What price continuity?

I’ve been on a bit of a comics kick, lately. Here’s more.

One of the problems Marvel is currently looking at (there are a few articles on the topic making their way around the net) is that people who watch their movies and then try to go read the comics are likely to be lost.

Hell, people who have been reading the comics are likely to be lost.

Continuity has become a Gordian Knot, if the knot was also a bear that mauled you before tossing you into a convoluted death trap from the old 60s Batman TV show.

Hell, DC’s recent reboot–the "New 52"–was meant, in part, to resent continuity so new readers could climb aboard. Of course, they muddied that up by keeping some ongoing plotlines from before the reboot, and then launching into multiple cross-title mega-stories that threw up different barriers to entry, but still, that was part of the intent.

Ditto Marvel’s Ultimates line, but that swiftly grew as convoluted as anything else.

How many characters have died and come back? How many times? How many different characters have used the same names? Try reading the Wikipedia articles on some of these characters. The "summaries" take up thousands upon thousands of words, and are still often impossible for an outsider to follow.

People talk about superheroes as "modern mythology," but they have a problem to deal with that mythology doesn’t. They’re ongoing. Heracles’ body of myths is fixed. People may tell new stories about him, but they’re not–if you’ll pardon the use of the term–canonical. Heracles can get married, have kids, then lose his family; he can kill his foes without them coming back from the dead; because these aren’t characters that need to be available for new stories down the road.

Now try killing off, say, Lois Lane. Good luck with that.

And the thing is, there is no possible fix that leaves continuity intact. There’s no way to tell a story for decades, and yet still have a new reader able to hop aboard at any time without some amount of confusion.

So here’s a thought. Don’t try.

What I’m about to suggest will be heresy to many comic book fans, but…

I’ve come to believe that DC and Marvel should reboot/reset their universes regularly. Maybe every ten years or so.

It’d be a "soft" reboot, in some respects. No dramatic changes to the character. Their origins may be tweaked or updated, but not changed. Peter’s bitten by a genetically altered spider instead  of a radioactive one. Frank Castle’s a veteran of Desert Storm rather than Vietnam. Whatever.

But the plotlines reset. Not so the writers can do the same thing all over again (some repetition is inevitable, but there’s already some repetition), but so new readers never have to go back too far. Continuity is limited in terms of how ludicrously complex it can get.

It also means you can try out different directions, make "real" changes. Don’t like the fact that two characters have gotten married? Well, wait for the next reboot. Tired of characters coming back from the dead? You can kill them off "permanently," because that just means it’s permanent in this cycle.

Obviously, if a change is amazingly popular, you can keep it, writing it into the character "core" that remains from cycle to cycle. But that’d be a rare thing.

It also means you can tell a complete story. Maybe the editor/writers have a fantastic plotline in mind that culminates in the death of the entire Justice League. Under this system, as long as it’s at the end of a "cycle," you can do that. And you don’t have to magically bring them back, because in "that universe," it was permanent. You just then have the new/slightly altered versions for the next cycle.

(I’m talking about a meta-level reboot, here. Not "Flash goes back in time and changes things so we have a new universe." That’s a story-level/in-character reboot. I’m talking about DC saying "We’ve told all the stories we’re going to from that version of our mythology, here’s the new reset version, and we’re treating this new continuity as though it’s always been the only continuity.")

Ten years is not a limitation, not really. There are very few stories you can’t tell in that length, or with that amount of continuity.

Oh, and something else this would do? This would allow superheroes–who are supposed to be embodiments of justice–to actually deliver some. Because the way things are now, "justice" as a concept doesn’t exist in mainstream comic books. But that’s a future blog entry.

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