The Funnies Ain't So Funny Anymore

By Omri 

Issue #8 

      Welcome back everybody to yet another installment of this “already found its direction but not its readers” column.  Honestly, I have absolutely no indication how many of you out there bother to read this every week, so please drop me a comment at the Raging Bullets forum. 

      Today’s topic is none other than temporal continuity.  Ever since the mid 80’s, continuity began gaining a much bigger importance in the comics world.  The Crisis (with a capital “C”) was the epitome of this, and we are still feeling its effects today.  Current readers are so wound about continuity that when they discover something, they complain so much that DC has to go back and produce either fill ins, minis or backups just to tell that “long awaited story”.  Take for example the upcoming Nightwing Annual, telling the story of what happened a year ago but was never told regarding a certain marriage proposal.  Or the still ongoing furor on how detective Chimp could appear in 52 while being stuck at the Pentacle Plot (with Supes appearing there too while he should be depowered…)  The list goes on and on, but the concept is clear:  We want a cohesive universe, a single earth where events that happen in one book have a direct impact on other books.  A simple thing to ask for by a reader, a very tough thing to execute by editorial departments.  For a reader that reads 40 monthly titles, its easy to notice inconsistencies, but for writers (who admittedly follow a maximum of 2 titles), it’s inevitable that such contradictions will arise.  Many scholars have attempted to study this phenomenon, but no clear explanation has yet risen to explain this zeal for cohesiveness.  My favorite explanation is that of self-persuasion: any inconsistency directly undermines a fan’s integrity as it implies that the issues bought are not-important to the “big picture,” so in order to convince themselves that the money spent matters, the fans raise their voices so that the story is brought back and connected back to the rest of the titles’ events.  A subconscious decision at best, this theory still has faults, but it’s as good an explanation as any. 

      The random issue that raised this topic was, naturally, 52.  A 52 issue series to fill in what happened during the year the DCU skipped.  Literally.  Think about this for a second: ignoring what it had become as the story progressed, the original idea was to have a whole series devoted to filling in a story.  Instead of being reactionary, it is a proactive approach to cash in on the importance of continuity.  We all know where it starts, we all know where it ends, and yet we all want to read how they got from one point to the other.  The third episode of Star Wars followed the same exact structure, and the fanbase showed their support.  52 has had similar positive feedback, selling much better than anticipated.  But not all prequels and insertions do this well.  In fact, the examples provided are exceptions rather than the norm.  But 52 was special.  It stopped being a story about filling in a missing year and became a story of its own which just happened to be set a year before the other DC titles.  The structure of this, however, raises a whole new issue in terms of continuity – the question of time. 

      Time was almost never an element of story telling in the DCU.  I’m not talking about time travel or stories set in the future, but a simple aging process where the time that passes between two consecutive arcs on a single title is actually felt.  In the extreme, this means that characters should age, but that produces the problem of uneven aging across the board and given enough time, your heroes are too old to use.  DC has done several de-agings during the years, including the JSA frozen in stasis (these guys should be in their 120’s by now), deaths and resurrections (Hal Jordan did not age while dead, obviously), and the Silver age in general allowed the Golden age characters to become old, letting writers tell stories of an elderly Superman. But that I can condone, as it has to be done if the DCU as we know it will remain.  Time, however, is still an element.  Several things do take time to ripen and develop.  Relationships cannot grow in the span of days.  There is no way Nightwing’s arm injury can heal that fast, so we now see him in rehab, as it should be.  As Didio put it when asked about this time element in a NYCC panel, “our goal is to age the DCU until Dick Grayson is older than Bruce Wayne.”  Yes, I’m paraphrasing, but that was the gist of it.  Basically, the element of time is only used when it works, specifically for the younger characters, while it is blatantly ignored for those characters for whom the effects are less than desirable, mostly due to their already advanced age. 

      Yet the DCU keeps moving forward in time.  We know several events happen in definite lapses after their previous ones, and we got the weekly 52 literally telling a week by week narrative in real time.  If three weeks passed between reading events in 52, then three weeks actually passed for the characters, with all that implies.  If it’s winter in your town, Gotham City will be covered in snow.  If everybody around you is in festive mode, we’ll see the characters celebrate too, each in their own ways.  And this seems to have struck a chord with readers.  Apart from the excitement of following a weekly book, apart from the top- tier writing team, we now get a chance to evolve along with the characters.  It adds a sense of realism that a story progresses at the same pace your life does.  And after all, is that not why we keep reading?  For the same reason people play RPG’s, creating an alternate life where they can live without their usual worries for a while, this kind of book lets you follow a story which is easier to relate to as the time and atmosphere are now the same as your own.  Realism – an oxymoron in this medium when we start dealing with magic, aliens and the strange effects of radiation, but realism nonetheless.  I think of it as doing the best with what we are given, creating a believable story out of a fantastical world.  It helps the readers relate to and understand the stories better, helps the writers as they can draw on their own experiences, and helps the publisher by increasing revenue.  Both continuity and the element of passing time are really subsets of this concept of realism, and their effects rise in importance as readers become more avid about this.  They want to feel as if they are part of the story, as if they are present at the event and not just told what happened.  Readers want their comics to be relatable, convincing and genuine, and the only way to do that is to make them more realistic.  If you approach your audience, the effort will show and the audience will approach you back. It’s a mutual relationship between fanbase and publishing house that shouldn’t be ignored.  So next time you run across a blatant temporal error in a book, leave a comment on some message board.  It’s bound to reach the right ears at some point, and it will either get fixed, explained or at the very least tell the writer to be more careful next time.  All those effects are good, and you are in control.  So get out there, complain all you want, just don’t be offensive while at it, and your efforts will not go unrewarded.  So I’ll see you next week unless I’m erased out of continuity for my blasphemy,