Episode 138: 40 Day Writing Challenge and the Crisis of Continuity

If you’re vaguely religious in the Christian sense then you might be aware that today marks the beginning of lent. Others might still have a bit of a hangover from their mardi gras festivities. Now, lent is supposed to be a time of sacrifice and growth, representing the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert praying before starting his prophet adventures. Now, 40 in Judeo/Hebrew numerology is used as the standard for a really long time. It’s not literal for the most part and I’ve heard a few people define as basically when one says “a million years” to represent a really long time. 40 days is almost 6 weeks and as a teacher I can tell you that’s the space usually between exams and big projects. 40 years is pretty much a lifetime once you remove the awkward teenage years and Golden Girls territory of age. Still, for a very definitive 40 days Christians, especially Catholics, go through lent to mentally and spiritually prepare themselves.

Many people give up something like chocolate or soda but me, I do things a little differently. I go on a bit of a diet too but I also try to remove a particular emotion from my system in a quasi permanent way. I let go of hate by burying some old grudges and most recently desperation. This year I want to see how much of my self doubt I can take out of the system. Less worrying, more confidence, and definitely more taking action rather than mentally planning but ultimately doing very little. That plus more exercise ends with a better Gabe. In a weird way, I treat lent as a reigniting of my New Year’s Resolutions. But as all things, they require discipline and if academia has taught me anything is that you need to discipline yourself into writing. So, my lent will include a writing challenge, mostly dissertation centered of one post on this blog every day for the next 40 days. Let’s see how I do.

This first is going to be centered around one subsection of a chapter on serialization of comic books titled, “The Crisis of Continuity”. If you know some of the big events in DC history you will recognize that this is a reference to several of the events that completely rebuilt the comic book universe known simply as Crisis. It first happened during the early 80s, twice during the 2000s, and once more a few years ago with the advent of The New 52. It feels confusing because it is but stick with me.

As I’ve explained time and time again, serialization allows for stories to be built over time. With publication continuing the story becomes more complex. Being able to keep track of all past events and their connections to current story lines is a difficult endeavor for readers if they haven’t been part of the serial reading experience since the onset. Authors try to keep enough flashbacks and exposition of past events to keep people from getting lost but given enough time the narrative becomes so convoluted that even the writers can’t keep up with what’s going. The Silver Age of Comics (basically the 50s and 60s) was very loose when it came to keeping track of continuity between installments but DC had established that all of their heroes inhabited the same world which meant that they not only shared a moment in space but that all adventures were occurring concurrently to each other. Once the 70s came so too did the Bronze Age of Comics and a turn for more serious storytelling was taking place. Continuity was a bigger thing, which meant that you couldn’t have Superman saving Metropolis in his title, drive Lois Lane up the wall in her comic, put Jimmy through all sorts of shenanigans in his comic, plus be a part of the Justice League and do other cameo appearances and having all of these comics show up on the newsstands in the same week. Bronze Age wanted to keep things straight but that meant that stories had to fit within the proper continuity which caged in creative freedom in the name of maintaining the main narrative in its serial structure. DC executives had the idea that characters could do adventures adjacent to the primary storyline by saying that they take place in a parallel universe. And then things got even weirder.

Even with minimizing the importance of 30 years of its history, DC’s main characters had stories that even diehard fans had trouble understanding. With multiple planet Earths having different versions of these iconic heroes, the executives used their authorial powers to do something drastic. A huge event involving pretty much everyone from multiple universes that would culminate in all realities merging together. This was heralded as the Crisis on Infinite Earths. There would now only be one continuity. More complicated details as to what happened in those comics can be found here.

Things got simple which meant that new readers had accessibility to the narrative. However, this also alienated their existing readership that felt betrayed. All that narrative investment gone as the story is wiped clean. Interestingly enough, this allowed for backstories to be retold but no drastic changes were made to the characters’ pasts. But about two decades later they wanted ¬†more universes again. And they backtracked a little while afterwards. And then another reset happened and The New 52 exists. Marvel is about to do their own continuity collision as their original world, the Ultimate line, and a few other narrative realms of existence are set to come together and blow most things up in the upcoming Secret Wars storyarc.

From a sales point, the reboot stance works because that way you get new readers who probably wouldn’t have started due to all of the history behind the character. But each time you erase the slate the prior readership feels like they just got dumped. But just because the story starts fresh it doesn’t mean that the past was erased. Those stories, if you can find them, still have some good and some horrible stories that show the serial progression of the character. Just be glad that they don’t have to work in to the current continuity all of Superman’s old powers. The times they had used super ventriloquism to solve a problem is almost absurd.

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