A post rescued from my defunct Marvel blog of years ago, concerning continuity.
Continuity. Some people have asked about it, and its role in comic book storytelling. So here’s what I can tell you:
Continuity is a tool. It is not an end in and of itself. The purpose of continuity is to enhance stories, the purpose of stories is not to enhance continuity.
Every reader has their own continuity that’s important to them. One guy won’t mind if you disregard a story published ten years ago in some way, where to another guy, that was his favorite story of all time, and the reason he’s a fan in the first place. You can never please everybody.
Continuity was never as seamless as everybody seems to remember it being. We may have spent more effort concealing it, but there was never a point where everything came off flawlessly. But again, see previous point: for people reading ten years ago, they may not have cared about the continuity of twenty years ago the same way the older guys did.
Most continuity is off-the-cuff. Which is to say that we sort of know vaguely which storyline in the assorted Spider-Man books happens when, but we don’t obsess over it needlessly, to the exclusion of everything else. As said previously, it’s never going to be perfect, and spending too much effort trying to make it so has diminishing returns.
The Marvel of the 1980s, embodied by Mark Gruenwald, promoted a specific approach to continuity, one that the readership as a whole has been trained to accept as “proper” continuity. But even Mark’s guidelines, much as I love him, are crazily restrictive at times. And, for example, now that Mark is no longer with us, neither are his rules for how time travel must function within the Marvel U.
I’m going to be explaining Nick Fury in IRON MAN every month until the storyline is done, I can see. Short answer: when we began work on that storyline, we couldn’t be sure A) when these issues were going to ship, because we weren’t sure when the Warren and Adi run would be wrapped, and B) when the end of SECRET WAR was going to ship. So we proceeded with Fury in place. As it worked out, SECRET WAR #5 came out first, and finally established Fury’s status quo at that point in the Marvel Universe. But we’ve already established in the NEW AVENGERS ILLUMINATI Special that SHIELD has been using a sophisticated Fury LMD to stand in for Nick and cover his disappearance–so you can assume that the Fury in IRON MAN is probably the LMD (same as in HULK #88-91, as well as one or two other places that I’m not going to point out–why ask for trouble?)
It used to be that the fans were the ones who worked at making the continuity function, coming up with rationales for how mistakes weren’t mistakes. Heck, we used to give out No-Prizes for just that. But in the last decade, that seems to have changed, and rather than being challenged by continuity, most vocal fans today seem irritated by it, demanding explanations for every seeming inconsistency, and not bringing any thought to the matter themselves. Not that they’re required to especially, but it seems like a somewhat more productive approach if something bothers you than just complaining about it everywhere.