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The Indisputable Matt Maxwell Presents:




This has been a long week, folks. Long couple weeks. Long couple months. Kids are out on summer break now, and it's getting hot enough to make me wonder why I got talked into moving up here. Green and lush of winter (not Spring, as the greens are dead not long after the equinox) has given way to the golden hills of summer, everything sere and dried, clutching at your ankles like a dying man for a drink.

Summer always plays havoc with my schedule, and with the Big One of San Diego looming (as well as some other shows), I'm taking this opportunity to take a little weight off of my plate. I've still got some entries in the pipeline, but I'm guessing I'll miss at least one issue, perhaps two. Maybe more. Once things stabilize at the end of the summer, I'll look more closely at what can be done with my time.

I don't really blog anymore; putting together columns about things that interest me is turning into a bi-weekly session of tooth-pulling. I get like this sometimes. And then there's the whole idea of writing stuff that isn't fiction, which isn't as compelling as it was. But for now, let's chalk it up to a lack of time and my brain cells being turned into flopping mush by the summer heat.

But here's something from the archives in the meantime. Remember, in the good old days, you ran a reprint issue or you lost your spot on the stand. No artist is worth waiting for, when it comes to claiming terrain in the battlefield of the spinner rack.


FULL BLEED REDUX: Continuity - A Mug's Game

“You mean they’re not REAL?”

The above was spoken by my wife in reply to the little disclaimer at the end of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, stating that the preceding movie was a work of fiction and had no basis in fact, etc. A standard legal disclaimer, but a great springboard for some deadpan sarcasm (which from my wife is a rarity beyond compare.)

Can you see where I’m going with this yet?

Sure, I’m a geek. I’ll be the first to admit it. I use obscure Marvel U/DC U references in various net communications (particularly when talking with other geeks), obscure movie references, obscure book references, and hell, even obscure postmodernist theory references when I’m around literature geeks. Oh yeah, and music, too. Weird music. Yeah.

So, total geek. May not look it on the outside (or am just blissfully unaware of it), but you cut me and I bleed geek. But there’s somewhere that I draw the line. There’s a realm that I won’t cross into, though plenty of other geeks are more than happy to charge into, banners waving and weapons drawn for a fight to the death.

That, folks, is continuity. Continuity trainspotting is a mug’s game (as Marc Almond would say.) You want to know why? Read the first line in the column again.

That’s right. They’re not real. Grant Morrison’s efforts notwithstanding, the DC U and Marvel U, and hell, just about anything you see these days as entertainment (including reality TV) is not real. It did not happen. It will not happen. You can’t drive to Metropolis.

I know. Another Big Fat Duh.

But if it’s such a no-brainer, then why do I still see people up in arms about the “real” Hal Jordan or the “real” Jean Grey or getting in tizzy-fits about whether or not Superman has killed? People argue about whether or not any of these things have “happened.” They argue about events in DC’s history as if the events had real weight.

Newsflash. All stories are imaginary stories. Alan Moore said it, though he was far from the first. Arguing about the current incarnation of Firestorm is about in the same league as figuring out how many angels can dance on the head of a bowling pin. I guess it’s entertaining to the arguer, but after a certain point it crosses from diversion to obsession.

Personally, I don’t really care about most continuity issues. I did at one time. I was personally incensed that Marvel chose to bring back Jean Grey and make her sacrifice as the Phoenix in Uncanny #137 meaningless. That was a long, long time ago. At this point, I see her in New X-Men and don’t really even think about all the ridiculous backstory, that if you stopped to consider it would not only break the character’s metaphoric spine, but cause it to implode into a black hole due to the density of personal history packed in over the last thirty years.

You’d go nuts thinking about it. All you need to know about the character can be summed up neatly. Troubled relationship with borderline psychotic loner husband, potential to tap into more power than humans should ever have access to, caring mother figure to her students. Trying to tie everything back to the days of Marvel Girl and the time that everyone up to and including Professor X was harboring a secret love for her is nothing short of a short path to madness.

And talk about madness. Look what DC did to try and tie up its continuity, what, a little over 20 years ago? They literally destroyed the entire universe, well, more than one. More like an infinite number of them, all collapsed into a psychic space within Alex Luthor. But just consider the lengths that DC’s editorial department went through to do this. They literally tried to destroy everything that had come along in the previous fifty years or so. That was the only way they could reconcile the burden of their continuity (and lots of folks would argue that they didn’t even succeed in that.)

Marvel’s not really had to face anything like that. Sure, they flirted with it with the Heroes Reborn universe, and again with the Ultimate Universes (though I’d argue that the Ultimate Universe was created primarily to make their more popular properties more palatable to new readers, which I’d also argue hasn’t succeeded.) But for the most part, Marvel seems a lot less hidebound and more inclined to just forget continuity issues/lapses.

The real question is why people argue about this sort of thing. Seems as if they’re motivated to determine what is the Truth of whatever happens to be their favorite character (and if you’re a creator/editor who dares to change that character, then put on your safety helmet and asbestos jackets.) These folks seem to think that if something happens in whatever monthly book, then it’s the Gospel Truth, immutable and unalterable. Well, that’s simply not the case. The truth of a character, the fundamental essence might be immutable (i.e., Superman as a champion for Truth and Justice and Batman as a dark vengeance upon Crime). But the day to day events are subject to often violent change.

The truth of a character is far more important than the minutiae. This is what Marv Wolfman (a guy who Gets It) referred to as “breaking the character.” You can do all kinds of things with characters, so long as you don’t break them. You don’t turn Batman into a cold-blooded killer. Sure, you can have him express doubts as to the worth of his cause (as done in the wonderful Batman: Ego by Darwyn Cooke), you can turn him into an elemental force of personal justice (no matter how skewed, as in The Dark Knight Returns), but for any of those to work, you have to know how the character works and what will break him or her.

Characters aren’t people. For that we can all be eternally thankful. Characters are far more malleable, and also, more advantageously to creators, more knowable. We can look right into Bruce Wayne’s psyche and know how it works and have him act that out. Sure, everyone’s going to have different interpretations of a character, but if they’re doing their homework, none of these will be so off-base that they don’t make sense. They might shock us, by illuminating a facet of the character we hadn’t yet seen, and that’s a good thing.

All the stories are fiction, yes. But the best of them (and I don’t mean ones that are just franchise-babysitters) have real truth to them, no matter whether they happened in continuity or not. All stories may as well have Elseworlds or whatever stamped on them, because they are. That’s what allows them to do crazy, insane things that we wouldn’t accept in the everyday world.

What’s that you say? You don’t like a de-powered Superman? You prefer the Gray Hulk? You want the Invaders to keep fighting the Axis powers? Well then, don’t whine about how the comics of today don’t do what you want. Read the old ones again, or better yet make some of your own. You don’t even have to show them to anyone.

Oh, what’s that? They wouldn’t be real then? Well, that’s your problem, isn’t it? None of them are real. All of them, however, if they’re worth their salt, are somehow true.

Matt Maxwell

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