Monday, December 15, 2014

Off Topic: Comic Books

 I used to read a lot of comics.
  A. Lot.
  As I recall between 1974 and 1988 I had somewhere between 12 and 22 subscriptions at a time and would purchase more, as well. I really dropped off in sheer volume in 1988 and virtually stopped by 1992. I do still read them, but selectively and often collections of classics.
  Why the change? Two main reasons.
  There was a tone of moralizing in comics from the time I started, a sense that the writers were interested in telling you what you should think rather than telling you a fun story. Green Lantern/Green Arrow was a (very, very) obvious example of this. For me the last straw was the death of the character Doug Ramsey - killing a character that drove good stories to send the message 'guns're bad" was terribly annoying.
  Bu the bigger reason was how slavish adherence to continuity was (IMO) draining the fun out of comics. The letter pages at Marvel seems to all consist of variations of  'in issue 223 of The Stupendous Spiderman [written by a staff writer under the supervision of the editor in charge of Spiderman] Spidey said he had never done X. But in issue 45 of Obscure Cross-over Anthology [written by a contractor on a tight deadline to cover for a writer hit by a bus and supervised by an assistant editor already running 9 other properties] Spidey did x. Why did Spidey lie, fix it NOW, and I want a noprize." And DC had rwbooted their entire line of products to clean up their continuity,

  Don't get me wrong, I understand that DC had some issues with their lines. I personally can recall owning various comics that told completely conflicting stories of what happened to Superman's parents after they launched his rocketship, for example. Add in that the list of 'last survivors of Krypton' was up to a few million and, well, sure.
  But a strict continuity means that you are forced to jettison fun stories because they don't fit. Here is an example of a story arc that I owned and loved.

  A powerful foe appears from space. Superman uses all of his strength but, in the end, Superman dies. After the death of Superman the earth is in chaos but a 'replacement' Superman uses his powers to take over through threat of force. But the real Superman was only mostly dead; an aient revives him with yellow sun radiation and, reinvigorated, the real Superman deals with the replacement and reveals him to be a fake.

  It is the iconic 'Death of Superman' arc, right?
  Nope. This was all done in two issues of World's Finest in 1977, a full 15 years prior to that famous arc.
  Let me repeat and expand; in two issues of a comic Superman dies, a fake Superman creates a world-wide dictatorship, Superman returns to life and overthrows the ruler of the entire world, and not a single other comic from DC mentioned it, then or ever.
  And why not? After all, it was just a comic book, right?
  But with strict continuity this would be impossible, even in a 'side franchise' comic like World's Finest whose bread and butter was super cavemen and weekly alien invasions.

  The original goal of continuity was to create opportunities for more and even better stories. Now the goal of continuity is continuity and it now drives out more and better stories.

  That is why I like Squirrel Girl. Don't know who she is? Look her up. Better, look up the list of villains she has beaten. And she's beaten them in canon so that it is part of continuity. I love the character because it takes the starch out of the strict continuity types.

  So [to throw out a bone to the TRPG nature of the blog] Just like you can't let the status quo prevent your campaign from advancing, don't be a slave to continuity, either, as long as the changes aren't to harm or railroad (too much) the party. Focus on fun - after all, we are playing games.