Thursday, December 27, 2007

Anachronoslides

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.
"DAZZ!!!!!!"


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?

43 comments:

Gerry Canavan said...

I don't think that was an episode of Quantum Leap: Dr. Sam Beckett could only travel within his own lifetime, and I think the only exception was one time when he accidentally leapt into his great-grandfather during the Civil War.

I loved that show as a kid, and I think I saw every episode, and I don't remember the Titanic at all.

Could it have been Time Tunnel?

totaltoyz said...

Commenting on the Edith Keeler episode, something else about it bothered me. Why did Edith have to die? Why didn't Kirk & Co. just take her back to the future (pun intended) with them? She would have been out of the timeline and would not have caused the Allies to lose the war, and yet she would have survived and they would have been together. (And, as Peter David so nimbly pointed out, in Star Trek: Generations when Kirk was in his own fantasy world, why wasn't he in Depression-era New York with Edith Keeler? Joan Collins was still around and, thanks to plastic surgery, reasonably good looking.)

Something from another TV show that bothered me wasn't so much an anachronoslide as poor research. In one episode of The Odd Couple it's stated that Oscar never told his mother he had gotten divorced, so that when she comes to visit he and Blanche pretend to still be married. A couple of seasons later, it was said that Oscar's mother knew all along and had been trying to set him up with someone new since the day the divorce was finalized. (Of course, Mrs. Madison was played by a different actress each time, so perhaps it was a case of Oscar Has Two Mommies.)

totaltoyz said...

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.

Sadly, true. And yet, the Tom Hanks film Road to Perdition had a somewhat larger budget; and yet, Hanks' son in the film was reading a Lone Ranger Big Little Book in 1931, two years before the Lone Ranger debuted on radio. Go fig, huh?

Scipio said...

You are quite right, Gerry; I was not a regular watcher of QL, and didn't see the beginning of that episode. The internet tells me that date of the cruise he was on was June 3 1954. That is after the Pajama Game opened on Broadway ( May 13, 1954).

QL wins, and I'm an idiot!

BUT the Star Trek thing still stands...

Anonymous said...

don't know if you saw this. merry christmas.

"I'm just vain enough to want to try and rehabilitate Vibe" - Dwayne McDuffie
source:
http://thevhive.com/forum/index.php?webtag=THEV&msg=13.13705

-alex p

Anonymous said...

"Commenting on the Edith Keeler episode, something else about it bothered me. Why did Edith have to die? Why didn't Kirk & Co. just take her back to the future (pun intended) with them?"

Why didn't Spock just push her down the stairs, for that matter? The point was that Edith was supposed to die in a traffic accident, and to restore the timeline, it was necessary to put things as close to known history as possible. How much trouble could be caused by "irrelevant" changes to history? Well, as Edith's survival demonstrated, heaps of trouble.

In short, take it on faith that Edith was supposed to die in a traffic accident, and any other outcome was playing with fire. This whole topic was covered in comparable fashion on "Farscape" and I wholeheartedly recommend taking in their ruminations on the risks of time travel.

Scipio said...

*Sigh*.

Does anyone want to comment on the actual point of my post, not the throwaway lead-in I used to make the point?

I swear, sometimes it's like trying to point something out to a dog, and all they do is smell your finger...

Anonymous said...

Um, I'm not at all troubled by the fact that the JSA guys are forced to defy aging by increasingly ridiculous degrees? What better conflict for them to have gotten their start in than a real world slobberknocker between Good and Evil.

Anonymous said...

Batman having four different Robins. I'm not really sure how I'd remedy it, but I always liked the idea of Jason Todd as Robin because he was troubled and did need someone to look out for him. He was not a self-sufficient character like Dick Grayson or Tim Drake and I thought that could or should make the Batman/Robin dynamic more interesting.

totaltoyz said...

Well, OK, to comment on the actual point of your post. You made a point about cultural anachronisms in the tales of Batman's foes, like Two-Face and Joe Coyne. There's one that bothers me, in the origin of the Joker. A cultural anachronism that is still in his curently-canonical origin, according to his bio on DC's website:

"He was there to steal the payroll."

How many decades has it been since anyone paid their workers in cash??

Will said...

Strangely enough, the anachronisms in comics don't bother me a whit. I suppose they should. After all I grew up reading Marvel comics in the mid 70's (don't scold me - I've learned the errors of my way and am thoroughly DC now) when it was still just possible to not need a sliding timeline. The Fantastic Four were only 15 years old and while a 31 year-old Johnny Storm seemed not right, a 45 year-old Reed Richards made perfect sense. Not that I thought about it. Little 8 year-old Will was more concerned with what was happening now.

Comics really only have two tenses. Now, this months' issue, and Sometime Before, any previous issue. And why should it be otherwise? It seems to me more than a bit silly to worry about when everything happened in relation to the Real World when the point of comics is that they don't happen in the Real World.

The only time the anachronisms bother me is when they're being patched; when a writer points out the "flaws" in the original story. John Byrne, with his nothing-happened-more-than-ten-years-ago fetish, is a wonderful example of this. It was Byrne who decided that the FF couldn't be trying to become the first men in space - that would make them too old. Instead, they were now testing a faster-than-light spaceship. Aptly, since this new origin makes 186,000 times less sense. Isn't it enough to say "It all happened a long time ago" and be done with it? Superman has perhaps the greatest origin story of all. But it too falls apart if examined as somthing that occurred in 1980. A spacecraft crashing in Kansas unnoticed in 1937 is a flight of fancy. The same craft crashing unnoticed in 1980, a world deep into a Cold War and swarming with sattelites and radar to detect any object enetering US airspace, strains credibility more than the idea that a different colored sun would allow a man to fly.

My point is that there are no anachronisms if we look at comics as the eternal Now. Yes we can still cherish the old stories (and I do!), we just have to accept that they are, indeed, old stories and spend more time looking forward, than back.

Or did I just miss the point?

Anonymous said...

The JSA in the 70, with the hippies, and Vietnam? with the war that gave us Punisher?

MaGnUs said...

It's not the little anachronisms that bother me, but the large stupid errors, like the recent Dr. Doom origin miniseries that had Latveria's king (while Doom led a coup) being backed by the USSR. Yes, a monarchy backed by the soviets. Riiiiight.

The Estate of Tim O'Neil said...

You know, I think WWII is more integral to the JSA than you're giving it credit for. I mean, sure, they didn't really have a lot of impact on the war itself. (Whereas the existence of the Marvel characters at least made some significant changes to the war timeline - such as Hitler being killed by the original Human Torch and not at his own hand in the bunker.) But the whole point is their ideological origins, and that really doesn't work if you try to put them in, say, Korea or Vietnam or - what? Nicaragua? The characters lose the ethical backbone that gives them their modern significance.

acespot said...

You know, of course, that the Captain Kirk image you used is NOT from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but rather from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

What annoys me is how Superman: Birthright is supposedly Superman's new origin, yet Superman books keep on being written as if the Byrne origin were still official. Except for Superman: Confidential's first arc, which was about a fucking talking/sentient rock!!! Although the characters all drive old fashioned cars, wear old fashioned clothes, and use old fashioned reel to reel machines, they use fucking computers! And have internet access! What's that about?

What really annoyed me about DC's decision to champion the substandard Superman: Birthright as the new origin was that it was completely unnecessary. It's entire point was to make Clark Kent a "world traveller who encountered adversity in Africa" before he became Superman. Well, really, who the fuck cares? Plus, the writers got to use 21st century technology in his origin story, just so that they could screw with continuity a little more.

Lauren said...

The Legion of Superheroes in the mid 1970s attempted to explain the age problem. The characters should have been in their mid 30s instead of still being 16.
Also Superboy grows up and leaves the LSH to be a fulltime Superman.
The technology of the "future" was always a problem that couldnt be addressed.
DC also gave up trying to explain how the 30th century recovered so quickly from the Kamandi Great Disaster years.

The LSH origin was tightly connected to the Superboy of 1958. So although Superboy's origin was slowly being retconned further into the future; the LSH was still doing flashbacks to 1958.

Then there was Supergirl in the LSH...

The reboots are much maligned by LSH fans but actually the reboots helped in some ways.

Hale of Angelthorne said...

My biggest annoyanchronism? The fact that the Silver Age doesn't exist anymore. There's Golden Age (Captain America, JSA, etc.) and then there's "present day" where no character is supposed to have been around for more than ten years. Which means no superheroes at all from 1945 until 1997? Even if the JSA weren't retconned into the Silver Age, it seems like SOMEone ought to have been there.

Anonymous said...

"My biggest annoyanchronism? The fact that the Silver Age doesn't exist anymore. There's Golden Age (Captain America, JSA, etc.) and then there's "present day" where no character is supposed to have been around for more than ten years. Which means no superheroes at all from 1945 until 1997? Even if the JSA weren't retconned into the Silver Age, it seems like SOMEone ought to have been there."

Well, there was the Justice Experience during the 1970s -- but most of them didn't take heroing seriously like their Golden Age predecessors, and it was more about glamour and fame than protecting the innocent. Notable exceptions, who took their job seriously, would be The Acro-Bat (Cameron Chase's late father) and the Bronze Wraith (J'onn J'onnz in an early superheroing identity).

Allan said...

Well, so as not to offend Scipio, I shall answer his questions before making my argument.

"What are the anachronisms and anachronoslides that bother you most in your comics[?]"

None of them.

"And what would you do to remedy them?"

Nothing.

Not only am I not annoyed by anachronisms, I actually enjoy them when used in an overtly postmodern context (see Moulin Rouge for an excellent example of this).

When working in any creative medium, I think an artist's devotion should be to the whole work in its totality. For example, assuming that they have a limited selection of songs with which to score their movie, it is in their overall interest to select the one that works best within the narrative and construction of the piece, even if the song itself is a minor anachronism (I say minor because in your example the song is still very much a part of the period it is used to represent and is not as obvious a historical mistake as using--for example--"Love Me Tender" in its place).

I respect that many people don't share my feelings and feel as though such mistakes ruin their overall narrative experience, but I have never heard a good reason why this is the case. I don't quite get the idea that works of fantasy and fiction are somehow beholden to the provable reality of our workaday world. If one can make the leap in logic that the crew of an intersteller space federation is able to journey back in time to 1930, is it too much a stretch to accept that in the world being depicted a specific song was written a year earlier than it was in our own chronology?

The Estate of Tim O'Neil said...

"The fact that the Silver Age doesn't exist anymore. There's Golden Age (Captain America, JSA, etc.) and then there's "present day" where no character is supposed to have been around for more than ten years. Which means no superheroes at all from 1945 until 1997?"

At Marvel, at least, John Byrne tried to fix this... about ten years ago there was a series called "The Lost Years" that dealt with this time period, and tried to retroactively implant a whole slew of characters and situations into the MU, including even another Skrull invasion. No one ever mentioned this again, and although it's never been officially retconned away, it is just flat-out ignored.

I believe James Robinson did something similar, and slightly more successful, during "Starman". Although it's been a while, I may be mistaken.

Scipio said...

"The JSA in the 70, with the hippies, and Vietnam? with the war that gave us Punisher?"

To me, that would simply make them more significant as moral standard bearers. The fact that their wisdom was unconventional at the time they were active would make them even more exceptional.

But I'm not really suggesting mooring them to different time (I suppose it does sound as though I am). I'm really talking about un-mooring them from a particular time (WWII) and letting their past "float" vaguely like the past of the JLA does (something that, judging from the comments, we mostly agree is okay).

totaltoyz said...

Anither anachronism from the early tales of Batman's villains: in his second appearance, published in 1948, the Riddler robbed a drive-in theater. (For those of you born after 1980, a "drive-in theater" was an establishment that showed films on a large screen outdoors, while patrons watched from their cars.)

Siskoid said...

Silver Age: Well, that might be an interesting thing to do with Final Crisis.

Golden Agers still came from the 40s. And select some Silver Agers to come from the 60s and 70s. Legacy heroes especially, could be "aged" this way. Ray Palmer and Aquaman, for example, especially if younger heroes have taken their places. There's no reason the more "immortal" heroes couldn't have been active then too: J'onn, of course, but how about Wonder Woman?

Just thinking out loud.

My bothersome anachronism? That Spider-Man spent his college days calling people daddy-o.

Anonymous said...

Drive-in theaters are still around; I pass one every day on the way to work. Not absolutely anachronistic just yet.

Okay Scipio, I've thought and thought and thought about it, and I've come up with an anachronism that bugs me: the attribution of modern social mores to past eras. Now, I don't mind that the JSA are generally portrayed as socially forward-thinking -- any number of WWII era JSA comics featured statements of principles wherein the JSA explicitly denounced racism and religious bigotry. However, I'm not sure those heroes were quite forward-thinking enough for, say, Liberty Belle to have led the All-Star Squadron: the way Roy Thomas did it, gender was no issue whatsoever, and I have to imagine at least some of the ASSes would have whispered among themselves, "personally I could abide taking orders from Libby, but I'm not sure everyone will go along with that".

totaltoyz said...

Drive-in theaters are still around; I pass one every day on the way to work. Not absolutely anachronistic just yet.

They may not be completely gone, but they're certainly a rarity. Does the one you pass still actually show movies, or do they just hold flea markets there? I know there's a working one in beautiful metropolitan Jersey Shore, PA; my wife's aunt lives there, and it makes Mayberry RFD look like the home of the Jetsons.

farsider said...

Drive-in theaters are still around; I pass one every day on the way to work. Not absolutely anachronistic just yet.

I live about 5 minutes from the Scioto Breeze Drive-in. They have two screens and they show four movies (2 double features) all summer long. They don't use the speakers on the poles anymore. They send an AM signal right to the car radio. The movies are always first run, too.

But then again maybe Southern Ohio's a little anachronistic anyway.

Harvey Jerkwater said...

One that I've wondered about for a while is what they'll do with the Punisher. The heroes pegged to WW2 have fixes attached (suspended animation, the Infinity Formula, "infused with the life force of the villainous Ian Karkull," etc.) explaining their resistance to age, and it kinda works, since they're all fantastical characters.

But what about Frank? He's the only major character inextricably tied to the Vietnam War. When he rose to popularity in the late eighties, it was no big deal. He could be in his forties. But even figuring a late hitch in the war and being eighteen when sent over, he'd have to be in his early fifties at the youngest. That's a tough sell.

I see a couple of ways around it, all of them problematic.

1. Change wars. Make Frank a vet of Iraq or Afghanistan. Age problem removed.

Problems: From a purely internal mechanical standpoint, that's a retcon nightmare. From a storytelling standpoint, it's touchy. The Punisher as a veteran of Vietnam is a non-trivial part of his character. Moving him up to Iraq monkeys with that. Also, theoretically, he'd have to be updated with a fresh war later on.

2. Change wars, but not to Iraq or Afghanistan. Make Frank a "special ops guy" who did dirty work in the indeterminate past, shooting people and blowing things up for Uncle Sammy on the hush-hush. Avoids real-world politics as well as any future need for retconning.

Problems: Again, the loss of Vietnam in Frank's past isn't good. I think he needs the cultural baggage of that particular war to work. He can lose it and still function, but he'd lose some resonance. This approach is the "Wolverine" one. Essentially, he'd be Logan minus the mutancy. And the bad hair.

3. Give in to the four color and apply an anti-aging fix. An age-reversing serum, a clone body, time ripples, whatever. No retcons needed.

Problem: A fantastical approach is not a good one for this guy. His tough-guy appeal is, in part, rooted in his contrast from the four-color nonsense around him. He's the self-dubbed "realist" in a world of brightly-colored idealists. (Well, that's how he's written.) Giving him such a naked four-color plot device renewal would be a huge lapse in his character.

4. La la la la what do you mean age la la la la!

Problem: Denial, the current approach, will fail over time. More and more people will notice the discrepancies, and eventually it'll have to be addressed.

Were I in charge of the decision, I'd probably go with #2, the Wolverine Option, leaving the door open for #1 as time goes by. The cultural baggage of Vietnam and the seventies zeitgeist that spawned ol' Frank are being lost to history. He'll lose some of his flavor, but I think he'd lose it anyway with the passage of time.

As far as backfilling characters to fill gaps created by the sliding timescale, I love it. It creates a whole new sandbox to play in. When I was a blogger, I farted around with a whole backfill concept for Captain America that supplied a Cap for the ever-increasing gulf between WW2 and today. Backfilling allows creators to tie characters to particular times permanently and have character arcs that end. Both are nifty changes from standard comic book practice.

Anonymous said...

"My" drive-in theatre -- which actually shows movies and stuff, thankyouverymuch -- is in northern Ohio. Ohio: The Land That Time Forgot.

As to The Punisher and this:

"Problem: Denial, the current approach, will fail over time. More and more people will notice the discrepancies, and eventually it'll have to be addressed."

Not to worry, by the time that Vietnam is an untenable explanation of Frank Castle's history, there will be scads of mistreated Iraq veterans to take the place of Vietnam vets in our consciousness. Frank will fit right in as a former soldier in Fallujah, which works to his benefit because the Punisher is an urban warrior anyway. Give him a little time in Special Ops to justify his jungle flashbacks and it's a perfect fit.

Scipio said...

"Spider-Man spent his college days calling people daddy-o."

Oh, but didn't we all?

Scipio said...

"the attribution of modern social mores to past eras. "

Hear, hear.

JLU handled the issue with characteristic deftness and cleverness when they had the Green Guardsman comment that Green Lantern was "a credit to his race."

totaltoyz said...

"the attribution of modern social mores to past eras. "

In a couple of issues of All-Star Squadron and Young All-Stars, Roy Thomas did show Starman betraying some anti-Japanese prejudices. Perhaps he was swallowing all the anti-Jap propaganda of the time; or, having been born into affluence, he probably grew up unexposed to any cultures other than his own, except in the role of servants.

John Trumbull said...

Anachronisms don't bug me too much. Frankly, it bothers me more when they do a flashback series like JLA: Year One or Superman: Birthright and put in modern references like cell phones and the internet. Stuff like that takes me right out of the story. I'd rather they did what the first Marvels series did, where it was subliminally 1940, 1963, 1970 (clothing & hairstyles, etc), but they never outright stated what year it was.

And if I'm reading a Star Trek comic that takes place in the TOS era, I don't want to see any TNG-style bumpy foreheads.

Anonymous said...

"Hear, hear.

JLU handled the issue with characteristic deftness and cleverness when they had the Green Guardsman comment that Green Lantern was "a credit to his race.""


And don't forget what Hal Jordan used to call his Eskimo sidekick. Not that they haven't tried to explain that one away too: "The only Eskimo I've ever met before was an Eskimo Pie. Mind if I call you 'Pieface'?"

Michael Jones said...

Archie Andrews, Bart Simpson and Charlie Brown never age...what's up with that?

totaltoyz said...

Here's another time-related problem from the Golden Age, one that always bothered me, ever since I first read the story as a sunny lad of six summers.

Billy and Mary Batson, at the time when Mary first becomes Mary Marvel, are supposed to be somewhere between 10 and 15 years old, right? But Sarah Primm, the nurse who gave Mary to a wealthy family, seems to have aged at least 40 years in that time. Perhaps she lived a hard life as a bordertown prostitute in the intervening years.

[IMG]http://i38.photobucket.com/albums/e149/totaltoyz/batson5.jpg[/IMG]

Anonymous said...

Snapper Carr. All of Snapper Carr.

He's supposed to be from, what, the mid-'90s or so? And he still talks like that?

And what does that make Vibe?

totaltoyz said...

And what does that make Vibe?

Still dead.

Hoosier X said...

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."

- Mitt Romney

totaltoyz said...

"Mitt Romney is a moron."

- Me

Tony said...

I think the Punisher does have a fix. Didn't he die and become an angel warrior for a while? Ennis referred to it obliquely in his first run, so I think it's still canon.

Jon the Intergalactic Gladiator said...

*Sniff sniff*

Oooh, what's that on your finger!!?

Robert said...

Actually, guys, that quote about a "foolish consistency" is from Ralph Waldo Emerson, not Mitt Romney (although of course Mitt may have been quoting Emerson).

Brion said...

bad credit auto loans

hotels in nyc

online mmo games

breast implants

personal injury lawyer atlanta ga

stem cells

north carolina beach wedding packages

hawaiian wedding

eyes surgery