Tonal Pockets

One thing left out of the Continuity Bottle model that should be addressed is the concept of Tonal Pockets. What's that now?

Ok, you know how dynastic molecules swim through continuity like it's a liquid? Well, Continuity Fluid can have different consistencies throughout the bottle. Fluid consistency manifests itself as TONE. This explains the sometimes drastic retcon that occurs when, for example, Superman guest-stars in Plastic Man or Hitman. If the latter characters don't exist in a different world exactly, their stories are definitely told with a different point of view. When Superman swims into the tonally different fluid, he might become a lot sillier or a lot grittier.Now, Plastic Man isn't just swimming through a "funny" pocket. His essence so well matches the pocket's that he sticks with it (or it with him), bonding with his character concept, becoming, in a sense, one of his dynastic elements. ("What do you know about Plastic Man?" "He's funny.") It becomes very hard to dissociate Plastic Man from that tone even when he's in another style of story (say in the Mock-Realism of the Justice League). Other characters aren't so "essentially" tonal, which may explain why Batman has been used with a greater variety of tones (though there's a fluid consistency he definitely "prefers").

With this added element, the Vertigo Partition may just be a Tonal Pocket with a semi-permeable (editorial) membrane, though that's oversimplifying the various tones actually present across the line of books - horror, fantasy, gritty realism, high weirdness, etc. So a Pocket with a "mature readers" tone to be sure, a property the various fluid pockets inside the Partition all share. After all, Partitions still enclose continuity fluid, even if that fluid is different from the outside's. An Elseworld might only have one homogeneous tone (they often do), but it's still registering tonally. It still has consistency.

Tonal Pockets are an important concept because they help explain how the same Continuity can be so heterogeneous as to allow, for example, the grittiness of Alias, the superhero action of the Avengers, the irrevent edge of Nextwave and the indy vibe of Omega the Unknown. Is this really the same world, following the same rules? It is, because its constituent elements can meet each other, but we have to acknowledge that the Fluid in any given part of the bottle is not the same. Tonal Pockets can even stimulate Bubble Worlds to develop, especially in cases where the Bubble's rules are distinctive enough (Iron Fist being a good example here).

The above-pictured model obviously isn't complete because all stories have tones, so a detail would really look like this:
(Again, an over-simplification, but it does its job.) If there's still Fluid not color-coded, it's because a Continuity Bottle does have a "standard consistency". For these shared superhero universes, it's usually a mock-realism with a dash of grit (read: dismemberments). And since there's a standard, dominant Fluid, we can veritably talk about Pockets of substantially different consistency.

To be continued...


Charles Hatfield said...

Is this really the same world, following the same rules?

Actually, I'd say that it isn't. The problem with positing "tonal pockets" as a way of reconciling different tones is that the model presupposes that creators are interested in shoring up continuity, when in fact many don't care and have no custodial interest in the upkeep of continuity at all. This is where a lot of the good stuff in mainstream comics comes from, actually, not because but in spite of the editorial insistence on continuity. It comes from creative opportunism (Moore et al.'s depiction of the JLA in Swamp Thing, for example), not from a desire to add to the corporate continuity.

I'd say that what is notable about DC and Marvel comics at any given moment is their radical discontinuity in terms of tone, genre, sense of causality, etc. While I can think of a few examples in which a creator actually had fun contributing to the corporate continuity (Simonson on Thor, right?), the stuff that we really remember, and that gets mined for future stories, is actually stuff that resulted from resisting or slipping one by the editorial establishment, stuff that had nothing to do with continuity upkeep and treated the property in question as the creator's own personal thing (Miller on Daredevil).

I guess what I'm saying is, the "bottle" model runs the risk of hiding what's actually going on in terms of production, where battles are fought constantly to carve a little bit of creative space. By the time the fresh new stuff has been absorbed into corporate continuity, by the time the bubble has burst as you put it, it's usually dying. Continuity may not be the organizing or generating principle; it may be the constraining principle (the tether, not the rocket). No?

I want the bubble full of holes, like a watering can!

PS. I often wonder how Batman can coexist with Superman, Wonder Woman, et al. Tonal pockets might help explain this: Batman is a bit different when swimming through JLA "fluid." But I've always preferred to think that Batman wears a device that saps the intelligence of other JLA members within a given radius, making them stupid enough to depend on his "strategic" skills, etc. :)

Siskoid said...

the model presupposes that creators are interested in shoring up continuity,

Here's the distinction I would make. The model isn't a tool for creators to work with or within, it is a RESULT of whatever creative processes are at work.

Continuity is an artificial construct to begin with. While some creators are interested in making sense of continuity (shoring it up as you call it), most are not. Continuity shouldn't be an end unto itself for a creator, but for fans, it's an integral part of the hobby.

The model doesn't represent creative principles at work as much as it represents fandom's perception of it. How to explain a universe that doesn't make sense, that is so disaparate, discontinuous. That's the attempt.

The Bottle is a snapshot of the Continuity Artifact at any given time (its past present and future as perceived at that moment), which is a result of all creative forces in play at that moment (creative, editorial and social trend). It may just reveal the fact that Continuity IS essentially a fallacy.

I don't see the Bottle as an organizing principle (which implies people "using" its system) but as the resulting portrait of people contributing to the shared universe without any kind of boundaries.

I want the bubble full of holes, like a watering can!

It is. They are. Bubbles and Pockets as described are fields without fences, fully permeable. Even Partitions and Continuity Walls are full of Funnels. They are very leaky indeed.

But I've always preferred to think that Batman wears a device that saps the intelligence of other JLA members within a given radius, making them stupid enough to depend on his "strategic" skills, etc. :)

I love that theory actually!

Note that the picture isn't yet complete as far as I'm concerned. I'm working on the next chapter, all about Fermentation that should add even more randomness to the model.


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