With DC’s reboot/relaunch/whatever-they’re-calling-it-this-week of their line, a lot of people have been questioning what this means for continuity. Some stuff seems to have still happened—for example, with the Batman characters. Dick Grayson is still an adult and running around in his own costumed identity, Jason Todd is still the Red Hood, Tim Drake is still Red Robin, Damian Wayne is still around as the latest Robin, and Barbara Gordon was still crippled by the Joker but is now back to being Batgirl. A lot of stuff from Green Lantern is still considered canon as well. But Superman has apparently been rebooted from the start.
So how does this all fit together?
To put it simply: it doesn’t. No matter how much DC says everything fits together, it never will fit together. Because to fit it all together is impossible.
I don’t claim to know a lot about DC Comics, but from what I do know, they’ve always played a bit more loose with continuity than Marvel has. And it’s no surprise—Marvel really invented the idea of rigid continuity. And when they did, it made sense. I doubt Stan Lee thought these characters would last more than ten years at the most and if they did, going by what had already happened in comics up until that point, it wasn’t likely to ever become an issue.
But it did. It became such an issue that DC came out with Crisis on Infinite Earths in order to streamline their continuity. It was followed by things like Superman: The Man of Steel, which saw John Byrne completely reimagining Superman. If you want to know where Marvel’s idea of the Ultimate concept came about, it was from that. Byrne took things about Superman that he thought worked and tossed out the stuff that he felt didn’t work. And no matter your opinion on what he did, there’s no denying that he redefined Superman for years to come.
Except not everything was streamlined. Lots of stuff from Pre-Crisis was still considered canon (Batman, the Teen Titans, etc). But other stuff wasn’t (Superboy, Supergirl, Wonder Woman, etc). DC writers cherry-picked what continuity they kept and what continuity they discarded. And that’s what we’re seeing now. Yet now, it seems like something extremely experimental and terrible. Why?
The reason this seems so drastic now is because of the Internet. And hey, I love the Internet. I would not have a writing and lettering career if not for the Internet and the opportunities it’s opened up. The upside of the Internet is that everyone has a voice. The downside of the Internet is that everyone has a voice.
I’m sure people had these same questions and concerns when Crisis came out. I’m sure they had them before that, when the concept of multiple Earths was first introduced.
The thing to keep in mind about continuity is that it never fits together completely, no matter what publisher, no matter what venue. In movies, James Bond went from 1962 until 2002 before being rebooted or aging. That’s forty years, and during that period, James Bond was perpetually in his mid-thirties or so (older when you’re talking about the later Roger Moore entries). And there were even subtle references to those past movies. Despite taking place twenty years earlier, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was still referenced in Licence To Kill and yet there was not a twenty-year age difference between Timothy Dalton in 1989 and George Lazenby in 1969. In the very first issue of Fantastic Four, Sue Storm tells Reed Richards that they have to make it into space “before the commies do” (yes, that line actually appears in the comic, Google it if you doubt me). But if we’re to believe that the comics currently take place in the present day, then there’s no possible way the Fantastic Four could have made their first flight during the height of the Cold War. Hell, pretty much all of Tony Stark’s early history is incompatible with the time frame compared to today, as he was probably more of a Cold War character than anyone else.
And with Batman, it’s even worse. Batman has never really been rebooted—all his stories are pretty much in continuity. So you’ve got a guy who is perpetually in his mid-thirties or so who has had adventures that have spanned around seventy years. No matter how you cut it up, there is no way to fit all that content into a twenty-year period.
I’m reminded of a class at the Wizard World convention in Chicago that Joe Casey taught on continuity. And right when the class started, he drew a little circle on the board and he pointed to it and said, “that’s me.” Then he drew a very large Pac Man-esque symbol about to eat the small circle and he said, “that’s continuity.” That was maybe ten or twelve years ago (damn, I’m getting old), but that image has always stuck with me as the perfect example of continuity—because if you’re not careful, it can and will swallow you whole.
So, to all those who gnash their teeth at the continuity conflicts of this new DC Universe, I offer this advice: give it up. You’re fighting a losing battle and you really only have three choices. You can drive yourself crazy trying to figure out how it fits together (while ignoring the obvious dated elements), you can give up on DC completely, or you can just go with the flow and treat references to past continuity as little Easter eggs to pick up on.
Personally, I’d rather just go with the flow. Because no matter what continuity it follows, there are some great creators working in this new setting. And if you deprive yourself of those stories because of silly continuity conflicts, then you’re the one losing out.
My view on continuity is that it’s something of a rough guide or a template. Treat it as such but don’t rigidly adhere to it. I guarantee your experiences will be a lot more enjoyable if you follow that advice.