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mygif

I think a solution is simply loose continuity. Anything that you’ve already read happened unless the author needs it to not have happened, or happened differently.

This would work a lot better if we had authors write longer “runs” on comics – for a year, or two, or five, you could assume that everything you’ve read in BATMAN or ADVENTURE or SPIDER-MAN happened. After that, it probably happened.

(This also gives readers and subsequent writers room to actively ignore stupid, or nonsensical, or contradictory elements.)

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CapnSilver said on March 19th, 2010 at 9:01 am

You know what needs a reboot? Sandman. And Preacher.

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I think the ability to ignore past stupidity is one that’s sorely lacking in comics today. Every writer seems to feel the desperate need to explain everything ridiculous in the past so that it makes PERFECT SENSE YOU GUYS, except doing that just makes everything more convoluted.

Unless you can really go outside the conventional thinking with your explanation, like Grant Morrison explaining an old Batman story as a psychological fallback position Batman built for himself, just handwave and move on. I don’t care about a strict chronology if I’m being entertained, and if the characterization is consistent.

Does anyone remember that Mark Waid essay about the biggest influence on modern superhero comics being the embarrassment of the writers? At this point I’m tempted to skip embarrassment and move directly to Asperger’s Syndrome as the motivation.

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ps238principal said on March 19th, 2010 at 9:26 am

You’re overlooking the solution of killing everyone and then bringing them back. :)

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Agreed with Michael. I’ve been enjoying the heck out of the Marvel Adventurers Avengers, where there’s occasionally a vague gesture at continiuty, but it’s only there to get the players in position and let the punching begin. And in a comic where Iron Man’s pants get melted, that’s really all you need.

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I’ve honestly grown tired of mainstream comics, partly because of reboots and partly for their constantly events which herald that “Nothing will be the same again!” or “Someone will die!” or “*character’s* life will be forever changed!” or my prsonaly favourite, “Everything you know is a lie!”

And then, of course, a reboot just wipes it all away, whether it be a villain mucking around with reality or the hero making a deal with the devil.

The problem is, for all these stories trying to be fresh by making changes, nothing really will. The status quo is eventually returned to normal. The mythology of the character still remains the same. Superman still works in Metropolis, works at the Daily Planet, is threatened by Lex Luthor, pines for Lois Lane, yadda yadda.

This is why I’m starting to prefer self-contained stories that just play around with the mythology to tell a good story. I look, of course, at things like All Star Superman. It’s self contained, accessible, and most importantly, a DAMN good read.

At this point, comic book companies need to realize that change is not going to happen with their flagship characters. It’s like the old pulp novels like The Shadow and Doc Savage; very little, if anything changed. You could pick up any one of the hundreds of their novellas and jump right into the adventure. I’d love to see comic companies go in that direction.

Sure, they could THREATEN change and even temporarily make a change, but with an ending in mind that essentially brings it back to status quo. Best example of this would be The Death of Superman. They had a general idea from the start and now? I honestly think it makes for a great trilogy – the Death, the Funeral and the Return – that you could enjoy on its own.

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Matthew Johnson said on March 19th, 2010 at 9:57 am

I think the most successful “reboot” was the first season of the relaunched Doctor Who, because it took the attitude “If you’re already a fan, then all the stuff you remember happened, but if you’ve never watched the show before you don’t have to know about any of it.” As the series has gone on it’s lost a bit of that new-viewer friendliness (and made a few wonky retcons, like the new Cybermen) but the first couple of seasons managed a very nice balance.

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mygif

They need to throw in more alien invasions and… no wait they’ve done that.

They need to throw in female versions of male heroes so we can ogle the b… no no, already doing it.

They need more zombies! (pause) I gotta work on this.

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mygif

I don’t think it’s a problem with reboots so much as a problem that becomes really obvious with reboots.

When companies try to give new readers a good starting point, the writer may decide to write an essay on the continuity for the first issue instead of getting on with the story. There are still writers and artists who treat every Robin as though they’re Dick Grayson and refer to characters by the sidekick names they had when they first showed up decades ago.

That’s just the industry.

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I love the idea of loose continuity. Just tell the story you want to tell and if it contradicts the minutiae of some story from the early 90s, who cares? Keep the characters and setting consistent, but otherwise just tell a good story.

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Rawrasaur said on March 19th, 2010 at 10:57 am

I’d point out that the Ultimate Fantastic Four was pretty new and different. There were basic concepts and names that were taken from the original series, but the stories that were told about them were totally and wildly different. The Ultimate version of Thanos was wildly different than his 616 Titanic self.

Unfortunately, I think it was probably a little *too* different. People don’t want super duper new new new, they want something that *feels* new, but still has that sense of familiarity to them. That’s why people like X as told by Y. It’s a “different” take on something they know. Just enough difference to pique interest, but enough familiarity to not feel alienated.

–Rawr

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mygif

Loose continuity isn’t going to work in the age of wikipedias and easy Internet access. Plus, fans, being nerds, like things to make sense (even when they really don’t).

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This post had nothing to do with the lives of computer game programs dammit! I feel tricked…

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Llelldorin said on March 19th, 2010 at 12:04 pm

I thought the original Diniverse BTAS did it exactly right, but in a way that might only be applicable to the giants like Batman and Superman. They didn’t bother with an origin story–the series started with Batman already in place, fighting crime. Their continuity was often very loose–sometimes Robin was around, sometimes not–but they told great stories.

Of course, I’m not sure that would have worked with, say, Daredevil. It worked for Batman because once you know that he’s The Goddam Batman, there really isn’t a single thing more that you need to know.

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mygif

Very well observed.

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mygif

Lot of wisdom in this thread, especially Joel. I definitely think the “loose continuity” thing has merit, or even go a step further and go the full All-Star Superman route: create a new continuity each time a new writer comes on board (and possibly do away with ongoing series altogether, having each new Superhero story be a miniseries unto itself). The thing is, you don’t have to be a hardcore superhero fan to understand the concept of “off-screen backstory”; more mainstream (though admittedly still geeky) entertainments like Lord of the Rings and Star Wars make extensive use of this idea. So when All-Star Superman begins with Lex Luthor working for the military after claiming to reform, we don’t need to have that SHOWN, we can just take it as read. This really goes for any superhero, no matter how obscure; an even better example is Kurt Busiek’s Astro City, which gives us an entirely original superhero universe with an elaborate backstory, which is then detailed in glimpses as the series unfolds. We don’t even need that, really, though. We can usually figure out the backstory that led up to that point from context and other clues, and what isn’t obvious can usually be indicated by a line or two of exposition. (How many lines of dialogue in the original Star Wars trilogy are devoted to Obi-Wan and Luke’ father’s history? It can’t be more than ten. And yet we know everything we need to know.)

The real question is whether comic book companies are truly interested in making their product accessible to all, as everyone seems to assume they are, or whether they’re happy to keep marketing to an ever-dwindling circle of OCD nerds who LIKE the “secret club” nature of superhero continuity. Sadly, the latter seems to be the case. Breaking out and appealing to a large fanbase seems beyond their scope. Maybe with the corporate shakeups recently we’ll see a movement in this direction?

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By the way, I don’t 100% agree with John’s premise that reboots of comic book characters require you to retell years of stories before you can do anything new. I see where he’s coming from, but a true “relaunch” of the various superhero characters can have a lot of new and interesting story ideas embedded within it. The post-Crisis Lex Luthor is mentioned in the article–the character is so radically different from his dopey Silver Age stuff that John Byrne was telling an essentially new story right out of the gate. I would also point to adaptations into other media, which are de facto reboots, yet usually manage to bring a lot that’s new to the various characters. Batman: The Animated Series, for instance. I’m not hugely familiar with the character of Mr. Freeze as he appeared in the comics, but I believe “Heart of Ice” was a total reimagination of the character, which meant it was both an origin and a completely fresh, new story.

The problem with this kind of “reboot” is that it requires a massive reconceptualization of the title under the aegis of one writer (or editor), and in the current environment it seems like it’s rare to get more than 12 issues to make your mark.

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mygif

I don’t think citing the Ultimate Universe as a “reboot” that’s taking too long helps your case – it falls far more into the B:TAS that Prankster mentioned. Ultimate Banshee, Ultimate Gah Lak Tus, Ultimate most stuff outside Spider-Man to be honest. Sure there’s call backs to the old stuff, and there’s certainly a tendency to retool old stories for the new continuity, and redo classic origins, but that’s not always true.

I mean off the top of my head, the F4 never went into space to get their powers, and man thing was created (and Doom too) in that accident. That’s a pretty striking change, and that’s the origin.

And while the description that you spend a period of time giving characters origins is entirely accurate – what if I launched a new book. I’d at some point have to give my hero and supporting cast and villains origins and introduce them (although I will contest that I have to give an origin for them right away, backtracking is always possible). Relaunching and launching are no different in that regard.

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mygif

I’m gonna add my voice to the chorus re: loose continuity. Will it ever happen on a large scale at any of the major publishers? Probably not.

But look at the newspaper comic strips: you may spend a week reading about Charlie Brown’s current existential crisis, but next week there’s a new story involving his inability to kick the football, or the kite eating tree, or Snoopy’s battle with the Red Barron, none of which depend on anything more than a basic familiarity with the main characters.

And guess what? People return to these strips BECAUSE nothing ever changes, at least not radically. Same thing goes for TV: you could watch the episodes of House, Law and Order, I Love Lucy, South Park, Quantum Leap, or any number of shows in a completely random order and not really be lost as to who’s who or what’s going on.

In fact, it only now occurs to me that Quantum Leap may be the quintessential example of loose continuity (okay, maybe not loose, because there was an overall direction to the narrative, but go with me here). Every week there was a radically new setting, brand new characters, and we were all just as lost as Sam Beckett at the beginning of the episode. Some weeks you got drama, some weeks action, some weeks comedy, but you only ever needed to have knowledge of two characters and the conceit of the show, all of which was explained during the opening theme.

As others have said, this could be done easily with the “series of mini-series” format in comics, with a page-one breakdown of everything you need to know. Why it isn’t? Who knows.

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mygif

Kyle, I think that sort of thing has been done before, but it usually isn’t successful. Legends of the Dark Knight had that format, but only maybe half those arcs were worth reading (but the hits were great: Faces is still my all-time favorite Two-Face story, and in my Top 10 of Batman stories). Batman: Black and White was even more condensed, but since that was a back-up feature, I’m not even sure that’s fair.

Again, I think even LotDK only got a chance because it was BATMAN.

Ultimate Team up has a similar type of format, but the particular problems with the Ultimate-style rebooting has already been mentioned upthread.

In my opinion the whole need of reboots is the tail wagging the dog. Would this need for continuity exist without Marvel’s Shared Universe approach (which was a sales ploy) or Fox’s Flash of Two Worlds story (is that the first retcon?). The continunity should only serve the story, it shouldn’t dictate it.

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Mary Warner said on March 19th, 2010 at 4:36 pm

I never liked comic-book reboots. I stopped reading DC in the mid-late ’80s because of it. (Although to be fair, I was only reading DC occasionally by that point anyway.) I just couldn’t stomach the idea of taking all the history I’d learned and throwing it all away. I’ve never been able to care about Ultimate Marvel for the same reason.
I like for history to mean something, just as it does in real life. History is always there, and it affects everything in our lives whether we know about it or not.
But this idea that the convoluted history scares away new readers is ridiculous. When I started reading comic books, I didn’t know any of the history, and it didn’t matter. I picked it up as I went along. That’s the way it should work. Keep the history intact, but don’t let it control every tiny bit of the story. And just fill in the readers as you go.

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mygif

“But this idea that the convoluted history scares away new readers is ridiculous. When I started reading comic books, I didn’t know any of the history, and it didn’t matter. I picked it up as I went along.”

To rebut, the idea that new readers have no problem with convoluted history and won’t be confused at all is equally ridiculous, because if that were the case, the comics industry would be doing much better right now.

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mygif

The problem with both the Marvel and DC superhero universes is that, while time passes, nothing ever changes.

The characters don’t change. They don’t get any older. But, in the background, the world is changing more or less on par with the real world. That sort of thing is inevitably going to cause problems. “Hey, the X-Men have had 27 Christmas stories in between the time Kitty Pryde was 13 and the time she turned 14.”

There are two possible solutions for this: 1. Ignore continuity. Tell a story. Finish it. Tell another story. If this story needs something to have happened before, fine. If it contradicts something that happened in an earlier story, fine. Doesn’t matter; or 2. Allow characters to age normally, more or less. It could be that a year’s worth of issues all take place within a three-day period, and then the next issue takes place a year later. What did the characters do in that year? Who cares? If it were important, it would be the story for this issue and it’s not.

Solution 1 is unsatisfying because the whole reason Marvel and DC comics are fun is the continuity. Solution 2 is a good solution, except that it won’t help characters who have already been established for 70 years or so, and the companies won’t like it because it means that, barring immortality, they will have to replace possibly popular characters every 10 to 20 years. Horrors!

Then, of course, there is a third way. The third way is what I call a “soft reboot.” In it, the creators pick a point, and say at this point, time begins moving forward normally. We’re not going back to retell stories that have already been told, but we might change things up so that the past of our current incarnation of the series might be different from the original stories. The fans can then nitpick themselves to death over what is “canon” or not, but the writers don’t need to worry about it beyond a certain level.

Most importantly, the point in the timeline can’t be changed — that’s it. No more retconning. Characters age, they get old, they retire, they die, and new characters come in to fill the void. Yes, books will get canceled. Some phanboyz will get pissed off that Bruce Wayne isn’t Batman anymore, it’s some other guy.

More than anything, I think the lack of passing time has robbed a lot of comics of the chance for a depth of storytelling that I would like to see, myself.

No, I don’t expect it to happen anytime soon, either.

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mygif

I’d say that convoluted history doesn’t scare away new readers, but treating it as though it’s important does. What a lot of people are calling “loose continuity”, I’d call good storytelling; anything the reader needs to know to follow the current story, you explain. Anything that’s not important, you let slide. (Instead of insisting on cramming it in as an “Easter egg for the fans.”)

As to “letting time pass”…nobody wants it. I don’t just mean “phanboyz” don’t want it, I mean nobody wants it. Even the people who say they want it don’t really want it. Because a really good series, with a really classic storytelling engine that works phenomenally well, is hard to come by and difficult to tinker with. Saying, “Oh, they can just replace Batman once he gets old…” No. It doesn’t work. Bruce Wayne has the best and most compelling reason for being Batman, one we can all understand and accept on an emotional level. Everyone else is going to be a watered-down rehash of Bruce Wayne. That’s why he sticks around, not because of some commitment by the publisher to profits.

Hell, people are still writing stories about Sherlock fucking Holmes. No publisher, public domain character, entirely mortal human being whose creator told not one but two “final stories” about…and a hundred years later, people are still writing new stories about him. Because fictional characters are immortal. Why pretend otherwise?

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LobsterAfternoon said on March 19th, 2010 at 6:11 pm

Solution: For characters like Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, etc. have two continuities: One is timeless. Lois Lane doesn’t age, etc, to maintain the status quo that so many seem to enjoy about their favorite characters. This would probably be best employed in OGNs, which could be more easily into the hands of casual fans. For people that like their continuity, you have a universe that moves forward. Dick Grayson becomes Batman, Barry Allen stays dead, etc. This would more likely appeal to the existing comic fan base, so it should be distributed in periodical form via comic stores (or digital distribution, if they ever get around to that). EVERYBODY WIN!

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mygif

I miss reader accessibility.

The Silver Age was before my time, but as a kid many neighbours up at my summer cottage had vast collections, which I read.

And we’re talking reader’s collections. No boxes, no bags, just a pile of four-colour goodness stuffed in a bottom drawer somewhere. Totally random “picked one issue up at the newsstand” awesomeness.

I could pull one issue — any issue — out of one of those vast piles, and read it.

Even if the characters were new to me, by page 2 I’d be up to speed with what was going on, and understand the stakes of what they were trying to do, without having to read what came before.

Many Silver Age conventions may seem hokey to our generation and the ones that came after it, but in terms of writing… those standard “first page recaps/character introduction” many issues had were models of economy and textbook examples of how to do it.

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squishydish said on March 19th, 2010 at 6:19 pm

Mary Warner says, “When I started reading comic books, I didn’t know any of the history, and it didn’t matter. I picked it up as I went along. That’s the way it should work.”

There’s an interesting essay by science fiction and fantasy writer Jo Walton, “SF Reading Protocols,” about how SF readers learn to read SF in much the same way as this. http://www.tor.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=blog&id=58637
Because SF can’t take the world for granted, it’s had to develop techniques for doing it… There are lots of forms of what I call incluing, scattering pieces of information seamlessly through the text to add up to a big picture. The reader has to remember them and connect them together. This is one of the things some people complain about as “too much hard work” and which I think is a high form of fun. SF is like a mystery where the world and the history of the world is what’s mysterious, and putting that all together in your mind is as interesting as the characters and the plot, if not more interesting. We talk about worldbuilding as something the writer does, but it’s also something the reader does, building the world from the clues.

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mygif

I like the whole “loose continuity” idea being tossed around, but there’s another alternative too, if a writer wanted to work with a more complex backstory than could easily be conveyed on one page.

Namely, why the hell don’t DC and Marvel publish reader’s guides for their major series? They could go over major and recent developments in the series, do some clip-show style recaps (possibly letting current artists do their takes of classic panels if it’ll get it out of their system), and throw in some character bios and stuff for filler. Sell it cheap (or just give it out for free comic book day) and boom! Easy way for new readers to get into a series and old readers to refresh their memories on what’s important right now without digging through Wikipedia. Seriously, TV shows do recap episodes at least once or twice a season, why hasn’t anyone thought about comics doing something similar?

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Lister Sage said on March 19th, 2010 at 7:51 pm

Matthew Johnson: I miss the Mondasian/Telosian Cybermen. I’m tired of these alt-Earth punks. How did they even get to Victorian England for The Next Doctor?

Mary Warner: I agree with you 100%.

squishydish: Thank you for providing an example for why Mary was right.

I’m tired of people who say that its to hard to get into comics because of the back story. Its just an excuse. When I started reading comics it was in the 90′s with the X-Men. Needless to say I had no idea what was going now half the time. The only sources that could explain any of it to me where the animated series, which didn’t give a 1 to 1 retelling, or the trading cards Marvel put out at the time, where you’d only get the briefest of recaps. Just pick up something that looks good and start reading. If you have to know about what came before then buy Marvel’s Essentials trades and whatever the DC equivalent is if your that desperate to know. Plus, there’s this magic thing called the Internet with all sorts of web sites about comics, often where you can talk to other people about the comic your reading, who may be willing to help a newbie out.

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Lamashtar said on March 19th, 2010 at 10:56 pm

@acechan, Marvel did put out free Saga books, detailing the full history of their characters.

I also disagree with the theory convoluted continuity is what’s keeping people away. I started with Legion of Super Heroes. Every issue was a mystery to me why people were acting the way they did.

There are many reasons people don’t buy comics or quit. That ain’t the main one for most people.

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mygif

The two reasons Marvel and DC need reboots are because they don’t allow the characters evolve and they keep trivializing storylines by retconing old plot lines and reviving dead characters.

Eventually the characters and their dramatic events get trivialized and all that’s left is a complete reboot.

Its not a mild sickness. Its a chronic one.

And no one is going to act shocked if it turns out to be a debilitating one.

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Mary Warner said on March 20th, 2010 at 2:13 am

Thank you to Squishydish and Lister Sage and others for agreeing with me, but I think I should clarify a little. I was able to pick up the important bits of history as I went along because back when I was a kid, those things were always explained. If some piece of history was extremely important to a story, they would recap it in appropriate detail. When it wasn’t quite as important, they would make little references within the story which would help you know a little more about how characters knew each other and such. But a lot of modern books don’t do that, and I have picked up a few where I couldn’t figure out what was going on. So I can see how that sort of thing could scare away new readers.
I want to keep old continuity because figuring out what went before is one of the fun things about comic-books. I just think the writers need to remember that some readers will always just be joining, and others may have read bits and pieces in the past, but may still be uninformed about a lot of the history. The best thing is to keep the story accessable, don’t let the history overwhelm the narrative, and explain as you go.

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mygif

My favorite convoluted history story: The first Avengers I read after years away was the Space Phantom/Grim Reaper story (107-109 I think). It involved the Grim Reaper’s relationship with the Vision, the return of the Phantom after exactly one appearance, incorporated an untold story of Captain America battling Hydra and Hawkeye was in a completely different costume. And I found it fascinating (though I was puzzled what Rick Jones was doing changing into Captain Marvel).
I think a certain amount of continuity can be ignored and should be (there was one story from the sixties that had Superman living 100 years and deaging into a baby before he landed on Earth), but the whole idea of completely loose continuity–which is pretty much what DC does these days–is just annoying. More so because different books and writers are never going to be on the same page so it’ll wind up being more confusing.
As to the reboot topic–I don’t think it’s so much that a reboot has to reuse the old material, as that the writers get their feel for the character by seeing how they’d handle what’s already been done. Back in the Bronze Age, new writers would usually trot out a few old villains, bring back an old girlfriend before doing their own thing (if they had an own thing)–I think it’s the same tendency. And if they wanted to totally shake things up, they’d give someone a new costume or a new lover instead of a new origin. I kind of miss that.

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mygif

While I agree with your basic premise, John, I don’t feel that the Legion is a good example. It’s not the need to retell old stories that killed the reboots. The Zero Hour one was killed by being cute at a time when cute was out of fashion (which is the only thing that explains the hatred of Sneckie to me), and the Threeboot was killed because the whole “Suck it Grandpa” thing just doesn’t ring particularly true, especially with an older audience. I’d say those two reboots at least fell out of the trap that you were describing (for instance, as iconic as his death is, Ferro Lad is still alive in the Zero Hour Legion).

And lets face facts, the Legion suffers from a special problem with regards to continuity, namely the fact that its cast is not just large, but expected to be large. Even a “core” group can have a dozen or so members (Brainiac 5, Saturn Girl, Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad, a Kryptonian or Daxamite of your choice (or more than one), Ultra Boy, Triplicate Girl, Bouncing Boy, Chameleon Boy, Phantom Girl, Colossal Boy, Sun Boy) Then toss in supporting cast and other author/fan favourite Legionnaires (and the subs, you can’t forget the subs!) and you have a mini-superhero universe in a single team.

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John nails it in his post: it’s not the continuity being complex, it’s continuity for continuity’s sake. “Continuity porn”, as it were.

ANY story is going to feature characters who have an off-screen history, and any half-intelligent reader is going to realize that they have to put the pieces together themselves. SF and fantasy tend to have particularly intricate backstories, as well. But a good writer can give you the information you need to follow along with what’s happening in the current story. And I’d argue that, as a few people have said, a reader doesn’t mind being swept along to a certain extent–they know that they can’t pick up issue #200 and expect to know everything that’s happening. What they do need is a compelling story with clear characterizations–like John says, good writing. Everything else is negotiable.

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C. Carter said on March 21st, 2010 at 12:45 am

I really don’t think continuity is as bewildering as long-term fans think. Stick with me here:

Okay, here’s the deal. I’m 25. I’ve only been a major superhero fan for about seven years.

When I was a kid, I read “Knightfall” and “The Death of Superman” and a range of other DC comics, along with some Marvel. Really, it was shows like “Batman: the Animated Series” and the weaker (my opinion) Spider-Man cartoon that really got me hooked, and I began to understand Batman as a folklore character because of re-runs of the 60′s character and the movies.

In high school, I would sometimes read trades and issues at Barnes and Noble. Despite missing a lot of continuity, I got the basics of each story.

I didn’t become a regular reader of superhero comics until college. I started reading independent comics, Tony Millionaire stuff and punk rock hand-stapled stuff. I started buying superhero comics around then and suddenly I realized there truly was this whole MYTHOS out there of stories, stuff that would take me a long time to master.

And that was exciting.

Let me be frank. I’m not unique. My friends who like superhero comics tend to be like me. I teach ancient history and literature at a private school. I get really excited when there’s a new Hittite scholarship journal published that has new theories about an obscure king. I like Latin and my friends have degrees in Sumerian and Attic Greek. We debate the relationships between Semitic and Indo-European mythologies.

For pop culture, we grew up on Star Trek. We obsess over bands. I can tell you date & time histories of the Magnetic Fields, Bruce Springsteen, Black Flag, Tom Waits, Prince, the Specials, etc.

There’s a lot of people like me. In fact, I’d say that anyone who has bothered to read this far is like me. And vast superhero universes appeal to us.

Out of my high school students, there are only two that really like superhero comics. And they’re not intimidated by the expansive continuity. They thrive on it. Wikipedia has aided this. When the students found out The Question is my favorite hero, one of the superhero fans asked me if there was any connection between Vic Sage and Mr. Zsasz because of Sage’s alternate last name. I was amazed to be asked that. Here’s a kid who loves basketball and wants to be a youth pastor, but due to Wikipedia suddenly has access to the Bat-mythos. And he’s not frustrated. He’s curious.

I think comic sales are dwindling because comics were developed before there was TV, and then proliferated when TV had only a handful of channels (no cable), and watching movies at home was a rarity. There was also no video games.

Now, kids and adults have DVD’s, Internet, cable, video game systems, etc.

Paying four bucks to read twenty pages doesn’t do it for ‘em. Sure, they like knowing how faithful the movie adaptations are to the original comics, but they don’t go buy back issues to find out. They check Wikipedia.

Many of my students, however, read manga (or as I make them call it, “Japanese comics”) because it’s “in.” More power to them.

Understood historically, comic books were the perfect product for the post-pulp, pre-home entertainment system world. Their era has passed.

Who buys them? People who honestly have a love for continuity. Some obsessively, some not. But if all Batman comics were like “Legends of the Dark Knight,” we wouldn’t see the characters progress.

When I was in college, it was the Cassandra Cain Batgirl who really hooked me into it. A character like that would never have developed outside of a continuity-heavy universe. Yes, they’ve wrecked the character now, but that’s beside the point.

I agree with Mr. Seavey that reboots often take forever to get underway. But this is because Spider-Man and Batman are more than their costumes and abilities. A Batman universe without Gordon is just odd. A Spider-Man universe without Doc Ock is missing something.

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Omnibusboy said on March 21st, 2010 at 1:43 am

Personally I always thought they should reboot every decade. So you’d have the 80′s version of Batman, the 90′s version, etc.. You tell the story of that version and it ends with the decade.

No retelling of the origin either; decide what the core elements of the character and and that’s your guide. Any variations outside of that are told along the way.

They could also do the occasional miniseries after a particular version of the Batman is over for fans that still want some of the old character.

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mygif

I don’t think it is at all obvious that one must retell all the details of a character’s original continuity in a reboot before getting down to new stories.

It may have been how it’s been done but I don’t think I would do that. Why not intermix new characters and new story arcs with the retelling? No reason I can see not to do it that way.

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lance lunchmeat said on March 21st, 2010 at 6:34 am

Reboot was a great show.

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mygif

I don’t think some continuity is too much a problem, as long as it’s doesn’t affect storytelling. Events that happened can affect a story, as long as it’s effectively told what happened previously and doesn’t affect the storytelling of the current issue. Loose continuity sounds like the best idea to me. Oh and no real time aging. It never works out.

This mass continuity is a killer though. The large scale ‘event’ comics that spread across different lines that Marvel and DC use are ridiculous and need to be scrapped.

This might be a bit of an unpopular idea but I really think they should scrap the idea of continuity across lines. Like, I never saw the need for the X-Men to live in the same universe that Spiderman lives in. Or really the fact that no other hero needs to live in the same universe as Superman

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mygif

Don’t get me wrong, C. Carter, I do realize that there are some people out there who are excited, not intimidated, by a massive backstory that they’ll have to put a lot of effort into learning. I think that the comics industry now relies on those people exclusively. :)

But to say, “Oh, I don’t think that we really stand a chance of getting everyone else, not with so many alternatives like manga and TV and video games for their entertainment dollars”…manga is comics. Manga is very popular with kids, easily fighting off TV and video games. Manga is just a comic book format that has figured out how to tap into that audience that comic books have abandoned in favor of continuity-conscious grown-ups with deep pockets, and it’s kicking Batman’s ass. :)

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Evil Abraham Lincoln said on March 22nd, 2010 at 8:05 pm

Cut the price of comics in half (really, go back to printing on pulp paper and ditch the ballyhooed *superstar writers*, how hard is that?) and abandon the “each writer gets up to a year to make his/her mark” paradigm and comics ill be readable again, reboot or not. Hell, I’d be glad if the writing chores were taken from the hands of desperate fanboys who “really really believe” that the average comic fan wants to see *their* interpretation of an iconic character. Instead of getting organic character growth/development, we’re expected to shell out top dollar so that we can see yet another retread/reiteration/”re-imagining” of events that happened decades ago, because the new writer enjoyed Story A and wanted to do his own version because Story A is “iconic”. If the writers were truly up to the task, it would be a good thing. Unfortunately, they’re rarely as good as advertised. As someone who enjoyed the Cap/IM/Thor-deficient Avengers 350-390 run, my opinion can be taken with a grain of salt.

Manga, unlike American comics, has one thing going for it (a point so obvious that I despair in having to repeat it): Mangaka don’t *fucking switch books on a seasonal basis! It isn’t the continuity that acts as a bugbear, it’s the repetition of flawed/convoluted continuity that prevents people from wanting to spend their money. If you read Ranma 1/2, you get Rumiko Takahashi’s vision from beginning to end. If you read One Piece or Black Cat, you receive Oda’s and Yabuki’s vision from beginning to end. If you had the pleasure of reading any of the 1990′s era X-titles, though…

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mygif

Wait… reading the ’90s X-books was supposed to be pleasurable?

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mygif

The thing is that reboots are never about starting fresh or appealing to a new audience. They’re about redoing it the right way, because oh that Stan Lee / Jerry Siegel were okay and all but I know how it should have gone.

All that other stuff’s a line to con the rubes into paying you for it.

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[...] Friend of CSBG John Seavey writes aboot reboots over at MGK, revealing their true nostalgic bent: Except that by definition, it doesn’t work. Far [...]

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Michael P said on March 28th, 2010 at 12:32 pm

I thought Mark Waid’s Legion of Super-Heroes did a pretty good job of telling new stories with the characters. Of course, DC almost immediately shot it in the foot so Geoff Johns could get his Bronze Age rocks off, but that’s hardly Waid’s fault.

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mygif

You know, I still have a fondness for the early 90′s X-men. The X-Men in Space is still one of my favorite Marvel Comics stories. It sticks in my mind as the platonic ideal of…something. X-Men as a big dumb action movie, maybe. Of course, I was also 13 and was big fan of Jim Lee, so I’m sure that helped.

I always thought the cheaper paper = cheaper comics was the answer, but more knowledgable people than I say that it would have a marginal impact at best. I think low circulation is the biggest problem with the high cost of funnybooks these days.

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mygif

I think the issue is that any given story-telling engine (to use your phrase) kicks off a finite number of stories. It could 5, 50, 500 or 5000, but it is not infinite.

Add to that, there are certain stories that cannot be told for one reason or another. Either they take the character in a direction that makers them less marketable, or they kick off a natural “third act” that would effectively end the series, or the story doesn’t highlight the aspects of the character that current editorial wants to highlight. So, creators reach a point where their choices are: repeat, re-boot, or make HUGE changes in the story-telling engine.

Oh … and making huge changes almost never works.

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[...] good while back, in my first real post for MGK, I talked about the problems with reboots and how they rarely work from a storytelling standpoint. [...]

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