Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Comics You Should Be Talking About for January 11, 2006: Continuity Cavalcade

By strange coincidence, all three of the books I picked up this week touch on issues of continuity and shared universality, so we’ll examine each of them, and try to paint a picture.

We’ll start with She-Hulk #4. I was wary of this one due to these comments from Brian Cronin at Comics Should Be Good:

“This latest issue was guest-written by Geoff Johns. Or rather, it is writtn (sic) by Dan Slott. In the style of Geoff Johns. As it explains some continuity minutae (sic) that no one should care about. I don't know about you, but I was prepared to douse myslef (sic) with gaosline and light my self aflame if they did not explain what happened to She-Hulk after "The Search for She-Hulk" story in Avengers.”

Well, now that I’ve read the story in question, I will proceed to tell you just how Brian is wrong.

First of all, he screwed up the timeline. This story doesn’t take place between “The Search for She-Hulk” and “Avengers Disassembled,” it takes place between the previous Slott She-Hulk volume and this one.

But that’s beside the real point, which is that this is not a story based on continuity minutiae at all. Instead, it’s a story that uses another story as a springboard, but is still a separate unit, with its own plotline, theme, and arc.

You might ask, “What’s the difference?” The answer to that is “the difference between ‘How Jason Todd Stole The Hubcaps Off The Batmobile’ and ‘Batman: Year One.’”

The story deals with She-Hulk, as Jennifer Walters, returning to the town of Bone, Idaho, which she wrecked in the aforementioned “Search,” and trying to make amends by pitching in with the relief/cleanup effort. She’s also, at this time, struggling with her inability to change back into She-Hulk; there’s a mental block protecting her from doing so. I won’t spoil the story, but since she’s been green and in charge since this volume started, you can probably guess the denouement. The emotional arc, however, legitimizes the story, as it makes it about more than minutiae. The story is about guilt, atonement, personal growth, and perception. And as long as it’s about something, it’s a story that’s beyond mere continuity explanations.

Brian’s verdict is especially puzzling given that New Thunderbolts 17, another book that has him very excited this week, is almost exactly the same in terms of structure. The identity of the mysterious Swordsman who’s been plaguing the team since issue 4 is revealed, and the examination of the character that takes place is very continuity-heavy. Besides referencing the issues of this T-Bolts volume in which Swordsy has appeared, it also refs the previous volume, the first Citizen V miniseries, and the recent “Enemy of the State” arc in Wolverine. In fact, this comic *does* explain minutiae of continuity, by covering for the two vastly different Zemos that were appearing in T-Bolts and Wolverine at that time! But this story, too, is about something, as Swordsman’s relationships with several of our key players, with a deceased family member, and with himself (as the man he was before becoming Swordsman, the puppet under the control of Zebediah Kilgrave, and whomever he’ll choose to be now that he’s free of said control) are all explored.

The last book in our triumvirate is Exiles 75. Not just this issue, but the whole 18-issue-long story arc (of which we are in part 7), hinges on continuity, specifically various alternate realities from Marvel’s past publications that the Exiles are hopping to in pursuit of Proteus. Story elements and characters from the New Universe and Marvel 2099 have already been used, with more to come, and another character with his own strange dimensional status has hitched a ride as well. To make things worse, one of the characters has had his memory erased (the ultimate reboot, you might say), leading to severe dissonance between what the other characters expect of him, and how he actually behaves. The danger of continuity overload with this story is of course very great, but has so far been avoided through a simple pick-and-choose usage of the various universes. You only need to know what you’re given: The White Event, It’s The Future, An Evil Hulk Rules The World, etc. The rest of it is about having fun playing in these universes, and about the escalating challenges facing the Exiles in their quest.

So there you have it: Three stories that rely on continuity, couldn’t exist without the past events they reference, but stand on their own. So why the snark? Why do the hipsters come out in force anytime an old story is so much as mentioned? When did this become so in vogue that no one thinks to question it, that instead it earns an easy back-patting?

That question’s rhetorical; I don’t have an answer, and I don’t really want one either. Instead, I’d rather make a suggestion: that we move beyond the ridiculous “continuity good/continuity bad” argument. It’s a false dichotomy anyway. Continuity’s just a tool, and like any tool, whether it’s good or bad all depends on how you use it. And while I’m at it, I’d also like to call a moratorium on this “All Geoff Johns Writes Are Impenetrable Meaningless Continuity Rehashes And Retcons” meme. It’s approaching “Al Gore Invented The Internet” levels, and it’s time to stop. He’s written some, that’s true (most egregiously Green Lantern: Rebirth, a story whose appeal rests solely on whether or not you want the last ten years of Green Lantern history to be retconned), but that’s not the only story he knows how to write, and most of his continuity-built stories do in fact stand on their own. The man knows his history and likes legacies. That’s not a sin.

Bottom line, stories and creators deserved to be judged on their full merits, not on how well they meet your own blogospherical agenda. And that’s something you should be talking about. Thoughts?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'd agree that the current Exiles arc is a good example of "how to use past stories but not become mired in them."

I never picked up the new universe titles. Heck, I think the NU was pretty much over by the time I started really picking up comics seriously.

Everything I know about it is what little I picked up in that arc of Quasar where he went there Yes, I liked Quasar. Shut up.
The first forty or fifty issues were good.

Despite that I wasn't lost in this arc at all.