Monday, June 04, 2007

Continuity Conundrum—DC Comics’ Storytelling Crisis

(Pictured above: The cover of Hawkworld #1—the post-CRISIS series that re-booted the Hawkman franchise. It’s also the series that launched a thousand retroactive continuity problems.)

Not content to blather here on our own blog, FanBoyWonder has been taking part in an online discussion with Ryan and Jason at Film Fodder Comics on DC’s newest weekly series Countdown but more broadly about the current state of continuity at DC Comics.

You can read the full exchange at Film Fodder Comics but for our part, DC has created a crisis of its own making due to a two decade lack of editorial discipline that has allowed writers to continuously “tweak” story continuity until it’s become an incompressible mess to reader and creator alike.

The original CRISIS on Infinite Earths in 1985 was designed to streamline its then 50 year history and get its pantheon of characters into something resembling a manageable state.

Unfortunately, CRISIS worked all too well and DC missed its chance to reboot its universe and start over directly at the end of CRISIS #12.

First there was John Byrne’s Man of Steel re-boot the following year after CRISIS, followed the next year with Batman Year One with George Perez’s Wonder Woman starting over somewhere in between. Drip, drip, drip as subtle changes were made and remade impacting the DCU.

Attempts to fix the continuity “leak” with Zero Hour, to explain it with the concept of Hypertime and then to attempt to “fix” it again with Infinite Crisis and 52 have only made the problem worse.

Yet we can pinpoint the exact moment when it all came apart and the DC Universe (and it’s readers) have been feeling the effects ever since—the first issue Hawkworld, the mini-series and later continuing series featuring a Modern Age, militarized view of Hawkman and Thanagar.

It’s not that Hawkworld was bad…quite the contrary…it was very good. Hawkworld’s lasting sin was a sin of omission. A sin that could have been prevented by just three little words in the first panel of Hawkworld #1—“Ten years ago.”

But the Hawkworld editor wanted the new adventures of Hawkman to take place in present day and in doing so he launched a thousand little retroactive continuity problems.

But don’t take our word for it, allow us to interject the words of DC's original “Continuity Cop” Robert Greenberger into the mix. The following comes from his recent column in

We can all be forgiving of not being consistent with obscure stories from 20, 30 or even 50 years ago. But stuff that contradicts itself from the major continuity-resetting event of the last year, is unforgivable. Editors and writers should be following a singular road map and they should all be capable of doing efficient research so when they use a supporting character or villain, it’s consistent with the last known appearance. When that does not occur, the reader is annoyed and the talent comes across as sloppy or uncaring.
"It’s not unrealistic to expect such consistency, and the consumer should be demanding that the product delivered make sense. It’s incumbent upon editors and writers to check with one another. Given the wealth of research material in print and online, it is no longer a daunting task to find background information on even the most unremembered people. Editors should no longer be accepting lazy artists crowding pages of gang shots with characters that may no longer look like they do or were even alive at the time of the story – thumbing through 22 year-old copies of Who’s Who should no longer be accepted.

“Marvel and DC both have editors with long-term recall of places and characters, as well as deep libraries with easy-to-research material. Part of the job needs to be doing your homework so the reader gets the best possible story. The story needs to make sense with a beginning, a middle and (hopefully) an end that is consistent with what the reader has read the month before. Anything less should be unacceptable.”

FanBoyWonder would humbly pile on to what Mr. Greenberger says by suggesting that DC’s continued careless and perhaps even deliberate inattention to storytelling detail is poised to have a negative reader backlash.

Look at the Star Trek franchise and the current state it finds itself. Sure Star Trek is 40 years old but the DCU starting with Superman is pushing 70 years.

As a long time Star Trek fan—but not a “trekie”, we just dug the shows but never wore the ears or drank the Romulan Ale—we watched with dismay as the shows not just repeated the same formula over and over and over again but with the movies in particular, the Trek creators would seemingly just put SOMETHING/ANYTHING out knowing that they had a built-in fanbase and the fans would come….until they (or enough of them) stopped coming.

We see that same inattention to detail and arrogant disregard of the fans/customers at DC. This does not make for good storytelling. It’s not so much the lack of story continuity that is hurting DC (although we're tired of trying to figure out what stories “count” as well as the constant retro-conning) as is DC’s total lack of concern that the only thing constant in the DCU is inconsistency.

As with Star Trek, the Super Hero comic book genre (DC and Marvel) is bleeding by a thousand self-inflicted cuts. Lack of story continuity has led to degraded long-term storytelling quality.

It doesn’t have to be that way and once upon a time it wasn’t. What made the old Marvel Comics great was the very real sense that it was the same universe, the majority of the heroes living in the same (very real New York) city (as opposed to Gotham, Star, Coast, Opal, Fawcett Cities, instead of New York, Seattle, San Diego, …etc). If an event happened in Thor where it caused snow to fall in July, then there was snowfall in Spider-Man and West Coast Avengers…..etc.

Now DC, and perhaps at Marvel, stories with shared characters not only do not seem to take place in the same universe, but editors don’t even appear to be working out of the same office.

With Star Trek, this had the result of turning off and driving away potential new fans/viewers while old die hard fans either dwindled in number or they just plain turned off and tuned out.

Bottom line: Continuity should be storytelling Job One in comics or otherwise let’s just stop bothering to number each comic and every issue can be #1.


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