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History left unsaid : implied continuity in batman’s contemporary comic-book narratives

Smith, AN 2015, 'History left unsaid : implied continuity in batman’s contemporary comic-book narratives' , in: Many More Lives of the Batman , BFI.

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Abstract

While scholars have demonstrated how the US comic-book marketplace in the 1980s/1990s laid conditions for certain narrative techniques in superhero comics (Pearson and Uricchio, 91; Putz, 99; Wright, 01), this article shows how subsequent industrial shifts have motivated the development of new storytelling approaches. Focussing in particular on the editorial practice of maintaining a unified narrative continuity across a publisher’s range of titles, the article argues that publishers’ economic strategies from the 2000s onward have led to writers adjusting the methods by which they invoke a grander storyworld chronology. Using Batman comic-book narratives as a case study, the article shows that the increased necessity placed on publishers to attract a wider readership during this period has seen writers continue to acknowledge the Caped Crusader’s history but while using techniques far subtler than those deployed by writers in the decade previous. Via this more recent approach, whereby writers merely imply continuity, writers appease a core audience of dedicated readers while also being sure not to confuse and/or irritate a broader audience unfamiliar with the minutiae of Batman’s biography. The article first outlines the changes within the comic-book industry that have motivated the move towards this practice of implied continuity. It makes clear that, while the tremendous growth of the direct market in the 1980s and 1990s led to publishers prioritising a loyal but small readership, the dramatic decline of this audience in the mid-to-late 1990s, and its subsequent stagnation, has galvanised publishers’ pursuit of readers beyond an isolated market niche. The article shows that publishers have, so as to meet this aim, turned to alternate formats and distributional channels, aggressively expanding the markets for collected editions and digital comics in a bid to target consumers outside of the direct market (via mass-market bookstores and digital platforms). The article moves on to detail the storytelling mode of implied continuity that this industrial context underpins. Relying upon examples from comic books of the 1980s and 1990s it establishes how writers would typically reference continuity explicitly, via characters’ dialogue exchanges, for example. Looking primarily at the output of Grant Morrison (chief Batman writer in the late 2000s) and Scott Snyder (chief Batman writer in the early 2010s), the article then demonstrates how the acknowledgement of continuity has become more discreet, with this approach complementing the industry’s goal of appealing to a broader consumer base. As part of this study, the article shows how, in some instances, contemporary writers delicately establish links with prior fictional events through their retrieval of highly resonant storyworld elements such as certain characters, costumes, vehicles and settings; it further reveals that, in other instances, writers make reference to continuity, not through the invocation of a chronology of storyworld events, but rather through the reprising of highly particular themes present within previously published Batman narratives. Through this merging of industrial and narratalogical analyses, the article provides a necessary insight into the US comic-book industry’s recent upheavals and the resultant implications for storytelling.

Item Type: Book Section
Themes: Media, Digital Technology and the Creative Economy
Schools: Schools > School of Arts & Media > Arts, Media and Communication Research Centre
Publisher: BFI
Refereed: No
ISBN: 9781844577644
Funders: Non funded research
Depositing User: AN Smith
Date Deposited: 16 Feb 2015 12:42
Last Modified: 24 Nov 2015 12:11
URI: http://usir.salford.ac.uk/id/eprint/33669

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