Tuesday, June 19, 2012


A question that gets asked often about the Beyond universe (for Batman Beyond, Superman Beyond, and Justice League Beyond) is where does it all fit? Is this the canonized future of the DC new52 universe? Is this the future timeline of the shows? Is it somewhere in-between?

It is one of those things I understand why people would want to know, but it's also probably one of my biggest pet peeves of comics…continuity.

Continuity can be a necessary thing, to have characters grow, change, and adapt in the long lives of comics in general. It's that whole illusion of change. Things happen, characters marry, die, come back from death, join teams, quit teams, become enemies, become allies…and eventually still sort of revert to status quo. The idea is that the comics and characters have to stay relevant to each generation that buys and reads them, so they can't realistically age them with their audience (of course, that's where future stories can play with the idea of these youthful characters at an elderly age).

Continuity can be the lifeblood of these stories, but it can also be the aneurysm that kills the entertainment to the audience. I always feel, once the audience starts asking where and when a story takes place…once they get that concerned with the specifics of it…then it feels like comics are just being filed away in a numerical dewey decimal system in their library collection. My answer is always, try not to think about it. Hopefully my job is to entertain you with the story being told, rather than how it fits if my future character hasn't had the same experiences as the same character in the current DC universe.

What also goes hand-in-hand when it comes to continuity is…are all these comics accessible? And I can see the argument for and against it on both sides. There are many comics where it's tough to jump in, due to the vast continuity and history of all the stories previous to the current one. That it makes it tough for a new buyer or even a regular reader to keep up with everything. And that will probably always be a struggle for the companies and creators to attempt to work around. But at the same time, I always wonder to myself….SO WHAT? 

My problem is the dumbing down of entertainment. You know what I mean. When movie trailers show you the entire film in that 2 minute preview, where you know everything before you've seen it. Where tv shows will eventually do a "clip show" that replays all of the previous highlights of the season to get a new viewer brought up to speed. Or even in comics, where sometimes every new storyline or every issue would rename and reintroduce all the main characters before the story would begin (X-Men was notorious for this back in the Claremont days). I understand the mentality that every comic or every show might be someone's first, but I also feel it starts to dumb down the entertainment and leans more towards the audience being idiots that can't figure it out for themselves. Maybe they have a point and need to do this, but I think that sells the audience short.  If you're constantly dumbing it down, then don't be surprised the audience you will get…a dumb one.

I think back to when I was a kid picking up comics for the first time. My first foray into reading comics didn't come with a number #1 issue or a self contained mini-series. It was right in the middle (issue 24 for one title and in the 300s for another). Now did the comics do a good job recapping everything I missed? Or were they well told enough that I could get an idea of who the characters were and just be entertained by the story? Definitely the latter.  Plus…get this…once I bought these titles and was interested, I actually sought out previous back issues. And today, is even easier with stories that get collected into trade paperbacks and hardcovers.

With all my vehemence against the idea of continuity, it's probably ironic that Justice League Beyond relies pretty heavily on it. It's a comic based on a show that had it's own continuity spread out over many series, much of which I tied into the stories being told. It definitely caters towards the hardcore fan that grew up watching those shows, with plenty of easter egg references to storylines and episodes that happened for shows that are over 5 to 10 years old now. At the same time, it gives me a lot of joy when I've read reviews from people with either a passing familiarity with the shows, or never watched them at all; but still found the Justice League Beyond comics entertaining. They might not know who these characters are or their history, but they're onboard for how we're telling the story today. And maybe they'll seek out the shows to further their enjoyment. It means I've done my job.

So where does Justice League Beyond take place in the continuity of the DC Universe? The answer…wherever you want it to. I leave it up to the reader to decide if this is THE future, a possible future, alternate timeline, alternate world, animated canon…whatever they want. And if it doesn't match up to how they want the characters to be towards the current DC Universe, well…there's always the new52.


  1. I'm of two minds on this particular issue. On the one hand I fundamentally agree with your idea that this line of titles, or potentially any titles, can be attached (or detached) from any canon the reader so wishes. It's a very inclusive concept, and one that engages a reader's imagination at that.

    On the other, that sentiment potentially diminishes the impact of a fictional universe and a reader or fan's emotional investment in the property. There are reasons we affectionately refer to these lines as the DC "universe", the Marvel universe and so on. They represent a collective of characters inhabiting a singular space with a continuous, shared history.

    The word history is key; for what is history but the consistent chronology of past events that we learn from and build on? History is little more than the continuity of reality, of one event leading into the next providing a sense of factual, emotional, political, or sociological consistency.

    It's a fairly drastic comparison I'm about to make, but bear with me: hypothetically speaking, imagine living in a world where no event truly mattered, where the scoreboard was reset each week. A female candidate sweeps the presidential elections, the world embraces a newfound sense of equality, and then mere days later the event is never referenced again. Today it happened, tomorrow it doesn't count and is rendered entirely moot.

    In order for events to matter, they need the context of what came before. The argument then becomes that one is a fiction and one is reality, but that circles back to the term "universe". The fans aren't delusional, they know these fictions aren't real, yet they require the same level of factual consistency that reality offers them in order to validate their investment and belief in that canon.

    It has less to do with enjoying a story in a self-contained format, and more to do with the psychology of why human beings require a sense of what came before, be that yesterday or decades ago.

  2. I think continuity will always be at its most clear and most consistent, when dealing with something creator-owned and creator managed. Then it's only got one person involved with keeping track of the history of their creation (ideally one person, although it can be more). They might have other people involved with helping get the stories told (either artwise or maybe even storywise), but usually they can manage their creation and keep it easy to follow.

    Once you get into company continuity, for characters that are many decades old, with writers and editors and company men that come and go (not to mention relaunches and any number of things that can shake up comics), then it gets that much tougher to have one guiding vision for what is the current history verses any number of histories for the characters. There's probably a lot of pick-and-choose what works or what doesn't, for the companies and the readers. What to go with and what to ignore. It's no doubt why it gets confusing as there are so many more variables to deal with.

    I think what it comes down to for me working on whatever title I'm writing in whatever guidelines I'm presented, is that I have my own inherent continuity I work within, whether that comes across in the stories or not. I hopefully present enough in the story that someone should be able to figure out how it relates. And then I really leave it up to the reader to be smart enough whether it fits into their own vision of where they'd like it to. I figure there's enough context that they can know when and where something can take place, and then if it conflicts with their own personal beliefs for the character, then it's up to them whether they accept it or not. It starts to get into that whole thing where they read the story and dramatically proclaim "you ruined/raped my childhood". And to that, I always think, just go by your own logic then. Enjoy those past stories and cast aside or not follow the current work, if it goes against everything they hold dear in their youthful upbringing.

    Because to me as a reader, I won't look at a self contained mini-series of Batman (or any character) and wonder...how does this fit into the vast history of that character. Does this story fit between the current direction or the past direction or which order of mini-series does this fit in between? I just hope that I'm entertained. I really take it on a case-by-case basis. Of course it gets more troublesome in an ongoing book. And if people don't like the current direction of an ongoing title, if you give it long enough, there will be creative turnover or new directions to throw it all out of whack! It does make it hard for the hardcore fan wanting that sort of emotional investment in an inhabited universe like you mention. But it comes with the territory of many hands guiding a property for as long as it's been around. And I also think it's why creator owned projects will have a step up on company owned, having less of that to deal with.

    I'm rambling but hopefully my point came across somewhere in there! :)

  3. That seemed to be a relatively concise point to me! It's difficult to discuss this particular topic, as it isn't a matter of just one thing. That is both the heart of the issue and the reason we're juggling concepts while trying to make our points. I see this as a conflict of two differing perspectives: those who view these continuities as a universe, and those who view it as a story. The former group is, understandably, more emotionally invested in the outcome. The latter can appreciate it as a whole or a piece, but are less likely to expend additional energy on it upon completion. To equate it to similarly passionate fandom, video gamers, there are those who consider themselves "gamers" and those who simply like to "play games". To one group it's a lifestyle, to the other it's a pastime.

    I consider myself something of a hybrid of a two, and I suspect, as someone who has been both a consumer and creator you would do the same. With that said, I do appreciate consistent continuity, and strong, well-written works that can stand on their own legs. My favorite works in comics have usually tended to be both. The works of Dan Slott come to mind when speaking of writers who strike the balance. His Batman Adventures run is acclaimed by both fans and critics alike, and his Amazing Spider-Man run has received similar attention. Much like your Beyond storylines his Batman Adventures run was more than just a tie-in or spinoff; it was good enough in my mind to be considered the official, JL-era continuation of Batman: TAS/TNBA.

    In terms of striking the balance there's a recent exchange in his Amazing run that stood out to me. It was two background characters discussing the Venom symbiote for no more than one to two lines. During that exchange they explain that the reason the symbiote is weak to fire and sonics is due to the fact that neither can exist in the vacuum of space. It wasn't crucial information to the plot, nor was it a substantial digression, but in that brief aside a twenty year old question was answered. The point being that inclusion of continuity or even retconning doesn't need to be invasive.

    When I read a comic, or watch a film, I try and view it from a myriad of angles. Was it a solid story in it's own right? Even if I wasn't fond of the story, or had mixed feelings (as with the recent Batman Annual), was is technically accomplished and did I see what the writer was going for? Does it fit with the grand scheme of the universe or franchise? I.E. As good as the story may be, is it a good *Batman* tale? Did it live up to or surpass my expectations? A fine example of this would be The Dark Knight. Purely knowing what I knew of the comic stories it was based on I anticipated most of the plot points, but I wanted those points included. It took what I wanted, and perfected it. And finally, did it surprise me, and if there are continuity discrepancies could it be brought into the canon with little effort? Those last two are particularly important to me.

    While I don't really fancy myself a writer, I do have one such skill: With very little effort I can usually find simple and respectable solutions for blatant continuity errors that simply don't need to exist. Which is why as a reader I appreciate it when continuity is incorporated into a story. In my mind it's usually not a difficult thing to do to make something work as a standalone narrative and yet still be connected to a larger fictional universe. Doing so also shows a reverence for the material on the part of those involved. I suppose the question one has to ask is does making a story element a means to an end compromise the overall experience in some way? I don't believe it has to.

    I do hope my point(s) weren't terribly jumbled either! In summation I believe a story can appeal to both camps with some clever thinking during the writing process.

  4. The more you discuss this, the more I think your outlook on how you view entertainment is entirely similar to mine. You summed it up very well. Just the idea that you go in to be entertained, try to see it from what the creator is trying to achieve, and even if it doesn't line up as correctly as it could, you find ways around the discrepancies. It's a fantastic mindset I wish more readers had. Is the whole greater than the sum of its parts? With the added benefit that if there are some nods to continuity and history, and research lovingly applied, then even greater respect is bestowed.

    I haven't read a Spidey book in many a year. Probably the last time was when JRJr was still drawing it monthly. But that's a fantastic explanation by Slott. Especially since, as a reader, I was into the book back during those McFarlane years and the introduction of Venom. In just a few sentences, he clarified the reasons behind the character's weakness, which I assume had never been stated before. And with the symbiote originating from space, it makes total sense!

    Of course, probably my favorite Spidey story was the "Death Of Kraven" storyline from back in the day. This again shows my hand as me being very much on the side of more self-contained stories/minis where it feels like the writer can get in and out without having to deal too much with the continuing adventures. It respects the history of the character and sends Kraven to the grave in an emotional and dark story, and puts Spidey/Peter through the ringer. Of course, since then, the villain has been brought back from the grave and had children that have taken up the name and tradition. But I haven't bothered with those, and just choose to ignore them. I'll just crack open my Kraven HC and enjoy it just on its own.

    It's both fun and tough being a writer in comics. You're working on characters and titles you love, but then are at the mercy of fans that might love them even more obsessively. Those that might nitpick or rip apart every little detail if it doesn't meet their satisfaction. There's a little truth to the idea that fans see comic artists as someone whose style they like or wish they could draw like, but fans can see writers as someone they wish they can steal their job from! heh :)

    At the end of the day, I'm my own worst critic but also my own best fan. I'm writing for me (and to an extent, the company and the artist). And you just hope that there is a readership with similar taste. That what I find interesting to write or read in the story will be the same thing they do. But if not, there's always next time.

  5. This probably comes as an odd comment coming from someone who just asked where a good jumping on point to your Arkham stories might be but I'm in complete agreeance with your assessment of continuity. The concept of continuity within a serialized story, especially one shared by multiple books interacting at once, really is a double edged sword. On one side, as you said, it can be a powerful storytelling tool that grants a greater sense of meaning and importance to individual points in the plot while at the same time giving you a convenient way to create the illusion of character growth however on the other side it can be something of a noose if you get too caught up in attempting to fit all the pieces together.

    For my tastes, as long as a story is entertaining, and is internally consistent in terms of characterization, I could care less about how it fits into continuity or if its in contradiction with something that happened in this or that story or how X writer characterized this character else where. Don't get me wrong though, I do love seeing other writers play off each other to create the illusion of a single continuing narrative, especially when its done well, but its not a complete necessity for me and doesn't elevate the continuity heavy stories of say Grant Morrison over the one shot, nebulous stories written by people like Alan Grant and Doug Moench back in the heyday of Legends of the Dark Knight.

    It's sort of like if it makes use of continuity that's great but if it doesn't that's not a strike against it.

    And, to address you second point and the reason why I said this comment was going to come off as odd, I don't think you need to hand hold readers by making every story a new beginning either. Like you when i first got into comics I didn't start at the beginning, I just picked up what ever was there. It's kind of funny, but I started reading Batman after Knightfall, and at the time not only did I have no clue what happened before the issue I had but I was also unaware that the guy wearing the Batsuit wasn't Bruce Wayne, I just thought he had a cool new costume and was drawn with blonde hair for some odd reason. After reading several issues I realized my folly but I can tell you that I didn't feel cheated by the experience or wish that the first issue I had read had been more forth coming with the back ground information. I was content with the story I had and was willing to let it tell me everything I needed to know at its own pace, and that's an experience that I think has molded me to this day.

    It's my belief that if a story is well told you can jump in and start reading from just about anywhere. If you're patient enough you'll learn enough of the jist of what's going on as you go and information is repeated or revealed in a well crafted story as its needed so you shouldn't be lost for too long if you just give yourself over to the rhythm of the narrative. Having an occasional sign post is nice, so I usually ask when I'm starting something new these days, but (like my opinion on continuity) such a thing isn't completely necessary for me to enjoy a story.

  6. As far as the Arkham comics go, while "End Game" is a long 6 parter, I've tried to keep all the other stories 3 chapters long (so each complete story is printed in one comic issue). That anyone at anytime should be able to pick up any print issue of Arkham Unhinged, and get a complete read, even if they've never played the game before. Most of the characters are familiar enough in the Batman universe. And even if they're not familiar to the reader, they'll be able to figure it out as they go as they're very focused on character.

    That's really what it comes down to, isn't it? Was the story, in the here and now, interesting enough and entertaining in its own right? And that's not to say every story should be considered a mystery or confusing if all the pieces aren't in place or every secret isn't known. But I tend to think as each issue grows, that the reader will get more and more comfortable (and the writer too) with the characters and the story, and build that sense of history and continuity.

    I do think it's something that is always on our minds as writers, whether we actively participate in it or not. That each issue might be the jumping on point for someone new. But you hope that there's enough context in each issue that anyone can be able to follow along. And like you said, putting in a few sign posts along the way will help when we can.

    Thanks for your thoughts Bill!

    1. Ah, that's some good information to know. I checked out the Arkham section over on Comixology last night and I was blown away by just how many issues there were, forgetting that you had been doing those stories long before the Batman Beyond and Smallville digital chapters started up.

  7. Yeah the digital comics division of DC sort of got its start with Arkham City. There were the digital exclusives from Paul Dini that I was helping co-script and co-write. And that lead directly into the ongoing Arkham Unhinged. From that point on, there's been all sorts of stuff for every day of the work week…the Beyond titles, Smallville, Ame-Comi Girls…and more still to come.

    Once you've had a chance to try a few, you might get hooked. Interested in hearing your thoughts as you try them out.

  8. I followed your suggestion from CBR and picked up Arkham Unhinged #10 and enjoyed it a lot. It reminded me a lot of Michael Gilbet's "Stories" from Legends of the Dark Knight, your story provided a clever way to not only pay homage to the various interpretations of Batman but also the different character skins available in the game.

    I also enjoyed your inclusion of the time honored Batman Easter Egg of naming various Gotham landmarks after past Batman writers and artists, Miller's Junk Yard was amazing, especially coupled with the DKR inspired Batman. I can only imagine the joy your artist must have felt when you gave him the script, he must have loved homaging all those great art styles.

    I can safely say I'm hooked and I'm glad I have a lot of reading to catch up on!

    1. Always nice to hear it hit all the right marks. It definitely took inspiration from the "Legends Of The Dark Knight". I know when I wrote it, I didn't know who they'd get on art. I wasn't even expecting the artist to draw it in the style of each of the original artists for their suits. I just figured the suits would change appearance in the story but still be mainly his own style. So it came as a pleasant surprise to see Pete draw each of them in the style that the suit represented (Miller's very dark style and Timm's animated style being just some of the highlights). Glad to hear you liked it, and welcome to more digital stories in the future.

      While all of the stories have their own perks whether it's a favorite character or artist that draws them, I'd recommend the current "Arkham City End Game" 6-parter. It's longer than the others, but it's a very dark psychological tale centered around Batman and Joker, with Jim Gordon, Bullock, and Harley also with crucial appearances. It's one I feel that any Bat fan can read even if they've never played the game.