Comic Fodder

A Masters in DC Universe, a Minor in Wildstorm - Part 2

This is Part 2 of what was supposed to be a series. Let's all just agree to be shocked if there's a Part 3, but not rule out the possibility. It's probably not essential that you read Part 1, but we could use the hits. The basic gist of the first column was that my wife (who DOES read the occasional funny book) had asked to read Infinite Crisis, and I felt that she would leap into the book without the proper context. Pondering the way in which my comic collection could get her to a point where she would be comfortable reading Infinite Crisis got the hamster on the brain wheel running.

I like continuity. I do. And, for the most part, so do you.

Nobody ever tuned in to a television program hoping that a character who was tragically killed off in an episode four weeks ago would just walk back into frame and behave as if nothing out of the ordinary occured. And nobody ever forgave a television show for pulling just such a stunt because the writing team on the show was replaced.

Without continuity, without characters taking from an experience and moving forward, what point is there to having a comic series? Some readers might feel the age of the "pamphlet" and ongoing series is drawing to a close. However, sales on major, continuity heavy cross-overs and series indicates that there appears to be an audience still willing tp brave the depths of continuity. (And, if continuity were truly that irrelevant, would comic fans and the media alike have really cared all that much if Captain America were shot and killed? Drawn to the logical conclusion, if continuity doesn't count, then Cap should be alive and free of charges when the next writer takes over.)

Part of earning a Masters in DCU is staying frosty and maintaining a mental rolodex of the inconsistencies that occur as writers move on and off of a comic, or as editors move on and off of a series of comics. Deaths are one of the big topics that track easily as per a character experiencing a profound change that is subsequently ignored or poorly handled. However, as any comic reader can tell you, there are an infinite number of smaller topics that are lost in the shuffle. Whether discussing the origin of Power Girl or inconsistencies surrounding Adam Strange and Rann's Zeta-beam technology, what is told in one story may not carry over to the next. What appears to be a minor inconsistency to editors and writers may have a cumulative effect as new readers attempt to jump feet first into comics and stories and characters don't seem to jive from title to title. After all, who wants to feel as if they require their friendly DCU Masters candidate to remain on call 24/7 in case this week's Batman features Firebug in a miraculous return to life two weeks after taking the dirt nap in Detective Comics?

From sometime in the late 90's to Infinite Crisis, DCU openly admitted to expecting their readership to maintain a certain Zen Calm of lowered expectations. "The writers are trying to be creative," DC said, "Who are you to ask that they respect the basic beats and facts of the comics you've been buying from us for years? We've paid Writer X a ridiculous page rate for this comic, and if s/he doesn't feel that knowing anything about these comics, that's okay. In fact, if you find this lack of interest on the part of the writer a problem, you're a Momma's Boy."

Curiously, those same editors have been watching sales go into free fall as the hotshot writers were brought in to "boost" sales, and, frequently, wound up writing comics that made no sense (the lyrical but pointless "For Tomorrow" in Superman, to cite but one example).

So, yes, when the powers that be at DC make an announcement that continuity will begin to matter again at DC, it's a good thing.

Whether Hot-Shot Writer X likes it or not, the comics publsihed by DC are serialized fiction. Whether casual readers like it or not, most DCU books are serialized fiction. For most periodical publications, consideration of things like continuity don't matter. However, in serialized fiction, maintaining the baseline readership should equate to a certain level of (normally unspoken) trust the audience can place in the editorialship that what they've read before will make sense in the future. Breaking that trust with readers by fudging frequently with continuity often indicates to the reader that the creative team simply couldn't be bothered to respect the material. Oh, sure, they may like the origin, or talk about how great a comic was in 1939... But that's not really enjoying the past 70 years worth of comics, is it? Is it fair to ask the reader to pay $3.00 per issue, $18 for a 6-issue arc, or the cover price on whatever format in which the story is collected when the editor can't seemingly tell a story without mistakes and inconsistencies?

We covered some of this territory a while back.


Infinite Crisis, DC's recent massive cross-over, seemed to be not so much an actual story, but an extended metaphor for correcting the sins of DC's editorial past (we'll cover this at some point). So it was when The Wife asked about reading Infinite Crisis (with mostly Wonder Woman as a touchstone... we'll get into gender, Wonder Woman and my wife at some later date if you're interested) that the issues of continuity, shared universe and responsibility to the reader came sharply into focus.

After all, is Alex Luthor not attempting to act as frustrated editor, clashing together elements of worlds while crotchety Silver Age fans (Superman of Earth-2) and X-Treme fanboys (Superboy Prime) complain about the status of the DCU? Make it how it was. Make it more real. Pull from the past to give Power Girl her origin. The punching of the modern fanboy at the walls of the DCU to make sense of the thing spinning off breaks in continuity...


To add to the mix, in far off corners of the OYL DCU, Ion is discovering breaks into "The Bleed", and the DCU scholar has to return to the bookshelf to find those Wildstorm books from undergrad. For readers who've never lifted a copy of The Authority, "the Bleed" has no special significance... but for readers of both DCU and Wildstorm who'd kept pace with Superman and then Majestic , the crossover seemed almost inevitable. Flashforward to Ion #10 and not only is former DCU hero Captain Atom found in the Bleed between worlds, but versions of DCU heroes from the Tangent summer event from way, way back when I was in college are making an appearance.

So what is this? One continuity with multiple facets, or multiple takes and separate continuities? Infinite Crisis doesn't resolve the question, and DCU readers are left to catalog these facets, or possibly lose their DCU academic credentials.

However, rather than eliminating the problem of continuity flaws as created by writers and editors, it seems the DC powers that be may have merely multiplied opportunities for error, and with no Superboy Prime left to punch the walls of reality.


It seems unlikely that DC will be unable to sustain continuity across so many titles for too long, and there hasn't been an editorial shake up since OYL. At least not yet. If DCU has hired a "continuity cop" to watch what editorial is willing to put to print, that fact hasn't been made public. And while occasional readers may not care much for continuity on any one title, any periodical publication survives and thrives on building a strong core audience.

Only time will tell how DC Comics handles their latest cross-dimensional enterprise, but it's never too late to hope it all works out.

So what's your opinion? Come on, chime in, pipe up, speak out and let your mind be known. Feel free to criticize, compare, contrast and generally make a mockery of any and all of the above. Come on, I can take it.

re: death and return
On the soap opera "Days of Our Lives" they killed off a major character (Marlena) because the actress was getting a prime time show. The fans were PI**ED. After he show was cancelled they brought her character back saying that her twin sister was killed and that she had been kidnapped all this time.

-- Posted by: PiecesofArzt at March 12, 2007 1:04 PM

Soap Operas are crazy as per people coming and going. My wife used to watch "All My Children", and tunes in once in a blue moon. When she tells me what happened with characters deaths and resurrections, I just cackle... but i also recognize how similar Soap Operas are to comics as serial fiction with a rabid fan base.

But, the writers DID explain how Marlena could be alive. Sure, it seemed like BS, but for years DC wasn't even making an effort to cover up mistakes like major deaths, etc... (see the very brief death of Poison Ivy as an example)

Also, Marlena was a total fox as Electra Woman on "Electra Woman and Dyna Girl". That has nothing to do with anything, but it had to be said.

-- Posted by: ryan at March 12, 2007 1:27 PM

I have to agree on Elcetra Woman! There's a comic book movie I'd go see!

-- Posted by: PiecesofArzt at March 15, 2007 8:26 AM