Waaaait a minute… (Superboy #89, continuity, and storytelling)

I’ve been reading through my Legion of Super-Heroes archives with my children lately, which has been a lot of fun, and given me the chance to relive a lot of familiar story moments through their eyes.  It’s also meant I’ve realized the my previous re-readings were a bit glib at times, glossing over some of the details.  Reading them out loud to my kids has meant I’ve caught every word…

For example, when I was re-reading Superboy #89, which is the debut story of Mon-El, I couldn’t help notice an inconsistency I’ve never picked up on before.  At the end of the first half, Superboy gets suspicious of Mon-El and secretly exposes him to Kryptonite while he is sleeping to find out if he reacts.  And of course, it turns out that it doesn’t, cluing Superboy into the fact that this is not his big brother after all.

However, the Kryptonite that Superboy uses to test Mon-El is contained in a lead box!  Twice later in the story Mon-El immediately reacts to lead.  Really, there’s no reason this lead shouldn’t have made him sick here as well.

What do we learn from this?  I don’t know, maybe nothing.  But it feels to me like the only reason it even mentions that the Kryptonite is in a lead vessel is in order to preempt the question in the reader’s mind of why Superboy himself doesn’t get sick.  Perusing the letter’s columns of the day make it look like the comic creators were constantly trying to avoid making these sort of errors, and readers were always trying to catch them in them.  It was like a game.

Not much has changed, or course.  My posts about the early Legion stories – comics which overall I love – are always pointing out these sort of mistakes.  That’s what I set out to write about today in fact.

It’s just that in case, in attempting to deal with one continuity issue, another one cropped up.  Those writer’s needed to be a bit craftier to really make that story air-tight.  Maybe Superboy should have tricked Mon-El to go on a job in space that would have secretly taken him by a Kryptonite asteroid.  “If the Kryptonite affects him, I can always knock the Kryptonite away with this meteor,” Superboy could have thought.

Or hmm, it’s possible that might have interrupted the flow of the story even more than the Superboy’s current comment about the lead box does.  And that might not have been worth it, even for a story that is air tight in its continuity.

I’m not criticizing old comics here.  It’s just making me think about my own writing, and how much time and energy I expend trying to explain things, and make them fit.  I’m at a loss for examples right now (I didn’t set out to write about this), but I know that I’ll throw all sorts of lines of dialogue, story moments, or quick asides into the proceedings of Hanna Jo or 24 Minutes in order to demonstrate to the audience that actually, I have an answer for whatever inconsistency they think they are noticing.  With a series like Captain Strong which I’ve been writing over so many years, I’ve found I’ll occasionally look back at older “mistakes” and try to put a spin on things that makes it make sense after all (like how could Captain Strong possibly have mistaken Sally Reilly for Princess Amanda back in Episode 14, even if she is a “royal impersonator”?  For the answer, see Episode 39!)

I’m sure this can’t be a good thing for my writing!  I mean, nobody likes stupid mistakes or inconsistencies (like one moment lead doesn’t affect Mon-El, the next it makes him sick temporarily, and the next it makes him sick permanently), but at what point am I now just writing apologies and explanations instead of a story?  How much of an any audience even cares about such things?  And do people really want explanations, or do they want the story to move forward?

I guess I have always wanted both.  I want to know how Star Boy’s powers changed from “electrical vision” to “making things heavy” without slowing down the story–or better yet, with it being a good story at the same time.  From a Legion perspective, the master of this was Paul Levitz, who explained the example from the prior sentence, as well as why Wildfire was never able to walk through walls after his first appearance, and also fit all those continuity-challenging “Adult Legion” stories into things in a very deft way.  I guess Levitz’s ability at this – to provide meaning and consistency to the Legion’s convoluted history without sacrificing the strength of the story – that made him one of my favorite comic writers.  And I’m not at all convinced that with my semi-obsession for “correctness” that I have achieved the same effective blend.  Once I do, and once I have an idea for it, maybe I’ll have a go at explaining the “glass eye” that Captain Strong mentioned having all the way back in Episode 2.

Do you think anybody cares?  It’s something that I’ve always been curious to know about….

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