulting around Manhattan in three or four different other mainstream titles, also set in the modern day. Yeah, DeFalco tried to show that the M2 universe was somewhat 'futuristic', but his little touches were lame and stupid and barely pasted on to what was clearly meant to be simply a normal, everyday setting. Given how much our own reality has changed in the 20 years since 1980, I think I can reliably say that the world of 2020 will be recognizably different from this one, and the M2 Universe was not.

Nonetheless, the attempt was made, which shows that at least someone in some sort of editorial post at Marvel is as annoyed by the whole Marvel time thing as I am.

[ the Lost Generation miniseries ]

[ Lost generation is ] a whole series populated with what I often think of as 'disposable' characters. ... To put it bluntly, disposable characters are bad characters. Characters with stupid names and dumb powers and idiotic origin sequences, in any combination thereof, including all three. These characters frequently exhibit, somewhere in their complex make up, some glimmering shard of an interesting idea, but usually, that interesting idea has already been incorporated somewhere else in a better character. [...] By its intrinsic nature, LOST GENERATION concerns itself with a truckload of characters utterly forgotten to the modern Marvel Universe... and one issue is enough for us to understand why. These guys suck. Yes, they all blow up at the end of the first issue, and it's really hard not to just murmur a satisfied 'good riddance' and toss the comic back on the pile.

However, if 'disposable characters' is half the reason why this mini series sucks, the other half is.. .yes... Marvel time.

To really put it right in your face, we have a series that we are constantly reminded takes place 'years' before the debut of the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man... which is set in, like, 1980. If you're in your early 20s, this probably doesn't bother you. [...] However, if you're within a few years on either side of my age, I don't have to tell you just what a grotesque miscarriage of poetic license this is. [...] Above and beyond the sheer stupidity of the concept of a plethora of previously established heroes that no one has ever heard of, this 'let's just rub salt in the wounds of our few older readers' approach truly annoys me.

[ How it could work ]

What COULD we do to adopt this more sensible streamlining today? Well, we need to bring back something like the M2 Universe.... Kurt Busiek and Roger Stern would probably do a pretty decent job of designing an entire 'next generation' Marvel Universe, complete with retconned backstories galore. However, we can't go half assed at it. If we're going to have a 'modern day' Marvel Universe populated by a next generation of heroes and villains, then we have to shift the current line up into the past. That doesn't mean we have to stop publishing their adventures, but it does mean that someone, like Busiek and Stern, have to sit down and come up with an intervening time line so we know who can still show up in the 'modern' universe and who can't, because they're dead.

Bear in mind, no one is going to be revealing all the backstory stuff at once. Don't look at it as a limitation on what stories can be done in the 'backdated' books. Both separate time periods would now form a creative synergy, as a reference to 'history' in the modern X-Men comic could suggest a storyline in the 'historical' title, and similarly, a storyline in the historical title could lead to a spin off twenty years in the future. With intelligent and creative editorial oversight, it could lead to a previously undreamed of level of story quality, adding a whole new dimension to characterization and the drama that is the unfolding Marvel Universe.

The Great American Novel