As New Year's Eve approaches, the television wells with Years in Review, Top 100 Programs, and other "let's consider the sequences of history" shows. In order to avoid those, I was watching an old Star Trek rerun, the City on the Edge of Forever... .
I know, I know; not exactly the way to avoid pondering history! So I curled up with my Edith Keeler action figure (NRFB), bracing myself for when she talks about going to a Clark Gable movie, even though in 1930 (when her episode occurs), Gable had not yet been anything but an extra.
Anachronisms like that really burn me, particularly when they are so very unnecessary. Even in the pre-internet world, it could have been easily avoided, you'd think. Oh, well, Star Trek episodes were, after all, made on $47 dollars, kitchen utensils, and whatever odd S&H Green Stamps they had lying around.
Oh, but the episode held in store for me a worst temporal slap in the face! I hadn't noticed it when I was younger, because I wasn't as familiar with old music then. As Kirk and Keeler stroll along on their first date, the radio plays the Guy Lombardo rendition of "Goodnight Sweetheart". At first, I just did a double-take; then I realized what was wrong and I winced. Goodnight Sweetheart was written in 1931... the year after the year in which the episode was set. It got worse as they continued to use a modified version of the tune as Keeler's "theme song" throughout the episode. Oh, the pain!
Comic books, of course, have these kinds of problems with anachronisms. But comics books have a particular problem with anachronisms that are all their own. Thanks to their sliding timeline, comic books that start out with perfectly normal cultural references wind up, over time, being riddled with anachronisms. Not just the technological ones (like the glaring absence of mobile phones and the internet) that clearly set stories too far in the past. But cultural ones, too... .
Do you remember why Harvey Dent's face couldn't be fixed right away? Because the only sufficient skilled surgeon, Dr. Eckhardt, was trapped behind enemy lines in Germany. Remember how Batman & Robin escaped from the Penny Plunderer? Using a steel penny, a type made only in 1943-1945 and readily available only in the years right after the war. I'm most familiar with such examples from Golden Age Batman stories, but I'm sure you all could list many more.
Marvel, which makes such contemporaneous pop culture references much more often, is even more susceptible to such "anachronoslides", be they major (Tony Stark's war record) or minor (characters in an issue of Dazzler are attacked at the premier of Star Trek: The Motion Picture). Funny, how the "major" anachronoslides are easy to forgive whereas the "minor" ones seem so painful.
Similarly, when a current writer needs to write about an event in a hero's past, it can be a challenge to avoid any contemporary references that pin it in a particular time. This is usually most striking during flashbacks on early Batman & Robin stories (and, to a lesser degree, Green Arrow & Speedy). Superman and Wonder Woman were quite formally rebooted, so there are basically no flashbacks to their Golden or even Silver Age stories; we know "for a fact" that those are not the adventures of the current versions of those heroes.
But with B&R and GA, there's an unbroken continuity, and there are repeated references to their Golden Age adventures (and if you wish to debate that, read this before you do). It creates a feeling that Batman and Green Arrow are older characters than Superman & Wonder Woman. Even with Superman and Wonder Woman, however, references to the Bronze Age (usually found in Justice League stories) are a little tricky. These pre-reboot stories seem older than the characters that are in them!
One of my personal pet peeve anachronoslides is DC's insistence on continuing to link the JSA to World War II. They've gone to great lengths to 'magic' away their ages, but it's still a patch job (don't start to think too hard about Mathilda Hunkel's timeline, now!). And it's unnecessary; the JSA didn't actually have a direct role in WWII. As I'm sure I've mentioned before, the JSA didn't really fight Hitler; they fought Fritz Klaver. Their job was to hold down the fort at home while the war was fought, and they dealt mostly with saboteurs and fifth columnists. The JSA's origins could just as easily be retconned as heroes from the 1960s or 1970s without too much heartbreak. For me, anyway.
But that's me. What are the anachronisms and anachronoslides that bother you most in your comics, and what would you do to remedy them?