I was reading through a little comic book history recently, and came upon an article about Jim Shooter and his previous works in world building a couple of comic book universes. His first big crack was Marvel's ill-fated New Universe, where a mysterious event triggered a bunch of random super powers, but was otherwise supposed to resemble our real world. Due to various problems, the New Universe concept more or less broke apart, but he got a second try with the Valiant Universe. In Valiant, characters still largely got their powers from a single source, but there were more fantastic elements as well, weirdly combined with a sense of real world physics (super strong people couldn't just pick up a car and throw it like a baseball, they'd usually just rip off whatever piece of the car they were holding). One big element was making sure there was a tight continuity, and a sense of the shared universe.
All this as opposed to main Marvel and DC, where it's pretty much every possible genre shoved into a blender. Which can be cool in it's own way, but as I get older, the all-you-can-read-buffet starts to get wearisome, and as a writer, I found it honestly more interesting to narrow the scope of things. It got me thinking about my own multiple attempts at superhero worlds and thinking about how non-mainstream stories will usually go two different ways:
1) An all-sources world that basically apes Marvel and DC, which can work out fine, since it can build off pre-existing archetypes to immediately get people into the story without having to explain everything upfront.
2) A limited-sources world that has it's own specific set-up to explain where all superheroes come from, and which will more often attempt to go for the whole "what if superheroes existed in the real world" sort of deal. Unless it's an anime type, where things are more stylized.
It's interesting to look back at my own works, back when I drew crappy comics as a kid, I did ape Marvel and DC, although in hindsight, my first few worlds were actually a lot more coherent than I first gave them credit. My Power Universe concept had magic and aliens and time travel and super tech and mutants, but 80% of the characters were actually mutants, whose creation could be tied back eventually to a specific mad scientists experiments, which themselves could be traced back to the presence of aliens. Magic and supernatural monsters were just aliens from another dimension, usually. I was surprised at how, even as a kid who just made up random stuff on the fly, my main hero universe made a decent amount of sense. Maybe that was more due to limited knowledge or conceptualizing of what could be done in such a setting, though.
After I quit that world, I notice the majority of my superhero projects tended to go the "one source" route. I came up with the whole "mysterious energy wave hits earth and gives people random powers" trope all on my own, though of course, I would later discover it had already been done about 5,347.6 times before I thought of it.
At the time it seemed novel, which I guess is why I got hooked on the idea, even though in some cases, I also threw in aliens and wizards into the mix on the side. But I've gone with this set up for a bigger chunk of projects than I had realized. While I'm not sure I'm specifically into it anymore, it does make for an easier experience as a writer. Creativity through limitation and all that, plus, it's helpful for keeping ones vision more focused if they don't have to worry about, "Okay, so, this thing with the mutants is happening and it's terrible, but wait, we've shown there are angels and benevolent guards looking out for humanity, why aren't they getting involved in this crisis?"
As for continuity, I dunno. I suppose I've never really been consistent, and most of my old stories were just random things I made up without much care to canon, other than a few major events. As I got older, I mainly was just concerned with maintaining continuity within a single title, and not worrying too much about matching it to other titles. I kind of wish they'd just do that for current Marvel and DC, too. Say Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, they all have their own canon within their title, and then maybe Justice League is also it's own thing that gets to pick and choose continuity as it feels is best.
So what are you're thoughts on the matter? What sort of tenets would you prefer a superhero universe to follow?