Continuity & Time in the New 52: Wrongs & Rights

Chance Thulin has a nice article up on Sequart today about continuity and time in the New 52.  In it, he mentions how much he loves the New 52—which is a pleasant change from all of the common Internet bashing that one usually peruses.  His main complaint, and one that I’ve heard time and time again, is that the compression of time (down to a mere five-plus-a-few years) doesn’t leave adequate time for proper character development or enough space for important events to occur.  This is a valid argument and I can see where he’s coming from, especially as someone who loved the rich twenty-year-plus history that the Modern Age was working with.  However, let’s play devil’s advocate for a moment—an easy task since my advocacy for the devil sits closely with my actual beliefs.

I think the “five years ago” (plus the two years since the reboot) timeline actually works well for several reasons.

One, while the length of time may be short, there aren’t a bunch of stories we have to compress to “make things work” into that short period—meaning, it’s all brand spanking new.  We, in a sense, get to re-imagine our beloved characters developing (until new origin or early tales are published for the New Age).  Thulin says that each DC character in the New 52 must have “had to undergo major character developments within the span of a few months.”  This may be true, but as I said above, there is nothing concrete or published at this point that makes it impossible.  We still have to suspend our belief a little, but when haven’t we when it comes to comics.

Another reason the short timeline works for me, and one related to the first reason, is that, since we don’t have a bunch of published stories or concrete history to deal with, there is plenty of room for the stories that are canon in the New 52 DCU to fill that space.  Thulin, using Aquaman as a specific case example, complains: “With the knowledge of the 5-year time table we then know that Aquaman had less than a year to be ousted publicly, flee to Atlantis and rule it, come up with the Atlantean war plans that are being used in the ‘Throne of Atlantis” crossover, lead the Others, and come back in time to save the Earth from Darkseid’s invasion in the first arc of the New 52. Why? Why would we need to confine ourselves to such a tight timeframe of less than a year for so much story development?”  I agree it’s not ideal, but think about it this way: Take that “less than a year”—make it eleven months—and fill it with only those canonical items mentioned.  In eleven months, Aquaman gets ousted from the surface world, goes to Atlantis, reclaims his rightful place as king, develops war plans, leads his underwater Others team on a handful of adventures, and then meets and helps out the surface heroes against Darkseid, forming the JL in the process.  Sure, characters are more fully fleshed-out and developed over more time.  But having these aforementioned items occur in that time-frame is totally feasible.  Remember, and this very important, nothing else happens in those eleven months of Aquaman’s life—only the items mentioned.  No single issues or cameo appearances.  Nada.  Just those things.  That makes sense to me!  And I’m not in the mindset that Aquaman couldn’t be the dynamic character we see after he joins the JL and currently in 2013, even having undergone all of that stuff rather quickly.

I won’t get into the Damian’s age analysis and the squeezing-in of Batman history and squeezing-in of Green Lantern history here.  Those are tough cookies that require a lot of time and effort to discuss properly.  Also, I’ve discussed these items at length in previous posts.  Not to mention, there is a ton of text dedicated solely to the Damian age question my chronology site as well.

Thulin also asks, “Why feel the need to confine ourselves to such a short timeline?”  Well, I think that if the timeline (as of 2011) was longer than five years then the reboot, which has already had its fair share of problems, would have been in serious trouble from a narrative standpoint.  The idea with the DC company-wide reboot was to tell new stories from fresh angles while building new mythologies and a new narrative universe for the 2010s. If the original rebooted timeline would have been longer, say ten years long, then you are already defeating or working against the concept of newness and freshness.  A mere ten years from now, we will be looking back at a superhero universe that has existed since 2006 (not including the earlier appearances of Batman and Superman), meaning the New Age DCU proper—(I’m certain the “New 52” tag will no longer exist by then)—will be seventeen-years-old.  In comparative terms, that’s getting pretty up there in universal age.  Now, imagine having started with a longer timeline—tacking on more years seems like a bad idea.

My main complaint about the New 52, in regard to continuity, is that DC editorial has enacted the brilliant (sarcasm, folks) concept of heavy referencing between different writers’ books.  Back in the day, even five years ago, editorial notes that referenced other books in order to give a sense of how they were fitting in to the overall continuity were much rarer.  And when they were implemented they were usually implemented well after complete story arcs had wrapped.  Now, it’s not like that anymore.  My main example of this problem, and one I’ve referenced on my chronology website and in previous posts, can be seen almost everywhere on the current line of Batman books.  If you aren’t going to tell John Layman, Scott Lobdell, Gregg Hurwitz, Kyle Higgins, and others what Scott Snyder has planned or what Grant Morrison has planned, then why constantly reference their works?  The linkage doesn’t build a more cohesive continuity.  It simply causes great confusion and error.  Furthermore, it seems like Snyder and Morrison have even been operating independently of each other to top it all off.  This ostensible lack of communication is a failure not on the part of the writers, but on that of editorial.

The following images are panels I’ve numbered in chronological order, panels which show how confused things are. On my site, I “fix” these problems by adding in my own retcons, but as you can see, it’s a mess.

1. "Batman #16" Penguin gets trapped in Arkham as the conclusion of "Death of the Family" nears.

1. “Batman #16” Penguin gets trapped in Arkham as the conclusion of “Death of the Family” nears.

2. "Batman #16" More of the issue's backup implying that Penguin has been trapped in Arkham by Joker.

2. “Batman #16” More of the issue’s backup implying that Pengin has been trapped in Arkham by Joker.

3. "Red Hood & The Outlaws #17" This issue occurs immediately following "Death of the Family."  Jason fondly recalls a memory which not only has yet to occur, but which doesn't even happen that way when it does.

3. “Red Hood & The Outlaws #17” This issue occurs immediately following “Death of the Family.” Jason fondly recalls a memory which not only has yet to occur, but which doesn’t even happen that way when it does.

4. "Red Hood & The Outlaws #17" The "Death of the Family Aftermath" ends with Jason's face getting horribly mutilated.  Damian is not amused, but he is definitely alive.

4. “Red Hood & The Outlaws #17” The “Death of the Family Aftermath” ends with Jason’s face getting horribly mutilated. Damian is not amused, but he is definitely alive.

5. "Batman: The Dark Knight #14"  Merry X-Mas and Happy New Year, Penguin!  "Death of the Family" definitively occurs in November (Snyder mentions early snowfall and a year since Joker's disappearance).  We saw above that Penguin was supposedly incarcerated at Arkham, yet here he is free in December.  No big deal, you say?  He got out, you say?  Normally I'd agree, but wait until we get to "Detective Comics #18" a bit further down...

5. “Batman: The Dark Knight #14” Merry X-Mas and Happy New Year, Penguin! “Death of the Family” definitively occurs in November (Snyder mentions early snowfall and a year since Joker’s disappearance). We saw above that Penguin was supposedly incarcerated at Arkham, yet here he is free in December. No big deal, you say? He got out, you say? Normally I’d agree, but wait until we get to “Detective Comics #18” a bit further down…

6. "Batman Incorporated #4" Wingman teams with Redbird now.  Or did this happen already?  What is going on?  Also, why is Jason's face unscarred?  (I know he's wearing his fake Wingman mask, but he later takes off his mask to reveal his real face, and it's fine.

6. “Batman Incorporated #4” Wingman teams with Redbird now. Or did this happen already? What is going on? Also, why is Jason’s face unscarred? (I know he’s wearing his fake Wingman mask, but he later takes off his mask to reveal his real face, and it’s fine).

7. "Batman Incorporated #8" Sorry to make everyone keep reliving the death that just won't end.  But, yes, he dead.  He dead.

7. “Batman Incorporated #8” Sorry to make everyone keep reliving the death that just won’t end. But, yes, he dead. He dead.

8. "Detective Comics #18" Penguin finally gets outta stir.  Wait a minute!  Penguin was already out of Arkham for X-Mas with the Scarecrow!?  And didn't Ogilvy take over his operations during "Death of the Family"?  Why doesn't Penguin know this yet?

8. “Detective Comics #18” Penguin finally gets outta stir in a scene that definitively takes place shortly after “Death of the Family.” Wait a minute!  Then why is it placed here?  Because Damian is dead!  Plus, wasn’t Penguin was already out of Arkham for X-Mas with the Scarecrow!? And didn’t Ogilvy take over his operations during “Death of the Family”? Why doesn’t Penguin know this yet?  Not to mention, Penguin goes to Black gate at the end of this issue, so how could he have been free if this issue took place back then anyway?  Clusterfuck anyone?

9. "Detective Comics #18" Damian has died recently.  Cry.  Cry for continuity.  It is also dead.

9. “Detective Comics #18” Damian has died recently. Cry. Cry for continuity. It is also dead.

It may seem like I’m complaining a lot here, but it’s just what I glaringly see.  And it’s an easy fix, so that’s why I’m harping on it.  At the end of each rant, I still have faith in what DC—the higher-ups and the writers and artists—are doing with the New 52.  It’s been a jarring experiment and a frustrating one at times, but the idea is a strong one (and, in my opinion, a necessary step towards the future of the company).  Of course, there’s always much much more to analyze and say, but I’ll save it for next time.

About Collin Colsher

Collin Colsher, the creator of The Real Batman Chronology Project and disCONTINUITY, is a writer, filmmaker, teacher, and comic book historian that currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. He has lectured at various universities, libraries, and book fairs. Collin has also served on the jury for the Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize, which is sponsored by the US Library of Congress.
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1 Response to Continuity & Time in the New 52: Wrongs & Rights

  1. Sam Groover says:

    Good points, guarded optimism pretty much sums up my feelings on the New 52. I think most of the harshest critics fail to realize that every era of comics has had its “lame” moments and incongruities within the timeline. As you say, suspension of disbelief. But I agree wholeheartedly that trying to work out those continuity issues is a large part of the fun.

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