I think we’re talking past each other. We seem to be using very different definitions and talking about different things.
When I refer to comic book continuity, I don’t mean a rigorously consistent, coherent, singular plotline. I mean the pretense that the Peter Parker aka Spider-Man of The Amazing Spider-Man #53 (2020) is the same character that appeared in Amazing Fantasy #15 (1962), and the pretense that all of the stories published in between happened and are a part of his history.
That continuity was created by, and continues to be created by, dozens of different writers, artists, and editors. It involves retcons, reboots, re-imaginings, contradictions, parallel universes, and * shudder * clones. It involves feedback by thousands upon thousands of fans, some of whom become writers, artists, and editors who worked on those comic books. It involves nit-picking by fans, who spot contradictions and continuity errors, and get a “No-Prize” for explaining why those contradictions and continuity errors really aren’t. It’s a huge, sprawling, contradictory, glorious mess. I love it.
It’s a unique, collaborative, emergent form of storytelling. (It’s similar to myth and folklore, but distinct from those). When I talk about the “sustainability” of this model, I am NOT talking about sustaining a single, rigorously consistent, coherent plotline. I am talking about the commercial sustainability of this approach to storytelling.
This sense of a deep, layered history is one of the main elements that drew me into comics when I was kid. I was attracted to stories that made me feel like I was entering a complex, fully realized world, with a deep, layered history that I could uncover. References to past issues (Ed. Note: This happened in Uncanny X-Men #133) made me want to seek out those stories, to see how the whole epic unfolded. It’s what has kept me invested in these stories over decades.
The fact that this unique form of collaborative, emergent storytelling may no longer commercially viable in today’s media market saddens me.
Let me be clear. I have absolutely no problem with the fact that your preferences for comic book storytelling may be different from mine. I absolutely do not expect anyone else to read comic books the same way I do or for the same reasons, or to appreciate the aspects of them that I do. If writers and artists want to create stand-alone issues with no pretense of continuity with previous works, I have absolutely no problem with that.
Indeed, that kind of work has always existed alongside “mainstream” super-hero comics. As you and others have pointed out, that kind of work used to be the “mainstream” of comic books. It increasingly seems to be becoming the mainstream again. It’s ok. I am never going to tell someone they’re wrong for creating those kinds of stories, or for enjoying consuming them, or for preferring them over the form of comic book storytelling I personally prefer.
But I do absolutely reject the idea that this form of storytelling, this artistic pretense of continuity across decades of real time and dozens of different creative voice, is a “nonsensical hampering of the artists’ craft”, or that it constitutes a denial of freedom of artistic expression.
Maybe Gerry Conway is right. Maybe the only way super hero comics can survive is by cancelling everything, ignoring continuity, and relaunching by only ever producing stand-alone issues specifically targeted to middle school kids. I personally doubt that would actually work, but I’m just a fan, not an industry expert. If that is the way the medium goes, I’ll be sad. Is that ok?