Some people call it "loose continuity." Others use the term "continuity-lite." But whatever the description, DC announced earlier this year that the publisher was taking a new approach to continuity in its shared universe.
“We’re really asking the creators to put story and character first, and really focus in on canon rather than continuity,” Co-Publisher Jim Lee explained when the new DC line was announced for June. “This is an attempt to re-focus the line, focus on story, and let the creators tell their stories without necessarily being confined by the restrictions of ‘continuity.’”
Of course, even though the announcement was new, there have been indications that DC was moving in this direction for a while. Over the course of the last few years, DC and other companies have been embracing the idea that there can be multiple versions of their characters and concepts in comic books — so much that some comic book pundits have labeled this the "prismatic age." And if readers can tell all these different stories and characters apart and still enjoy the stories, why would looser continuity follow?
That said, it's a risky move. As superhero fans, comic readers tend to dislike stories within a shared universe that contradict each other. If Bruce Wayne has lost his memory and hung up the cape in one comic (as is currently the case), it's bothersome to see him intact in the Batman costume in another one (as is also the case).
But as Co-Publisher Dan DiDio told Newsarama in July, sticking too closely to one continuity and making things "too interconnected and intertwined" can also "turn off" some readers because there are so many books to read to get the whole story.
"What we're trying to do right now, by diversifying our line, is to find the different styles and tones that people are really reacting to," DiDio said. And then, he said, any story that catches on can be explored further and, perhaps, eventually brought closer into continuity with other books.
Yet both Lee and DiDio have emphasized that the "core" continuity will still be pretty tight — the characters that exist in the shared universe of the main DC earth (which DiDio called "Prime Earth").
So how has this looser continuity manifested itself in the DC line so far?
As Lee and DiDio promised, the continuity is different depending on which book. Some books still have tight continuity, but at the other end of the spectrum, there are a few of the new comics launched this summer that appear to exist in their own, completely separate universes. From Prez to Section 8, there are suddenly several comics with "DC" on their covers that have created a world separate from the regular DCU.
And so far, there haven't been any revolts among fans because these earths are so different — or because they don't have a specific number assigned to them. But the sales numbers for many of the more quirky comics haven't been stellar, although they still have a chance to catch on with fans or do well in collections.
Other comics have kept past, New 52 continuity intact, but have moved their characters into enough of a new direction that most of their past isn't all that important anymore.
Perhaps taking a page from the "Burnside" approach to Batgirl, comics like Starfire, Robin, Son of Batman, Grayson and Black Canary didn't erase the past of those characters at all, but they did drastically change the circumstances surrounding the characters so they could take a fresh approach.
So it's less about breaking continuity and more about leaving most of it behind.
As Black Canary writer Brenden Fletcher put it in July, "I'm not going to contradict any of that stuff. That is her past… I'm cherry-picking the parts of her past that are most emotionally resonant to her. But I'm going to be very respectful of who I think the iconic Dinah Lance is."
In November, readers will see the all-new Batman join the Justice League within the pages of Detective Comics — not in any Justice League title.
There are three Justice League titles right now, and none of them are using the all-new Batman or the new Wonder Woman redesign. Justice League of America, which launched in June from superstar creator Bryan Hitch, is using a New 52 version of the League, yet one that's untouched by contemporary DC events. And Justice League 3001 exists in a future so completely different from Prime Earth that co-writer Keith Giffen has admitted that he and J.M. DeMatteis basically created a new Earth somewhere out in the Multiverse.
And then there's Geoff Johns and Jason Fabok's Justice League, which has finally reached the "Darkseid War" the book has been building up to for awhile, but the book doesn't reflect current continuity at all. Hal Jordan is still a Green Lantern, Bruce Wayne is still Batman, and Superman still has his powers — all situations that are drastically different from their status in multiple other books.
Despite those differences, Johns told Newsarama it does take place within the same era and location as other DC comics on Prime Earth.
"It all takes place in that world, and it will all eventually make sense," he said. "But things happen and change and alter, and I don't want to spoil where this falls because it affects some things.
But it takes place in the DC Universe now. It's just like a lot of other books — you know, what's happening in Cyborg doesn't line up exactly where Justice League is, but it all does line up. But I like that they've taken off the shackles and haven't forced anyone to end a story or change things, just for the sake of continuity.
Is This Sticking Around?
The new direction has only been in place a few months (although, as noted above, there have been hints this was happening earlier), and DC's upcoming solicitations don't appear to be shying away from this looser approach to continuity. And although there was a scare that DC was shortening Prez from 12 months to only six — presumably because of low sales — DiDio shot that rumor down fast, indicating on social media that DC is committed to publishing all 12 issues of the alternate world story.
It's also worth noting that DC made a definite commitment to its Multiverse — and the idea of infinite alternate worlds — with the stories in Multiversity and Convergence. "It's not just another Multiverse," Multiversity writer Grant Morrison said recently. "It's as many as we need. You know? There's, like, little champagne bubbles in a glass."
And although DC's Prime Earth, tighter continuity titles tend to sell the best, there are plenty of exceptions, including the surprisingly successful Harley Quinn and the not-quite-in-continuity teams in Justice League and Justice League of America. So there's a good chance this new approach is here to stay.