So. I think the terror of back issues is influenced some by the culture around comics, the widely-repeated notion that you’ll get your nerd card checked and revoked if you haven’t approached this stuff from 1966. That kind of attitude can make it really hard to walk into a comic book store and poke around for back issues, it punishes people who want to learn for not knowing. And without continuity, without a difficult continuity, we wouldn’t have continuity experts, the people who bank their fandom authority on trivia.
(I think we should do everything we can to like, alleviate this kind of alienation. But I think sometimes creators mistake approachability with “dumbing down” : I think it can actually pretty alienating to treat new readers with training wheels.)
And I can see how it’s a devil to storytellers. It limits what you can do by what has already come before. It means you can’t let things end. It saddles characters with unapproachable history, terrible stories, sometimes. Sometimes the alienation of continuity isn’t just the vastness of it, but its content. If you want to learn about Carol Danvers, and you start with Avengers #200, wouldn’t that be alienating?
There’s a lot to say about the unapproachable weirdness of superhero comics but that vast history is their specific delight, as well. Like there are mountains of storytelling opportunities in the frayed edges of dropped plotlines. There’s more to comment on because more has happened. And sure it gets confusing eventually when Reed Richards served in WW2 and the FF blasted off in the sixties, but isn’t it neat as a fan of the Fantastic Four to think about what they must have meant during the space race? You aren’t starting from a blank slate; blank slates are intimidating. And I love the collaborative approach to storytelling, the large and graceless mess, storytelling by accumulation. Characters become richer, this way, in multiple hands, they get blacker and brighter and more difficult. And there’s automatic stakes to the storytelling, we as fans are already invested, we’ve already bought in, so you, the writer, don’t have to do all that work.
I like being able to pour through a comic and compare one throw away line to another throw away line from 1996. It’s not important, but it’s fun, it’s fun to wonder and to try to fit pieces of a story together. And it’s super cool that you can doodle Sue Storm and know all these other great artists have doodled her before. Being a super-invested comic fan makes you part of this long tradition. It’s so cool to be reading a letter’s column from 1972 and see someone who loves your favorite character the same way you do. That’s the opposite of alienating, it’s community.
So basically continuity is like all the famous Marvel super powers, its own blessing and its own curse.
Stop taking words from my brain, it’s very disconcerting. (Never stop.)