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Wednesday, January 06, 2016

DC Comics Continuity

Dear DC Comics,

I'm a lifelong fan. I have been reading your comics since I learned how to read. I have comics of yours going back to the mid-1970s. You have the characters I am most interested in reading. You have the titles I'm most interested in collecting.

But you're losing me as a reader.

You see, when you created the New 52, I was onboard. I thought you were ACTUALLY going to make changes to your titles, your characters, and to your history. I thought you were going to modernize everything and bring everything into the 21st century. Maybe change the race of some characters. Maybe streamline some history. Maybe start from scratch and keep what has always worked and throw out everything else.

But you screwed that up.

You see, you had a Green Lantern movie about to release and a popular Batman franchise already out. So the editors and writers of those two series were excluded from the revamp that was New 52. And those titles had an effect on other titles, like Robin, Nightwing, Catwoman, and others. Soon, the mishmash of some characters being changed and others not being changed caused internal story issues. For example, the entire "did Batman have a Robin or didn't he" conundrum you created.

You did do a good job in some areas. You made some decent changes to Superman, at first. I loved the initial changes to Wonder Woman. But the title that most closely fulfilled the promise of New 52 was Earth 2. You made wholesale changes to the characters, including changing races, sexes, and sexual preference on a number of characters. But, and here's the key, you didn't change the character of the heroes in question. E2 Green Lantern was still a father figure, a powerhouse, and an icon for others to look up to. Oh, and he was now gay. Jay Garrick's backstory and costume were radically altered. Hawkgirl and Dr. Fate's ethnicities and backgrounds were changed. Etc. But the characters continued to be the heroes we knew and loved, even if some of the specifics were altered.

The editorial positions behind the New 52 wasn't strong, and you let some writers ignore the concept of new and different while others embraced, which led to confusion. Soon, you knew you needed to clean house yet again, and you created the Convergence storyline, which was intended to get things back on track.

But you failed again.

The coherence of that storyline was poor, at best. Yet again, not every title and writer was fully onboard with the idea, and some were allowed to make very minor changes while others were allowed to make more sweeping changes. The readership, however, was left with a mess when it was all finished.

In my most recent week of comics, I picked up four comics that have Superman and/or Wonder Woman on the title. Each of the covers has a different variation of the costume for each character, indicating that each takes place at a different moment in time. But, as a reader, there is no set continuity with which I can read these titles and understand where they fit into things. They all seem to be taking place now, yet in one title Superman is wearing his old jeans and S-shield shirt, has lowered power levels, and is no longer dating WW. In another, he is wearing his New 52 costume, is dating WW, and has full power levels. In another, he is wearing a variant on the jean/shirt and is dating WW. On three of the covers, WW is wearing: her original New 52 silver/blue/red swimsuit costume, her silver/blue/red "armor" skirt costume, and her newest gold/red/black body stocking suit. But, again, I have no context or continuity to fall back on to tell me when each of these takes place. They all appear to be concurrent and now. Does WW simply change costumes depending on with whom she is fighting?

Batman is now a bigger headache. In the Batman comics, you had the Joker and Batman "die." Because Gotham City needs a Batman, you had Commissioner Gordon (really?!) take over the role wearing a mechanical suit to grant him extra-normal abilities and to protect him. Meanwhile, in other comics that are released concurrently with those stories, you have Bruce Wayne as Batman taking part in a variety of events in Justice League of America and Justice League. Again, they all seem to be taking place concurrently.

Your goal, after Convergence, was supposedly to make the entirety of the DC Comics universe available to your writers and not be so focused on continuity. But, by doing so, and by not clarifying when and why a character is missing, present, wearing one costume over another, or setting everything within some sort of time frame, you are simply making it difficult for a reader to understand what is going on. How is a new reader supposed to jump onboard and enjoy Batman when sometimes he's reading about Jim Gordon as Batman, sometimes he's reading about Bruce Wayne as Batman, and sometimes he's reading about both, with one being Batman and the other not? As a reader, aren't you more inclined to pick a couple up, get really confused about which character is which, and then stop reading all together?

DC Comics, I want you to succeed. You have the characters I want to read and collect the most. I want to look forward to comic book day each week, and I want to get those comics and immediately clear time to read them, because the stories and characters are that engaging. Instead, I am canceling titles, waiting weeks before reading, getting confused over the stories and direction the comics are going, and canceling a few more titles. If you can't keep me, then I know you aren't successful with other readers.

You need to clean house. Any writer or artist who won't follow editorial must be let go, no matter how popular he or she is. Next, you need to set up continuity. The readers don't care if there is a Superman in jeans and a shirt and low power levels and one with a full suit and high power levels, we just want to know where those two stories fit together. So, create some continuity. Say that X, Y, and Z are this continuity. Say that A, B, and C are this other continuity.

For example, let's say that you have a continuity that is "Past." (I would also be open to the Multiverse concept of an Earth X, 2, Pi, whatever... some delineator that says this is different continuity from the other stories we tell.) Justice League of America, Action Comics, Detective Comics, and others all take place in this continuity. Here, Batman is still Bruce Wayne, Superman is not using a full-on costume, Wonder Woman is wearing her silver and blue costume, etc. All these stories take place relative to each other and prior to any stories in other continuities. In this time frame, Superman and Wonder Woman are not dating; people are still figuring things out (i.e., lower tech, lower power levels, not as much teamwork, etc.); Batman does not start with a Robin, but maybe decides to add one somewhere along the way; many of the teen heroes are simply not here yet; you have fewer, but more well-thought out villains; there is no Green Lantern Corps or multiple colors, there is just Hal Jordan and a green ring; etc.

Then you have the "Present" continuity. This includes the comics Justice League, Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Teen Titans, etc. In this continuity, Jim Gordon has taken over as Batman, Superman has his full suit, Wonder Woman is using the new body-stocking suit, etc. Superman and Wonder Woman are, or were, dating. The teen heroes are present and are making a difference. The Justice League is no longer an American institution, but is world-wide. More villains are present or have been working for years. Teamwork is better. Bases are better. Things like the Suicide Squad have been created in response to the hero surge. The Lantern Corps and the plethora of other colors beyond green are starting to make an impact and be seen.

Then, maybe, you create a "Future" continuity. In this run of comics, you include things like Justice League 3000, Legion of Super Heroes, Lantern Corps of all colors, Batman Beyond exists. This is where heroes are fully formed, exceptional beings and we see the effects of years, decades even, of heroic pursuits. The children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren of the original heroes are doing their thing.

Lastly, you create an "Elseworlds" continuity, where writers and artists go to tell a story in whatever era of DC Comics they want. You want to write a pre-New 52 Superman story? You go here. You want to write a story where Hippolyta is Wonder Woman? Great place for it.

The point being, that I, as a reader, easily understand the continuity I am reading, understand that if I pick up this comic, Bruce Wayne is Batman, but in this comic, Jim Gordon (or Dick Grayson) is Batman. In this set of comics, I know I may not see some of my favorite characters, like sidekicks and teen heroes. But I can read those in this other set over here.

To wrap this up, I just want you to be successful, DC Comics. I want you to make reading your comics easy for both long-time and new readers. I want any reader to have a quick and easy time figuring out which characters they want to read and which titles to buy. Right now, it is a mess of confusion, even for a long-time reader like me.


Thank you,

A DC comics fan


Addendum:

Recent news suggests that DC Comics is rebooting its titles yet again in June. It will restart most/all titles with new number 1s and will more closely reflect the characters and situations in its movie and TV universes. I'm not sure this is a good thing in and of itself (why not wait to see if the movies are successful before doing this?), but I imagine that doing this will clean up much of the continuity issues I have discussed, above.

See here for more:
http://www.blastr.com/2016-1-22/dc-comics-set-recalibrate-their-comic-books-again-more-movie-and-tv-centered-line

http://www.bleedingcool.com/2016/01/22/dc-comics-to-relaunch-everything-with-1s-again-this-summer-with-a-filmtv-bent/