Often, superhero fans overlook comic book continuity as something that only hardcore fanboy nerds are interested in, something that “isn’t important as long as a good story is being told.” I’ve always disagreed. Continuity IS story. Without it, even in non-serialized narrative or a single short story, things fall apart. Rarely, however, do I think about just how important continuity is BEYOND simple matters of canon, storytelling, and reader comprehension. But continuity truly is more than just having a coherent timeline or “making sense of stories.” A lack of continuity in a shared-universe, as we’ll see below, has the potential to conjure up egregiously offensive sociopolitical, sexual, or racial trespasses.
In case you didn’t already know, Bruce Wayne was recently stricken with complete amnesia and lost all of his memories in Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s “Endgame” story arc. Of course, this is comics we are talking about and any kind of loss always has a status-quo lever ready to be pulled at any moment. All of Bruce’s memories are conveniently stored in a failed cloning machine that he tried and failed to get off the ground. Here steps in Alfred Pennyworth—Bruce’s butler, yes, but for decades running, more of a legitimate father figure to him. Alfred is faced with a choice. He can have his son Bruce, for the first time ever, live a normal happy life with a loving wife and a job that gives back to the community—and with no knowledge of having been Batman. Or he can return Bruce’s memories so he can continue being Batman to protect Gotham, albeit with all the dark, tragic baggage that comes along with being an obsessed vigilante.
Snyder’s Alfred (in Batman Vol. 2) emphatically decides that Bruce shouldn’t be Batman. His only focus is on making sure that Bruce never remembers and is able to live a happy life. He doesn’t care about Batman’s mission at all. Lee Bermejo’s Alfred (in We Are Robin), on the other hand, seems to have a primary focus on making sure that any void left behind, due to the absence of Batman, gets filled with a powerful force capable of protecting Gotham at any cost. This feeling is so strong that Alfred clandestinely organizes and supplies an army of mostly lower to middle class teenagers to become a gang of overnight superheroes. Now, one could argue that Alfred would want to do both of these things: protect the city, save and spare your son who has put in his time. These are both admirable things that surely can be done side-by-side. I totally concur. However, Snyder’s Batman only barely references We Are Robin in the most cursory fashion and not via Alfred at all. Likewise, Bermejo’s We Are Robin operates as if it has no knowledge of what is to come in Batman, featuring Alfred heavily, but failing to reference any of his thoughts regarding Bruce’s future. Therein lies the problem that causes things to get seriously messed up. Alfred’s dilemma is handled by two different writers putting out two different (but simultaneous) titles: Snyder in Batman Vol. 2 and Bermejo in We Are Robin. Alfred, while characterized nicely in both titles, clearly has a different mindset in each.
When you merge the narratives of Batman Vol. 2 and We Are Robin together—and you should because they literally GO TOGETHER to tell the complete story—you have an Alfred who vehemently doesn’t want to put Bruce back in danger (in Snyder’s Batman), but who simultaneously arms and trains dozens of youngsters he doesn’t know to go into that very same danger zone (in Bermejo’s We Are Robin). The only other place on the web besides disCONTINUITY that has touched on the problems spawned by this brutal contradiction is the brilliant Tumblr blog “Next Stop: Immolation Station.” That’s just two sites (as far as I am aware), so it just goes to show that this aspect of continuity gets almost little to no attention even though it’s pretty damn important.
Maybe you could play Devil’s Advocate and argue that Alfred’s mentality changed somewhat following both the death of Troy Walker and the “Robin War,” meaning that Alfred’s stance on how to act after Bruce’s amnesia changes due to the pressure he is under. But a major fact that nullifies the Devil’s Advocation is that Alfred covertly supports—and, by default, encourages—the former Robin Gang members, again many of whom are products of a very low socioeconomic class, all throughout Snyder’s entire run. This paints a very offensive picture, where a super-privileged White vigilante opts to step out of the line of fire and substitute Child Soldiers of Color instead. How was this seemingly glaring ugliness allowed to appear in the pages of DC Comics? As always, it has everything to do with bad continuity—with writers and editors not communicating with each other.
The story of Bruce having lost his memories and Alfred deciding how to deal with it is a complicated tale that can be told from many different angles. Here we have two very distinct directions from two very different but clearly talented writers. Alfred is a beast of a certain nature in Snyder’s story arc whereas he is quite the opposite in Bermejo’s story arc. Snyder’s Alfred is the loving father figure with a desperate but pure heart. Bermejo’s Alfred is the stalwart defender of the city, dedicated to the cause of a fallen comrade. These two versions of Alfred are both correct versions of the character based upon what we’ve come to know over the course of decades. So neither Snyder nor Bermejo are at fault for highlighting those traits specifically. Snyder’s and Bermejo’s stories, when they stand alone, are actually both very compelling, especially when it comes to Alfred’s emotional plight. But when the two versions align as part of the same post-“Endgame” narrative, not only do characterization contradictions arise, something much more disconcerting occurs as well. Narratively speaking, the lack of communication between Snyder and Bermejo (and their editors) has turned the normally benevolent, paternal, and affable Alfred Pennyworth into a schizophrenic and deviously conniving Right Wing maniac. This hypocritical sick Army Dad needs to keep the fight alive at any cost and with any strangers that are willing (or persuadable), but he’ll be damned if it is his own kin’s flesh and blood being spilled out on the streets. But hey, Alfred’s an emotional fella who’s gone through a lot of shit, eh? Sheesh.
But beyond bearing directly upon character development, narrative flow, and plot-holes, this is a prime example of just how important continuity really is when it comes to serialized storytelling. Bad continuity can turn something innocuous into something highly offensive i.e. racist, classist, sexist, etc… Bad continuity can even turn a great set of stories into an objectionable nightmare when combined. Continuity means responsibility and accountability when it comes to writing. CONTINUITY MATTERS!
And if you think “Continuity Matters” bears too clear of a resemblance to Black Lives Matter, you aren’t wrong. The parallel is blunt for a reason. Just as Black Lives Matter champions a world free of racial injustice, Continuity Matters—if imagined as an activist movement for comic books—speaks to the idea that there should be more accountability on the part of writers and editors to create a better world of fiction similarly devoid of racism and all the other evil isms. Obviously, the reality and gravity of Black Lives Matter far outweighs anything having to do with the far-less-sociopolitical and far-less-serious arena of the superhero comic. But anytime we can eliminate impediments to prosperity or oppression in any realm of life we make the whole world a better place.