Continuity Entropy (Or: “The nerdiest op-ed you will read all week”)
During the media frenzy of the new Spider-man :
“Peter Parker is dead !?!”
“No, the Ultimate Universe Peter Parker is dead. The ‘real’ one is still around.”
“What’s the Ultimate Universe?”
“The Ultimate Universe was a second continuity that was supposed to be easy to get into because you didn’t need to know decades of stories to follow it”
“How long has it been around?”
“Then instead of 20 years of comics, I only need to know 11?”
As DC reboots/relaunches/reimagines/starts-at-number-one-for-no-good-reason, I’m wondering about this whole continuity thing that we comic nerds love or hate so much.
“Continuity is a fence built around story-tellers” – Peter Murphy, artist
The purpose of the DC relaunch and Marvel Ultimate Universe is to streamline the back story so a new reader doesn’t have to know 20 years of plotlines to start into a book.
Every time something reboots we have to quickly learn the basics of the new version (is Pa Kent alive? Does Spider-man have web shooters or organic yuck coming out of his wrists? Is Captain America a fascist? Is Robin a chick?).
Then a bunch of issues go by and it gets complicated again.
Entropy: a process of degradation or running down or a trend to disorder.
Continuity Entropy: a process of complication or muddying the history of a character to a point where all explanations of the character have to start with something like “well, when they restarted Wonder Woman in 1987, Steve Trevor wasn’t her boyfriend so …”
No matter how fresh your reboot, you only have a few years before your storylines become so integrated that you can’t possibly have a new reader jump on at any issue. If you can, you have the comic book equivalent of a TV police procedural – pretty much any episode can be watched in pretty much any order, but there is no benefit to watching all of them. And you have to resolve everything in 44 minutes so it best be the creepy doctor you met in scene 6 who is the gunman.
My co-host on We Talk Comics, Brett, has the best solution, do an automatic reboot every 10 years no matter what. It has the added advantage of dead characters staying dead for a change. “I want to use Supergirl!” “Supergirl is dead this decade, we’ll put you down for next decade”
Quiz: Do you know who this is?
No, you don’t. They haven’t told you the rules of this Superman yet. Kal-El? Kal-L? Wrangler Jeans spokesman?
Do you know this one?
Possibly, this is Superman from his last reboot – 11 friggin’ months ago! Is Pa Kent alive? Is Superman the last son of Krypton or are there 100,000 Kryptonians? Does he have a flying dog? You don’t know.
Ultimately (no pun intended), continuity is more help than hindrance. And being afraid of it and constantly restarting is more confusing than useful. The best part of continuity is that I don’t have to spend half the story figuring out the new rules before getting to the meat of the story. And that story is richer for having characters developed by events that happened last issue or 100 issues ago.
It’s the day of the reboot, do you know who your Superman is?
Cub Reporter Keith has just been added to the comic book pundits on the podcast WeTalk Comics. Follow him on Twitter at CubReporterK.