Recent reports from comics journalism outlets say DC Comics is about to do yet another Crisis story. So I think it’s time we have a real talk about continuity. This is a subject that has bothered me for the last few years, but I feel now is a good time to get my thoughts out.

 

Continuity is not that important. It really isn’t. Now that may seem blasphemous coming from someone who makes a living as a soryteller, but hear me out. Continuity can be useful in small doses. Take the Marvel Cinematic Universe for example. The reason audiences are so emotionally attached to these characters is because we’ve been able to watch them grow and change over several different movies that are all interconnected. Civil War wouldn’t have had the same emotional punch if the MCU hadn’t been a series of connected events. But here’s the thing, in those movies the directors pick and choose what bits will be important. If they ran these movies like they run the comics, there would be full stories explaining why Rhodes and Banner suddenly changed. A big reality-altering event would’ve taken place to explain why War Machine and Hulk look a little different. There also would have been a big kerfuffle about the fake Infinity Gauntlet in Odin’s vault rather than a throwaway gag by Hela. When it comes to the comics, continuity is treated with way too much importance by both readers and publishers.

A few years ago when Disney bought Star Wars, the rights to the comics were moved from Dark Horse Comics to Marvel Comics. When this happened, fans threw a tantrum realizing that all of the Dark Horse stories would no longer be considered “canon”. All of the continuity, stories, and characters were suddenly thrown out the window. But you still have those original stories. Disney didn’t come into your house and throw away your trades and issues. You can still enjoy those comics and stories. Many readers have this weird idea that if a story isn’t “canon” then it isn’t important, or if someone says it isn’t canon they take that as an insult. Continuity can be helpful when crafting an ongoing narrative, but it isn’t the most important part of the story. The importance and quality of a story is not based on its place in whatever timeline. Look at stories like Kingdom Come and Dark Knight Returns. Even The Watchmen! All of these stories technically aren’t canon since they take place outside of the main  DC Comics continuity, so does that mean they’re bad or not important? Of course not! All of these stories are rich and compelling in their own way. You can craft a strong story regardless of if it fits in an existing timeline.

Publishers are guilty of placing too much importance on continuity too. DC Comics has been the biggest offender with their constant reboots and retcons. For those who may not know, DC has a series of what they call “Crisis stories”. Over the last several decades, these stories have constantly changed the continuity of the comics. Characters are constantly getting new origins, older stories are deleted from the canon, and some characters are completely taken away only to be reintroduced a few months later. The goal of all of this is to make the main timeline more simplified and easy for new readers to understand. In reality it just makes it all a more confusing mess. Now readers have to constantly know if a story takes place before or after a Crisis story. And even then, WHICH Crisis story? Crisis on Infinite Earths? Zero Hour? Infinite Crisis? Final Crisis? Flashpoint? Convergence? And now this new Crisis? Which Superman origin are we talking about? Which Superman are we talking about? The multiverse as a whole is constantly being reworked. It started as an infinite multiverse, then it was broken down and “simplified” to a single universe. Later it was momentarily returned to an infinite multiverse, then shrunk down to a local 52 universes. THEN those universes were shaken up and changed. And now the infinite multiverse is supposed to be back after the events of Convergence which undid the original Crisis story, but also somehow merged the old multiverse with the current local 52 multiverse.

Now we’ll have to wait and see if the rumors are true about the new Crisis story. But even if it turns out to be false, this is still a problem. DC’s constant need to simplify their continuity just makes things worse and becomes more and more confusing as the years go on. The purpose of retcons and reboots is completely rendered useless when it’s done every couple of years. The publisher needs to quit putting so much importance on continuity and instead needs to focus on crafting compelling stories with strong characters.

 

Continuity can be helpful, but it is not the most important aspect of storytelling. Please stop treating it like it is.

 

Do you want to recommend a crazy comic? Tweet me suggestions at @WyattTheNerd!

 

Banner artwork by Alli (@alliskirtzzz on Twitter).