A Fact-Check for the Four-Color World

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Isn't this just nitpicking?

A few readers have at various times remarked upon the necessity or desirability of this blog, suggesting that it's nitpicking, or somehow rude to the artists whose work we critique, or reveals a negative attitude toward the comics in question.

So I'll take another whack at explaining it, only this time I think I'll let an expert do the heavy lifting. Here's Matthew J. Bruccoli, editor of the Cambridge University edition of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Dr. Bruccoli is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of literature at University of South Carolina and a leading authority on Fitzgerald. On the subject of accuracy, Dr. Bruccoli says, "Factual errors in fiction distract readers who spot them and may undermine confidence in the work and the author.* Many careful readers hold that if an author cannot be trusted in details, he may not be trustworthy in larger matters."

Dr. Bruccoli goes on to explain the two types of errors that occur in fiction, external errors (those regarding the actual world in which the work is set) and internal errors (those involving the fictional world).

Returning to the world of comics, we can call continuity problems "internal errors", and this blog is utterly unconcerned with them. If a given issue of Superman says that Clark Kent's middle name is "Joseph" and another says it's "Jerome", that's an internal error, and fans are welcome to argue over it to their heart's delight (or they can declare that his full name is "Clark Joseph Jerome Kent", as Wikipedia says).

We are concerned here with external errors, that is, things in the actual world that comics get wrong for no good reason. When Loren takes on issues of law here, he seldom deals with the fictional laws presented in comics except as how they interact with real-world laws that are assumed to be in force in the comics world. The primary concern is how real-world law is presented in cases where no comics-world law is in play, as for example in issues of courtroom procedure.

Or as I said from the beginning, I'll accept that Green Arrow can shoot an arrow through an ant's ass at 100 yards while swinging upside-down from a chandelier... provided you first show me that he knows how to hold a bow.

One comic writer, discussing a character's amateurish shooting form, told me that "the guy is just that good, he can still be accurate even shooting that way. He's doing it on purpose." Sorry, that doesn't wash. The laws of physics may not apply to Superman lifting a building, but they do apply to Hawkeye aiming an arrow, otherwise there's no point in having an archery-themed superhero at all. At that point it merely becomes a fashion choice, a theme, and not an ability at all.

Similarly, inconsistencies in the geography of Metropolis are not our concern, but inconsistencies in the geography of real-world places like New York, such as moving the Empire State Building, are an issue for us. I hope you see the difference.

* Bruccoli, "Getting it Right: The Publishing Process and the Correction of Factual Errors--With Reference to The Great Gatsby," Library Chronicle of the University of Texas at Austin, 21, no. 3-4 (1991), 41-60. Quoted in Fitzgerald, F. Scott, The Great Gatsby, The Authorized Text, Scribner Paperback edition (2003), p. 192.

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