As you probably know if you’ve spent much time wandering around on this site, I have devoted a fairly considerable amount of time to working out what order events in various fictional universes – primarily comics universes – take place in. This takes a not inconsiderable amount of research, since it means reading most – if not all – of the comics listed.
But it’s become increasingly clear to me that not everyone takes this approach. A lot of people out there in internet land are happy with the assumption that things take place in precisely the order in which they are published. Not only are there considerable problems associated with viewing things this way – for example, if you read the collected versions of Frank Miller’s Batman stories in publication order, the actual chronology you read them in would be 3, 1, 4, 2 – but it kinda defeats the purpose of having a huge interacting universe. It’s lazy, too, but what bothers me is not reading the story in the right order.
Now, it’s true that some stories are intended to be read in an achronological order – some of them, notably time travel stories, can work better this way – but the majority are not.
More often than not, this is the fault of the publishers rather than the creators – particularly when some character becomes unusually important and starts appearing all over their comics (such as Norman Osborn being in pretty much every Marvel comic that had the words ‘Dark Reign’ on the cover), although sometimes it is the creators who are to blame. Sure, every so often there’s something like Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers, which carefully came out in exactly the right order – but far more often, it’s more like Grant Morrison’s Batman run, which has been considerably less orderly in a chronology vs publication sense (and that’s without considering the time travel).
In my own chronologies, I take great pains to try to get things in the right order – or at least, in an order that makes sense. Sometimes, there’s more than one possible answer and no obvious right one, in which case I go with what feels best to me – but I rarely simply list things in the order in which they were published, unless that actually is the correct reading order. I also make a considerable effort to avoid spoilers, so that you can read the story that happened before you read the later stories where it’s referred to.