In the category Warped Minds Think Alike, Thought Balloonists discussed Immortal Iron Fist's story structure (Part I, Part II). Where I coined the term "Bubble World", Craig and Charles use "Pile-Up", an additive use of continuity both OUTWARD and BACKWARD in this case. Charles is even reminded of Starman, which has been in the pipeline since my first article (look for it soon on an Internet near you!). Thanks for Chris Roberson for getting us together.
Now one of the Thought Balloonists' contentions is that Immortal Iron Fist is essentially a retcon. That if we look at Iron Fist's entire publishing history, we won't find the other cities competing in the Heavenly Convergence Tournament. We won't find a "Golden Age" Iron Fist, or Iron Fists going back to ancient times. Indeed we won't.
I'll say this: All shared universe comics are being continually retconned, all the time.
I'm not just talking about the big retcon events (DC's Crises and Marvel's One More Days), or about shifting paradigms on second-string characters whom we "didn't know much about so it's ok to do a big reveal that Changes Everything(TM)" (like Iron Fist). I'm also talking about the minute and not-so-minute differences in any character's history caused by long-term publishing at the hands of various creators.
Long-term publishing of any character means his or her origin must be continually retconned lest he or she dies of old age. The sliding scale of time most characters have to put up with means they'll celebrate Christmas 10 or more time a year, will see the President of the U.S. change 5 times while they finish college, started out fighting the communists, and can be heard calling their friends "daddy-o" when they were reasonably born no earlier than 1978. Comics taking place in the "present" continually retcon the character's history to reflect a present-centric view. That anyone can stuff decades of history into a character's 10-year (at most) career is a whole other issue.
Long-term publishing also means different creators will have left their fingerprints on characters and concepts, tweaking or changing their natures and personalities, slightly to outrageously. Can all these discrepancies be reconciled? One extreme case study is Batman who has probably been handled by more creators than anyone. Even if we leave out the "Elseworld" stuff, can we reconcile the human, beatable Batman and the unstoppable genius of the JLA? Sometimes he's an angry force of nature, sometimes he's got a sense of humor, sometimes he's fun-loving, sometimes he's planning his friends' overthrow, sometimes he's a loner, sometimes he wants to start the Outsiders, etc. His speech patterns change. Every time someone writes Batman, he's slightly different, necessarily so. A continuous and coherent personality cannot be maintained across multiple writers.
And what about artists? They bring something to a character's look, motion and world. There have been as many Gotham Cities as there have been artists to render them. A very small change in costume from one artist to the next (say, the design of a belt buckle) isn't a major retcon, but it is a retcon.
Fandom is clearly obsessed with continuity or massive event retcons wouldn't be mandated by Editorial. As pop culture historians and collectors of stories, we have an inherent need to know where things fit and what is canon. While it is patently ridiculous, it is (an essential?) part of the hobby. But there is it: None of it actually makes sense as a continuous "pile-up" or "bubble" because of the inherent nature of the medium.
I should take another look at Grant Morrison's Hypertime theory, since it claims to fit even this minor, subconscious retconning into a logical schematic, but isn't it just the retcon to address all retcons?