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The Three Cs of Comic Books

Continuity, Consistency and Confusion: How it relates to new readers

By Chad Derdowski     January 27, 2010
Source: Mania


Comicscape: The Three Cs of Comic Books
© Mania

Ever try to explain the history of one of your favorite superheroes to an interested co-worker or friend who happens to be a casual fan in an attempt to introduce them to the wonderful world of comic books? It’s not always that easy is it? Sure, when you’re just dealing with the icons like Superman or Batman there’s a general knowledge that seems to be pre-programmed into every American but once you start scratching the surface, it gets a little nutty. Even a character like Superman comes with his own brand of confusion – is he the last survivor of Krypton? Or one of many? Is Clark Kent the disguise or Superman? Are you going by the traditional origin story, the John Byrne revamp, Birthright or current continuity? And for that matter, just what the hell is current continuity anyway? It’s been a mess since Infinite Crisis and we won’t get a clear answer until Secret Origin wraps up… and even then, it’s anybody’s guess. Today’s Comicscape takes a look at the challenges of introducing new readers to the fold and some of the odder retcons and revamps.

 

The Big Guns

Okay, we’ll get these guys out of the way first. For the most part, the truly popular heroes are easy to explain. Last Son of Krypton, bit by a radioactive spider, billionaire son of murdered parents and all that. Even when their origins change, they generally stay the same for the most part. But what about when you’ve got that casual fan who picks up a few Superman trades on Amazon or at the local bookstore?

Well these older ones say that he operated under the name Superboy but these other ones say that he didn’t take up the hero business until moving to Metropolis!”

Yeah, that’s because of the Crisis. Some of the stuff you bought is Pre-Crisis and other stuff is Post.

What’s the Crisis? Is that like Infinite Crisis? I’ve heard of that.”

No, that’s the second Crisis. The third if you count Identity Crisis. The first one was the Crisis on Infinite Earths and … see, there used to be a multiverse in DC comics. That’s because some characters like the Flash and Green Lantern got revamped with all-new identities while others, like Superman and Batman, stayed the same. So they came up with this whole alternate reality thing where these other heroes existed in the 1940’s and…

Okay, but what’s the Crisis?”

Well the Crisis on Infinite Earths was an attempt to clean house and appeal to new readers by erasing all of their old history and starting over fresh. They got rid of some of the cornier ideas, merged everything into one earth and just kind of made an attempt to make everything a lot cooler. The only problem was that they didn’t really have a fully realized game plan before they did it and they kind of half-assed it by not really starting over fresh but by sort of coming into everything in the middle. Anyway, when they revamped it, Superman no longer operated under the guise of Superboy and there’s no Supergirl and he’s the only survivor of Krypton; but in Pre-Crisis continuity, he did and he had a dog and…

Superman had a dog?”

Yeah, it was a dog from Krypton and he flew around with a little cape and had all the same powers.

That’s f***ing retarded.”

Well yeah, kind of but it was quaint and they brought Krypto back a few years ago and now he lives in Smallville with Superboy.

I thought you said he wasn’t Superboy. And I thought you said they got rid of all the corny ideas.”

No, there’s another Superboy and he’s a clone of Superman and Lex Luthor. He was dead for a while because of some copyright issues but now he’s back. And Krypto is really cool now! He’s funny and … well, it’s probably funnier if you’ve been reading comics for a while and remember the Pre-Crisis stuff because a lot of the jokes play off of that era.

Okay, whatever. How about Power Girl? I like her costume… she kind of seems like Supergirl though. Is there any relation?”

Sort of. See, Power Girl is the Earth-2 equivalent of Supergirl. She was Superman’s cousin and…

I thought you said they got rid of the alternate earths?”

They did, but she survived the Crisis somehow and got transplanted onto our earth so she’s like the last survivor of the history that got erased. And anyway, Infinite Crisis brought back the idea of a multiverse.

How do you survive history being erased? And if they brought back the multiverse, didn’t everything just go back to the way it was?”

No, see now there’s a multiverse but it’s not like the old multiverse. There are alternate realities but they aren’t the same ones that used to exist and a lot of Silver Age ideas are being put back in place. They haven’t really explained all of it yet, sort of like the first Crisis. Power Girl is just sort of… hey, what else did you pick up? We can get back to this discussion later.

Oh, I just got some Legion of Superheroes and Hawkman comics. I’ve got a few questions about those as well…”

 

It’s Not Just Limited To The Icons

Here’s another fun conversation we’ve had.

So what’s up with Spider-Woman? Is she just a female version of Spider-Man?”

Not really. Originally her origin said she was infused with spider venom as a little girl and later developed powers but they changed that and I guess her mother was hit with some weird DNA laser while she was in the womb. She emits pheromones and can shoot bio-electric blasts from her hands.

So she’s not really like a spider at all.”

No, not really.

So why is she called Spider Woman then?”

To protect the copyright. What else did you buy?

 

And Of Course, There’s Old Faithful

What’s up with these ads that say 2010 is the Year of Spider-Man? And is that Mary Jane in a wedding dress? I thought they were already married?”

They were, but One More Day undid all that. See, Spider-Man made a deal with the devil and … you know what, I’d rather not talk about it anymore, actually. It was our New Years’ Resolution in 2009.

And what’s this about a baby? Whose baby is that?”

Well, Pete and MJ had a baby when they were married but it’s pretty much just been ignored lately and…

I thought you said they weren’t married after that One More Day thing?”

Brand New Day, actually and yeah they aren’t married but I guess they’re bringing the baby back.

Is that sort of like Power Girl?”

Probably.

You know what? Maybe you should go read the No-Fly Zone. Kurt tends to steer clear of all this confusing stuff.

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

Showing items 1 - 10 of 36
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middlerealm 1/27/2010 5:10:30 AM

I found this highly entertaining as I too have had similar frustrating conversations, trying to explain things to people who's only interaction with comics is through the hit-or-miss movies of the last 10 or so years.

Anyways, cheers Chad, it made me chuckle out loud. And now i'm getting funny looks from my colleagues...

SarcasticCaveman 1/27/2010 5:13:25 AM

This is why I really don't understand why some people have problems with Marvel's Ultimate line...lol.  I love classic Marvel also, but talk about simplicity in reading!

wiseguy562 1/27/2010 5:29:41 AM

LOL It's called suspension of disbelief or better yet selective suspension of disbelief.

You know Chad you ask too many questions, maybe we'll send you a visitor one of these nights :)

Bit off topic, I'm pretty hyped up about this new I-Tablet that Apple is unveiling today. And one of the things that has me excited is the possibility  comic book publishers will finally have a device that makes digital  comics possible and portable at the same time. Cause unlike other digital readers this one appears that it'll have the capability of displaying the art in all its glory. mI still love the page but we do have to move forward...EXCELSIOR!!

 

cdale78 1/27/2010 5:43:23 AM

I think comics are best in a "read first and ask questions later" approach.  Almost anything can be made to sound ridiculous when you're trying to describe it in detail.  Try explaining basketball to someone that has never watched.  Two groups of five individuals run around bouncing a ball up and down and try to throw it through a round cyclinder suspended ten feet in the air.  Sounds stupid.  It's much better to watch a game then to hear someone explain it.

The first DC comic I ever read was Crisis on Infinite Earths, and while I didn't understand everything that was going on, it made me want to buy more comics and figure it out.

I think in general the only people that care about continuity are the hardcore comic book fans that have been reading comics for 20 years.  and I include myself in that category

 

jedibanner 1/27/2010 5:47:07 AM

Chad...you almost made me cry of amazement and adoration with this article.

This clearly shows how something so simple as continuity Vs Consistency (that's how I see them) is huge in the comic world right now.

OMD is the best exemple to describe this article but, the ''Crisis'' exemple works also. In the end, sometimes I think the ''big two'' forgot how the character is just as important as their history and origins.

I also love the fact that you follow your resolution Chad, no talks about Spidey because, let's face it, who cares about the character anymore.

ChadDerdowski 1/27/2010 6:19:19 AM

cdale78 - I hope you didn't misconstrue this article as a complaint.  It's really just an observation - one that I think is quite valid and hopefully got a chuckle out of you, as that was it's intent.  If I didn't absolutely love comic books, I wouldn't be writing this column every week.

I've been reading comics for over 20 years now and Crisis on Infinite Earths was an early read for me as well.  I cut my teeth on Who's Who and the Marvel Universe Handbooks... I know my continuity inside and out and back and forth (well, I get a little sketchy on the more recent stuff).  I think the vast tapestry of the DC and Marvel Universes is a beautiful thing to behold.  That being said, you gotta admit it's pretty ridiculous when you step back and look at the whole thing.  Your comments about taking a "read first and ask questions later" approach sum it all up and it's something I've tried to explain to people.  You gotta live in the NOW with superhero books.  If you think about it too much... well, you read the article.  Actually, that might be a good follow-up article for next week...

Wiseguy - Apple is unveiling the iTablet today?!!?  I make it a rule to never buy the first generation of anything, but give it a few revisions and I'll be there in line right next to you.  Love the printed page, hate the vast amount of space my comic collection is taking up.  I'm currently in the midst of selling off/giving away my collection of monthly issues and paring it down to "only trades and hardcovers" ...

everybody else - thanks for the compliments!  I'm glad I could make you guys laugh!

cdale78 1/27/2010 6:22:13 AM

I was going to save this for the Spinner Rack, but since Hulkboy brought it up.  Seems a lot of people care about Spider-Man these days.  Here are some snippets from at least four online reviews I've read in the past week, not even including the overwhelmingly positive reviews I've seen in the past few months.  Not to say that anyone is wrong for not liking it, only that I believe the detractors are becoming the minority more and more.  I could be wrong, I'm not Ben Urich

"Amazing Spider-Man" continues to be one of the best superhero comics on the Marvel shelves. And it comes out almost weekly? Amazing, indeed.

Amazing Spider-Man #619: I hereby move that Marvel re-title this comic book The Amazing Marcos Martin (Featuring Spider-Man). This is part two of Martin and writer Dan Slott’s Mysterio story.

When you put together Dan Slott, Marcos Martin, and an awesome title like "Mysterioso" into one book, can you really go wrong? The answer is a resounding "no"

But Slott's writing is elevated to a whole new level with Marcos Martin on board. Whereas Martin's lines seemed much looser for his take on Doctor Strange: The Oath, he's really tightened up his details for Spider-Man -- and it all looks great. Considering this is a story about Mysterio, Martin is such an appropriate pick for this book, as he has a real sense of showmanship that pairs well with Slott's writing -- for example, Spidey gets an entrance that looks utterly fantastic, and looks to be one of the best credits pages I have seen since at least Daredevil #600. Even little touches, such as the look in Aunt May's eyes when she has an encounter with Peter, do so much for establishing mood, emotion and just visceral angst.

Following Joe Kelly and Max Fiumara's masterful last issue with the Rhino, it's tough to imagine a team that could nail the next issue and not seem like a disappointment. But Dan Slott and Marcos Martin do deliver, with a gorgeous first issue that I think will really rev up in its sophomore chapter.

Yeah, this is the good stuff.

 


 

cdale78 1/27/2010 6:25:11 AM

chad, not at all.  I completely agree with you, I feel like a fool sometimes when I try to explain these things.  that's why I'd much rather loan them a book then try and explain it because I will make it sound completely unappealing.    

ChadDerdowski 1/27/2010 6:32:13 AM

... I was just about to get back on here and amend a statement I had made - The larger tapestry of the Marvel and DCU's aren't ridiculous when you're familiar with them and understand how it all works... but to the uninitiated, it's ridiculous and hard to comprehend.

I agree, it's often easier to simply hand someone a book and say "Just ask if you need to know anything" while I carefully decide what to mention and what to leave out...

ChadDerdowski 1/27/2010 7:07:44 AM

I seemed to have totally missed your Spider-Man comments when I logged back in.  Might as well throw my two cents out there...

You know, I think we all care about Spider-Man.  I bet that jedibanner does as well, at least a tiny bit.  For most of us, Spidey was the gateway drug that got us into comics in the first place.  I grew up watching The Electric Company, which featured Spider-Man in nearly every episode.  I'm fairly certain that this was my first exposure to the hero and I've loved him ever since.  He's the face of Marvel and kind of the face of comicdom in many ways.

But like the X-Men, he has been so mishandled over the years... I think the reason so many of us (myself included) bash Spider-Man so much is because we do love the character; but we're so upset with the way he has been presented.  And even if the end result is great, OMD and BND were perceived by many of us as such terrible ideas that it's hard to wash the taste out of your mouth. 

It's sort of like Batman and the camp stigma.  The 1960's show gave us a goofy Batman and its taken people years to realize that superheros aren't just stupid kids stuff.  After the Clone Saga (which people still haven't gotten over) and that deal with the devil, it's like Spidey just has this stigma attached to him that is hard to shake.  I don't necessarily think that anyone doesn't care about Spider-Man.  Rather, I think we probably care too much.  

But I could be totally wrong and I probably shouldn't be putting words in anyone's mouth.  

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