Tuesday, October 25, 2005


Ok, nerds, let's get nerdy.

Today I came upon this quote from a writer I once liked as a younger man, but whose "stuff" I haven't been able to stand since before his first DC tenure was over, Peter David. Let's read, shall we?

"A shared universe, like any fictional construct, hinges on suspension of disbelief. When continuity is tossed away, it tatters the construct. Undermines it."

I read it and got annoyed. [A side note here: I'm trying to write this so that I can still access it from my work computer on my off-periods. There are vulgarity filters at work. I'm finding it rather difficult.]

Let's take it apart, piece by piece.

The first statement is that fictional constructs hinge on suspension of disbelief. I call total horseshit on that. I have never, ever, ever read a comic book or seen a movie where fantastic things were happening and thought, "Hey, yeah, that could happen," or "Hey, that's not possible!" It's fiction. I don't need to believe it. I need to enjoy it or feel enlightened by it. When Wolverine shows up in eleven different books, that doesn't affect my reading of any of them (if I actually read them). Suspension of disbelief is a stupid little crutch that people fall back on when they don't like how something is being done or portrayed. Especially in superhero comics. I can't believe my eyes when I see people complain about losing their "suspension of disbelief" in a book about guys shooting lasers out of their eyes at each other. Where is that line of "Oh, this is total bull now"? It's apparently not at someone flying or breathing water. But one story contradicting another, WHOAAAA NOW! HOLD UP THERE SOLDIER! That's silly. It's some weird anal need for everything in the world to fit together neatly. It doesn't, so why should it in fiction?

Next, "When continuity is tossed away, it tatters the construct." More melodramatic bull. When continuity is tossed away, it frees writers to write stories. Green Lantern: Rebirth had a talented writer and an admirable goal. But the entire thing became so mired in making sure every little continuity point ever was addressed and placated, it became more of a terrible fan fic reference book than a story. A lot of the worst stories in mainstream comics came about from some need to address continuity. Anything with "crisis" in it not written by Grant Morrison or Gardner Fox, for instance. Marvel's X-books post Morrison for another. There may have been good stories written with heavy continuity, but they weren't good because of it, they were good in spite of it.

"It undermines it."

It just blows my mind that there are people out there for whom this is an issue. The "undermining" of the "tapestry" or whatever. It's not a real place, folks. It's a collection of stories. Do you need to believe in it so that you can pretend to be there? Isn't that taking "escapism" a little too far? Let writers write. If they want to tie stories into something else, that's great. If not, don't force it. You'll get a poorer story for it. And loosen up. For proponents of such escapist fare, these continuinerds get all worked up about it. Enjoy the stories you enjoy and ignore the ones you don't. But don't bring other people down because you want everything a certain way. Grow up and let go.

43 Love Letters:

Blogger alex said...

I once wrote a very brilliant treatise called "Continuity can Suck My Dick".

It changed the world.


5:16 PM

Blogger Joe Rice said...

And your weiner.


That IS the world.

5:18 PM

Blogger Kevin Church said...

Wait, then what the fuck is "We Are The World" about?

10:07 PM

Blogger Shane Bailey said...

We're all a dick?

10:48 PM

Anonymous Roel said...

While it's easy to dismiss the need for "continuity" and "the suspension of disbelief," I think it's critical for every work to apply its own inner logic and maintain it. There needs to be a consistency to the work, so that the reader and the creator have a mutual understanding of the ground rules.

Superman is allowed to shoot heat vision from his eyes. He is not, however, allowed to read people's minds like a telepath. Why? Because years of comic book continuity have established that heat vision is a real Superman power, but telepathy is not. If Superman started reading everyone's thoughts in the middle of Infinite Crisis, it would cause an uproar, and you can't justify it by saying "It's fiction. I don't need to believe it." I mean, doesn't everyone remember those moments at the end of the movie Superman II when he fought the Phantom Zone villains and started making up powers (like projecting holographic doubles, or using his chest symbol as an adhesive trap)? Didn't it interrupt your suspension of disbelief? Wasn't it detrimental to your immersion in the cathartic movie experience? In my opinion, it was, because the creators forgot to establish the proper parameters before inventing solutions ad hoc.

Yes, I agree the end goal should always be telling a good story and that continuity should be a tool used to strengthen a narrative, and not serve as the driving force. But if you do not pay attention to continuity, then the reader feels there is no need to have an emotional investment in the character because there is no weight given to each individual moment.

What I'm trying to say is this: personally, I happen to be a big fan of suspension of disbelief. If I read a book, see a movie, or read a comic -- I expect the creators to play fair. I expect them to observe the established precedents of their own inner logic. If you start telling me that Wonder Woman has been a robot all along, and Batman is not a vigilante but a recurring fiction of a delusional Bruce Wayne (and you might laugh, but they did this to an entire season of episodes for the show "Dallas" and claimed everything was a dream), then even if you think you have told an impactful story, don't expect me to be impressed by your reckless revisionism.

The makers of DC Comics are the ones who told me Superman was born on another planet, Batman is a billionaire who is a world-class martial artist and detective, and Wonder Woman is a mythical creation. Why is it unreasonable for me to hold them to some of the basics of their own created history? Why should the fact that I am reading improbable fantasy fiction be mutually exclusive with suspending my disbelief for the duration of a 22-page comic book?

I suggest you focus your anger on writers who don't know how to weave continuity into their work with imperceptible subtlety. Don't get angry at the readers who enjoy having continuity and suspending their disbelief.


11:31 PM

Blogger Joe Rice said...

I think it's critical for every work to apply its own inner logic and maintain it.

I don't think it's necessarily CRITICAL, but it is often helpful. But I stress the INNER part of it. Each story should probably be consistent with itself. I couldn't care less if it's consistent with what's going on in some other book or in another run on the same book.

If Superman started reading everyone's thoughts in the middle of Infinite Crisis, it would cause an uproar, and you can't justify it by saying "It's fiction. I don't need to believe it." I mean, doesn't everyone remember those moments at the end of the movie Superman II when he fought the Phantom Zone villains and started making up powers (like projecting holographic doubles, or using his chest symbol as an adhesive trap)? Didn't it interrupt your suspension of disbelief? Wasn't it detrimental to your immersion in the cathartic movie experience?

Maybe I expect less logic out of a superpower comic. If the writer has a way to explain the sudden telepathy, it's fine with me. If he doesn't, he's probably not a good writer anyway. Like in Superman II, it wasn't the new powers that took me out of some emotional experience, it was a bad movie.

But if you do not pay attention to continuity, then the reader feels there is no need to have an emotional investment in the character because there is no weight given to each individual moment.

Many adventure stories don't require emotional investment. That's not what they're there for. But, yes, some do. But a well-written character can overcome "inconsistencies" in a "shared tapestry." Al Pratt wasn't "in continuity" in Golden Age, but I still felt for the guy. Nerds (and insane wives of artists) howl about Magneto's treatment by Morrison, but I saw an interesting character.

then even if you think you have told an impactful story, don't expect me to be impressed by your reckless revisionism.

"Reckless revisionism"? If it's a good story, that's all that should matter. Who gives a crap if it matches up with every other crap story someone wrote about that character? I'd rather read a good story where Batman is a figment of Bruce's imagination than another crap one where he is just like he always is.

Why should the fact that I am reading improbable fantasy fiction be mutually exclusive with suspending my disbelief for the duration of a 22-page comic book?

Because no one asks "real books" to "suspend their disbelief." No one wrote nasty letters to Joyce or O'Connor or Murakami or Lethem (though they soon will, sadly) complaining that their suspension of disbelief was shattered by some false move. Readers should read to appreciate art and craft and emotion, not how everything matches together.

I suggest you focus your anger on writers who don't know how to weave continuity into their work with imperceptible subtlety. Don't get angry at the readers who enjoy having continuity and suspending their disbelief.

They're the same people. Those fan-writers that grow up and stifle the genre and kick the medium in the peetong are the same folks as the continuinerds reading at home.

5:39 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, no, no, I LIKED that Superman just started pulling powers out of his ass in Superman II! I didn't care if the filmmakers established any parameters, because it worked for me. Sound crazy to you, roel? Hey, it was just a movie, man...I might remind you that there was once a time in Superman comics when he had SUPER-VENTRILOQUISM and a SUPER DOG FROM KRYPTON WHO WORE A CAPE, and readers loved it. L-O-V-E-D it! So what do you say to that? No suspension of disbelief problems there, not for anyone who made it through the door in the first place that superhero comics have an inner logic I don't dispute, but I think I disagree with you about what it is. Because forget super-ventriloquism, consider Morrison's JLA where Aquaman can suddenly give people strokes just by grimacing at them (cool!), consider the Flash and the bullshit Speed Force "explanation" for his powers (stupid!), consider if you will that Superman started his career out by jumping over tall buildings but that suddenly one day he could fly (awesome!), and for NO GOOD REASON except that, what the hell, who cares, let's have him fly. The logic that matters here isn't the pattern of continuity, but simply the logic of beauty vs. ugliness, Cool vs. Uncool: cool can use continuity to do whatever it wants, but continuity in the hands of uncoolness is death, death, death, and it's silly to say it isn't. For myself, I don't expect comic book writers and artists to "play fair" in the way you're describing here, at all; I can develop an emotional investment in a character very easily without any recourse to continuity, and in fact I prefer it that way. Also I've gotta take issue with your assertion that telling a good story is the "end goal"; obviously it isn't the end goal at all but rather THE WHOLE REASON, and to lose sight of that is to risk tolerating needlessly shitty stories on the grounds that they handled their continuity-tools well. But so what if they did? I think Joe's right to focus his anger on obsessional continuity hounds this way, and I too think "suspension of disbelief" is a shuck, just an empty formula that tries to excuse a preference for crap. Because is there anything more annoying than seeing someone dismiss a good piece of work because it failed to fall in line with what everyone else was doing, thereby shattering this precious suspension? Personally, I love to see "uproar" among fans of junk like Infinite Crisis, it makes me titter. No offence meant. But it makes me titter like you wouldn't believe.

Many thanks for the vision of Delusional Bruce Wayne as a character in Dallas, though! I'll always be grateful to you for that.

6:16 AM

Blogger alex said...

I always just assumed that Superman could do crazy shit in the Fortress of Solitude. As a six year old, I just left it at that, and it worked.

The Fortress of Solitude had hidden traps n' shit. Like Holograms and bottomless pits. Har! That was an awesome scene.

And I disgaree that the movie was simply BAD. It varied between AWESOME and HORRIBLE.

The good bits ruled, and the bad bits are hard to watch.


6:36 AM

Blogger Paul said...

Expanding cellophane chest emblems fucking rule. And anybody who says they don't is a heartless goddamned pod person who should be dragged out into the street and stoned until dead.

No offense.

11:17 AM

Anonymous said...

I think there's a significant difference between suspension of disbelief and adherence to continuity. Suspension of disbelief doesn't mean that you actually believe that something could happen in your real world. It means that the story is engaging enough that part of your brain forgets that you're reading/watching/whatever, and the medium becomes transparent. You're not sitting in a theater watching Christopher Reeve traipse around in his pajamas, you're watching the story of Superman. It's a necessary component of any kind of fiction. A contradiction of the "inner logic" of the fictional world breaks that spell because it reminds you of the presence of a third party: the creator.

For obsessive continuity hounds, the effect of a continuity error is the same as the broken suspension of disbelief - they're forced to consider a perceived error on the part of the creator, and this forces them out of the world of the story. I'm not saying this is a good thing. I guess it's sort of a slippery slope.

There's a middle ground that creators and readers should strive for. Creators shouldn't just make Superman rip off his "S" and use it as a floating prison thing, but fans shouldn't hold creators to ridiculous continuity standards that make it impossible for them to come up with an entertaining story. It's a matter of the fans changing their rigid mindset and creators (and editors) doing a little research to insure that they're not blatantly contradicting something.

11:30 AM

Blogger Paul said...

You're right about the definition of "suspension of disbelief," Pickytarian, but wrong about everything else and you ought to be the first one stoned, no-offense-none-taken.

The creator should be serving the art, not some whiny segment of potential the audience.

"What's going to make this the best story it can be?"

If it just so happens that he or she feels that's whipping a giant piece of yellow and red shrink wrap at a badguy, then so be it. He/she may be wrong. If nerds want to waste their time getting vocal on how it doesn't fit with the last 30 years, seems like they don't actually care about the art, they care about details.

Creators shouldn't be doing what they do to make the fans happy. That's not what art's about. It's about getting what's inside your head and your heart...out. Because leaving it in there can be bad for you.

Does this element serve the story or hinder it? That's the only question that matters. It doesn't have to fit with what others have done because that's not the goal.

1:32 PM

Blogger Paul said...

The "tapestry" metaphor for super-hero universes is a bad one, I think. That implies that the creators set out to make a "universe" when that was not the case. Until about 20 years ago, all they were trying to do was to tell great stories individually.

So then the corporate dudes decided that everything they published the last 30 years didn't make enough sense, forgetting that most of the power of myth comes from it's unreality.

So now, if corporate doesn't want to publish your super-gladwrap story, it's certainly their prerogative. But art is made by artists, not businessmen. That's why the "tapestry" of the last 20 years resembles more the collages I used to make in the third grade. IE, it's fucking ugly and it was made to serve other people's purposes. And it would probably earn a C- at best.

Sounds like Infinite Crisis wants to address all this for the DCU, so who knows? Gauging the talent of those involved, I have my doubts. Morrison can't carry them all. A collaborative effort at making an actual tapestry (instead of a collage) will probably result in some parts of it looking awesome, some looking decent, and some looking awful.

1:38 PM

Anonymous f. chong rutherford said...

This is a wierd argument all around. Like Superman II, the reason that Superman has all these wierd powers in the movie has nothing to do with art--it's because the business people producing the movie wanted to get it out quickly and didn't want to pay the original director (Richard Donner) for his work. The director that was hired to replace Richard Donner thought that Superheroes were stupid, didn't know much about Superman, and made a movie accordingly (mostly in editing, there were a few scenes that he filmed). Plus, Superman II is full of product placement; there's SO many ads for Coca Cola and Marlboro that it makes you want to stay up all night on a caffine and nicotine high. Terrence Stamp as Zod is what makes the film, and a lot of the best Zod scenes were already filmed before the new director came in. blah blah blah. Superman II is terrible, and is an example of business interests taking art away from someone with vision. And not Great Wall of China vision, either!

But really, who cares about how some Time Warner subsidiary protects its licensing interests? That's about as interesting as, um, something not very interesting at all.

2:02 PM

Blogger Paul said...

Yeah, the movie pretty much sucked and the weird powers at the end never worked for me at all until I read the anonymous guy's comments up there. And I imagine that they still wouldn't work in the context of that movie.

But that's not what we're talking about, FRED!!!!!!

Just a bad example I continued to roll with because I suddenly became enamored with the idea. I REALLY want Grant's All-Star book to have cellophane chest emblems now.

2:38 PM

Anonymous Roel said...

Ummm… this is a surprisingly thorough discussion for a thread that started with a bunch of dick jokes…

For the record (and I’m sorta ashamed to admit this), actually does a much better job of articulating my thoughts than I did. A part of me would like to think that I helped in the process by getting the ball rolling so that he could build off my foundation. Yes, I know that’s a mixed metaphor. What can I tell you, I’m an idiot.

I’m not sure how to express myself at this point without sounding either defensive or “continuity-freakish” (that’s a real word, right? I mean, I hyphenated it and all.) I guess I just want internal logic in my stories. I am willing to swallow any improbable scenario you can propose, but it will upset me if you start contradicting yourself without any good reason.

I have always been a big believer in suspension of disbelief. So maybe that’s my own flaw and it makes me a less discerning consumer than other comic readers. Or something. But when I read my stories, I want to get caught up in them and immersed in them during the time I’m reading. I don’t want to sit there saying “What the fuck? That doesn’t make any sense! Why is Wonder Woman suddenly a cannibal?” I mean, sure, it would be fun to watch her eating another living creature, but it would be strange and I would have cognitive dissonance trying to justify the behavior.

Do you know why it was okay that Superman had super-ventriloquism and Krypto the Super-Dog in the 50’s? Because those were the established ground rules of the time, and everyone was playing fair. People understood the proper tone of the stories being told. Trust me – I love absurd shit as much as the next person. Probably more.

Writers making things up out of whole cloth seems too much to me like replacement directors taking over for Richard Donner and not giving a flying fuck about the source material, not respecting the genre. Robert Frost once said that “writing free verse is like playing tennis without a net.” I sorta feel that way about continuity. Writing stories without paying notice to the established character history becomes an exercise in Elseworlds or What If? stories where you can just make shit up.

I know that Emerson said “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” and Whitman added “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes,” but I can’t help myself. I like consistency in my writing and I hate contradiction in my storytelling. It feels sloppy. I mean, go ahead and write a great comic story. But why can’t it be in agreement with the comic stories that preceded it? Is that an unreasonable request?

It bugged me that Hal Jordan was written as a guy who would murder an entire city. It bugged me that Ben Reilly was the real Spider-Man and Peter Parker was a clone. These seemed like arbitrary changes, completely out of character with what had gone on before. It didn’t matter to me whether the stories were good or bad. I disliked them on the general principle that the premise made me balk even before I could read the narrative.

Look, what I’m really trying to say is: I can quote Robert Frost, Ralph Waldo Emerson, AND Walt Whitman. All in the same post. While mentioning Wonder Woman's hunger for human organs. And that, my friends, is almost as cool as a good dick-joke.

I know I’m wrong, but I like to whine,

2:48 PM

Blogger Joe Rice said...

I don't know if you're completely wrong, Roel. I think it depends on your definition of "internal consistency." For me, it's "this very story." If Jimmy Lugo is writing a Superman story, I want it to be consistent with itself. If Jimmy wants it to be consistent with Bryan Polanco's Superman story, that's great. If he doesn't, I don't want Jimmy forced to hold to Bryan's fiction.

I think keeping your own story consistent is a case of good writing. I think keeping it consistent with every jackass who ever wrote a story about the same character is madness.

3:00 PM

Blogger Joe Rice said...

Also, we like to be very thorough (Thereau?) about our penis jokes at this site.

3:00 PM

Anonymous Andrew Weiss said...

Continuity is like MSG. A small dose can add some extra "oomph". Too much will induce headaches and vomiting in the consumer.

Continuity is a means to an end. It should never ever be an end in and of itself. I remember Mike W. Barr getting lambasted by readers in the Batman and the Outsiders letter column because he had the unmitigated gall to state that he did not feel obligated to acknowledge some 70's Brave and the Bold stories when writing his version of Batman. Barr was right. (Unless his version of Batman was a Romanian cyborg that shot poison darts from his left eye, then it's a toss up.)

3:08 PM

Blogger Paul said...

We had a very similar conversation to this one many years ago, only in that one, Batman was a transvestite robot. I'm still waiting for the GOOD Transvestite Robot Batman story to come out and prove our case.

I may just have to write it myself.

3:13 PM

Anonymous said...

I didn't mean to come off as a defender of continuity, Paul. In fact (shameless self-promotion time) I posted a screed against it a few weeks ago on my own blog.

For what it's worth, I think your Transvestite Robot Batman story sounds awesome. "Everything you've ever known about Batman is wrong! But not as wrong as this..."

4:24 PM

Blogger Paul said...

Well, having read that, I kind of wish I hadn't had you stoned to death.

It was much better than Joe's piece.

Joe sucks at writing.

5:03 PM

Anonymous f. chong rutherford said...

Stoning to death is pretty much always a "boooooo!" kind of moment, isn't it?

I think I understand the topic now, which is about whether stories have to agree with one another, and that is obviously, "no." But when you're sharing toys, isn't it good form to share nice?

With DC and their characters, though, nobody is sharing toys--they're using DC's toys to make product (or Marvel, or Darkhorse, doesn't matter).

I think you guys are all right, and for some reason it makes me think about my nephews. If I told them a story, it had better make sense with other chapters I had told them otherwise TROUBLE and the accusations would begin. "That wasn't what happened last tie-- the giant squid was on the ROCKET not the BUILDING and nobody was eating it!" But I think this isn't what you guys are talking about, right--you're talking about internal logic.

That's the problem with a lot of those licensing properties--the stories being told are rarely going to be original--they're either a sequel, the next chapter of a longer story, or a revamp of an older story. It's really really rare (it seems to me) to read a new story in the licensing comics if you're an old fan of them--but if you're new to them, all the stories are new. That's what makes a writer like Grant Morrison special, since he seems to STILL be inventing things for these characters to do.

I dunno, it's all good--just som I'm clear that Paul was ONLY talking about how he LOVES Superman II so much he wants to marry it.

5:58 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It would be fun to watch her eating another living creature?

...Now listen, young roel, you've got a couple things mixed up here. You're trying to make everything one thing, and it isn't. Don't like murderous Hal Jordan or dumbass Ben Reilly? Good for you, but inattention to continuity is NOT what made them happen, because attention to continuity is not what keeps a character pure in the first place. Somebody wrote somewhere that the only continuity that matters is that Superman is a strange visitor from another planet who came to Earth with powers far beyond those of mortal men, and that anything else could suck his (the writer's) may take from this that Superman being that strange visitor is a matter of long-established continuity, but I take from it that Superman being a strange visitor is a matter of THE CONCEPT OF SUPERMAN EXISTING IN THE FIRST PLACE, and nothing to do with whatever in-house continuity has sprung up since his creation, or (more accurately) whatever in-house continuity has been retconned into existence in the past few years. Superman is simple, see. He's just Superman. That's who he is. Just like Peter Parker is a kid who got bit by a radioactive spider and then failed to stop his uncle from getting shot, and that's all you need to know. Everything else is an elaboration on that simple character fact, which is why the very very first clone story in the Seventies was fine, but everything after that just flew in the face of what Peter Parker's character is supposed to be. As for Hal Jordan, oh for the days of the Imaginary Story! "*choke* Coast City...gone..." And yet even in an Imaginary Story no one would have dreamt of making Green Lantern EVIL, because that's just wrong. So what is it with these bullshit Elseworlds, that know no decency in their treatment of characters, and what indeed is wrong with the mainstream DC continuity that would enshrine crap that Julie Schwartz wouldn't even have dignified by calling imaginary? Excess love of continuity for its own sake is the demon that makes these things up, because as it exists now continuity's goal is essentially schizoid: it exists to PERFECT and to RATIONALIZE, but also to ALTER and SHOCK and most importantly LIMIT at the same time, because it can't maintain its own bloated importance any other way. Which is just another way of saying that in the hands of bad writers it is being used more and more to replace and crowd out other, more important tools of storytelling. So let's be clear: internal consistency is not an offshoot of continuity, and neither is the maintenance nor even the development of established characters.

A little mixed up, like I said: for example, you tell me that Krypto and super-ventriloquism were okay because they were permitted by the "ground rules" in the Fifties, but this is only begging the question, because what are these rules and where the fuck did they come from? Who wrote 'em down? What made those the ground rules anyway? Answer: no one did, because they didn't exist, you are erroneously claiming the existence of "ground rules" for every time and place and mode of fiction because you're trying to organize a lot of very different stuff under the rubric of continuity, as some general organizing principle of mind or implicit contract between writer and reader. But it just ain't so; Krypto and super-ventriloquism were perfectly tolerable in the Fifties for the simple reason that people didn't give a damn about nitpicky shit like that back then, and Superman was (correctly) seen as the type of juvenilia where plot and factual consistency mattered less than fantastic charm. Anything from Krypton was "super" by definition back then, it wasn't that the creators and audience had an understanding between them that "this is okay, FOR NOW", it was that they DIDN'T GIVE A SHIT IF EVERYTHING MADE SENSE OR NOT. Superman has a dog, ergo he must be a super-dog with a cape. Well, why the hell not? Kids like dogs, don't they?

Paul is right about the expanding chest-emblem. Joe is right (partly by extension here, admittedly) that Dylan Thomas and James Joyce never had a "contract" with the reader that involved a set of "ground rules" that were specific to their time and place. I knew you were going to say that about the Fifties, roel, I really did...but it isn't enough to claim that people put up with crazier shit back then if you don't ask why they would, and why we (supposedly) wouldn't. And maybe we're less sophisticated in comparison with them than we think: Hey, waiter, this soup doesn't have enough MSG in it!

Delusional Bruce Wayne...Cannibal Wonder Woman...keep writing!

6:26 PM

Anonymous Roel said...

Ummm... okay...

I'm not exactly sure what I've walked into. And I'm not sure why you would choose to pick my stuff apart and stay anonymous, but that's cool. I guess sometimes I make people angry. Sorry.

Me, I kinda think stories have ground rules. And maybe I should define terms, so that we'll all be okay with it. Here's what I mean when I say ground rules between creators and consumers: every work has a different voice and tone, and the consumer must adjust his/her expectations appropriately. If I go to a Metallica concert, I expect different songs than a Branford Marsalis performance. If I go to watch a Fellini movie, I can’t complain that it’s not as silly as the Adam Sandler film I watched last week. And if I eat at McDonald’s, I shouldn’t sit there complaining that I don’t receive a gourmet meal. So that’s what I mean by the ground rules – we know what everyone is trying to accomplish, and we judge it on the merits of that specific framework. And you’re right, these rules aren’t written down. Metallica does not hand me an essay saying that their music will be loud. Fellini does not pass out a pamphlet saying, “this movie will be a little darker than Happy Gilmore.” And McDonald’s does not have a huge billboard outside their place saying “this food is really mediocre.” They all provide a specific service, and I respect that. So, you know -- “ground rules.”

When I read my 50’s Superman comics, I don’t sit there picking it apart. Because that’s what Superman comic books were like back then. They were a product of their time, and I am aware of that going in. I enjoy them a lot. Somehow, that seems fair to me.

In Joe’s original post, the one I was commenting on, he pointed out that he couldn’t understand why people get hung up on “continuity” and “suspension of disbelief.” And I was trying to say I like continuity and suspension of disbelief. It makes it easier for me to enjoy comic books. I'm pretty sure that's what I was getting at.

You wrote: “you may take from this that Superman being that strange visitor is a matter of long-established continuity, but I take from it that Superman being a strange visitor is a matter of THE CONCEPT OF SUPERMAN EXISTING IN THE FIRST PLACE, and nothing to do with whatever in-house continuity has sprung up since his creation, or (more accurately) whatever in-house continuity has been retconned into existence in the past few years. Superman is simple, see. He's just Superman. That's who he is.”

It looks like you and I may have different definitions of continuity. You don’t think Superman being a visitor from another planet is a matter of continuity. It just is. But some things that you consider essential and unchanging aren’t that way. Take all the other members of Superman’s family. For example, Superboy. Superboy used to come from another planet. He was a young Superman, who had adventures in Smallville. And then there was Supergirl, who was also a visitor from another planet. When both these characters came into being, I could have argued the fact that they came from Krypton had nothing to do with continuity. I could have said these were a matter of THE CONCEPT OF SUPERBOY AND SUPERGIRL EXISTING IN THE FIRST PLACE. (I don’t know why I would use all caps, but you did, so I guess I will respect that choice.) The thing is, it turns out that even though some facts seem fundamental and essential to a character, unchanging and unquestionable – they’re not really. They’re parts of continuity. And if you look at Superboy and Supergirl’s recent backstories, you’ll see instances where neither of them come from Krypton, one is a clone developed by Luthor and the other was a protoplasmic mass with angelic powers. Or something. I’m not exactly sure.

So, I’m going to define my terms again. To me, continuity means what happened in the past is relevant to the present and the future. I mean, is that an unreasonable definition for "continuity?" If we write that Hawkman is an alien from the planet Thanagar, then okay, it’s part of THE CONCEPT OF HAWKMAN EXISTING IN THE FIRST PLACE. But sometimes it changes. And it turns out that he’s a reincarnated Egyptian warrior. And the integral parts of a character are actually subject to change.

I kinda think it’s impossible to say that characterization is completely independent of continuity, or that some things are fundamentally solid and not subject to change because they are basic parts of existence, while other parts are loose bits of convenience. It doesn’t feel that way to me. Looking at characters like Superboy, Supergirl, Hawkman, etc. – I think continuity can influence everything.

If I understand you correctly (and I'm not presuming I do) you don’t think there are “ground rules” and you don’t think parts of characters are subject to “continuity” and that I’m mixed up. Okay. But I think that there are unspoken ground rules (Yes, even in James Joyce and Dylan Thomas. For example, when I read Ulysses, I can’t expect it to be as easy as Chicken Soup For The Soul. And when I read Dylan Thomas, I can’t expect his rhymes to be as topical as Snoop Dogg. That’s my understood contract with the work. To judge it on its own terms.) And I also think that every part of the character is subject to continuity. I believe that Superman’s alien origin just happens to be a piece of continuity the editors are happy with.

I know you think I'm confused and I have no idea what I'm talking about and that I discussing concepts like "ground rules and continuity" with blind ignorance. And I admit, that happens a lot. Definitely. But in this case, I kinda feel like I actually understand the basic discussion, and I just happen to disagree with Joe on some points.

If my viewpoints don’t make sense to you, don’t get too worked up about it. It’s just one stupid dude’s approach to reading his own comics, you know? I’ve got reasons for feeling the way I do, and you have reasons for feeling the way you do. It’s cool. Okay?

With all due respect,

12:58 AM

Anonymous markus said...

Despite the fact that I hate continuity and could well do without, I have to go with Roel on this one.
Allow me to try a slightly different take:
A certain degree of continuity is essential to reap the benefits of serial storytelling. The benefits are that you can introduce themes and explore ideas over a longer time, foreshadow stuff etc. A single graphic novel or 12 issue miniseries can do that too, but only to a much more limited extent.
Classic instances here are Spiderman vs. Green Goblin and Batman vs. Joker, both pairing being coloured by the deaths of Gwen Stacy and Jason Todd (plus Barbara Gordon's fate) respectively. Sure you could do flashbacks or introduce it in an aside or interior monologue, but it doesn't carry the same weight that way (for most authors most of the time).
In addition, continuity is also about adding building blocks to the core concept everyone gets to play with, which in many cases will be a good thing.
Also, Marvel and DC enter into a contract with the reader which more or less explicitly includes continutiy, simply by sequential number of stories (that are not stand-alone). You can see this very clearly in e.g. Marvel's Ultimate line, where no one of sane mind complains that it is not in keeping with what has gone on in regular continuity. Similarly, the Elseworlds or What If... stories are by agreement outside continuity and yet you don't see readers flocking to them in droves. (You also don't see better quality, which kind of shows that it's wrong to assume writers would tell better stories if only they were freed of the shackles of continuity).

Ultimately, I submit your beef is not with continuity, but with having to share your hobby with anal-retentive fans. I submit that everyone reading a serial work expects some respect for events of the past (e.g. people not being alive or dead depending on who is writing the book or major events that modified the character of the protagonist) and no one outside obsessive freaks worries about contradicting a minor 2-panel exchange from 10 years ago. And if you look at the offerings of the big two, you'll IMHO find that they hew pretty closely to that line, with a certain degree of variation around the mean, which in turn at times includes extreme outliers in either direction.

2:52 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to answer this.

Roel, you sound hurt. Don't be. And don't sound as if you do, it makes me feel guilty, and when I get guilty it makes me pissed off. I may be Anonymous and talk in ALL CAPS, but I'm not worked up; it's just that I disagree with your point of view A LOT, so are you okay with that? And no, I don't think you're stupid and I don't think you're ignorant, because ultimately you're just some faceless string of type on the internet, and so am I.

And I think we should see other people.

You've restated your own point of view about continuity nicely in this last post, and you've put across the idea that I've offended you quite effectively too, but IMHO that's all you've done. If I've been obnoxious then I apologize, but the fact remains that you haven't refuted a damn thing I said. Oh, you've disagreed with me, and that's fine. I can disagree too. I still don't buy your idea of "ground rules" at all, and I don't see why I should; by all means, assume a contract of intelligibility between yourself and what you read or eat or buy, that is your own business, but you're going to have to take my word for it that such contracts as you describe matter nothing to me. Hey, the way I read things seems fair to me as well; I am just a stupid dude reading his own comics as well. You don't have a monopoly on that particular nerdiness. And for the record, "roel" is just as anonymous a name as "Anonymous" is, and I also feel I've walked into something. So keep the meaninglessly-changing histories of your new Supergirl/Hawkman/Superboy if you like, I will never try to deny them to you, but I think they're dumb. That's just how I am. Regardless, I shall always think of you as a dear, dear friend, and I hope you will be happy for me.

As for you, Marcus, I have only one thing to say, which is that not seeing better quality in What Ifs or Elseworlds does NOT NOT NOT prove that "it's wrong to assume writers would tell better stories if only they were freed from the shackles of continuity"! My God, what an assertion! There are probably a million ways to go into the fallaciousness of that statement, but I've been stung enough by roel today, so please excuse me, all you bloggers please pardon me, I am going to go off and eat worms.

7:43 AM

Anonymous Roel said...

Dear Anonymous,

Cool. I guess the problem with electronic communication is that it’s impossible to determine someone’s general tone through inflections like gesture, body language, or vocal inflections. I wrote my last post trying to calm things down because I thought you were angry, which it turns out you’re not. I hate making people angry, and I was just trying to pacify things. I am so non-confrontational to the point that I will often sabotage my own arguments, which is why I signed off my previous message “I know I’m wrong but I like to whine.”

Now you’re writing a post because you think I’m hurt, which I’m not. And apparently you hate hurting people’s feelings so much that it makes you feel guilty and you get pissed off.

So, I read you wrong and I felt bad about it. And you read me wrong and you felt bad about it. And it looks like all the guilt on both sides is unnecessary.

The reason I was curious that you signed your post Anonymous was that I couldn’t tell if you were someone who was already mad at me for some other stupid thing I said in the past. I guess not, because a) you weren’t even mad and b) you have no idea who I am. But that’s why I asked.

I don’t mean to hijack this thread too much, because this is Joe’s site and the discussion is about continuity and suspension of disbelief, not about me and Anonymous working out our misunderstandings. So I’ll just take a moment to point out why I got confused over the tone of his last post:

I’m definitely fine with disagreements in viewpoint (which is why I disagreed with Joe in the first place) but when you wrote: “...Now listen, young roel, you've got a couple things mixed up here. You're trying to make everything one thing, and it isn't” it made it seem not like we had different takes on the issue, but that you were telling me I did not understand the issue at all. And I was trying to explain that I felt like I had a grasp of the discussion. So that you wouldn’t be mad at my ignorance. And when you signed off “Delusional Bruce Wayne...Cannibal Wonder Woman...keep writing!” made me feel like your intelligence was being insulted. And I wasn’t trying to insult anyone’s intelligence.

Like I said, I’m not hurt so please don’t feel guilty (and, transitively, pissed off.) And I’m glad to hear that you’re not angry (but, you might want to tone down the all caps thing, because I read that as anger and I couldn’t figure out why you were so mad just because I liked to suspend my disbelief…)

I’m sure everyone else who is reading this thread can’t believe how much time and effort has just been spent trying to work out whether Roel and Anonymous are hurt or angry at each other…

It’s cool. Nothing to see here. Move along. We now return you to your regularly programmed comic book discussion.

12:03 PM

Blogger Paul said...

You two are a couple of real weirdies.

3:01 PM

Anonymous Roel said...

Guilty as charged.

3:27 PM

Anonymous Andrew Weiss said...

Does anyone have a ship date for "All Star Transvestite Robot Batman" yet?

4:56 PM

Blogger Spencer Carnage said...

Its like the Comics Journal in here without all the big words!

3:15 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, but who's Dave, and who's Gary?

Oh Christ, we're both Dave, aren't we. Fuck. There goes my dream.

"Cannibal Wonder Woman" has real possibilities, imagine the contests on Themyscira: "And determine who will be the emissary to Man's World...whichever one of you EATS the other will receive this golden lasso! Let us bring our peace to them!"

8:31 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Good job on the hurdles, the rest of you!"

8:33 AM

Blogger MacQuarrie said...

Hate to be the one to point out the obvious (I lie; actually I love it), but Superman did not create holographic projections of himself in Superman II; he used a gimmick that has been standard fare in Superman and Flash comics since the early 1960s.

Superman moved at super-speed from one spot to another, pausing at each spot for at least 1/10th second, (the minimum time required for presistence of vision to register his presence), thereby creating an illusion of himself in multiple locations.

Don't know what to tell you about the chest emblem thing, or Zod's telekinetic finger, or the little kid in Idaho with the heavy english accent...

10:11 AM

Anonymous Roel said...

I really should stay away from this thread, because, you know, I stir things up. But I do want to say that Superman was not moving at super-speed. If he was, Zod and his cohorts would have realized it because they are Kryptonians and can actually register information moving that quickly. If Kryptonians and The Flash couldn't adapt their sensory perceptions to super-speed, they would all run headfirst into buildings and mountainsides on a regular basis.

The script itself indicates that these are holographic projections because Lois says something along the lines of "this one must be the real one." So the screenwriter was not indicating that they were all real but moving quickly, but that only one of them was real and that the others were holographs.

(Joe should never start another post with the opening line "Ok, nerds, let's get nerdy" because apparently I see this as a call to action...)

2:02 AM

Blogger MacQuarrie said...

I didn't say it made sense...

7:47 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

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1:30 AM

Blogger Paul said...

Buddy, there's no "might" about it!

11:54 AM

Blogger Ed Cunard said...

Canine urinary tract infections put the "cuti" in "cutie."


2:55 PM

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1:22 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Because no one asks "real books" to "suspend their disbelief." No one wrote nasty letters to Joyce or O'ConnorAC or Murakami or Lethem (though they soon will, sadly) complaining that their suspension of disbelief was shattered by some false move."

They don't? The concept of "willing suspension of disbelief" doesn't come from fanboys, it comes from Samuel Taylor Coleridge, about two hundred years ago.

You don't think that if Murakami dropped something into a novel that made no freaking sense, that wouldn't be called a gaping flaw in the book?

If Murakami spends chapters putting a protagonist in some difficult situation, the reader is not going to appreciate it if the protagonist gets out of trouble through some deus ex machina saving the day.

If, in the middle of Moby Dick, Queequeg had whipped out a magic whale-finding compass and explosive whale-homing torpedos, would Moby Dick be as respected? No, it'd have long since been forgotten. Despite the kickass scenes of exploding whale.

There's also a very long-standing dramatic principle that, if a gun is going to be used in the third act, it better have showed up in the first.

Another way of putting it is that Superman better not pull out the saran wrap in the movie's climax if the saran wrap wasn't set up beforehand as existing.

Heck, what do you think James Bond's visits with Q were all about, anyway?

There's a place for stories where anything can happen and there are no rules. For example, Bugs Bunny cartoons, where it makes sense for him to suddenly be able to do magic by saying "abracapocus".

But for the most part, when a writer does something so out of place that it violates the willing suspension of disbelief for the story, that's just plain bad writing. Or film-making.

The desire to show neato scenes is no excuse, because a better written work could include the scenes without violating WSOD.

1:06 PM

Blogger Joe Rice said...

Well, Anonymous, we're not talking about Leopold Bloom all the sudden sprouting wings and never having them again.

We're talking a world where anything CAN happen, clearly. Men fly, shoot lasers, and go back in time and shit. And so the details of his marital life lead you "not believe" it?

That's the bullshit there.

6:33 PM

Anonymous Jeff said...

"Grow up and let go"
This suggestion is offered alot for people who want their stories to take place in a shared universe and for that shared universe to make sense. This suggestion is also almost always given out by people who write blogs about pop culture and comicbooks and spend their times posting on forums. Does anyone else see the problem with one type of fan, who obviously spends alot more time than me worrying about the state superhero comicbooks, criticzing fans like me for seeing any particular Spider Man storyline as either good or bad on its own merits and then judging how it fights into the bigger story of the Marvel Universe.

9:55 PM


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