The Big Picture: Continanity

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I'm no comic book geek. I like good endings, you know. As for games. Metal Gear Solid stopped at 4. It's over. Waiting for Mass Effect 3 and that's it.
Odd times that brands became sooooo important that you got try new ideas with that brand over and over again (I say it's exploitation) until even fans start too lose track of what is going on. (24H on tv, The Legend of Zelda in vg's, Sherlock Holmes on books and Star Wars pretty much in any media format).

This is why my comic book reading avoids DC and Marvel alike.... with the exception of Deadpool... Deadpool is just too hilariously awesome to pass up.

Marvel are doing him to death though. I love Deadpool but they've run characters into the ground before... Enjoy him while he lasts.

There are just some things the human brain was not meant to think of.

Damn, I'm glad I don't read comic books. I got a headache just trying to follow Bob's video here.

Is this superhero-comic fandom as big outside States?

Pirate Batman is win in my book lol

So, how much money do you need to spend on comic books to be able to keep up with continuity? It sounds expensive, very expensive.

Could'nt agree more Bob. Comic continuities have become such a complete mess for outsiders such as myself, that TV and films interpretations of these characters have actually become the ONLY way I've been able to enjoy either DC or MARVEL comic characters.

I've wanted to get into comics for a while now. I love Iron Man. I loved his since I was a little kid and he had a cartoon on my television that was shown every day. I loved what happened in the movies. I went into a comic book store and found that at current, he is staring in what appears to be about three-four different ongoing comics.

That put me off until they start coming out "in trade" which is a term I had to have explained to me.

See. Because of this I only buy things that have end.

Bob, this is a really great video about DC Comics continuity, but from your title, I expected you to actually wrestle with what makes continuity over multiple mediums so challenging and suggest ways around these issues.

Could you please make your titles more representative of your videos?


I actual find it strange sometimes that casual readers of comics don't like the multi-verse concept, its what they are getting everytime they watch a cartoon of the series.

You have a good point. Devoted sports fans have no trouble tracking the statistics of dozens of players and teams over multiple seasons, dedicated soap opera fans follow multiple plotlines and characters, and Lost whatever it is Lost fans do. Are comics really exceptional in their complexity?

I think the point is that it's okay to have each story have their own separate space without having to be a part of everything else. It's not that there are so many different alternate tellings, it's that they try to cram them all in the same setting and inject continuity where it doesn't have or need to be. It's not all that hard to follow, it's that meshing and twisting everything around like that every time they want to do a change waters down each individual story. And takes what could be somewhat relatable to real life (super powered man plays hero in an otherwise average city) and blows it on a scope that's entirely unrelatable (alternate reality super powered man affects the multiverse by punching time). That inability to relate is what makes it hard to get into, as Bob said, 'it's weird.'

I find this superhero-comic Continuity similar to EA releasing yet-another-sports-game-putyouryearhere.
Why not start new series?

Constant rebooting is a sign that stories are unrelated to superheroes - with some exceptions any of these new stories could be stretched over _any_ character. And yet it's always good old Captain Beefheart or Broomman to be rebooted to fit into plot.

You need balls to end something and start something new.

OK seriously, why do people read so much comic books? Why do so many variations, sub-miniseries and whatever exist? Is the universe really that interesting? I don't read comic books, just seriously asking. I'm a sci-fi nut, but I don't get the superhero thing.

The big irony is that the multiverse is way of forcing continuity in as an excuse for writers to write stories without any regard for continuity. I think if people want to see Batman as a pirate, then a writer shouldn't have to make excuses and just write it. Different artists putting their own spin on well known characters makes for much more interesting reading.

There's no reason to treat these fictional characters like they have real lives; they're symbols whose stories can be told in any setting appropriate to that story. I'm more than a casual reader, but I don't give a rat's ass about coninuity. It's a philosophy that also makes it a lot easier to live in a world where Hollywood shits all over awesome characters. Merc with a mouth has no mouth? Kiss my ass.... with your stupid non-mouth thing.

It's all down to that word canon, isn't it. God I hate that word and everything it stands for. (With the exception of the weapon usage obviously.)
Somebody creates an interesting story idea that gets fans who, as Bob rightly pointed out, become future creators, who have outlandish ideas that though have no tangible connection to the original concept and due to their popularity in the industry are allowed to insinuate their dross into the history of the character and sully it forever, because it is now CANON.
Why couldn't we have the Watcher turn up in X-Men after Morrison left and say 'Yeah, Cassandra Nova was bollocks, lets all forget it ever happened.' Then maybe better writers wouldn't have to tip toe around the minefield of shite that self indulgent 'writers' leave behind.
I didn't intend this to be an attack on Morrison (as there are others) but I do see him as the Michael Bay of the comic world.

Sgt. Sykes:
OK seriously, why do people read so much comic books? Why do so many variations, sub-miniseries and whatever exist? Is the universe really that interesting? I don't read comic books, just seriously asking. I'm a sci-fi nut, but I don't get the superhero thing.

The biggest underlying answer to your question is that the current media setup wasn't designed to end. Ever. They will continue until they can no longer. The concept of starting a story with new characters and world isn't hard, but ending it and not going back? To the comic publishers/nerds, this is simply unthinkable. So even after the story has been bled dry, the publishers got to keep going for the next issue because that's what is demanded from them; no matter how much they shouldn't. And frankly you can't blame them because that's what their audience keeps asking for.

I want to read these now...
It's like DC has so many continuity problems, the continutity universe characters are mocking the continuity of the established universe...

If I had a few several billion spare I'd buy both Marvel and DC and merge the universes together and just wipe the slate clean. Starting again with maybe a few alterations like Robin is Batman's little baby brother or something. Also, I'd throw in some of the Amalgam comic stuff they did like Supersoldier and Spider-boy. I really liked them.

Addition to last post: Marvel has a series of non-continuity comics that are REALLY worth checking out, which includes Spider-Man: Reign, Silver Surfer: Requiem, and Sub-Mariner: The Depths. I'm not sure if the series has it's own title (it falls under Marvel Knights) but you can recognize the covers by white vertical lines about an inch from either side. They wholly reinforce my point made earlier.

This is why I want to but have never gotten into comics. The stories sound so awesome but with all these continuities going on and intertwining with each other, how can I pick up a copy of the latest Superman and expect to unerstand wtf is going on?

How can we have a discussion on Continuity without mentioning Marvel's Ultimate reboot? That was one of the gutsiest moves a publisher has ever done and I think they did a great job overall.

I'm with Bob though - all this infinite multiverse stuff really made the world of comics impenetrable for me. I would dip my toes in by reading my brother's stuff for an arc or two, then immediately head for the hills if the word "clone" was mentioned.

This is why I want to but have never gotten into comics. The stories sound so awesome but with all these continuities going on and intertwining with each other, how can I pick up a copy of the latest Superman and expect to unerstand wtf is going on?

My advice is don't worry about it. Just start reading and eventually your ignorance and knowledge will level out.

Over here in Finland such classics as X-Men, Spiderman and Marvel (everyone else) got exactly one monthly magazine. Well, it wasn't actually monthly in the 1980s, but it became that way later on. Anyway, the stuff that got first harvested from a multitude of Spiderman, X-Men and what-have-you Marvel comics were then chosen to represent a single continuity. And it worked out wonderfully! Although I missed out on about 75 - 80% of publications from Spiderman and X-Men (not to mention Wolverine, Daredevil, Fantastic Four and many others, who only got short runs in the Marvel comic) I never experienced a continuity problem.

Well, up until the mid-90s when X-Men did a whole time travel thing to Cairo, Xavier got killed by Legion, Bishop got ripped into an alternate reality (with brain damage) and the whole thing went ga-ga-crazy. Let's just say that I stopped reading Marvel comics right there and then. I like most of the movies with a fondness of about a decade of carefully edited translations.

As someone who has literally never read a single comic book, this episode blew my mind. Is this 4 real? Seriously wtf....

This is why I just can't rap my head around mainstream superhero comics.

After your last video, I got thinking about why Judge Dredd appeals to me (I'm still only up to 'Necropolis' though), but stuff like DC and Marvel are a complete turn-off. I think one of the big reasons is that JD advances in real time; one year of real world comics is one year in the Dreddverse. It leads to some pretty cool later tie-ins like when the baddie from the very first comic comes back years later and so much has happened that Dredd doesn't even remember who he is or what he did. It also makes it far more accessible for newbies like me, who can just pick up the back catalogue and start from the beginning, knowing that it's going to be fairly smooth, time consistent, and perhaps most importantly where the development of the character, universe and storylines follows a natural arc that is easy to follow and accessible. It also gives an extra layer of depth to the characters as time and experience within the universe itself seems to be having the effect. Whilst the almost schizophrenic changes in tone as the stories bounced between authors could be pretty jarring, averaged out over time it makes a lot of sense.

And yet despite this 'stricture', they've still managed to do some pretty epic things, and I've still got over 20 years of the comics to go!

I just like the (good) movies and TV cartoons in the nineties ok!

Although somewhat interesting, the multiverse is exactly why I don't read comics. Although pirate Batman sounds awesome.

I'll just stick to the Nolan films thank you very much.
Good video Bob. When i first came to the escapist, i never watched you're movie reviews cause i don't watch many movies anyway; but ever since I've been following The Big Picture, I've been watching those too. so color me a fan!

This is why I'm sticking to Alan Moore's stuff for now when it comes to comic books.

However, when it's about tv series or movies based on comic boooks.. I mostly watch Batman.

I fear the continuity, okay? :<

The actual best part of the pirate Batman?
If you consider that he was trained by ninjas...
...and was killed, but is still alive...
...that makes him The One, The Only...
...Ninja Pirate Zombie Batman!

Now that's what I call a Comic Clusterfuck.

I used to be a big comic book fan, and stuff like this was one of the reasons why I just don't read episodic comics any more. Marvel is now doing this stupid thing where they will publish graphic novels that leave out a lot of the story. I was just reading "Thor: Siege" the other day (which my mind tells me is a cynical cash grab to be out there before the movie comes out), and basically, the Norse Gods have relocated to the midwest and built themselves a new Asgard over a small midwest town. Loki decides to destroy it for shits and giggles. Volstag is accused of killing a bunch of people by accident and he turns himself in, and a machine-Thor calling itself Ragnarok attacks him and tries to kill him. Meanwhile, a bunch of human villains hyped up on magical power sources attack the new Asgard and are managing to win the battle...

And the whole middle and end of the fight are not published in the graphic novel. No, I am not kidding. There are two "highlights" pages... and we cut to the aftermath, sometime the next day. As a reader, that pisses me off. If I pay my own good money to buy this (expensive) graphic novel, by damn, I want to read the whole story. Would you buy a book that cut out the middle and denoument of the story, and told you, to read the parts that were missing, you have to buy two or three other novels to get the full, whole story? That's just insane. And yet, graphic novels apparently get away with this all the F_ing time.

It makes me not want to spend my money on these things. Honestly.


This week, Bob examines the insanities of continuity.

Watch Video

And this is why limited series tend to produce better, more believable characters.

When you begin a story, or a character's run within that story, with reasonably-predictable timeline in mind, you can create story arcs that have an organic and interesting shape. You can aim for a single "grand climax," steering all events toward it, away from it, back toward it, and eventually BAM! You're there, and the rest is denouement.

But you can't create that shape unless you know both the beginning and the ending point. You need a finite space in which to work. And having that finite space allows you tell a far more interesting story, because it will have direction, and highs and lows that both matter. Most importantly, it will have closure.

You know what does go on and on, for an unpredictable amount of time, with various highs and lows that have little or nothing to do with each other? Real life. And real life, for the most part, is fiercely boring. There are highlights, sure, but the rest is eating, sleeping, walking, and pooping. When you hear stories of someone's heroic life, you're reading the highlights, and usually only from a brief period within that life. You're not forced to sit around for the rest of it. Beyond this, you're listening to the story after the fact, which means there's an ending to that story, even if the person is still alive.

Comic books and soap operas have to be more interesting than real life, which means concocting unlikely or impossible scenarios and grandiose means of having the hero come out on top. Like any good story, there are several mini-climaxes, usually leading up to one big one. But unlike good stories, these series are forced to do the same thing over and over again. It goes one of two ways.

The first way ends with a story having too many "grand climaxes," such that they're no longer... well... climactic. How many times can you save the world from "certain doom" before it starts to become pedestrian? How many evil twin clone robots can show up before you already have a stock plan for dealing with these things? The extreme example of this one could be called "Friends Syndrome," or "Ross/Rachel Syndrome." Reusing the same climax over and over. They can only be apart/together/apart/together so many times before most folks just quit caring.

The second way continues into over-the-top escalation. The basic idea is the demote the last "grand climax" to a mini-climax on the way to something greater. This could also be called "Dragonball Syndrome." Sure, you just gave your all to defeat the biggest bad around, but really it was just his human form! Now you have to face him in his true form! But then, of course, you discover some new super secret attack (which you should have learned from the beginning, really) which you use to defeat him. And with his dying breath he tells you... that he isn't the biggest bad. There's another one coming that's bigger and badder, and you're all doomed (again).

Each has to be bigger than the one before, which quickly gets out of hand, because these things tend to grow on a logarithmic scale. Soon, you reach a point where you just have to think, "Well what the hell do we do now?" And that's how soap operas got vampires.

So characters and stories of an indefinite lifespan lead to stories that either plateau or sore rapidly into completely outrageous places. But guys like Superman and Batman have something else stacked against them when it comes to remaining compelling characters in a grand story: They have outlived their audience (and writers) several times over.

Superman was a product of his generation. People needed that super-capable, super-moral, super-patriotic hero that could never be defeated. Superman was that hero. He was everything good and pure and strong and true. Then, when things calmed down, the new generation found him... well... kinda boring. I mean, nothing was a challenge. Not really. Enter: kryptonite, a handy little doodad that suddenly gave Superman a vulnerability. This bought them some time, of course.

But the fact remains that the generation reading Superman now is not the same as the first. The generation writing Superman now is not the same as the first. And that means the character has to constantly be "reimagined" into a new version that fits the current generation (see: Emo Clark Kent).

It also means that, in all likelihood, the new generation of writers were fans of the old generation, and they want to recreate the wonder and awe they felt. It's basically fourth-generation fan fiction at this point. And when you hire fans to continue the project, your project suffers from a sort of "creative incest," and minor flaws propagate from one generation to the next, becoming noticeable deformities.

It ends up this way because we get to a point where we don't want to create new heroes and try to, once again, get people invested in them. The old guys are a security blanket. The name and face, and what it used to represent, will carry the product. Consequently, while the writers cling to this security blanket, audiences will follow suit. With all the hundreds of new heroes being created in this information age (where every Joe can get his goods to market), they'll tend not to risk it. They'll stick with the tried-and-true for as long as they're out there.

So instead of compelling stories with a beginning, middle, climax, and end, possibly with several lesser stories woven into the middle, we get reboots, alternate universes, retcons, hideously exaggerated conflicts, and any other means of reusing the same heroes over and over and over. Of these options, I really think reboots are the best--you get a chance to wipe the slate clean and start the story again.

But if you don't set a destination, you're only delaying the day where the "son" becomes the "father" again. Let heroes die. Let them retire. Above all, let some stories end.

(And speaking of shoddy DC continuity, does anyone have a clear, concise origin for Catwoman? I mean seriously.)

Medieval Batman huzzah !

Thanks, Bob. I'm a Marvel fan myself, so I didn't know much about that Crisis buissnes - I'll look up into it one day XD

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