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Tuesday, November 06, 2012 

How can continuity be a problem when it's long been ruined?

USA Today interviewed Jon Hodgman of the Daily Show, mostly about the Legion of Super-Heroes which he's been a fan of for a long time, and he said something I just don't agree with:
Why do you feel the Legion's been rebooted so many times, and what do you feel has held up best about it throughout these reboots? For that matter, what do you feel has been lost?

Comics have a problem, and that is continuity — the obsession with placing the characters in an existing world, where every event is marked in canon. You're supposed to believe that these weepy star boys of now are the same gung-ho super teens fighting space monsters in the '60s, and they've only aged perhaps five years.

It eventually strains credulity, and can shackle a writer who wants to try a something new. Very few narrative forms have to deal with this principle, and a fan base that gets mad when it's violated, except for maybe soap operas (which is what comics are).

So there are these periodic memory wipes and start-overs. But to me, it never felt right with the Legion. There are just too many of these kids, none of them is iconic, the whole pleasure is the continuity — the evolution of comic styles and sensibility encoded in their being.
I fully disagree. Continuity is character development, and can also serve to set special character traits in place that serve the heroes' likability and plausibility too, that writers with sense and respect for the casts of characters do well to follow. It also helps keep things consistent and provides ideas for later writers to build on. As for age factor, it sounds like he never read newspaper strips like Peanuts, Dick Tracy, Beetle Bailey and Brenda Starr, all of which kept their leads at virtually the same ages and nobody ever complained about that. For Peanuts, it was practically the whole point that the stars like Charlie Brown remain little kids. And while Jim Davis celebrates Garfield's anniversary every year in June, he's still remained pretty much the same "age" himself. So too has his owner Jon Arbuckle, now that I think of it. The challenge is in keeping most of the stories stand-alone, which helps continuity far better.

But what's really laughable here is that he must've been living in a bubble for quite a while - continuity's been virtually destroyed in the past decade at both DC and Marvel, with Identity Crisis ignoring/retconning past storylines and developments solely for the sake of it, and Spider-Man's Sins Past going out of its way to make both Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane Watson look bad. And that's just the beginning.

I also think it's ridiculous if he's suggesting the Legion's popularity be based on iconism instead of how well written the story is. And at one time, it was...but no longer. Even the Legion and its continuity's been one of the biggest victims of the modern obsession with publicity stunts, when it got changed post-Zero Hour in 1994.

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The guy's worried about 'credulity' in a universe of time- travelers, real life Greco-Roman gods and space aliens. All that's ok, but keeping your characters around the same age is like, so totally unbelievable.

Batman is a character so-and-so years old, he has an adventure, then he has another one in the next issue. And so on. Don't overthink it, man.

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