Unfortunate Confluence of Words

Fri, January 25th, 2008 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Keith Giffen, Columnist

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Continuity.

Not my favorite word and definitely not my favorite concept. I've said it before and I'll say it again, rigid continuity strangles creativity. Actually, the word "rigid" is redundant. Continuity is, by its very nature, rigid. Were it not, it would be called consistency and I have no problem with consistency.

Consistency dictates that a character behave in a manner consistent with his or her history, personality, whatever as established. Superman doesn't act like Batman doesn't act like the Hulk and so on and so forth.

Continuity dictates that a character come equipped with a datebook so his or her whereabouts on any given day can be determined then doggedly adhered to, that any and all events told must be aligned just so. If "Action Comics" Superman was shown to be in Metropolis on Wednesday, then how is it he's show to be on Rann in the "Superman" book? Continuity demands that be dealt with.

Consistency dictates that a character's previous appearances be acknowledged within the context of the individual title. Mirror Master was turned to glass? Pick him up from there and run with it.

Continuity demands that a character's previous appearances fit into an overall, rigid timeline. How long was Mirror Master glass? What events passed during that period? How can he appear in the Flash after being glass for a month when Green Lantern's had only a week's worth of adventures during the same period? Continuity demands I read every DC book that arrives in my comp package (even the Rucka stuff! ) because God forbid I set a story in Cleveland and not acknowledge the fact that Geoff's got the JSA tearing up a section of the city that month.

Honestly... Does anybody really care?

I know an argument can be made that continuity and consistency are basically different words for the same thing, that I'm splitting hairs here, but that's not the way I see it and it's my column so back off!

Not convinced? How about this?

Consistency doesn't force perpetual reboots of long standing characters so that, in some cases, fifty plus years of stories can be crowbar jammed into the character's perceived timeline.

Continuity does. Spider-Man can't be that young! He's been around since the sixties!

Give me a break.

Galactus almost wiped out all life on Earth and only the Fantastic Four showed up even though the event took place in midtown Manhattan, home to any of dozens of other Marvel heroes. A great story considered a near classic. I shudder to think how the story might have played out had continuity reared it's ugly head. Let's see now -- Thor's in the Bronx so he'd... Spider-Man's in midtown fighting the Vulture so he'd have to... Avengers mansion's in midtown so they'd... AAGH!

Actually, I'm a little surprised no one's gone back and done a continuity retcon explaining where everyone was when Galactus came calling. You know, the kind of fill in the blanks, masturbatory nonsense that sometimes passes for storytelling nowadays.

And before you start in, yes, I've been guilty of a few of those "gems" myself. In 20/20 hindsight, not something I'm proud of.

Short form... Okay, maybe not so short but you've read this far... Continuity binds. I can't begin to count how many times I've heard of great story ideas that were squelched in the name of continuity.

And didn't continuity used to be the stuff of fandom? Wasn't it originally a creative exercise by hardcore fans to see it events could or couldn't be aligned, done solely for entertainment purposes? How'd it bleed over to the actual product? Was it fans turned pro showing up for work with the accumulated luggage of their individual obsessions? An aging reader base that insisted the characters grow old with them? The kind of professional laziness that plunders the past instead of enriching the future?

Don't know, don't care, don't like continuity.

I think we were better off when matters of continuity were left to the fans, when it was just an intellectual exercise done for the hell of it. Not to mention they were so much better at it than we are.

Huh. I guess I am kinda, sorta, splitting hairs here. Still, that's the way I see it and let's always keep in mind that "opinions are like a**holes, everyone's got one".

Till next time

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