Sep 17, 2015

Do We Care About Continuity Too Much?

I am a big fan of the work of the legendary Carl Barks and his American-comics successor, Don Rosa, on the iconic Disney characters, Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge. Barks created a rich world and told all sorts of tales filled with hijinks and high adventure, influencing not only American comics, but also American filmmakers such as George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Don Rosa carried on in that tradition.

I'm well aware that my investment in the Ducks is pretty much just in the Barks-Rosa iteration, in much the same way that my love for The Wally West Flash really is just for one particular iteration of that character. As such, none of this makes me want to watch Ducktales. It doesn't make me want to hunt down the Duck comics by Al Taliaferro, who drew the original Donald comics, nor does it make me want to hunt down the Duck comics published in Europe, where these characters are really really big. A reader of mine recently commented on an old piece:
Regarding European comics readers, I remark that: 1) Barks is the most reprinted artist, not only in fancy books for collectors, but also in the weekly and monthly cheap comics; 2) practically every kid in Europe reads a certain quantity of Disney comics at some moment in his life, it is kind of a cultural feature of the continent. Considering these two aspects, one can view Barks as one the few cultural bonding agent for the latest generations of Europeans.

As I understand it, European Duck comics for the most part either just do their own thing, or they're working off of Barks' established mythos the way Don Rosa did, but they don't make a practice out of sticking to each other's continuities. So knowing myself, I won't really enjoy getting into other Duck universes that's not the Barks-Rosa iteration, so I never bothered looking for how other artists depicted the Ducks.

Except for Marco Rota.

In various interviews, Don Rosa says things like "I’d give anything to be able to draw as fabulously well as Marco Rota!!!" So I tried looking for scans and looking at what's up with Marco Rota, and, well, yeah. The man draws like this.

And this.

And has storytelling like this.

Visually speaking, that's right up my alley. He draws close enough to Barks and distinctly enough that the Ducks have their own different lives under him. I like it!

Unfortunately, there are no official English translations of Marco Rota's work. All those scans up there are fan translations done by Geoffrey Moses. (It's awesome. It makes me want to translate Filipino comics for the fun of it.) And this is a story called "From Egg to Duck," which runs through Donald's entire life, from hatching out of an egg, to being found by Uncle Scrooge and his sister Grandma Duck, to moving to Duckburg, to being hired by Scrooge, to his cousin Della sending him the nephews, to meeting Daisy. It's a fun story going through Donald's life.

But... wait a minute.

In Don Rosa's The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, an Eisner winner and one of my favorite comics of all time, we know none of that is true. Regardless of whether or not the Disney Ducks lay eggs, Donald was born to Hortense McDuck, Scrooge's sister in Duckburg. Scrooge is only related to Grandma Duck by marriage — Hortense's husband Quackmore is Grandma's son. Donald has a twin sister named Della, not a cousin. And while Donald does meet Scrooge as a young man, he doesn't factor into Scrooge's life prominently until 1947, when Scrooge decides to stop being a hermit and finally meet his remaining family.

Life and Times is Rosa's love letter to Barks' stuff. He took Barks' references to Scrooge's past, created a timeline out of it, and crafted a story out of it. So in terms of continuity, Rosa's is the "real" narrative.

But do we care about continuity too much? "From Egg to Duck" is a fun story regardless, an enjoyable look at what could have been Donald's life. Why can't I enjoy both?

Rhetorical question, though — of course I can. Fiction is fiction, and these characters aren't real. So why is it that we as a fandom seem to have a hard time with different versions of characters? I'm thinking, right now, of the upcoming Marvel Amazing Spider-Man title, where Peter Parker is a successful world-traveling inventor running his own company while living in the Baxter Building. In other words, he's living Tony Stark's life while living in the Fantastic Four's house. This bugs some fans, some of whom are still stuck in 2008 and believe Peter Parker should be married to Mary Jane Watson, some of whom believe Peter Parker has no business being a successful man with his own corporation, let alone one living in the first family of Marvel's house.

Me? I like it. Peter Parker has no business being a successful inventor like Tony Stark. That's exactly what makes it interesting. Can you really look at this as anything other than a setup for his biggest downfall?

If you're opposed to Peter Parker being in this setup, how about treating it like an alternate reality? If you had described "From Egg to Duck" to me before I'd read it, I'd have thought it was incredibly stupid. But it was enjoyable and I see no reason why the preset parameters of what I know of the Ducks should get in the way of me enjoying a fun story.

I've mentioned on the Cube before, several times, how I do not actually like John Byrne's take on Superman. That's not because it isn't "my" Superman, but because I genuinely find the stories to be of lesser quality than I would like to read. Yet, the decade or so that followed Byrne's run on the title, known as the Triangle Era and featuring writers such as Roger Stern, Karl Kesel, and Louise Simonson, produced some of my favorite Superman comics using the continuity Byrne had set up. I just pretend Byrne's stuff didn't happen. It makes me enjoy that era more.

Continuity is an incredibly useful tool in creating a story — The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck doesn't exist without it. But it shouldn't hamper you from enjoying another story that's enjoyable on its own merits. These aren't real people. Why limit your enjoyment? From April to December 1942, Archie Comics released three different stories about how Veronica Lodge came to Riverdale. All are entertaining. While you may prefer one version, or while they may choose an official version, you are not prohibited from enjoying them all.

If you find it hard to accept a new take on a character, open your mind and try looking at that story in a vacuum. See it as an alternate reality if you have to. See if it entertains you. You're allowed to like it without having to reconcile it with what came before. Why limit your enjoyment?

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