Thursday, January 10, 2008

Stay in Your Bubble

Siskoid has an interesting post on "bubble worlds", the smaller circles of temporal and physical setting superhero characters exist in within the frame work of a larger, company-wide continuity.

It's funny, because "bubble worlds" used to be the norm for superhero stories before the 60s and 70s. Superheroes used to exist in their own stories in their own comics unmolested by outside interference. They stayed in their own fiction-opolises and only teamed up in special "team up" books like Justice League or Teen Titans that had their own continuity, existed in their own bubble.

It was the rise of the Marvel heroes (who all worked in New York and therefore ran into each other all the time in their individual books), Roy Thomas's ret-con fixation ("all heroes are related somehow") and the popularity of crossover events that really created a meta-continuity within companies.

Even so, certain characters have almost always maintained their own bubble. For example, in Detective Comics, Batman rarely, if ever, teamed up with any of his Justice League allies, no matter how dangerous the situation became (plague, earthquake, monstrous plant woman).

Because if Batman called in Superman to help one time, the question would be why he didn't do that every time. And if he did call in Superman every time, then Detective Comics would be just another Superman title, with Batman reduced to the role of Jimmy Olsen.

The easier solution is for everyone (Batman, the villains, and the readers) to forget that Superman even exists, let alone that Batman has him on speed dial, and just tell the story of how Batman, and nobody else, would solve this problem.

The worst violator of this is Judd Winick in Green Arrow (Now Black Canary/Green Arrow). Winick writes some fun action and sets up good situations (the Arrow team is just being out-classed by two world class assassins, or Green Arrow II has been snipered in the middle of the ocean), but then blows it by having a deus ex machina in blue tights fly in to save the day. Twice now.

Now, the logical response for anyone in the DC Universe to horrible circumstances is to shout "Superman, save me!" because, more often than not, he will (Kurt Busiek did a good story about that last year). But in terms of story, nothing sucks out the suspense like knowing the heroes aren't really in any danger because a demigod is waiting in the wings. For story purposes, Black Canary/Green Arrow has to exist in a world without a superman.

Remember, DC isn't telling one story. It's telling and told lots and lots of stories, for over 70 years that we pretend all take place in the same place because it's more fun that way (again, I'm paraphrasing Busiek. Smart man). I think comic book stories are a lot better when they have stronger internal continuity and are worried less about their place in the grand scheme of things, where crossovers and cross-continuity is treated as a special event and not the norm. Basically, I'm advocating for stronger bubbles.

Like that guy from Lilo and Stitch.


Siskoid said...

Exactly right. The whole point of the contextualizing city is to bubble up a character. Superman has no business in Gotham City. The Flash doesn't run the streets of Metropolis. And so on.

Glad to see the Roar of Comics up and about again. I used to visit a lot and then lost the habit after a few dry weeks last year. I see I have catching up to do, and that's great.

SallyP said...

Now I had the opposite reaction. I actually was pleased to see Superman show up and grab Connor, because I WASN'T expecting it. I'm still a little naive in some ways.

Dinah screams, and kicks, while Oliver shoots pointy sticks into people. Makes sense to me, that they'd know when they were in over their heads. Of course, as you say however, they can only use this sort of thing once in a very great while, or it becomes ridiculous.

Steven said...

they can only use this sort of thing once in a very great while, or it becomes ridiculous.

Well, yeah. If it was just this once, it wouldn't have been a big thing (I might not have even noticed), but Green Arrow 75 was only six months ago, and that was just atrocious.

At least this time Green Arrow actually calls for help at the beginning of the issue, instead of the JLA just showing up to save everyone out of nowhere at the end.

Siskoid said...

I've had to define my thought a lot more: