Continuity is King — the King is Dead! All Hail the King!


Fans of created universes (*Star Wars*, *Star Trek*, the World of Darkness, *Forgotten Realms*, etc., etc.) love continuity, those thousands of details and “historical” events that convince readers/watchers/players that the world has internal *consistency*, a hallmark for being “real.”

But for creators, continuity can become a shackle. Certainly, it initially provides for the type of limits — the enclosed box — that can spur creative solutions. Alan Moore, for instance, is renowned for his ability to reinvent characters without rewriting old continuity, such as he did with *Swamp Thing*: he peels back layers of realization, showing that the new version was always there, waiting for its cue. Geoff Johns did the same when he brought back Hal Jordan in *Green Lantern*, brilliantly re-envisioning the sad Parallax affair in such a way that it opened up whole new vistas of metaphysics for the title. But still… continuity that gets too tight, too specific, can restrict creativity, especially if the editorial department isn’t willing to let creatives do the sort of radical Moore-ian or Johns-ian twists that can reinvigorate tired, stale old storylines.

All that preamble is to say: Let’s talk about *Star Wars: the Force Awakens*. The new owners have thrown out years of continuity-based stories that appeared in comics, novels, and video games. Why? Because the new filmmakers didn’t want to tell those stories. They had their own. And, especially in the case of Star Wars, the movies are the central core, with all other media subservient to its imperial dictates.

The sort of continuity “reboot” has happened many times in comics, with the DC’s ’80s *Crisis on Infinite Earths* perhaps being the first full-scale universe reboot (rather than individual title reboot). Later, we saw Marvel introduce separate universes (the New Universe, and then the Ultimates) rather than break up their core continuity. But now *Battleworlds* and *Secret Wars II* have torn all that up, just as DC’s the New 52 and then *Convergence* rewrote the DC universe (again).

I’ve had some experience with this, when we ended the “classic” World of Darkness in the mid-‘00s and introduced newly visioned takes on modern-day vampires, werewolves, and wizards. We learned the same lesson I know the comics guys learned (despite their continuing to bust up their worlds): Every crack in continuity splits the fanbase. Some people stay with the original, even if it means no longer buying new products, and some buy into the new stuff. (This same splitting happens with new RPG editions, even if the continuity change is merely an advance of the “metaplot”.)

All the benefits of continuity — a shared, sprawling universe in which all stories are facets of the universe’s single story, growing the fanbase with each new spinoff — are belied by the raw fact of continuity’s lifecycle: Creators will one day have to tear it all down, and with it might go the fanbase that ensured its success.

Fans come to love certain characters, places, plots. When they’re taken away, it leaves an empty place, a void. Of course they get angry, now that they have to confront death, a reminder of their own mortality. All things must pass. *It’s not fair — I read to escape such hard realities*!

So, fans: Use these lessons, these little deaths, as esoteric gifts, invitations to rehearse your own eventual ultimate letting go. Things come, things go, and then come again.

You’ll fall in love again. Some day there will be a new property (who knows? it might be the reboot of the old property!) that will grab you and suck you in, soaking you in all sorts of spinoff tales: movies, books, comics, games.

And then, it too will pass. And another will rise to take its place. Continuity is fleeting. Creativity is forever, universes without end.

Go Set a Rorschach


A recent twitter thread examining the public reception about Rorschach vs. author intent got me thinking about Watchmen again. When the movie came out, I went to a local comic book club meeting about the classic graphic novel. I was the oldest there; everybody else was roughly college age. It struck me that the whole giant subtext (or is it surface text?) about the Bomb was largely lost on them. That is, the pirate comic – Tales of the Black Freighter – as a metaphor for the fear of nuclear annihilation that was so prevalent during the Cold War, especially during Alan Moore’s childhood (the “duck and cover” years, even in Britain). It’s not about nuclear annihilation itself but about what the fear of it does to us. We (the poor shipwreck survivor, that is) will do terrible things to avert the object of our fear, even if it means enacting the very horrors we think the object of our fear threatens to deliver upon us.

Watchmen is a multi-level work, of course, but I think understanding the Bomb and its omnipresence during the Cold War is the master key to really unlocking the work, and not just because Doctor Manhattan is a walking representative of the nuclear program. While superheroes predate the Bomb, they really take off as a genre in the early-60s, when the Cold War is at full rev. The so-called Silver Age is actually the Post-Bomb Age, as attested to by all the heroes who gain their powers from the wayward atom. Moore clearly sees superheroes as being complicit in the whole Cold War scam. If they’re not always crewmembers of the Black Freighter, they’re at least patsies for the establishment’s war engine.

There’s a lot to be said here, and I don’t have time to fully work this all out. But:

* Ozymandias’ alien arrives in the form of a bomb, one turned on the American people.

* Rorschach, the one who resists the New World Order, is vaporized, just like as if he’d been at ground zero for the Bomb. The message is that only those who embrace the logic of nuclear superiority will survive.

In the end, none of us are free. We’re enslaved to the logic of the Bomb, the atomic clockwork. The less human Doctor Manhattan becomes, the less free he is, seeing all of time – and all our choices — as already having happened.

Watchmen is justly lauded for its formal complexity, but I suspect that one of the reasons its rings a bell with the literary establishment is this pessimistic outcome, so contrary to the usual message of heroism and derring-do that superheroes are supposed to deliver. Nihilism and exhausted outcomes are considered “realism” to modernist stories. This is, I suspect, another unexamined legacy of the Bomb.