Thursday, October 04, 2007

On comics and the church of Continuity...

So I allowed myself to get dragged into (another) one of those internet comic arguments where the crux of the discussion is Continuity*. Run quickly from these fights, because they're never fun. (Even when you're right!)

[*Comic book Continuity (n.) - to paraphrase Wikipedia, a consistency
in the characteristics of character
and a contiguity of plot]

Case in point: Emma Frost explained some issues ago in Astonishing X-Men that Cyclops' inability to control his powers related to a mental block, not brain damage from a childhood fall (as it had always been explained). Ardent anti-Whedon X-Men fans complained that Whedon is just making stuff up as he goes along, ignoring tons of precedent that would render such a development an impossibility. I suggest that, in fact, there is precedent and am told, basically, to put up or shut up and produce the evidence. And after 10 minutes on Google, I find it: Cyclops hits his head on a rock in Uncanny X-Men 332, and the accompanying caption implies that the brain damage is somehow undone. It's a stupid explanation, but it's there. So I win, I guess.

After all that trouble, though, I'm not sure that I even care. The fact that Whedon may have had some other comic in mind - and this is worse because it was written by a hack writer (Scott Lobdell) as part of a massively awful crossover (Onslaught) - actually does something to diminish the experience for me. Sure, Whedon's story isn't entirely self-contained, but its references have been pointed and meaningful; they add something thematically, and there's often a knowing reflexivity to them. If Whedon is referencing Lobdell, though, it's purely to satisfy the utilitarian demands of plot. And for that reason, I'd almost prefer that Whedon didn't know about this scene, or that he never had any precedent in mind whatsoever.

Continuity be damned. I prefer that writers take whatever liberties they feel necessary in order to tell an individual story, one that's coherent and intelligible in relation to its own parts. What's the alternative, really? Attempting to maintain some sort of narrative unity in relation to thousands of issues of comics is a fool's errand, if ever there was one. If the options are loyalty to 1) a confused, contradictory, and notoriously disloyal tradition or 2) loyalty to your own storytelling, why is there even an argument?


James said...

I love the whole shared universe/history thing, but yeah, there's no point getting mad with writers making small tweaks to serve their own needs. For me, it ultimately comes down to "what's better" - is Whedon's bit better than a 30+ year old bit of continuity that's never referenced any more? Yes, so it's fine.

I really doubt he's aware of/referencing that Lobdell caption, which I think was just one of many dangling plot threads that never got resolved in the editorial bog-land of the X-90s. I was so excited by that caption, because I thought the next time we saw Cyclops he'd be in control of his optic blasts, and was devestated when nothing ever came of it. I'm crossing my fingers super-hard that Whedon's gonna leave him with control over his power... though I guess he's got that whole "death scene" hurdle to get over first.

P.S. I bridle (BRIDLE!) at the description of Lobdell as a hack - yes, Onslaught was terrible, but the first 5 or 6 issues of Generation X were great, as was his recent Wildstorm mini, Manifest Eternity.

neilshyminsky said...

I also count his first few issues of Generation X among his comics that I like, but I'm not sure that there's ever any point to this stories. Good writers often have some goal in excess of plot movement, where a lot of Lobdell's plots smack of being just a 'cool idea that i don't know how to resolve'. His fondness for Mysterious Characters and Mysterious Pasts are particularly egregious in this sense.

Jason Powell said...

I've not read the Whedon issue in question, but I will say that beyond the issue of "continuity," which is indeed a cruel mistress -- in that trying to stay loyal to it often results in heartbreak and misery -- there's also the Occam's-razor-like issue of just "What's Cooler"?

The idea that Cyclops' lack of control is the result of physical brain damage has always seemed like a cool idea to me -- especially the way it's presented in Classic X-Men 42/43 (a flashback story set during Scott's time in the oprhanage).

Replacing that with the notion that it's a mental block -- just the idea, I can't speak to the execution -- sounds stupid. And oddly enough, reminds me of nothing so much as when Scott Lobdell ret-conned Archangel's wings as being NOT alive. There was a similar "mental block" explanation, i.e., "Warren, you're just in denial over the fact that YOU are responsible for the violent damage your wings have done, blah blah."

It just seems like yet another "everything you thought you knew about [such-and-such character] was wrong", which has become such a cliche in superhero comics.

neilshyminsky said...

Jason: I suppose that I'm willing to forgive the cliché if it leads me somewhere interesting. I don't think I have a better explanation or defense than that - it allows Whedon to tell a new story, and he's built up the capital (to my mind) to be given the chance.