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Author Topic: "Ethical" Question/Dilemma for Continuity Buffs  (Read 3180 times)
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JulianPerez
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« on: June 16, 2006, 08:10:57 AM »

As long as a value has been placed on the importance of continuity, there have been disagreements over "gray areas" and how some types of continuity should be addressed. There were roaring disputes back in the old INVADERS letter columns about how Marvel's "Golden Age" comics should be treated, between our very own Al Shroeder and Kurt Busiek. Al Shroeder argued that the Golden Age comics should be treated as a part of Marvel continuity proper, just as one would treat an issue of FANTASTIC FOUR, and that it was pretty arrogant for someone like Thomas to say "this or that happened differently" just because it was a Golden Age comic. Kurt Busiek's perspective in his letters differed slightlly. He said that while the Golden Age should have assumed to have "happened as it was printed," if anything in the Golden Age contradicted anything in the Silver Age and up, the "Silver Age and up" interpretation should be assumed to be "how it really happened."

This is an example of the sort of dilemma that faces people that value continuity.

Let's assume for the sake of argument, even if it isn't true, that you're a Dan Slott or Roy Thomas-type, who tries not to do things like declare that Superman had never been a Founding Member of the Justice League.

Here's the theoretical "test" case:

Let's say Continuity Writer A (it can be whoever you like, Kurt Busiek, Dan Slott, whomever) wants to do a new project in the Marvel Universe: it's going to be a science fiction-type book featuring the Gods of Africa. The gods of Africa have appeared before in the Marvel Universe, notably the role Shango and his stick had in that MIGHTY THOR annual where all the gods team up to battle Atum, first of the primal gods. And in nearly every single time the godheads meet together, they decide to stick someone like Ogun or Shango in the background serving as a divine version of Commander Riker, nodding as a THOR supporting cast member like Odin takes center stage.

But let's say the writer wants to do it a little differently.

Let's say the writer want the gods of Africa to differ considerably from the usual Marvel Universe definition of "gods," which means a tribe or race of superhuman beings closely connected to an Earth Culture (Aztec, Greek, etc.) Let's say the writer wants them to be more like the characters in LORD OF LIGHT, where they are an extremely powerful alien race MISTAKEN for gods by African people, with a Home Planet, space empire, ray guns, and so forth, and are not children of Atum and the Elder Gods at all. They're to have a different look than what little we've seen of them before, and they'd use rocketships and so forth.

Now, the problem is that the gods of Africa have already SHOWED UP in some books, notably MIGHTY THOR.

My question is, how would the writer have to do his African gods project so that you'd find it acceptable?

Here are a few solutions. Ultimately, it all boils down to how you subjectively see continuity working:

1) The writer can do whatever he likes with the African gods, and the artist can change their look radically from how their previous Marvel appearances have shown them to look. The reasoning behind this is, it's not really a change that insults the intelligence of the audience, like Superboy never having been a member of the Legion. The gods of Africa appeared in a few panels, but they don't have a ROLE, that if removed would cause us to question what we are seeing in previous stories being "true."

An example of this approach would be the panel of Captain Marvel  being present on the reformed earth after CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, which every single version of the Big Red Cheese since then has asked us to "ignore."

(This option is right out for characters that are 1) likeable, and 2) significant - doing Option 1 for a character like Thor or Hercules is right out, which is why for the purposes of this example we used characters like the African gods, whose appearance in the Marvel Unvierse are essentially cameos with dialogue.)

2) The artists and writers can apply their ideas and concepts to the African gods as much as they like, PROVIDED that an explanation is given for their previous appearances. For instance, in the above theoretical scenario, a continuity-mindful comics reader can accept the new take on the gods provided the MIGHTY THOR stories are addressed and given an explanation. For instance, perhaps the reason that Shango and Ogun look so different in THOR is because in the presence of their fellow godheads, as a matter of tradition the African Star-Gods have donned "traditional" clothing when in the presence of other gods out of respect for their "brothers" and for the earth culture that worships them, and while they aren't children of Atum, they are considered to be evolved enough beings to be counciled whenever something happens like Demigorge going balls-to-the-wall crazy. In other words, they work hard to make sure that everything you saw before was "right," but there was more going on that they weren't showing.

(That's just an example. Hopefully, the explanation that the "real" writer comes up with would be something a little cooler.)

At first glance, this second approach would be the most ideal, however, it probably involves a lot of gymnastics and answers that aren't really that satisfying, since no matter what, the way the previous writer saw these gods and the way the current one does will not sync up perfectly. Suppose Continuity Writer A writes in his series that Shango's greatest weapon is a brain-amplifying gem on the forehead that allows thought waves to become solid matter and electromagnetism. On the other hand, the Shango seen in that THOR annual uses a Power Stick that is said to be the equal of Thor's Magic Hammer. You can say that Shango was wearing traditional clothing out of respect for the god races of earth, but why no power gem, and what's with this "magic stick?"

There's probably a third approach I haven't thought of, and if anybody can point it out, it would be edifying.

Still, as a fan, which would be the position you'd prefer Continuity Writer A to take? Which is the more justifiable or admirable of the two?
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celacanto
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« Reply #1 on: June 16, 2006, 06:02:55 PM »

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powerful alien race MISTAKEN for gods by African people


That would be the Eternals  :lol:  :lol:

No serious, i think that a writer must concentrate on create good stories more than in the continuity, and most important a solid background of his series. And also if you can put small points of conection with the universe to let the  nexts writers again play with your job.

A thing i liked in the good days of the marvel universe there was always sooner or later a fixer who try to put together all the pieces left by another writers. i remeber those pages of Roger Stern spiderman speaking of all the comics about the Roxxon conspiracy or how they managed to make the origin of spider woman coherent. Even the efforts of busiek in avengers forever.

I really like those puzzles that the great thing about continuity.
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TELLE
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« Reply #2 on: June 17, 2006, 12:09:45 AM »

Yeah, I would take the Kirby approach (Eternals, Devil Dinosaur, Lords of Light Portfolio, 2001) and leave it to lesser lights to connect the dots and fill in the holes in continuity in a poorly-selling miniseries 20 years later.

That being said, Julian, I can't wait to read your Gods of Africa comic.  Seriously.  Fun concept --I hope you find a good artist.
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JulianPerez
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« Reply #3 on: June 18, 2006, 09:42:55 AM »

I'm not surprised, on a DC message board, that Option A (aka the "Nuclear Option") is the more popular one. It's become a part of common wisdom in DC that this sort of thing is, well, "thinkable," as in, the opposite of "unthinkable."

In recent times, not only is it "thinkable," it's the editor's best friend: don't like Matrix Supergirl? Wipe her the hell out!

Okay, I understand, that's not fair at all. There's a big difference between something like ignoring one panel in CRISIS and "cafeteria continuity." However, the case can be made that some auidences are callused to truly outrageous breaks.

It shouldn't surprise anybody that knows me, that in this theoretical example, I'm very much on the side of Option B. My personal take on continuity is that it can make even bad ideas and bad stories WORK, if you look at ALL the pieces and see how something fits. Concepts should be reconciled with the past as much as possible, even minor parts of the past.

I never cease to be amazed with Mark Gruenwald, who, in one story, had the shades of everyone that ever used the Serpent Crown, it also featured a Conan enemy that used the Cobra Crown, a related artifact from a 1960s Lin Carter Conan pastiche novel!

But if one DOES take Option B, the question is, what continuity is worth explaining away...and what continuity isn't?

Going back to the above example, obviously a story as important as the MIGHTY THOR ANNUAL with Demigorge and Atum would have to be explained, certainly. So too, would the panel

Quote from: "celacanto"
I really like those puzzles that the great thing about continuity.


It's fun to play "how to fix continuity" and tie things together, though unfortunately Marvel, in a sign they've lost their way, no longer give No-Prizes anymore.

For instance: remember the Steve Englehart West Coast/East Coast Avengers war? There was a scene of the Legion of the Unliving featuring two characters it has since been revealed to be alive: the Green Goblin and Bucky. How to account for their presence as "dead" people?

For the Green Goblin, it is simple: reading the issues over, it was never specifically stated that he was Norman Osborn. Remember the second Green Goblin, ? He fits the two criteria needed to be this character: 1) he was at one point a Green Goblin, and 2) he is dead.

Bucky needs a little more explaining. Here's one possible explanation: perhaps it was another dead hero, Changeling, who had assumed the form of Bucky deliberately to rattle Captain America.

The point is, though, that this sort of thing is a worthy passtime, in addition to being how Roy Thomas got his job.

Quote from: "celacanto"
That would be the Eternals


That was a Roy Thomas idea, and while I give Roy the Boy an "A" for effort (I mean, the guy gave an ETERNALS connection to everything, even the history of the Sub-Mariner and the origin of a character like Armin Zola), I give him a "C" for Cluelessness: nevermind the fact that the Marvel Universe was clearly fictional in ETERNALS. The concepts there were, while not detrimental, when introduced made many of the Marvel Universe's big ideas smaller, and many of the ETERNALS ideas smaller. The Eternals went from being the origin of folklore, to being jumped up pretenders in a world where the "real" gods exist. And the Forgotten One goes from being the GREATEST HERO EVER, the inspiration for all great warriors and strongmen, to being Strong Guy #47 in a universe of strong guys. And let's not talk about the murky afterthought that ETERNALS made mutants.

While I agree with the Roy Thomas "Wold-Newton" mentality that things should tie together and connections should be found, some things are just not compatible; some concepts when brought together make both stronger by the connection, and some become weaker.

Must...EVERYTHING be in the Marvel Universe? Can't some things just be off to the side? An example would certainly be KILLRAVEN, which doesn't line up with anything and makes everybody look like a chump because the Marvel Heroes couldn't block one measly, piddling little alien invasion.

Quote from: "TELLE"
Yeah, I would take the Kirby approach (Eternals, Devil Dinosaur, Lords of Light Portfolio, 2001) and leave it to lesser lights to connect the dots and fill in the holes in continuity in a poorly-selling miniseries 20 years later.

That being said, Julian, I can't wait to read your Gods of Africa comic. Seriously. Fun concept --I hope you find a good artist.


Thank you for that vote of confidence, TELLE, but when have I ever let slip even the slightest ambition of being a professional writer? It was just a developed example i picked to prove my point, though considering some of the chuckleheads that work for the House of Ideas these days, even I could do better (though that's not saying much).

The reason for the purpose of the example we did the African gods instead of say, a pantheon that has more or less been established in the Marvel Universe (like, say, the Egyptians) is that it's a "gray" example. If somebody wanted to Reboot in the MU, say, the Egyptian Pantheon, which has been a stable part of the Marvel Universe for decades now, obviously that wouldn't be acceptable. It wouldn't fall under a "gray area" like crowd scenes and "cameos with dialogue."

You can't "reboot" an established property that ties in extensively to the rest of the universe. It is for this reason that the Reggie Hudlin BLACK PANTHER reboot is so justifiably reviled, but Gaiman's ETERNALS (a book that never really tied into the MU except after Kirby left), on the other hand, sounds very interesting.

Cary Bates's CAPTAIN ATOM reboot worked, not just because Bates is such a card, but because technically, Bates wasn't rebooting anything, he was actually creating an "Earth-1" Captain Atom.
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Permanus
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« Reply #4 on: June 18, 2006, 12:17:08 PM »

Whenever I hear the word "continuity", the bit between my eyebrows starts to ache, but it is nevertheless something to which I have given some thought. My conclusions are, hey, I'm a stalinist, happy to see history rewritten if it suits the purposes of a good story. However, Julian raises some good points, as usual.

The mention of Alan Moore's HORUS, LORD OF LIGHT one-shot in the 1963 series (and boy, wouldn't you like to read the ending one day) is salient, because this is possibly the only example I have read of a comic having its own, built-in continuity failsafe by making it clear that the leading character isn't actually the Horus of Egyptian myth, but rather a scaled-down version, and the real, hawk-headed Horus somehow lies dormant somewhere. This sort of approach can probably patch up any kind of continuity glitch, at least as far as deities go, and also averts any objection that one may raise against the character, such as the incest that runs rife throughout Egyptian mythology and history.

Mythological themes are an obvious problem for continuity buffs, because writers can take what they like from them. Thus, the Marvel comics Thor differs greatly from the Thor who was depicted in DC's Sandman series; however, since Superman and Spider-Man have met, the Marvel and DC people clearly coexist in the same universe, so how can you account for there being two sets of Norse gods? There are only two ways, really: either you say that the meeting between Superman and Spider-Man never took place, or you say that the Marvel Thor is actually from an advanced alien civilisation that just happens to have a lot in common with Nordic myth, and that the Sandman guy is the real deal (or vice-versa; having spent many years in Sweden, I just feel Neil Gaiman got it right.)

But what about the introduction of other characters, fictional and historical, into "canon"? Say Batman is sent back in time and meets Sherlock Holmes in Victorian London in a Detective Comics annual or something. Now say the same thing happens to the Atom when he falls through the time pool gizmo again. Should Sherlock Holmes say "Oh, I met a friend of yours the other day", or should he just act as if this is the first time this has ever happened to him?

Superman met John F. Kennedy while he was in office, right? So did Superboy, right? Get out of that, Houdini.
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« Reply #5 on: June 18, 2006, 05:04:25 PM »

Quote from: "Permanus"

Mythological themes are an obvious problem for continuity buffs, because writers can take what they like from them. Thus, the Marvel comics Thor differs greatly from the Thor who was depicted in DC's Sandman series; however, since Superman and Spider-Man have met, the Marvel and DC people clearly coexist in the same universe, so how can you account for there being two sets of Norse gods? There are only two ways, really: either you say that the meeting between Superman and Spider-Man never took place, or you say that the Marvel Thor is actually from an advanced alien civilisation that just happens to have a lot in common with Nordic myth, and that the Sandman guy is the real deal (or vice-versa; having spent many years in Sweden, I just feel Neil Gaiman got it right.)


...or that the Superman-Spidey meetings take place on a seperate Earth from the usual Marvel and DC Earths (which each has its own version of Thor), one in which DC and Marvel characters coexist alongside each other. Though doesn't answer what Thor of this "Crossover Earth" is like...

Quote
But what about the introduction of other characters, fictional and historical, into "canon"? Say Batman is sent back in time and meets Sherlock Holmes in Victorian London in a Detective Comics annual or something. Now say the same thing happens to the Atom when he falls through the time pool gizmo again. Should Sherlock Holmes say "Oh, I met a friend of yours the other day", or should he just act as if this is the first time this has ever happened to him?


From what I've seen, most stories seemed to ignore such contradictions---an example being Superman's Hercules vs. Wonder Woman's Hercules, or all the appearances of Merlin, or (as I cited on this site awhile ago) a Krypto story where he got turned via Red-K into the cow that started the 1871 Chicago fire must've came as a surprise to the Atom (who had travelled back in time to that day/event in an early 70's story I read).

Quote

Superman met John F. Kennedy while he was in office, right? So did Superboy, right? Get out of that, Houdini.


This one's usually explained by the "floating timeline" aspect that Earth-1 (and the post-Crisis DC Universe) has, rendering topical events such as who the president at the time is in a subjective state. Thus, Superman could meet JFK in the 60's, but my published-in-the-early-80's Superboy comic has Superboy meeting him (since by that point, Supes' past had slid up so that his childhood/teen years were in the sixties). And in the mid-80's (around Crisis), there's the "Superman: The Secret Years" miniseries, where he's a junior in college in the mid-to-late 70's (Billy Cramer asks Clark if he wants to go see "Annie Hall", a Woody Allen movie of the period)...

Think a Bob Hembeck cartoon made fun of the state of the Superman/boy-meets-JFK timeline stuff (not seen the cartoon, but heard the punch line involved Super*baby* eventually meeting him; wish I could find it online somewhere)...
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TELLE
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« Reply #6 on: June 20, 2006, 02:05:37 AM »

Quote from: "JulianPerez"
I never cease to be amazed with Mark Gruenwald, who, in one story, had the shades of everyone that ever used the Serpent Crown, it also featured a Conan enemy that used the Cobra Crown, a related artifact from a 1960s Lin Carter Conan pastiche novel!


Was that Thoth-Amon?  I think he was in the King Conan comics as well.
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