Continuing my posts on different types of bad comics. Today I'll introduce one the types that usually cause the most uproar - those wherein the writer has played havoc with established continuity.
Again, I'm not one of those people who feels all comics should be slaves to continuity. One of my favorite comic writers (Bob Haney) was notorious for not caring about continuity.
The saving grace in Haney's stories (and for most comics of that era) was they didn't rely on you knowing what happened in the last issue. Still, once you've decided to tell an ongoing story in serial form, then you have pretty much agreed to obey some laws of continuity, or put another way, the more you are relying on continuity to give your story gravitas, the more important continuity becomes.
Modern comics rely (overly much I think) on wanting the reader to be invested in ongoing storylines - which results in continuity having a greated influence than it didn in the Silver Age. As a result, there have arisen two types of Continuity contagions that can ruin a comic.
Today, I'll tackle what I see as the most comic problem: Devalued Continuity.
Over time, as writers and editors come and go on a series, it's not uncommon for some editorial mandate to force a writer to come up with a contrivance that basically oblivates established story lines. When doing this, if the events that the writer serves up are too far fetched, it runs the risk of diminishing the story line's continuity in a way a ignored plot hole never could.
Probably the beginning of this problem was the return of Jean Grey in X Factor 1 from the 90's.
The original premise of the series was that the four original male X-men would be joined by an undetermied female. This unused cover actually shows how far the series got in production without a decided upon fifth member.
However, an editorial decree made it necessary for Marvel to find a way to bring Jean Grey the dead. The solution? Well, that came from a fan letter from Kurt Busiek. He suggested that the Dark Phoenixed Jean Grey who died in X-men 137 was an alien who had assumed the original Marvel Girl's identity. Kurt had this idea that the Phoenix had duplicated Jean and left her in a pod on the bottom of Jamaica Bay. The actual story in which this all was explained was in Fantastic Four 286.
And while Kurt's explanation is plausable (as these go in comic book land) it sort of feels like a continuity cheat. (Especially when you take into account Cyclop's Jean Grey looking wife. Nothing awkward about that, aye? )
All these events may be "in continuity," but hasn't the writer undermined the value of the Marvel Universe with these type of shenanigans? I think so. And I think we see more of that now than we have ever seen before (partly because writers have gotten lazy) but mostly because editorial is driven by a need to satisfy the capricious demands of a superficial fan base. Instead of thinking about whether a story will be good, it's become more about putting the old toys back in the box. Whatever gets Hal Jordan back as Green Lantern is good enough to make the cut. As a result ,we've been getting some really bad stories.
In other words, all the Superboy Prime Reality Punches in the world...
...don't satisfactorily explain to me how Jason Todd came back to life.
Ultimately, if continuity is the coin of the realm, you run the risk of becoming penniless overnight when you do things like have an Editor in Chief Joe Quesada explain away a 20 year marriage of Spider-man and Mary Jane with words like, "It's Magic. We don't have to explain it."
Perhaps the big two can use Magic to make us care about their universes again.