I don’t let people use the word “continuity” around me. There is too great a difference between what most folks think it means and what it really means. In the strictest sense, continuity means a) the storyline of a comic strip or comic book, b) the transitional relationship between one panel’s picture and the one that comes next, and c) the sense of cohesiveness and connection between one story episode, or issue, and the ones that precede and follow it. So what do most people mean when they use the word “continuity”? They mean a “slavish single-minded devotion to trivial details found in ancient storylines and a strange compulsion to resurrect and glorify said details at the expense of other story values.” That, my friends, is indeed a problem that certain comics writers have been afflicted with, but that isn’t “continuity.” That’s an obsessive love for trivia.
As I write this, Marvel Comics is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary. That means that certain titles like the FANTASTIC FOUR, THOR, and IRON MAN have been continuously publishing the exploits of its titles characters for a long stretch now, generating untold millions of bits of trivia in the course of the ongoing storylines. Many but not all of those millions of trivia bits have been self-consistent. What is to be done about those few bits that are not? Ignore them, explain them, or devote a three-part epic that explores in vast detail why the discrepancy was actually a major subliminal scheme concocted by a deadly criminal mastermind? If you answered the latter, you probably suffer from the popular misconception of what “continuity” is as defined above. As the co-writer of the MARVEL UNIVERSE HANDBOOK, I see minor discrepancies in the course of my research all the time. Some of them have to be dealt with in order to compose a coherent history article for a character. The most recent example that comes to mind occurred while researching the Zodiac entry. One account claimed that Nick Fury’s brother Jake was the original Scorpio. A later account claimed he was the second Scorpio. So which do we go with? The evidence was exactly equal for both hypotheses. We had to choose one over the other. We did. While I suppose a story could be constructed about who the original Scorpio was, it is not exactly one of the pressing concerns of our readers today (not like the identity of the Hobgoblin is). So if a writer came to me with a story about it, the idea alone would not be enough to convince me to go for it – it would have to be a mighty good story for me to want to devote 22 pages to it.
I was asked if it were possible to write a great story about a character that violates the character’s “continuity.” I assumed that what was meant was a great story that contradicts some bit of trivia about the character – for instance, what the name of his high school English teacher was. The answer is of course it is possible. But a conscientious writer (like all of them who work for me) will not go out of his or her way to do so – that’s childish. What is most important is that a writer stays true to the spirit and basic legend of the character. As editor, it’s my job to see that he or she stays true to the wealth of sometimes trivial background details.