What a Tangled Web We Weave
Continuity – is it important?
According to the Collins Dictionary Continuity is:
“Logical sequence, cohesion, or connection
A continuous or connected whole”
Continuity is important in any kind of long form narrative fiction, it reaches the point of obsession for some comic fans.
But should it be? Is it really that vital? The longer a strip runs the more convoluted and more difficult it becomes for anyone to know what is going on.
Marvel is going the same way DC repeatedly found themselves. The company’s characters have been running so long that their histories have become overly convoluted, tying themselves in large knots over small events that have repercussions years down the line.
The readership of comics is ageing. The readers remember what happened in so and so issue. No-one fore saw the phenomena of the long term comics fan. They weren’t meant to be read or followed for years on end. I’ve been reading these things for 30 years, we hang onto them.
Since I’ve been reading American comics, DC have gone through at least 4 continuity resets / tidy ups of their universe: Final Flash Zero Inifinte Hourpoint. Marvel on the other hand seems to be re starting series at the drop of a hat. Basically, I’ve given up on mainstream comics, I’ll pick up a series on the following criteria :
1.The creative team
2.as semi detached from the rest of the universe as possible
(Fraction & Aja’s Hawkeye and Azzarello & Chiang’s Wonder Woman being good examples)
To make them work, long running characters and shared universes need constant management. Monitoring. Pruning.
2000ad used to be immune to this kind of thing, though I think it would be fairer to say that
A: it hadn’t been around as long
B: It hadn’t been expected to last as long as it has. (none of its former stable mates had)
Originally, Thargy wanted to create a cohesive universe for the characters appearing in the new comic. In the launch Harlem Heroes was set before the construction of the Mega City One (indeed Giant of the team is the father of Giant senior in Dredd), and even Ro Busters made reference in the Hammerstein origin story “Yesterday’s Hero” to the construction of Mega City One. This has kind of been abandoned, though occasionally the Judge Dredd and Nemesis / Ro Busters / ABC Warriors universes have crossed, and of course, Alpha and Old Stoney Face have crossed (multiple cartridge) firearms once or twice, and of course the Rogue Trooper / Dredd crossover.
Dredd has generated lots of anomalies or plot elements that need to be addressed over the years and is beginning to leave a very long trail in his history.
• Police officers (fairly minor & ignored since the early days)
• Vienna (Up until a few years ago, ditto)
• Giant’s origin
• Resurrection of Pa and Junior Angel in the mid ‘90s (and not referred to since thankfully – what were they thinking?)
• Judge Smiley from Trifecta –( that was more than a bit silly)
• The elephant in the room – Dredd’s age.
Dredd is very popular, they aren’t going to kill him off. The longer the strip goes on, the more complicated his history will become (and has already become). Perhaps there will be a big reset ahead, a Dredd equivalent of DC’s Crisis (shudder).
The IDW Dredd has gone some way in doing this. They’ve restarted from early in Dredd’s career – free from baggage of the last 30 years. As much as Swierczynski’s take has been criticised (and to be fair it didn’t click with me either), he has had the advantage of far more rein in how he introduces the elements of Dredd. He doesn’t have to worry about what has come before, whereas Wagner, Williams, Carroll and the other UK Dredd writers, not to mention TMO himself, have to worry about what has happened over the last 30 – 40 years. Then of course there are the Dredd universe stories, Anderson and Armitage.
Rogue trooper and Strontium Dog are special cases. With Rogue Trooper I’ve got not much of an idea where any of the later stories fit into the wider canon – but frankly, I’m not sure if I care anyway. One of the best Rogue Stories ever is Cinnibar, by John Smith, Steve Dillon and Kevin Walker – it doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere in the timeline, or at best it’s position is ambiguous, but it’s a good story – so who cares?
The first Johnny Alpha story after his death- the re boot from 2000 is an odd halfway house, it doesn’t fit with pre Final Solution or Post Final Solution, it’s a bit of an anomaly. Apart from the fact that Johnny’s return hasn’t been classic (good; but not classic), we’re still reminded of the fact that he has been resurrected with a convoluted and, frankly, dubious explanation.
Other than the fact that some strips should be left to rest; resurrecting and refreshing long running strips by trying to maintain the lengthy trail of continuity: It all gets rather complicated.
So is continuity important? Or is it okay to ignore it just so long as the story is good? Someone, somewhere on the web’ suggested that the best introduction to Judge Dredd would be the Daily Star strips – single done-in-one strips which have no bearing on the next day’s (or week’s) strip, but entertaining and still capturing the spirits of the characters. You don’t have to use 30 years of backstory examined in minutiae to prop’ up the strip that is front of you, just so long as the elements that make the strip unique are there.
A famous example of an apocryphal story is one of the most significant Batman stories ever : “The Dark Knight Returns”, great story – groundbreaking even (in style if not content), but had no bearing on the ongoing strip, but used the characters and situations (admittedly set up by years of strips) to make a compelling story and a fresh take on the character. Of course, DC has now tried to tie it into their new 52 continuity. I think I must be in the minority, but I’m not that bothered really. For 2000ad : Is the story good? Yup, it might have ramifications for the future, but don’t let it be so far in the future that I have to clamber into the attic, rifle through a pile of prog’ boxes to have an inkling as to what the hell is going on.
Perhaps the answer is knowing when a strip has run its course, but no one likes slaughtering the cash cow – it’s there for milking. Or, maybe I am just a grumpy old fan who just can’t be arsed to look up references to events that I had long forgotten.