Tales from Sark’s World: Continuity Blues

I started collecting comics back in 1986.

My comic company of choice was Marvel, who happened to be celebrating their 25th anniversary that year. My two main-stays were The Amazing Spider-Man and The Uncanny X-Men. In fact, the first X-Men comic I bought as a serious collector was Uncanny X-Men number 205, which happened to be a solo story featuring Wolverine; a kick-ass story, by the way.

As I continued to collect, I also started buying back issues, especially Uncanny X-Men. They had such a rich, textured history that it added so much to the newer stories I was reading. These weren’t just two-dimensional drawing on the page. These characters had depth. They were as detailed as anything you’d read in a novel, but because of the medium, they were never really taken too seriously. Only those like myself, comic book collectors, knew the truth, and we often walked a tightrope between trying to tell everyone about how cool these stories and characters were, and wanting to keep them to ourselves.

Although I didn’t really collect DC Comics, except for a stint with some Detective Comics and Lobo, I learned to like that universe, thanks to DC’s animated series. Batman: The Animated Series, Superman, Justice League, and my favourite, Justice League Unlimited, introduced me to a great, historic, and rich universe of characters existed. As popular as Superman and Batman are, I think the Flash has become my favourite.

Now this is where you’d think I would say something like… “if I was a comic book collector today, I’d collect the Flash…” But there is no way in hell that I would collect comics today.

Although DC seemed to start ti with their “Crisis on Infinite Earths” or whatever it was called, Marvel has, in recent years, done all it can to catch up. To what? Screwing around with their continuity, their history.

DC Comics started it with the “Crisis on Infinite Earths”, when they tried to simplify their then 50-year-old continuity. They tried to eliminate the accumulated multiverses, streamline/ update character histories, and whatever other lazy reasons they could think of to essentially screw up everything previous writers had done. In all honesty, if they had stuck to their guns and kept multiverses off the table, I could live with that. After all, it was touted as a huge event, having Pre-Crisis and Post-Crisis histories.

But they didn’t. They later had  “Zero Hour: Crisis in Time”, Infinite Crisis, Final Crisis, and Flashpoint (at least this time they didn’t use the word “Crisis”). These had the effect of undoing what had been done before, re-doing things and undoing things once more. The mess they hoped to clear up was made worse, but they sure made a lot of money!

Which brings me to “52”, the “New 52”, and whatever else has come afterwards. What’s even worse about this is they are cancelling comics and rebooting them, thus with a new issue number one. Once upon a time, the first issue of a comic was considered valuable, especially for a successful character or comic book title. Not any more! With new number ones popping up pretty regularly, any worth that might be had by comic book collectors is lost.

Marvel isn’t exempt from all this, especially recently. They have re-branded themselves “Marvel Now!”, expanding their online availability, and rebooting a bunch of titles with new creative teams. But why are they rebooting old titles? An example would be the Wolverine comic, which is now at Volume 6…

(sidebar: in comics, “volume” can refer to how many series have used that particular title. For example, there was a “Wolverine” limited series, which would be considered “volume 1”. Afterwards, there was a “Wolverine” regular series, which would be considered “volume 2”.)

If “Wolverine” is at volume 6, well, why is it at volume 6?! The series, and character, are popular, why cancel it, even you are going to change the character? The simple, cynical answer is money. If the creative team are successful, and the run is popular, that number one may be worth money. Plus, being a first issue, when released, they could charge more. There may be other reasons, but that isn’t the real point of this blog.

Yes, I have come to my point, which is this: comic books have become lazy.

Marvel, and especially DC, have characters that have existed for decades. They have a rich, detailed history. Their continuity can be complex, even hard to control, considering all of the other writers and artists who have used that character. But that is what makes the characters fun and exciting! Especially when working on a team title (X-Men, Avengers, Justice League, etc). There are an unending amount of history and interplay between characters that can be used to help create a story, or influence a story arc. For long time collectors, that is one of the reasons we collect! We want to see something from the character’s past resurface, come back to haunt them, or deal with something/ someone who may have an effect on the current story.

But these days, it seems easier to just reboot the whole thing, start fresh, and wipe away the continuity that has made the character/ characters who they are. Publisher will say it is hard for new readers to jump on-board with title that have dense history, like the X-Men. Personally, I think that’s a load of dingo’s kidneys. If the stories are strong and the characters interesting, readers will read. Maybe new readers don’t want to jump on-board, knowing that in a year or less, their characters and everything they’ve been following might be rendered moot because of a reboot.

Although my characters within the Infinatum don’t have the depth or history, if given the chance, I would do whatever I could to ensure they wouldn’t get rebooted, or have their continuity and history altered. That history is there for a reason, to add that depth and uniqueness to the characters we know and love. Doing away with that makes them just as easy to discard.


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