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Continuity Hash

Bobby DerieBobby Derie Registered User regular
This started out as a reply on the DC comics thread, but after some thought I think it might do better as a more general thread discussing continuity in comics in general and across multiple companies.
I am seriously thinking DC should just flat-out officially reject continuity as a company directive and leave it in the hands of the writers and artists. Revamps haven't worked for them, and they never manage to commit to their plans long enough to allow any of it to pay off.

Not only would this free up a lot of effort and corporate machinery to redirect efforts to something more productive more easily, and be a very strong counterpoint to Marvel's own masterful if staid management system, discarding the entire guise of continuity and outright embracing contradictory elements seems like a very DC thing to do.

Comics are weird. A large part of the growth of DC and Marvel can be laid more or less directly to their embrace of a "shared universe" - and especially the merchandising that comes out of that - and to an extant the corporate growth of DC and Marvel has been determined by how they handled this shared universe, particularly with the constant need for new material and the realistic limitations of the medium - i.e. you can end a comic on a cliffhanger and pick it up immediately where it left off next month; this leads to weird things where comic book characters "don't age" and you can have nominally the same characters having met both Nixon and Obama during their respective presidencies.

And there's not a single neat solution. Marvel has been following a kind of collective amnesia where fans and allow themselves to remember the gist of origin stories and connections, but lose track of the fine details - especially after comic series started entering three digits - DC has largely foregone the amnesia by doing a reboot ever so often (to the point that even they have trouble determining what is in continuity at the moment!) Valiant during the 90s made a game effort, but the results were, I think, a little too technical for most fans, and for many casual comic fans story tends to trump continuity. That is, after all, why people remember The Killing Joke and The Dark Knight Returns but tend to forget about Bat-dog and Bat-Mite until a writer that grew up during the 70s brings them back in a wave of nostalgia, because Bat-dog is in their own personal headcanon and by Ghost they'll return them to the fold.

It's not a problem that you see in a lot of other media. Star Wars' Expanded Universe was probably closest, and even that dipped into comic books a fair bit. The Cthulhu Mythos comes close, but that's not a collection of properties under the control of a single entity, so a lot of what is in-or-out of continuity is pretty arbitrary, because there is no single set continuity.

DC editorial needs some control of its properties - and it needs some control on the direction of its properties, if it's going to market them effectively, which is what DC corporate (Warner Bros, basically) wants. Beyond that, large-scale events across multiple books, which are big sellers for the Big Two, require a lot of editorial planning, crosstalk, and coordination - the whole point of Marvel's famous event-planning retreats. So if you want to do big events that sell well, and tie them in to ongoing movies and media, you need some hands-on control on the actual direction of the storylines - even if you leave the finer details up to individual series writers.

There is another way (there are, in fact, probably a very many other ways, but here's one): look at what Image is doing. I don't think it's much of an exaggeration to say that Prophet has been one of my favorite titles in recent years, and it came about by taking a nominal shared-universe property and letting the creative guys go nuts with it. Now, t'be fair Image has done this a bit before - and I can't pretend to know the inner details of how Image works, but I remember how it used to work back in the 90s, where each creator basically had their own patch (WildC.A.T.S., Spawn, Savage Dragon, ShadowHawk, Supreme, Youngblood, etc.), and they did crossovers and shared-universe stuff basically as it appealed to the individual studios. Continuity, then, was really kind of loose, which fit the company dynamic - and arguably served them well when certain studios split off, which is how Wildstorm ended up owned by DC and the Midnighter and Grifter can star in Justice League Black or whatever.

Now? Well, now of course we can have John Prophet in the far future, with the ancient descendants of Team Youngblood. Continuity with the original 90s comics is weak; mostly handful of almost-familiar names and faces. Yet, that works for the kind of book it is, and the kind of story it's telling. It's also bold, because it realizes that you don't need continuity to tell these kinds of stories. And it's not alone. You look at titles like Bomb Queen, which look like they're in their own little 'verse, but the creators can use characters from the ancient Image continuity (well, the ones still owned by Rob Liefield, anyway). So what you end up with are several series that sort of loosely relate to each other - more like different derivative mythologies than a single timeline or story.

And that's okay, because I think that's where we're sort of headed anyway.

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  • SorceSorce Registered User regular
    I am kind of two minds on it.

    Like, I love continuity. It makes the characters feel more like people, since there is a logical progression in their stories, and it connects them to other people and in the world they inhabit. I'm not as big of a stickler to those worlds keeping pace with ours, but within DC or Marvel, I like the idea. The problem I (and others, I would imagine) is that after a while continuity gets heavy. In some cases, it stops potential stories from being written because "it's already been done before", or potential readers are put off by the perceived "homework" they would have to do in order to either start reading a book or keep up with a character (or multiple) that they're a fan of. There's also the idea that as far as villains are concerned, prisons or psychiatric wards have a huge revolving door, and if say, Scarecrow was real, how has he not gotten the death penalty (or just some rapid lead poisoning) because of his body count?

    All of it just kind of brings me back to the idea that all that's suppose to matter is the characters, and then maybe in the moment, the stories. Continuity shouldn't matter, it's all just kid stuff anyway. So long as the Fantastic Four go on wacky science adventures, or Batman patrols the city of Gotham, the rest is almost incidental.

    But really man, Bomb Queen? You're not supposed to talk about Bomb Queen.

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  • Bobby DerieBobby Derie Registered User regular
    Sorce wrote: »
    But really man, Bomb Queen? You're not supposed to talk about Bomb Queen.

    It's a guilty pleasure.

    I think the "homework" aspect of it is a bit overrated. When I was a kid in the 1990s, I didn't not read Captain America, Spider-Man, or the various Batman series just because the comics were in triple-digits and I'd never be able to "catch up." You don't need to have had read every single Batman story to enjoy a Batman story.

    For me, as a kid and into my teens, I liked continuity because it gave a sense of a bigger, more interconnected universe which was interesting to me - not just because, say, an X-Man villain might show up in a Spider-Man comic, or because you could have team-ups and team-books and big events, but because all these people were supposed to be living in the same universe, able to interact with each other, and things that happened in one book could affect another book...

    ...and I think that largely Marvel and DC seldom if ever lived up to that potential. With the limited resources of the time, with the general silliness that is the comics business, with the constant deadlines, I don't think they ever had time to work out really long or really big plots, except on solo books like Walt Simonson's run on Thor. It's not until comparatively recently, with wikis and suchlike, that you could really database a universe and keep track of that sort of thing in real time.

    So, like the revolving-door of Arkham Asylum as an example - that's a comic book trope, but they seldom if ever try to explain it. Because that's not the story. Comics get a lot of free passes on their world-building, as far as where things are located and what kind of enemies they fight and how things just plain work. It's the kind of stuff that might get explored and explained in some detail in solo-writer projects like Empowered or Astro City, but with multi-author universes it's no-prize territory to ask "Where are Metropolis and Gotham, on a map?" or "How common are mutants, really?"

    But there's a lot of suspension of disbelief involved. DC and Marvel, more than anything else, just want to tell entertaining stories. Questions about who makes the costumes for all these people and whatnot are seldom addressed.

    drdoomtailor.jpg
    Although when it does come up, the results are sometimes awesome.

    And I have to admit, I like it that Marvel and DC can dumpster-dive their continuity for weird characters and ideas. And I love it even more in those rare occasions when they can pull something together and weave a sort of secret history out of it - something both Marvel and DC have tried to do from time to time. It's the cross-pollination of ideas and concepts that really gives the "bigger universe" such a rich feel, even if you know you can never read every comic.

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  • Linespider5Linespider5 flossing afficionado. Registered User regular
    @Bobby Derie Thanks for the nod on this. If I may, I'd like to take a stab at providing more in depth thoughts on this. And, certainly, continuity threads have come up before in the PA Comics Forum, to speculate on its greater purpose and so on.

    My original opinion was, I'll admit, a general reaction to DC Comics' own extensive machinations these last few years. As a comic shop peon, I can't pretend to say that my perception of DC's practices are accurate, but in my opinion, it looks bad, in the way some bodily injury might look if, instead of performing the triage to improve the quality of life for the patient, someone's buying a hundred dollars worth of band-aids and doing this massive patchwork effort, and then, every few years, the infection seeps through almost the entire dressing and the wannabe saw-tooth in charge goes, "Shit, time to clean it again" and rips the whole thing off, gets new band-aids, and makes a new patchwork.

    Apologies on that image, but, there it is.

    I'll try to refrain from talking about DC too much here, since this is more about continuity as its own concept versus DC continuity specifically.

    Continuity is one of those things that sounds good, but overall I consider it something that is largely unkind to publishers, creators, and readers. The idea of a shared universe is awesome. I love things like the Wikipedia page on Gotham City, with its map of the entire city and its landmarks and so on.
    Gotham_City_map.jpg

    It shows an attention to detail and world building that can be the lifeblood of longform fiction of any stripe. At the same time, Batman is not any one story. Batman is a vehicle for stories, and the importance of a consistent Gotham City is not needed for all Batman stories. At the same time, Batman's unwritten ending will always be bound to the fate of Gotham City as a whole. But the identity of being something like Batman relies on an almost Egyptian Mythology-level of return and recreation, so locked in a constantly shifting present, always heading into the night to ensure a new day can follow, so that the ending is not yet written, and there is a delay of that ultimate fate in the service of still greater fates.

    Batman as a myth-cycle is just one example, but Batman does exist at the heart of mainstream comics, and from Batman flows much of what audiences accept in other titles, or seek a contrast from. Batman's constant renewal simply can't exist in a fixed state in a greater tapestry of a shared universe that aims to somehow grow. The whole thing is a fool's errand, and one that strips readers of their narrative investment in a character, or a place, or an event.

    If continuity happens, it has to happen organically, and for it to happen organically, it has to happen strictly on the creator level.

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    TexiKenBobby Derie
  • SorceSorce Registered User regular
    As far as the Homework Argument, anyone that actually reads comics knows it's not true (or at least, you love the character so much that it doesn't even register), that all you need to do is jump in and you'll be okay. But I've heard it enough from people who are fans of a movie, or tv show, or just like the character from cultural osmosis that it seems like this is something that's a genuine hurdle to people.
    Batman as a myth-cycle is just one example, but Batman does exist at the heart of mainstream comics, and from Batman flows much of what audiences accept in other titles, or seek a contrast from. Batman's constant renewal simply can't exist in a fixed state in a greater tapestry of a shared universe that aims to somehow grow. The whole thing is a fool's errand, and one that strips readers of their narrative investment in a character, or a place, or an event.
    This also kind of sparks the argument about "Isn't [CHARACTER NAME HERE] getting to old? When are they going to retire? Will [SIDEKICK] ever get to take on the mantle, or become their own person instead of remaining in the shadow?" That comes up.

    As an aside, it's taking a lot of energy not to turn all my posts in this thread into a rant about DC and their handling of their universe.

    Anyway, while I do love continuity, I don't think it can be entirely creator-based, because then you get into the argument of the right way to portray a character versus a wrong way. And I don't necessarily even mean for the big things, but lesser stuff like powers, or rotating cast members, location, etc. And while the argument is asinine, it does play a role in comics because that sort of thing is one of the factors that drives sales. The solution isn't to have a company dictate how everything goes either though, because that stifles creativity in the name of protecting the brand.

    Continuity is better in theory than in practice (at least, when it comes to the idea of a shared world with tens, hundreds, thousands of characters, let alone the people creating the titles they exist in). Which doesn't seem helpful of course, but I can't really offer anything else at the moment.

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  • Linespider5Linespider5 flossing afficionado. Registered User regular
    Sorce wrote: »

    Anyway, while I do love continuity, I don't think it can be entirely creator-based, because then you get into the argument of the right way to portray a character versus a wrong way. And I don't necessarily even mean for the big things, but lesser stuff like powers, or rotating cast members, location, etc. And while the argument is asinine, it does play a role in comics because that sort of thing is one of the factors that drives sales. The solution isn't to have a company dictate how everything goes either though, because that stifles creativity in the name of protecting the brand.

    Exactly. Continuity in and of itself, even organic creator-based continuity, is not foolproof. For every Watchmen there's late-stage Cerebus and most of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

    But, creator-based continuity would allow the discrete separation of things. Like, imagine if, for the sake of argument, DC was explicitly calling it 'Scott Snyder's Batman' at the moment. That's basically what it is now, but not really. I may be playing a little fast and loose here, but, imagine Scott Snyder as being an imprint of sorts for the contemporary run on the character which will likely run through sometime in 2018, much in the same way we probably should've had a 'Grant Morrison's Batman' imprint running the show from Black Glove to Inc or however you want to slice it.

    This obviously puts the focus on the creator, but, this is a good thing, both for helping emphasize the human element of making the comics (let's save the writer/artist dichotomy talk for later, just a shorthand I'm doing right now for this argument) and giving readers a strong attachment point. At the same time, this helps categorize what is going on in Batman, without having to leave even the most studied comics reader with the queasiness of feeling like Batman is one of a series of russian dolls nesting within an uncertain number of greater hypothetical russian dolls whose order of importance and total are up for debate and may be reordered, turned on their head, and tossed out as years pass and sales wax and wane.

    So we can have, instead of Scott Snyder's run on Batman, Scott Snyder's Batman. I won't get into how this would work contractually and all the publishing moon language, but, the end result is, after eight years or so, here is a Batman for its time, told by a particular creator, and given the room to finish as desired by that creator. In 2019, if, say, Brandon Graham somehow gets canonized as the new Batman creator, we the readers shouldn't look at it as does Brandon Graham know what's happened to Batman. All we need to know is, this is Brandon Graham's Batman. Maybe he'll tease in elements from Snyder's Batman, or maybe he won't. It is entirely his game and should, for the most part, be measured on the merits of his work as a creator taking his hand at a character.

    Not only is this good for the creator, but, it allow the character to be 'reset' as the story dictates it, not as part of some company-wide edict trying to make vastly different stories and characters move in lockstep.

    Now, what if you want multiple Bat-books on the shelf each month? Much the same as above. Uh, Jason Aaron's Detective Comics, Al Ewing's Justice League, etc etc etc. The different elements can be interwoven if the creators decide it, but are not beholden to an overwatch to choreograph the work. If you want an Event Comic, make it so. Make it Scott Snyder's Event Comic, make it its own standalone thing that is contain within its pages.

    At the same time, if a creator just wants to do some kind of two part standalone thing: Great. Do that. Make it look really nice, promote is as something special, a few groups of creators do similar things, select the best and in 15 months you've got a cool little annual of prestige stuff showcasing these people. Everyone wins.

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  • SorceSorce Registered User regular
    edited February 2016
    While I do think that is a good idea, it requires a certain amount of trust in the creative team, which I don't think is usually there. In retrospect sure, there's a Scott Snyder's Batman, or a Ed Brubaker's Captain America... but the companies themselves have to be trusted not to pull said writer off a book after a couple of issues if it looks like the book isn't doing well. And that's not something I've seen too often.

    Good lord I feel like I'm being way too negative here.

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  • Bobby DerieBobby Derie Registered User regular
    I've done the continuity porn bit on...oh, lots of things. Comics. Roleplaying games. The Cthulhu Mythos. The Dune novels. And the thing about continuity...it generates interest. And interest is what keeps people buying the comics and assorted merchandise. It's what brings readers in month after month, or brings them back when they're middle-aged to re-capture something of their youth - something you don't see with, let us say, young adult book series.

    And the thing about interest is the possibilities. It creeps up on you. When you look at, for example, The Dark Knight Returns - that exists outside of the mainstream canon, but it obviously benefits from continuity. Superman shows up, and Green Arrow as a crotchety old hippie, and even kryptonite...and these are all elements that Frank Miller didn't create on his own, and more than he created Two-Face or the Joker. They're shared elements that he brought in. Because sometimes you want to look outside the narrow circle of your book, and ask a bigger question - who could stop Batman? And then you turn the page and see Superman...

    Yes, you could sort of do that with a bunch of writer "owned" books. But it would lack, I think, the common element of a shared world, with a shared history and future. One-off series like The Dark Knight Returns are fun, but they're also largely self-contained; they draw on continuity but are by definition not supposed to happen "in continuity," which means that they take a lot more than they give back.

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  • Linespider5Linespider5 flossing afficionado. Registered User regular
    I've done the continuity porn bit on...oh, lots of things. Comics. Roleplaying games. The Cthulhu Mythos. The Dune novels. And the thing about continuity...it generates interest. And interest is what keeps people buying the comics and assorted merchandise. It's what brings readers in month after month, or brings them back when they're middle-aged to re-capture something of their youth - something you don't see with, let us say, young adult book series.

    And the thing about interest is the possibilities. It creeps up on you.

    ...

    Yes, you could sort of do that with a bunch of writer "owned" books. But it would lack, I think, the common element of a shared world, with a shared history and future. One-off series like The Dark Knight Returns are fun, but they're also largely self-contained; they draw on continuity but are by definition not supposed to happen "in continuity," which means that they take a lot more than they give back.

    Oh, absolutely. I agree with everything you're saying here. There's that sense of sticky friction fascination that happens when continuity begins to edge out some promises, that stuff is happening. The great wheel turns, and ages come and pass, and all that.

    Shit's exciting, like the first two and a half seasons of Deadwood. We're watching the town get its first real bank and people are living in permanent houses, and that synaptic spark of wonder in our brains whispers what it'd be like once these guys have a fully functioning spaceport. And that's an incredibly fun thing to feel, and a powerful phenomenon of entertainment.

    Continuity is something that is inevitable, just by the nature of multiple people over multiple years trying their hands at the same character or same idea, and these things stack up in our brains and we try to work out the connections. You can go back to something like Ivanhoe and see it happening.

    But, it becomes a beast. I don't want to harp on the phrase 'organic continuity' too much, but, company wide changes generally have the effect of bulldozing the jungle, so to speak. More than that, while it is exciting to conjure up in one's head the idea of a story too big to be told by one set of creators, that's more often a false equivalency, some kind of meta-wonder thing: we're attracted to the unwritten-ness of of the story, and the implication that we might fill in the blanks. We keep going back to filling in the blanks, walking the grounds waiting for half-imagined flowers to bloom, returning to the same bare spot or the same sunlight-deprived grove, hoping this time the fruit borne with be as sweet as we anticipated. I would rather this cycle be broken, or at least better understood. Stories get lost in these eddies.

    I think we over-emphasize continuity. I think that in practice, it works better when restricted to a single set of creators, who use it for a span of years that's generally less than a decade. There probably are amazing series that prove this wrong-I'm betting there's probably an avalanche of Manga I could drown in that would prove me wrong-but in my opinion, deliberately limited continuity does a more effective job of creating compelling stories.

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    SorceBobby Derie
  • Bobby DerieBobby Derie Registered User regular
    edited February 2016
    You're not wrong. I do think it would be nice to see a comics 'verse with greater forethought, planning, and organization...but as I said, that basically turns into something like Valiant. And while Valiant had a lot of good things going for it, I think it lacks something of the spontaneity of Marvel and DC, without ever having some of the more interesting structures those 'verses developed.

    I would argue, though, that your main issue is less continuity creep than it is top-down editorial shenanigans, as exemplified by DC's continual reboots and rehashes (I admit, the whole Secret Wars/Battleworld nonsense recently left me cold entirely because it was a blatant and - to me - poorly thought-out and uninteresting reboot, kind of Heroes Reborn 2.0).

    And I say that because we've seen it done right.

    History-of-the-DC-Universe.jpg

    After the Crisis, this was basically the Bible on the DC Universe...and it was brilliant. I mean, I should do a retrospective on these books, because they're awesome, but it was also very much what DC needed at the time, and a good example about how continuity can sort of build on itself and make a panoramic universe where different mythologies can coexist and interact.

    But sometimes editors get greedy, short-sighted, or blinded by bad decisions.
    medium_as544.jpg

    ...and that's terrible.

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  • TexiKenTexiKen that's quacktastic! Registered User regular
    I don't know where I stand on continuity anymore, and I don't know if it's really my position changing or the comics industry deliberately dumbing itself down on the concept, for lack of a better term.

    When it works, it works well. I always liked DC's post-Crisis continuity, and it If you objectively look back at it, it was a success. At least up to Infinite Crisis. They did their best to put all the puzzle pieces together with the JSA and JLA, and then changing the JLA setup enough with Year One to make it work, this could boil down to writers actually wanting to make a difference and a point about it compared to what the New 52 and the current Marvel setup. It made the legacy stuff work, and despite Johns being too cheeky with origins and rebirths it still held true that you can see an A to B to C to D. Hal Jordan as the Spectre, that was such an interesting take and made sense! Everything that the JSA series did to establish legacies and fixing Hawkman, it was a labor of love. Because it seemed people respected that love. Marvel had a similar feel to it in the 80's and 90's.

    But now, largely because comics aren't for readers anymore, but more an R&D lab for games and movies, which also means they'll change whatever they want because hey man, gotta be like those movies, it doesn't matter what you do with a character before or after a run. This could be writer egos in the way (Bendis), or a feeling that modern readers don't care because all they want it some tumblr bait but will never buy the comic, or can't accept or allow a story arc to be in chapters as opposed to right here, right now. And while this started more in 2004 with Morrison and Busiek's core concepts of their runs basically being thrown out within a year by the next writers, it at least had something relatively interesting and novel to replace it (New Avengers). And perhaps Hickman's big epic was basically saying goodbye to such a situation ever occurring again, that moment of realization you get a few weeks later that oh, we won't get that anymore. Oh sure that Illuminati group had fantastic character moments and growth out the butt, but who cares about that now this one panel of Genke was totes silly and is now a meme that means people apparently want more of that (just picked Genke on a whim but you know what I mean).

    So I don't know, is the answer to make things so simple with continuity ie 8 simple rules for writing Iron Man/Batman/Superman so that it's nearly impossible to screw it up for creators, or do you now establish that when a writer comes aboard it is their version of the character and will just reset when the next person shows up in a glorified version of the seasons/volumes format? Those Earth Ones were supposed to be that, but I guess those aren't even a thing anymore because there never seemed to be a real commitment to them.

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  • LarsLars Registered User regular
    I like big shared universes with connectivity and what not, and I would probably hate it if DC simply had "_____'s Batman" instead of a continuing universe. That's not really something I'd want to follow month-to-month, it's something I might pick up the trades of the particular stories I hear are good and otherwise ignore entirely. Though I'm not opposed to that format still existing as Elseworlds miniseries (or even maxiseries or whatever they call them).

    Granted, I do not think "continuity" should mean constant line-wide events dictating everything. Ideally--for me--each title should be able to grow on it's own (within reason, with some good editors and a decent rollback option to bigger changes should they not go over well*), and if the writers of two titles want to crossover with their current status quos then they can without it having to be part of some big event.

    *Note: Rollback issues for the individual changes, not a line-wide reboot. Like leaving it open for character X to return to a role if character Y's run with that mantle doesn't go well.

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  • Bobby DerieBobby Derie Registered User regular
    Rollback is, I think, a key issue. Because if you remember anything from the 80s and 90s and early 00s, it was that there were some tremendous changes in the characters - I think there was a real fear that comics were getting stale, which is why in part we had the "grim & gritty" re-envisioning of classic characters - Captain America as The Captain; teenage Iron Man; The Invisible Woman in the cut-through bikini; Dr. Strange as written by Warren Ellis; Superman Red/Blue - and the four different Supermen period; Kyle Raynor as the new Green Lantern; Azrael as Batman; Fate replacing Dr. Fate; Artemis replacing Wonder Woman; Eric Masterson as Thor (and later Thunderstrike), etc.

    Part of which was general comics shenanigans, and part of which was shaking up the character, keeping the concept fresh. But remember when the Avengers line-up looked like this?

    avengers279.jpg

    The thing about rollback - sometimes I think it's meant for the fans, to walk back some changes that are a little too extreme, a little too far from what the readers are used to. Like what happened with Dr. Strange after the Midnight Sons arc, after Warren Ellis stopped writing him - because who could follow up on what Ellis had written? Not the same character, not well at least.

    And sometimes, I think, rollback is because the fans become the writers. Geoff Johns sticks out to me in that respect; he's a guy you knew grew up reading Green Lantern comics, and he had this headcanon about Sinestro's Yellow Ring, and the Guardians and Star Sapphires and Controllers and stuff, and his run on Green Lantern titles is pretty much him playing out his favorite stuff from when he was a fan, not-so-coincidentally shoving Kyle Raynor and his version of things out of the way. That always strikes me as kind of self-serving (I mean, the individual stories can be awesome - that depends on the writer's abilities).

    And finally, sometimes rollback is corporate word-from-above, like after Heroes Reborn when teen Tony Stark just ah...went away. Or when costumes in the comics start changing to look more like they are in the movie (or, in the case of Nick Fury...more than the costume).

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  • LarsLars Registered User regular
    Yeah, when I said rollback, I was thinking more of a scenario where the writer presents to the editors what change they would like to do to the characters, and the editors are willing to approve it as long as the writer also pitches a good way for the change to be undone should the need arise (this is assuming good editors, not some of the current higher-ups at DC).

    ie. When pitching Spider-Ock, you'd also have to pitch how Peter could come back (or would come back in that case, as that one was inevitable).

    Another writer coming in and wanting to roll things back to how things were when they read comics thirty years ago is definitely not what I had in mind. Especially all in one fell swoop instead of working things back towards that direction naturally over time.

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  • SorceSorce Registered User regular
    edited February 2016
    And sometimes, I think, rollback is because the fans become the writers. Geoff Johns sticks out to me in that respect; he's a guy you knew grew up reading Green Lantern comics, and he had this headcanon about Sinestro's Yellow Ring, and the Guardians and Star Sapphires and Controllers and stuff, and his run on Green Lantern titles is pretty much him playing out his favorite stuff from when he was a fan, not-so-coincidentally shoving Kyle Raynor and his version of things out of the way. That always strikes me as kind of self-serving (I mean, the individual stories can be awesome - that depends on the writer's abilities).
    Geoff Johns writing his own headcanon as actual canon?

    Naah. Never.

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  • Linespider5Linespider5 flossing afficionado. Registered User regular
    The inevitability of fans becoming the new storytellers is a fascinating element I hadn't really thought about before.

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  • Bobby DerieBobby Derie Registered User regular
    Sure. I mean hell, look at Frank Miller's reason for doing The Dark Knight Returns - he didn't want to be older than Batman.

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  • Linespider5Linespider5 flossing afficionado. Registered User regular
    edited March 2016
    That's fascinating. Never knew on that.

    I've recently dove back into Alan Moore's considerable body of work doing interviews about his writing career, and, in the context of this thread, got really quite fascinated by his Swamp Thing rationalizations. Mainly, taking the standing premise of Swamp Thing as some kind of Frankenstein story with the monster in a quest for redemption, and decidedly detouring off that pursuit given how pointless it was. The basis of Swamp Thing being about being the monster, and a quest to turn back into a normal human could never be completed, in much the same way Charles Xavier has seesawed between life, death, and being a paraplegic and back again.

    The idea of discarding the immediate premise with the ending that cannot be reached, to go sideways, and let the character find him or herself independent of the conventional narrative. As @Bobby Derie had in the DC thread, which, in its own way is demonstrating the riddle of competing continuities coexisting in a theme.
    Before Crisis on Multiple Earths, DC had a very ad-hoc set-up, which grew up directly because of the issues with continuity - you could say it was the real result of comic fans from the 60s and 70s becoming aware of continuity and multiple authors' attempts to make some sense of what had previously been very seat-of-the-pants storytelling, as well as an effort to explain how some characters could be fighting the Nazis in the 40s and still be fighting crime today.

    Which has its strong points and its weak points. Bottom-up storytelling like that is often innovative and vivacious on an issue-to-issue level, but it can get really messy to work into any sort of longer theme or plot. You might compare the early Hellboy shorts by Mignola to the longer arcs he developed later on. In DC's case, this meant trying to reconcile things like Green Lantern (Alan Scott) and Green Lantern (Hal Jordan)...which led to some interesting glosses.

    I'm just trying to break this down, to really latch onto the thick nest of useful ideas with respect to longform storytelling in a shared space.

    There's a lot of great things you can do with comics. The best thing about comics is that it is impossible to reduce comics down into one idea.

    Read that sentence again, see how the paradox is comfortably nestled within the syntax.

    The biggest problem with comics may be that they are easily confused with other forms of media, which invites crossover potential. Authors, TV writers, celebrities, rock stars, all try their hand at making comics at frequency that we rarely bat an eye at it when it happens. (Curious that 99% of the time these people are writing the comics but not drawing them, but that's another topic for another time. Have a celebrity guest-ink an issue of something for once)

    At the same time, comics are not television, or movies, or games, or music, other forms of entertainment I can speciously list. But they can emulate quite a lot of these types of things pretty well, which is how we end up with things like Image Comics' Lazarus which really really really feels like a comic that wants to be a TV show someday, and things like Joss Whedon's Dollhouse, which...felt like a TV show that wanted to be an Image comic.

    All different forms of media have entirely different optimal narrative structures.

    A comic can be like a 12 episode miniseries, or a longform novel, or a blockbuster movie, or an endless runner/AAA video game franchise.

    Many of the most traditional comic book characters can easily adapt into stories that mimic any one of these drastically different modes.

    And this is where it can get really weird.

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  • Local H JayLocal H Jay Registered User regular
    I don't have anything to contribute but God damn this thread puts into words so many thoughts I have had about comics through the years. I remember reading the 2099 comics as a kid and being like "wow they are gonna fill in a hundred years between the now and this!?" And then the realization that none of those series really mattered later on kinda woke me to the idea of continuity not being all that important.

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  • SorceSorce Registered User regular
    I don't have anything to contribute but God damn this thread puts into words so many thoughts I have had about comics through the years. I remember reading the 2099 comics as a kid and being like "wow they are gonna fill in a hundred years between the now and this!?" And then the realization that none of those series really mattered later on kinda woke me to the idea of continuity not being all that important.
    Yeah, true iron-clad continuity will never exist in a persistent shared world like in DC or Marvel, because that'd mean their sliding timelines wouldn't be able to slide, and characters like Tony Stark or Bruce Wayne would eventually have to retire/die. And why deny your kids or their kids that particular version of a hero just because that character is supposed to be gone?

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  • Bobby DerieBobby Derie Registered User regular
    And that gets back into, as was said over in the Empowered Retrospective thread - "When does Spider-Man end?" It doesn't, really. The sprawling comics universes created by Marvel and DC aren't designed to end, they're designed to perpetuate themselves, hopefully forever. And that imposes logistical problems - you can't all be Don Rosa and Carl Barks and The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, or the umpteen regenerations of Dr. Who.

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  • SorceSorce Registered User regular
    And that gets back into, as was said over in the Empowered Retrospective thread - "When does Spider-Man end?" It doesn't, really. The sprawling comics universes created by Marvel and DC aren't designed to end, they're designed to perpetuate themselves, hopefully forever. And that imposes logistical problems - you can't all be Don Rosa and Carl Barks and The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, or the umpteen regenerations of Dr. Who.
    Right, continuity like that also means more editorial interference. If Bruce Wayne retires because he's in his 70s, why wouldn't say, Hal Jordan? or Barry Allen? Is there just a generational "graduation" to the next set of characters just because one or two indicate that it's time?

    And that kind of thing is to be avoided at all costs.

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  • Bobby DerieBobby Derie Registered User regular
    Well, it's the kind of thing which if it happens usually has to happen organically - like the JSA giving way to the JLA; Jay Garrick giving way to Barry Allen, Alan Scott giving way to Hal Jordan giving way to Kyle Rayner or John Stewart...

    ...but then you have characters brought back. Which can make it really weird. DC has done more with "legacy" characters in this sense than Marvel, and it's the entire reason you have "Batman, Inc." or four Green Lanterns from Earth. It's not that you don't see this at Marvel - it's just less emphasized and widespread. Young Avengers are basically the Teen Titans of the MU - and the interaction between the two Hawkeyes is nothing less than endearing; same-same the two Ms. Marvels, or the Miles Morales Spider-Man.

    And the whole reason you have, say, Female Thor or The Reign of the Supermen is to shake things up a bit, try different variations on the same characters, upset the status quo - and sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't, but the whole thing tends to cycle around. Like Hal Jordan becoming a villain, destroying the universe, and becoming the Spectre, then coming back to life and oh bugger what do we do with Kyle Rayner et al. now? It's new chapters in novels that are never designed to end, and eventually everything old is new again...with a few exceptions. The most outdated, bizarre, and boring characters and concepts tend to be swept quietly under the rug. Pink kryptonite, Cap-Wolf, Sharon Ventura as Ms. Thing, Homo Magi, etc.

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  • SorceSorce Registered User regular
    I have no problem with multiple Thors (or however that's happening at Marvel) or Batman Inc., The GLC (my own personal legacy favorite) or anything like that. I'm saying that locking a character out purely as the result of continuity is bad.

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  • Linespider5Linespider5 flossing afficionado. Registered User regular
    edited March 2016
    This is the 'trouble,' for lack of a better word. Let's go back to Batman, again. He's such a good yardstick for all this.

    Batman Inc. on its own, for example, is a great goddamn idea for a post-Batman Batman comic. The whole Grant Morrison run on Batman did so many things that tenuously proposed a movement on Batman into new headspace. Batman suddenly had a six-year old son. Arguably his greatest 'human' opponent, Ra's Al-Guhl, had all but been taken off the board and succeeded by Ra's own daughter, Talia, the mother of this son.

    It's very interesting how superheroes having children is often treated, or avoided, or badly mishandled, but...the whole concept of dynasties and legacy by giving Batman a direct heir who also inherited a birthright of evil to balance against, changes the stakes in terms of 'the future' for the character. Changing from the welfare of a city to the welfare of the character's own child.

    Showcasing that, for all his larger-than-life adventures, improbable victories, and, say, being flung backwards through time by a godlike personification of all Evil and defeating the offspring of that deity sent to hunt and kill him through time, Batman ends up still picking up a phone to make a call to an ex and begs her not to go down the path she's chosen, like anyone anywhere who has become emotionally overdrawn and is compelled to act when there is no longer an action to take.

    But the subtleties of all that carry Batman further. The idea of Batman becoming a planetary presence-admittedly built upon the auspices of Wayne Enterprises, Batman is choosing to become a sort of King. You could argue this as a counterpoint to the League of Assassins, giving Damien Wayne an example of brighter future and legacy with as much influence on the world stage, in gleaming, six-foot high letters on top of the tallest building in Gotham. If you wanted to go there.

    More importantly, in my mind, is going there changes Batman internally, from being a son to being a father. It changes the stakes of his work from looking up at the towering painting of Thomas and Martha on the mantle piece after the umpteenth fight with Killer Croc while Alfred is hooking Bruce to a hospital IV pole with a blood transfusion sack hanging off it, and puts Batman in a different place in those moments, less trying to live up to and honor the dead, and more working for the living. More for building a future for his son, and trying to avert or at least win some kind of looming planet-wide war between vigilantes and assassins.

    I mean, Grant Morrison really tried to do this. But for whatever reason, he wasn't able to reach the limits of achieving the true escape velocity of the traditional Batman character arc.

    -

    So let's assume that Morrison did not falter in his ambitions and output for writing the great turning point of Batman becoming a sort of Arthurian king to defeat the Morgana Le Fey that is/was Talia Al-Guhl, and, without seeming unkind or cynical, that editorial and so on made no objections, roadblocks, or other logistical quagmires that would smother this undertaking.

    What happened?

    I would posit that beyond the explicit, hand-carved continuity that can be achieved by a discrete set of creators on their own work, there is also implied continuity. This is the nebulous river of stuffs we move within, like the atmosphere around a planet that traps the heat of the sun and allows life to thrive.

    Batman as a character suite took some time to hammer out. You can argue the when, but, Batman was created in 1939. By 1942, Robin is there, the the Joker is there, Catwoman is there, and Batman's not shooting people anymore. A template is formed, a sort of 'true north' for the character has been weighed out and found to be solid, and a trajectory is established. Sure, Ra's Al-Guhl didn't come around until 1971 and I consider him an essential component for my opinions here, but the reason Ra's works is that he dovetails into the trajectory of who Bruce Wayne/Batman is, and is not, as determined in these formative years.

    Note also, between the Joker and Ra's Al-Guhl, stands a solid thirty years of storytelling. And now, here we are, Year of Our Lord 2016, and the characters have cleared another forty years' worth of storytelling, plus five more years change. I mean, goddamn.

    Implied continuity is the persistent sum of storytelling, the broad strokes, that say 'Batman fights corruption in Gotham City. Batman doesn't kill. Batman is Bruce Wayne, and with Robin they fight crime from the Bat Cave, located beneath Wayne Manor.'

    Now, my Batman Inc-flavored yearnings for an Arthurian take on Batman, would be able to, with slight interpretation, be able to house these broad strokes pretty easily. The 'trouble' is that the staggering majority of Batman stories of all these 77-odd years are that guy who gets in his car when Commissioner Gordon shines a light and goes to a warehouse to punch a bad guy in a hat with a gun.

    That implied continuity that floats over the surface of the planet, the stuff of life? Below, beneath the surface, is the stock stuff, and this is what's ingrained in the consciousness, the hard center, the molten gravitational core of the planet/character. Every stock Batman issue and fight and adventure that may have admittedly been pretty cool, but wasn't about moving the character forward as something with a long-term arc, is buried here, in sweltering density, and cannot be denied.

    Attempts to make Batman a mere king pale in comparison to all that stock crimefighting. There's just so goddamn much of it. To think about it in any statistical sense destroys the suspension of disbelief more than Darkseid ever could. There's almost no way at all to take a character who has spent the better part of seventy years playing fireman to the GCPD's vice and homicide units when shit goes down, and credibly build the character into an American King with a son he must build a future for, and make it stick. How many decades would you need to write that story every week to make it take hold?

    Batman is Batman because Batman.

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  • SorceSorce Registered User regular
    Morrison's POV was also that everything that ever happened in a Batman comic actually happened, which is a hell of a tack to take.

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  • Bobby DerieBobby Derie Registered User regular
    I would go beyond that, because we're using Batman as an example, and look at the Robin War. Why do we have a Robin War? Because we have more than one Robin. And the thing about Robins is that with very few exceptions, none of the Robins ever "goes away" completely. So you have Dick Grayson (who became Nightwing), and you have Jason Todd (who became Red Hood when he was eventually brought back), and you have Tim Drake, and you have Damien Wayne, and you have Stephanie Brown, and...

    ...and so on, and so forth. And you can see, if you look at it, that each generation of comics fans basically got their own Robin - some of them grew up, one of them died (and came back, which was important), but they don't really go away. And the whole thing of having multiple characters with the same "identity" - it's become a trope of comics. You can see it especially in Watchmen, how Moore recognized that superheroes were a generational story. But it's a generational story where the older generation never really dies, never really "makes room" for the successors to, well, succeed, except in really arbitrary and ham-fisted events like the various battles for Batman's cowl.

    And there's a battle for the cowl to begin with because Batman is a legend. But his legend is built up out of 40+ years of monthly adventures. Trying to cram that into a timeline that makes sense is probably an impossible task. I mean hell, when they rebooted the Nu52 - how many Robins did Batman go through in what period of time? Because despite what we say about comics being cyclical, the writers and artists don't want to write and draw exactly the same story every time, even in reboots. They don't want to replay the death of Jason Todd and the birth of the Red Hood every time they reset the universe. So they start the universe with that having already happened at some point in the past...and they're going to continue to do so until the writers' and readers' and artists' attention wanders away from the character. Until Red Hood is just a footnote, forgotten, not cared about. Maybe sales dip on his title and it gets cancelled, and that's it fro the Red Hood for a little while.

    ...until they bring him back.

    And not all characters get brought back. You don't see Batdog come back as often as Batmite. The Magpie has less cachet than Bane. Some characters just...fade.

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  • Golden YakGolden Yak Burnished Bovine The PIT, level 26Registered User regular
    And not all characters get brought back. You don't see Batdog come back as often as Batmite. The Magpie has less cachet than Bane. Some characters just...fade.

    Now there's a line that makes me think of this:

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  • Linespider5Linespider5 flossing afficionado. Registered User regular
    Is he...sitting on a pile of comics?

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  • SorceSorce Registered User regular
    edited March 2016
    It was 4 Robins in 5 years; Stephanie (and Cassandra, I think) wasn't in the plan for the Nu52 initially.

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  • LarsLars Registered User regular
    Stephanie and Cassandra were basically outright banned from existing in the New 52 for the first few years.

    An Elseworld comic written by the person who wrote Stephanie's Batgirl series was even forced to change the identity of a female Nightwing from Stephanie to Barbara.

    I think there was also some holiday thing where a girl dressed as Batgirl for Halloween had to have her hair changed from blonde to red, even though she was just supposed to be a random girl dressed up for Halloween and not actually Stephanie.

  • TexiKenTexiKen that's quacktastic! Registered User regular
    Wait, the Robins were actually fighting each other to be the Robin?

    With the backdrop being that everyone can be Robins or something, I'm just guessing from the covers? (because I can't even be bothered to read solicits anymore)

    Sheesh.

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  • Bobby DerieBobby Derie Registered User regular
    I couldn't be arsed to read the solicits either. But you can't have a Robin War without a multiplicity of Robins.

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  • Doctor DetroitDoctor Detroit Registered User regular
    I believe you mean a round of Robins.

  • Bobby DerieBobby Derie Registered User regular
    "A round of Robins" sounds like cocktail hour at a DC writer's weekend.

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  • Linespider5Linespider5 flossing afficionado. Registered User regular
    Ok.

    There's a podcast I badly want to listen to, only it's nearing midnight and I'm tired and reasons, but it is Chris Claremont laying open some stuff. In the interest of meritocracy and goddamn am I tired and where did I leave the ball I was on, this one's up for grabs, bub:

    http://www.xplainthexmen.com/2016/03/100-unexpected-wonder-with-chris-claremont/

    I wanted to write more, but I'm a better editor than a writer, but hey who isn't. I gauge that Claremont's imprint on the X-Men is a staggering body of work that spans the best and worst of what can be wrought when it comes to continuity. Let's all circle back, take in the snifters of unexpected wonder, and reconvene in six days or so to consider a body of work that would be unheard of in the current age of mainstream comics.

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  • GvzbgulGvzbgul Registered User regular
    As a big fan of Morrison's I'm pretty much all in on his theory of continuity. Which itself has gotten lost in it's own continuity.

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  • Linespider5Linespider5 flossing afficionado. Registered User regular
    The Claremont interview was not quite the anatomical lesson I was hoping for in regards to longform storytelling, but it did reveal a number of useful scraps. Although he was certainly kind, affable, and generally forthcoming with information, it was short on revelations. Maybe it's all a bit old news to him at this point.

    The main points I pulled from what Claremont had to saw where that 1) He was able to get away with what he did because of the level of scrutiny and media management was worlds away from it is now, 2) at a certain point, the efforts of Claremont and his collaborators became victims of their own success-he pointed to his efforts to retire Cyclops and make him a family man as part of his storytelling ethos about the X-Men. Claremont's intentions were to make being in the X-Men a more transitional thing, eventually you leave the school (emphasis mine) and return to the world at large.

    This is interesting to me, because this demonstrates a different form of possible continuity. X-Men, as a property, could continue, without some kind of endpoint in mind x number of issues down the line, but the cast could change, individuals could have their own personal arcs nested within this greater story vessel that did not revolve around a singular entity. I'd never really thought about it, but the X-Men are a decidedly post-Golden Age concept. It was the first chance to really demonstrate a fluid lineup in a running title. I'm not sure if the Avengers had them beat or not on this, but somewhere in all this I think is the true heart of Marvel's house method of continuity-not to put too much wordplay into it, but a house, be it the Charles Xavier School, the Avengers Mansion, the Baxter Building, etc-a place that exists to house these characters, to focus their exploits, to store their victories and so on. But unlike, say, the Fortress of Solitude or the Batcave or the JLA Watchtower, Marvel set these locations as publicy known places, more or less, living in the bright of day where someone might walk over and knock on the door, and a year later be living there.

    It's interesting to me also that, the Xavier School (Which might actually not be a school anymore, or has been replaced by other schools, or something) works the way it works due to some kind of indefinable sense of narrative scale. There's never worry about the School not having enough rooms for its students. It can, and probably has, expanded miles deep underground with all manner of chambers and cerebro whatsits and so on. And yet, despite this hand-wavy contrivance that allows writers and readers to accept and embrace a building with near limitless layouts, there is an undeniably intimate quality to it. It's any entirely different approach than giving characters a loose playground like Metropolis or Valhalla to run about in. The presence or absence of a single character matters much more in smaller settings.

    By deferring the mantle from a cape and mask combo to a place, it makes it more possible for a character to grow and change, without necessarily sacrificing the sort of evergreen narrative that mainstream comics often are after.

    Unfortunately, it's hard to retire a popular character. Even someone like Cyclops, who conceivably could live out a relatively normal life in a town and get old as long as he had the right eyewear prescription, would end up with mantles of his own, as Xavier's surrogate son to continue his vision.

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  • Bobby DerieBobby Derie Registered User regular
    Well, in that context think of soft launches. For those unfamiliar, a "soft launch" is when one comic series is transitioned over to another, usually changing the main character but retaining some aspect of the title, and retaining the numbering. So for example, when the Incredible Hulk soft-launched into the Incredible Hercules. The benefit of a soft-launch from a commercial standpoint is that you're essentially launching a new series but keeping the audience of the old series; from a continuity standpoint you have a focus transition - the two series are in continuity with each other, but there's a hand-off or torch-passing device.

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  • GvzbgulGvzbgul Registered User regular
    Thinking over the future of the MCU. They've said they won't be doing reboots. So eventually they're going to have to start using new heroes and recasting the earlier heroes. I wonder if this will have a major effect on the Marvel comics continuity. If the films start heavily using legacy characters and not rebooting the universe, will that push the comics universe to do the same?

    I'm really curious how the films manage to pull off a no-reboot universe. It hardly seems possible after years and years of the comics being rebooted.

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  • Linespider5Linespider5 flossing afficionado. Registered User regular
    Gvzbgul wrote: »
    Thinking over the future of the MCU. They've said they won't be doing reboots. So eventually they're going to have to start using new heroes and recasting the earlier heroes. I wonder if this will have a major effect on the Marvel comics continuity. If the films start heavily using legacy characters and not rebooting the universe, will that push the comics universe to do the same?

    I'm really curious how the films manage to pull off a no-reboot universe. It hardly seems possible after years and years of the comics being rebooted.

    Remember the good parts of the Heroes TV Show?

    I can recall the incongruity of character resurrection on that show. Let's be honest-there was a lot of incongruity going on even in the best of times.

    But the big thing that stood out was the resurrection stuff. In COMICS the general common sense is you figure out a character/costume/powerset and once you've hit the mark with a design, you keep that idea around. Specifically that idea, because it works, and making new characters that work can be hard, especially in a decades-old universe/franchise/whatever.

    Now hear me out on this-sure, making new compelling characters is a challenge in live action too, but, in the world of movies and shows, there's this wealth of human actors that power the drama thing. So, say, in Heroes, the ability to kill characters and keep em dead was more doable, IMHO, because you could snag some Star Trek alumni or just anyone who did a great screen test and being a living breathing human with decent acting chops cast in the right part can make a pretty great character, even if your actor might end up playing Professor Arms-For-Hands.

    I'm not totally sure I'm succeeding at getting my point across, but in a comic book the character is a series of drawings, and in live action you've got a human being selling that character. I'm gonna say, overall, good actors are probably in better supply than well-done original comic book characters.

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