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CSBG Archive

Lorendiac’s Lists: 14 Answers to “Why So Many Retcons?”

Here is the archive of the lists Lorendiac posts here, and here is his latest!- BC.

14 Answers to “Why So Many Retcons?”

Years ago I tried to classify retcons into general categories. That piece, among others, can be reached via a link at the bottom of this post. But this time I’m going to look at the problem of retconning from a different angle, by trying to answer a popular question: “Why do the creators and editors of new stories about old characters keep inflicting so many retcons upon us?”

Sometimes it seems as if every time you finally think you’ve perfected your mental model of what the modern Batman continuity (for instance) says about the histories and current motivations of each major figure involved, some troublemaker in the industry erases ten percent of this old story, fifty percent of that old story, and one hundred percent of another story arc you have in your collection, in the process of making room for a supposedly “new and improved version” of the relevant continuity as he imposes his own retcons upon the larger structure! You are supposed to quickly realize what has happened and make all necessary mental adjustments on your own time! Why do they keep doing this to us? Over the last few months I’ve written down another motive whenever I thought of one, and here’s my current list of the different things which might be going through someone’s head as he or she contrived yet another retcon!

The 14 Answers

01. Ignorance or Forgetfulness
02. Apathy
03. Removing an Embarrassment
04. Reboot
05. Keep Them Young
06. Shock Treatment
07. Rehabilitate the Image
08. We MUST Restore the Sacred Status Quo
09. Turn a Character Into a Sock Puppet
10. Expand a Family Tree
11. The Total Amnesia Retcon
12. The Continuity Is Already Scrambled
13. Working Out a Personal Grudge
14. Never Supposed to Be in Continuity in the First Place

01. Ignorance or Forgetfulness

“Either I never knew about that boring old story, or else it had been so long since I read it (or at least a plot summary) that my memory garbled the details when I wanted to refer to certain relevant subjects in a new story. Now we’ve got a Messy Inconsistency on our hands. Too bad, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles!”

This is probably the most common cause for many of the inconsistencies which fans often label as “retcons.”

Sometimes the “retcon” is no more than a typographical error, here today and gone tomorrow, not to be taken seriously. I am told that The Elongated Man’s surname has sometimes been misspelled, as “Dibney” or “Digby” or other variations, by writers who thought they remembered it without looking it up — but his first appearance had clearly established his name as “Ralph Dibny” and that’s the way it has usually been rendered since then.

A misspelled name is trivial. But there are other times when a writer messes up on details which he never really knew, or doesn’t remember as clearly as he believes he does, and then after this is called to his attention he tries hard to stick to his guns and make the new version the official version even after the inconsistency with any previously published material is pointed out to him.

For instance! Before beginning his run on the “Batman” title a few years ago, Grant Morrison let it leak out that he was planning to bring back the son of Batman and Talia, who had last been seen as a newborn baby at the very end of the old graphic novel “Batman: Son of the Demon,” written by Mike Barr and published in 1987. The way Barr wrote it at the time, Batman thought Talia miscarried. The baby had never been heard from since. (In part because Denny O’Neil, during his long tenure as the editor in charge of all Batman comics, later ruled “Son of the Demon” and its sequel “Bride of the Demon” to be firmly out of continuity; the functional equivalent of Elseworlds tales).

Those fans who liked “Son of the Demon” were looking forward to seeing Morrison pick up where Barr had left off . . . but then they were disappointed to see that there were significant inconsistencies between how the child of Batman and Talia had been conceived in the graphic novel on the one hand, and how things were stated to have happened years ago according to dialogue between Batman and Talia in Morrison’s material on the other hand. (For one thing, in Morrison’s version Batman obviously had never known that Talia could possibly have become pregnant with his child in the first place! Things were done to his body without his consent after he had been drugged into unconsciousness, I gathered.)

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Morrison has been reported as saying, in response to the criticism he started receiving from some of the fans who have that graphic novel in their own collections, that it had been so long since he had actually read Barr’s graphic novel that he evidently didn’t remember exactly how its plot had gone when he was trying to dust off the idea of “a child of Talia and Batman who was born several years ago” and then put his own special spin on the concept. In other words, he didn’t deliberately retcon away major plot points from Barr’s old story; he just forgot what those points had been and didn’t take the trouble to refresh his memory by rereading the silly thing before starting to write some “follow-up” material supposedly inspired by it!

02. Apathy

“Problem? What problem? How many modern readers will really know or care if we fudge the details of this guy’s backstory for our own convenience, here and now?”

In this instance, the writer and the editor are both aware of what was established in a previous story — but they don’t feel the slightest remorse about twisting it inside out on the fly for their own purposes, and they may very well be working on the assumption that most of their modern regular readers in this day and age won’t lose any sleep over the drastic changes to a bunch of nitpicking details from so long ago!

In his book Man of Two Worlds, Julius Schwartz asserts that back in the 1950s, when he was involved in the “Flash Reboot” (creating Barry Allen to replace Jay Garrick, the latter not having appeared in print for five years at that point), the conventional wisdom was that the turnover rate in regular buyers of DC’s comic books was virtually 100% over a four-year cycle. In other words, the readers who had apparently lost interest in Jay Garrick several years earlier were not the same potential customers who would now be exposed to the concept of “Barry Allen is the Flash, a hero who runs incredibly fast” for the first time. “Showcase #4″ (Barry’s debut) was successful enough to suggest that there was some truth in the assumption that no one would care if Barry was ripping off the alias and general schtick of Jay Garrick, and the comic book buyers of 1956 certainly wouldn’t refuse to buy his adventures just because of unpleasant memories of having completely lost interest in Jay several years earlier.

That standard assumption about virtually all regular customers disappearing after no more than four years, steadily being replaced by a bunch of new readers who didn’t remember any of the “ancient history” from several years ago, gradually faded away as the industry changed and it became clear that some diehard fans were sticking around for decades and bellyaching long and loud if they didn’t like the way things got shifted around.

Despite which, some writers still embrace the “Apathy” attitude where the delicate matter of “respecting all the nitpicking details from a long time ago” is concerned. For instance, Jeph Loeb has said frankly and repeatedly:

In comics, for those of you who don’t read ‘em regularly, there is this thing called “Continuity.” Now, mind you, I sort of believe that continuity–or the rules of storytelling in the DC Comics Universe–goes like this: “Jimmy Olsen didn’t become Robin, the Boy Wonder, and everything else is up for grabs.”

(This version of his philosophy on the subject is quoted from a text piece Loeb wrote for the “Challengers of the Unknown Must Die!” TPB which collected a miniseries he had scripted and Tim Sale had drawn in the early 1990s. Loeb has expressed the same sentiment at other times, with variations in the wording.)

And to do the man justice, his sales figures do tend to suggest that many of his potential readers are not automatically repelled by that attitude as it is reflected in his scripts, as long as the readers end up enjoying whatever story he’s telling right here and now in the comic book they just bought, regardless of contradictions with what has gone before!

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03. Removing an Embarrassment

“Man, that old story was a real stinker! I bet most of the fans who remember it will clap and cheer if we undo some of it with a retcon! They’ll understand exactly why we felt the need to surgically remove that cancer from our continuity! (Newer fans, who never read that stupid story in the first place, probably won’t object when we retcon it!)”

There are old stories and stray bits of continuity which the bulk of the fans presumably don’t know about or else don’t really care about if they do know, as I mentioned in the previous item. Then there are the bits which many of the fans hate with an undying hatred. They will definitely notice that those bits have been surgically corrected, but they are not expected to gripe about it much.

“Removing an Embarrassment” was probably a big factor in the decision at DC to let Geoff Johns do his “Green Lantern: Rebirth” miniseries in which we were told that Hal Jordan, once considered the best and the brightest of the old Green Lantern Corps, had only flipped out and become a villain for awhile in the mid-90s because he had been possessed by an ancient yellow fear demon without anyone realizing this at the time.

On a similar note: Jim Starlin once had Batman lock up a mass-murdering enemy (the KGBeast) in a compartment in the depths of the Gotham sewer system at the end of the saga “Ten Nights of the Beast” and then just walk away, obviously leaving the guy there to die from lack of air or lack of food and water; whichever happened to get him first. About a year and a half later, Marv Wolfman felt it necessary retcon this during a conversation between Nightwing and Batman, in which Nightwing said angrily that it was obvious from the circumstances that Batman had been seriously considering letting the KGBeast just die there, until a few hours later he had finally changed his mind and told the police exactly where he had left his imprisoned foe. (It also turned out — we were then told — that by the time the cops got down there to check, the KGBeast had somehow broken out of the trap and disappeared.)

04. Reboot

“Let’s throw away just about everything that was ever done with that character, and start over with a clean slate! Make it a lot simpler for fans — and writers, and editors, and so forth — to keep track of just the continuity is! Meanwhile, we get to have tons of fun showing him meeting everybody and their brother ‘for the very first time’ all over again!”

The most famous example of this in American comics? The Post-COIE Superman Reboot. Virtually everything that had ever been printed about him before got scrubbed from history until further notice. This was supposed to allow DC to junk a lot of corny and embarrassing old ideas from his Earth-1 continuity, while making it much easier for new readers of Superman material to basically “get in on the ground floor” by finding it comparatively easy to collect everything important that would help them understand what was happening to each member of his supporting cast, what the origin stories and core motivations of his villains were, and so on and so forth, without constantly being hit over the head with editorial footnotes saying “All this was explained in such-and-such-a-story in 1965!” or whatever.

Note: I said virtually everything from Superman’s Pre-COIE adventures had been erased. On the other hand: John Byrne’s “Man of Steel” mini, often skipping ahead months or years at a time in order to bring us thoroughly up to speed on Superman’s life up until “right now,” made it clear that the “rebooted” Superman had already been a hero for some years before the “present day” adventures which would now be depicted in his Post-COIE monthly titles after the mini ended in 1986. Byrne and other writers at DC therefore tended to work on the theory that Superman had “already met” most of the other well-established heroes of the DCU at one time or another . . . but details on just when he had met each of them, per the revised continuity, were initially left very vague for the most part. (An essay published in the very belated printing of Neil Gaiman’s story “Green Lantern/Superman: Legend of the Green Flame,” from a script originally meant to be published in “Action Comics” in the late 1980s but then canned for a very long time, says that in those days it seemed that the Latest Official Answers to such basic questions as “Does Hal Jordan still know his buddy Superman’s secret identity?” seemed to fluctuate from day to day without warning. Neil Gaiman’s script was written when he believed the answer was “Yes!” and then it was rejected on a day when the answer was “No!”)

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05. Keep Them Young

“If all of that old stuff still happened to this hero — such as fighting in WWII, for instance — then he ought to be getting awfully long in the tooth by now. So I guess it’s time to rewrite the chronology re: when his career started!”

I once did an entire list on ways to justify “keeping a superhero young” (or in some cases “restoring his youth” after he has visibly gotten middle-aged or elderly in previous stories). One of the ways to keep him young is to quietly sever his once-solid connections to certain historical events whose timeframes are well-known to the typical reader — such as the Great Depression, World War II, the Vietnam War, the Reagan Presidency, et cetera.

One name for this approach is: “The Ongoing Sliding Timescale Retcon.” It is basically the assumption (largely unspoken within the comic books, but it becomes evident to longtime fans as they go along) that all the stories since a certain hero’s “origin story” have occurred within a certain number of years leading up to the present day, regardless of any chronological markers embedded in that hero’s earlier stories.

As an example, consider the war records of two members of the original Fantastic Four!

In the 1960s, after Ben Grimm and Reed Richards had recently been created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, they’d occasionally reminisce about how both of them had seen combat in the Second World War. If they’d both been young servicemen in a war that ended in 1945, that implied that by the early-to-mid 60s they probably were around 40 years old, give or take a few, which fit well with the gray hair at Reed’s temples and made him and Ben seem older than the typical superhero, without overdoing it. This all made perfect sense in the early years of the FF title, but as time rolled past in the real world, and the Fantastic Four were still going strong and not looking much older (although Johnny Storm eventually stopped being written as a teenager), it made less and less sense to think Reed and Ben had been old enough to wear service uniforms in the early 1940s.

Therefore, thanks to the largely unspoken Ongoing Sliding Timescale Retcon, the idea was just quietly dropped. As far as I can tell, from the 1970s onward the idea of Reed and Ben being WWII veterans has never again been explicitly addressed in dialogue (except when they were being “roasted” in a humorous comic Fred Hembeck did in the 1980s, but I don’t think that really counts as “in continuity”). Marvel doesn’t jump through hoops to offer any elaborate rationalization of how Reed could look no older than he does today, over 62 years after the end of the war in which he was once alleged to have served valiantly; Marvel simply ignores previous references to that wartime service as something that must not have happened after all!

Likewise, Tim Drake was 13 years old when he debuted in 1989, but no one expects him to celebrate his 33rd birthday by the end of 2009. He may have aged about 4 or 5 years in the past 20. Among those of us who own copies of his earliest appearances, it is tacitly assumed that, in the automatically sliding timeline of the modern DCU, it “wasn’t really” 1989 when Tim was accepted as Bruce Wayne’s new apprentice at the end of the story arc “A Lonely Place of Dying,” even though that’s when those issues were published. It was just “several years ago, not long after Jason Todd died.”

06. Shake Things Up

“Let’s start a firestorm of controversy and really rattle our fans by making well-known characters do shocking things no one ever thought they would do! (Maybe they already did those things years ago, when no one was looking, and the truth is just now coming to light?)”

To my mind, this almost certainly was the key reason for the story arc known as “Sins Past” which was part of J. Michael Straczynski’s run on “Amazing Spider-Man.”

In it, we learned that Gwen Stacy had a one-night stand with Norman Osborn way back when, even though she was never in love with him, and then, when she was temporarily estranged from her regular boyfriend Peter Parker (in what had seemed like it lasted a couple of weeks, say, in the original continuity in the early 1970s), she had actually been living in Europe for several months, long enough to carry two fast-gestating babies to term, give birth, and leave them behind in France when she flew back to the Big Apple to be reconciled with Peter without telling him anything about what she had been up to lately. After Norman either murdered or contributed to the death of Gwen some time later (there is considerable disagreement among fans and pros alike regarding exactly what killed her), he secretly took over the task of raising the babies (who were maturing at an accelerated rate) to hate the evil Spider-Man whom they were taught to blame for their mother’s death. Someday they might even kill Spider-Man, if he was still alive when the kids, with their own superhuman metabolisms, were old enough to have a prayer of taking him in a fight.

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Meanwhile, Mary Jane Watson-Parker had known about the babies almost from the beginning (according to the retcon), but had never dropped a hint to her husband about the terrible surprise which Norman might be planning to spring upon him at any moment.

These retcons did horrible things to the previously established characterizations of both Gwen and MJ, but evidently that was deemed unimportant next to the perceived value of really “shaking things up” and getting Spider-Man fans buzzing about such shocking and controversial developments!

(But let’s be fair: There was an upside! These retcons was revealed in such an illogical story arc that I later was able to amuse myself and other fans by writing a scathing parody which poked fun at its many plot holes. I guess every cloud has a silver lining, to coin a phrase!)

07. Rehabilitate the Image

“How are we supposed to keep selling books starring this person as a sympathetic character, after the way we previously dragged her through the gutter? I reckon we’ll just have to rinse off the sewage with a handy retcon and try again!”

Jean Grey, also known as Marvel Girl, Phoenix, the Black Queen, and eventually Dark Phoenix, went mad and committed genocide and then suicide in a now-classic storyline by Chris Claremont and John Byrne (which I recently have been parodying in my spare time). For about five years, the tragic combination of insanity, mass murder, and eventual suicide was Absolutely, Positively, Unquestionably the Official Continuity regarding what had happened to Jean, a founding member of the original X-Men. She was dead and gone, and given all those deaths on her conscience (five billion civilians!), it was probably just as well that she was gone. (The five billion deaths were, in fact, the major reason for Jim Shooter’s insistence that the original plan of just removing her superpowers at the end of the saga and then turning her loose, saying, “At least you can’t ever do it again!”, was not adequate punishment. I have to agree with him there!)

Years after Jean’s death, someone at Marvel — I’m not sure whom, except I’ve heard it definitely was not anything Chris Claremont wanted — decided it would be a really cool idea to start a new title called “X-Factor” and have its core membership be Professor Xavier’s first five students, the original X-Men from the Silver Age, now reunited after many years. Jean had been one of those five students. There was, however, the nagging little question: “How do we portray her as a superhero in new adventures if she still murdered a few billion people in 1980?”

Obviously, you couldn’t really reconcile those concepts. Obviously, then, she hadn’t murdered a few billion people in 1980! Someone else must have been taking her name in vain, posing as Jean Grey so successfully that her closest friends (including Professor X, one of the most powerful telepaths in the world) never had a clue! Neither did Uatu the Watcher, but then what does he know?

(Thus was begun the most infamous of X-Men traditions. “Jean Grey just died again? Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen, on how long it will last this time! And then how long it will be before she dies again! And how long after that before she comes back to life again! And then how long that will last . . .”)

08. We MUST Restore the Sacred Status Quo

“Some idiot moved the pawns around on the chessboard and ruined the way things used to be, as I fondly remember it from my younger days. It’s time to push those pieces right back to where they all belong; they never should have been allowed to stray from the proper configuration in the first place!”

The Clone Saga (in the Spider-Man titles of the mid-1990s) was meant to achieve something along these lines by “revealing” that the guy who had been calling himself “Peter Parker, Spider-Man” for about 20 years (mid-70s to mid-90s) was actually a clone of the original, whereas the original had been running around other parts of the country for the last four years or so (comic book time) calling himself “Ben Reilly” and thinking he was the clone and thus had no right to interfere with the “real” Peter’s life in the Big Apple.

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The plan, or one of the plans (it got very complicated, and Tom DeFalco later said he had meant to have an emergency escape option to undo the whole “revelation” if that appeared necessary — long story!) was to somehow have “Ben Reilly” (Unmarried Spidey) take Married Spidey’s place as the regular star of all the Spider-Man titles henceforth, thereby getting rid of the marriage which many editors and writers then working at Marvel viewed as a colossal blunder which they had been saddled with since the late 1980s.

But as it turned out, the surgical removal of the marriage from the ongoing titles didn’t really happen (at the time). A few years later Marvel tried killing off Mary Jane by exploding an airplane with her aboard, as another means to the same end of undoing the pesky marriage, and more recently they went back to taking a fresh stab at using some sort of retcon to Restore the Sacred Status Quo; this time by having Peter suddenly lose his marbles and reach the uncharacteristic conclusion that making a pact with the devil (or a devil, anyway — Mephisto by name!) was a brilliant idea that couldn’t possibly backfire! One consequence of this was to rewrite history so that now Peter and MJ have never been married at all. Thus restoring the Status Quo in which Peter was a bachelor in the 1960s, the 1970s, and much of the 1980s. (I gather that “turning back the clock” also undid the way his secret identity had been publicly revealed during the events of the Civil War, thus restoring the Status Quo in that vital area as well!)

09. Turn a Character Into a Sock Puppet to Further Your Agenda

“I’ve got an agenda to sell, and by golly, I’m going to mutilate the previously established histories and personalities of long-running characters in any way necessary, for the greater good!”

A few years ago I saw someone complaining about what Reginald Hudlin had recently done to Victor Von Doom in a Black Panther story.

The dialogue allegedly went as follows:

DOCTOR DOOM: I’ve always said the African is a superior physical specimen.

STORM: Finish the sentence, Doom. “Which compensates for his lack of intellect.”

DOCTOR DOOM: Generally true, yes, but clearly the Wakandan is exceptional! Perhaps a low-grade mutant strain in your peoples’ DNA.

I have not actually read that story. Although my own understanding of Doom, based on reading dozens of his other appearances in stories by many different writers over a span of decades, is that he regards himself as inherently superior to nearly every other member of the human race, no matter what they look like or where their ancestors came from. (With a handful of possible exceptions, such as Reed Richards. The alternative would be to admit that many of his brilliant schemes had been regularly foiled by a group led by a man who was his intellectual inferior, and somehow I doubt Doom would ever admit that, even if it were true.)

But apparently Hudlin was bound and determined to “make a point” about racism and use one of Marvel’s longest-running villains to do it, no matter what stood in his way — such as Doctor Doom’s previously well-established conviction that he was superior to just about everybody, and had never previously felt the need to waste time on the hairsplitting distinctions which other people preferred to draw between one racial group and another?

P.S. To be fair, when I first saw a thread a few years ago in which someone was complaining about this “retcon” turning Doom into a racist (instead of his just being convinced of his own intellectual supremacy in a non-racist sort of way), I observed that he hadn’t exactly made those sweeping and unkind generalizations about “the African.” Storm, pretending she could read his mind, had interrupted him by trying to shove those exact words into his mouth for no clear reason (not as far as I could tell from the excerpt I read of their conversation, anyway). One could argue that Doom simply didn’t bother to contradict her wild assumptions. It occurred to me that if I were a megalomaniacal villain in Doom’s shoes at that moment, it might have amused me to “play along” with a self-righteous superhero’s clueless attempt to psychoanalyze me on the spur of the moment.

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10. Expand the Character’s Family Tree

“It’s about time to drag another long-lost relative onstage for some dramatic tension with the hero!”

Of course, in some cases this isn’t really a retcon in the sense of “explicitly contradicting” any previous statement from older stories. We are simply led to believe that somehow the hero never got around to mentioning that particular relative before (or in some cases, the hero never knew this person existed!). For instance: back in the Silver Age, there was a story I’ve heard about in which Bruce Wayne was visited in Gotham City by an older relative “from the coast” (the Pacific Coast of the USA, I’m guessing?); a private investigator named Bruce N. Wayne who was a first cousin of Batman’s late father Thomas. Bruce N. and Thomas must have been very close, once upon a time; I’m told that it was stated that our Bruce had actually been named in honor of the older one!

As far as I know — but I don’t know everything — there had never been any previous Batman story in which Bruce had said tragically, “I’m the last of the Waynes — I don’t even have any cousins on my father’s side of the family, or not close enough to count! There might be a few fourth cousins somewhere, I guess.” So the introduction of Bruce N., first cousin of the late Thomas Wayne, probably did not “squarely contradict” any previous Batman story; it merely was “something we forgot to mention before.” (And I am told that after his few minutes in the spotlight, Bruce N. Wayne has never been mentioned again in subsequent Batman continuity, so I have no idea whether or not he is “still” part of the Wayne family tree.)

On the other hand, sometimes the retconning of the family tree is done in a heavy-handed way that squarely contradicts things we were previously told. For instance! I’ve read that when Lightning Lad’s origin was first shared with DC’s readers in the Silver Age, it was made perfectly clear that he was the only person who had been exposed to some lightning beasts on the world of Korbal and somehow those beasts had charged him up with incredible electrical powers.

Later the Legion of Super-Heroes fought the Legion of Super-Villains for the first time, and readers were introduced to Garth Ranzz’s older brother Mekt (Lightning Lord), retconned in out of thin air, who was now stated to have been exposed to the power of the lightning beasts at the same time as the future Lightning Lad, but Mekt chose to use his powers for evil.

A couple of years later, readers were introduced to Ayla Ranzz, Lightning Lad’s twin sister, retconned in out of thin air for the occasion, who was now stated to be one of the tree siblings who had all been simultaneously changed by an encounter with some of the lightning beasts of Korbal!

Each new version of Lightning Lad’s origin story was shamelessly retconning what had been revealed in previous versions, but that was deemed trivial next to the “need” to keep making things more dramatic by dragging in another electrically powered relative!

11. The Total Amnesia Retcon

“If we all agree to ignore it, maybe it will just quietly fade away and be forgotten.”

In #03 on this list, I discussed “Erasure of an Embarrassment.” But there I was mainly envisioning obvious retcons which squarely address a very touchy subject and “explain” why there was something going on that didn’t meet the eye at the time, so it wasn’t really as bad as it looked. For instance: “Yes, Hal Jordan did all the nasty stuff he was shown doing in ‘Emerald Twilight’ and ‘Zero Hour’ and a few other stories, but his mind hadn’t just ‘snapped under pressure’ as you were led to believe at the time. An ancient yellow fear demon had previously gotten its hooks into him and was exercising more and more control, so it wasn’t really his fault! The same thing could happen to anybody!”

A very different approach is to simply never speak of an awkward subject again, and hope the worst aspects of it will fade from the consciousness of your old fans while any new fans remain cheerfully oblivious regarding what once happened, years and years ago. In this approach, if you’re the editor (or the writer) on the title or titles which would “logically” be expected to deal with the long-term consequences of whatever once happened, you don’t explicitly say: “That awkward concept from that old story is still in continuity,” and you don’t explicitly say: “That awkward concept has been Officially Erased from continuity as a public service.” You just try to avoid the subject entirely!

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For instance: Last year I happened to learn from online discussions that there was a Silver Age story (in “Superboy #158,” published in 1969) in which teenaged Kal-El discovered that his birth parents, Jor-El and Lara Lor-Van, had survived the destruction of Krypton. They were frozen in suspended animation in a spaceship which had escaped the dying world in the nick of time, but they couldn’t be awakened just now or else they would slowly and painfully perish from massive radiation poisoning. So Superboy had to sadly put them back in deep space (he’d taken the ship back to Earth before he realized the part about the radiation poisoning), and leave them drifting in the middle of nowhere until such time as a cure might be found . . . someday . . . if they were lucky.

As near as I can tell from online resources, the “shocking revelation” from that story was never mentioned again.

On the one hand, I have not found any report of any Superman editor ever explicitly saying, in a lettercol or a public appearance at a convention or anywhere else in the many years between that story and the total reboot of Superman continuity in the Post-COIE era, “That was a flawed idea and as far as we’re concerned, it never happened to the Earth-1 version of Clark Kent. Maybe it was all a dream sequence, or it happened to the Superboy of some other obscure corner of the Multiverse, the guy from Earth-462 or something, but it didn’t happen in our mainstream Earth-1 continuity. Honest!”

On the other hand, I’ve read plenty of Superman stories from the 1970s and the Pre-COIE portion of the 1980s which had him refer, regretfully, to the deaths of his biological parents at the time Krypton exploded. He hoped to find a way to rescue his friend Lar Gand (or “Mon-El”) from the Phantom Zone without having him die of lead poisoning, and he hoped to find a way to restore the inhabitants of the Bottled City of Kandor to their proper size, but he never said a word about hoping to someday find a way to cure the radioactive problems which prevented him from defrosting his beloved parents for a family reunion. It was obvious that he “knew” they were dead and gone, ashes to ashes and dust to dust, with nothing he could do for them now except try to live up to their presumed expectations. No hint that he had learned differently during his years as a teenaged “Superboy.”

So the weight of the evidence suggests that the story from “Superboy #158″ had been neatly erased by a very quiet retcon, without anyone at DC bothering to admit for the record that this had occurred.

On the other hand: One could make a fairly decent argument that since DC never said the story was erased from Earth-1’s continuity, the evidence of Earth-1’s grown-up Superman’s consistent failure to mention that discovery as still weighing heavily upon his mind didn’t prove the discovery of his parents’ frozen bodies hadn’t happened in his corner of the multiverse after all; it only proved he didn’t remember it!

There could be various reasons for him to have lost the memory! Considering how many different excuses have been used in DC’s continuity (both Pre- and Post-COIE) to remove or seriously alter the memories inside a superhero’s head, there could be a huge gap between “that didn’t happen” and “I don’t remember anything like that.”

All this serves as a perfect example of the phenomenon which I once dubbed the Total Amnesia Retcon.

By that name, I didn’t mean: “Everybody who was involved in an old story Definitely Got Amnesia and doesn’t remember the crucial events from that adventure any more.” (Although this has been known to happen.) All I meant was: “Getting the memories scrubbed out of their heads may be exactly what happened, but nobody has said so to us. Or it may be that the story didn’t happen at all, according to the latest whims of the editors and writers currently working with those characters — but again, nobody has said so to us! All we can say for sure is that the characters never mention those events any more, even at times when it would make perfect sense for them to be vividly reminded of those events because of the obvious relevance to whatever they are talking about right now!”

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So it’s ambiguous — either the characters got amnesia about certain events in a scene which we never saw, or else the entire story got erased, in a retcon which we never saw. We are left to scratch our heads and try to guess which is the case, because the publishing company has no intention of telling us!

12. The Continuity is Already Scrambled

“Story A contradicts Story B, and both contradict Story C . . . and now I’m supposed to take over the title and find a way to make everybody happy when I deal with the subject? The continuity nuts will burn me in effigy for ‘shameless, self-indulgent retconning of previous plot twists’ — no matter what I do!

Sometimes you just can’t win. Stories in previous years, probably written by other people, have already blatantly contradicted one other on points which at least some of your fanbase strongly cares about. If you, as the new writer on the title, touch on a certain volatile subject at all in a new plot, then you will inevitably be “disrespecting” at least one of those older stories which dealt with the same general subject, no matter how good your intentions are! The best you probably can do is to figure out what you think “should have been” the continuity all along, and start writing as if that is, and always has been, “the way it is.”

While the Golden Age was still going on, a story was published in “Superman #76″ which showed us how Superman and Batman learned each other’s secret identities. By sheer coincidence they were assigned to the same stateroom on a passenger liner, and when an emergency came along, both men tried to inconspicuously change into costume in the dark, but just then a light shone through the porthole and they each saw what the other guy was silently doing . . . so that was how they “first met” in their secret identities and how they each learned the other fellow’s secrets.

Or how they learned these things for the first time, anyway. Over the next few decades, other stories were told which offered mutually contradictory accounts of just how and when Clark and Bruce, and/or Superman and Batman, had “first met” and/or “first learned” each other’s secrets, with some of those stories being set in their teenage years, long before they used the aliases “Superman” and “Batman.”

I gather that by the early 1980s it didn’t matter how well you understood and loved the old continuity on the subject of “When did Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent first meet, and when did they first learn each other’s secrets?”, because if you were writing scripts for DC, and if you talked about any “answer” to those questions in a new story, then you would inevitably be contradicting, to some degree, some or all of the other answers which had been offered over the years! And you had to assume that some of your alert readers would promptly notice your “mistakes”!

Roy Thomas, who enjoyed tackling this sort of puzzle, finally a story published in “World’s Finest Comics #271″ in which he tried to acknowledge, and reconcile as best he could, all of the previous efforts which dealt with such matters. I’m told that he did a pretty good job of it, but I’m sure he had to contradict various details of this, that, and the other thing in his effort to lay down the law with one unified Official Version of how the Bruce/Clark friendship had “really” developed over the years in the Earth-1 continuity (I hear that he also worked in mention of the differences in the Earth-2 continuity on that subject, somewhere along the way).

13. Working Out a Personal Grudge

“Does that clown think he’s a better writer than me? I’ll show him! I’ll write stories that poke holes in some of his recent stories! Serves him right!”

In an interview he did for CBR years ago, Jim Shooter talked a bit about how things stood between Chris Claremont and John Byrne back in the early 1980s, after the end of their classic collaborative run on the X-Men. Claremont stayed with the X-Men and Byrne moved on to start writing his own scripts in other titles. Apparently the parting of ways had not been entirely amicable. Shooter said:

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They had a falling out. And so John Byrne goes on to do Alpha Flight and other things. Chris gets other artists and marches on with X-Men. In the various other books he was doing, FF, Alpha Flight, whatever, John would do these stories… like if Chris was using Doctor Doom in an X-Men story, then John would do a story that proved that the Doctor Doom Chris had used was a robot.

And he would have snotty comments, like you think I would have said something as stupid as what this robot said. This would happen a lot.

Then Chris would want to fire back. But Chris had better editors who were more on the ball. John, I think would seek out editors with whom he could get away with that type of stuff.

That motivation for retconning bits and pieces of someone else’s scripts is just plain sad. What else can I say?

14. Never Supposed to Be in Continuity in the First Place

“Gosh, did we forget to say, within the actual comic book which contained that weird story, that it all had Absolutely Nothing to do with the ‘regular continuity’ of the characters in question? How silly of us! I guess now the fans are getting awfully confused about whether this new stuff was a sneaky retcon, or what! Oh well, they’ll just have to get over it!”

From what I remember of letter columns in the Batman titles of the late 1980s, the editors found it necessary to say, more than once, something along the following lines (paraphrased in my own words), in response to concerned readers: “Frank Miller’s ‘Dark Knight Returns’ is not The Absolutely Official and Unavoidable Future for Batman and Superman and any other characters who appeared in that graphic novel. It’s just Miller’s personal vision of one way Bruce Wayne’s life might develop by the time he’s 55. If you don’t like to think that this is the way he’ll end up, then don’t worry about it!”

On a similar note: A few years after DKR was such a hit, DC started a new monthly Batman title called “Legends of the Dark Knight.” At least three times in the first two years, DC’s editors found it necessary to allude (in the title’s letter columns) to the idea that any story arc published in LOTDK was not necessarily binding upon the regular continuity of Batman as he appeared in other monthly titles which were supposed to be integrated into the larger DCU. But, of course, there was no such warning offered as boilerplate in every single issue of LOTDK, so it’s perfectly understandable that in recent years I’ve encountered people on one fan forum or another who are confused on the subject of whether one memorable story arc or another in LOTDK should automatically be taken at face value as something the modern Batman “must remember” from the early years of his costumed career.

And then in the mid-90s, Denny O’Neil evidently gave the green light to a massive project called “The Long Halloween,” written by Jeph Loeb and published in 13 monthly installments. Various plot points in “The Long Halloween” and its sequel, “Dark Victory,” contradicted things which had previously been stated about one character or another in “modern continuity” Batman stories. For instance, “Knightfall,” a story arc published in 1993, contained a sequence in which Bruce and Selina were meeting face-to-face for what was evidently “the very first time” in their unmasked roles, with neither person showing any faint suspicion that the other had a costumed identity as well, nor that they had ever clashed before when both wearing masks. But just a few years later, in “The Long Halloween,” it amused Jeph Loeb to have Bruce and Selina dating each other regularly in a storyline obviously set in the early years of Batman’s career, before he had even met Dick Grayson.

There was an obvious contradiction here. The best explanation I’ve heard — and it makes as much sense as anything, although I can’t swear to its accuracy — is that when Loeb wasn’t even trying to sell this “Bruce and Selina had a romance ages ago” concept as a Great Big Retcon to Modern Batman Continuity at the time he submitted his plot ideas for “The Long Halloween,” and that Denny O’Neil (the Batman group editor all through the 1990s) didn’t think he was approving any such retcon to the events of “Knightfall” when he gave TLH the green light.

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The story goes that Denny O’Neil regarded the 13-part “The Long Halloween” miniseries as the functional equivalent of most of the story arcs published in “Legends of the Dark Knight,” which — as I mentioned above — were in a “fuzzy continuity” status of “Maybe something resembling this story could have happened to the regular version of Batman, once upon a time, and maybe it didn’t. You get no guarantees. If you see obvious inconsistencies with the continuity set forth in other titles such as ‘Batman’ and ‘Detective Comics,’ don’t sweat it!”

But of course none of this (assuming it’s true) was spelled out at the time for the sake of any innocent young fan who wandered in off the street and happened to pick up an issue of TLH, nor was anything along those lines ever clarified in the reprint editions which collected the entire epic.

That’s it for the 14 Motives I came up with on my own. As always, I take it for granted that my first attempt to analyze such a complicated subject is bound to have room for improvement. If you can think of any motives I completely overlooked, or you see any flaws in my explanations and examples for the answers I included, then please say so! If you want me to consider adding another possible answer to a future draft of this list, however, then it will help immensely if you mention at least one specific example of a case which illustrates your point.

Meanwhile, here are some links to many previous posts I’ve done over the last few years, comprising what I have come to think of as my “Numbered List” series. Every once in a while it amuses me to think about some odd aspect of the superhero genre, and to try to list and explain all the different approaches I can remember for that sort of thing, or all the different reasons that ridiculous things keep happening..

12 Motives for Killing a Comic Book Character
17 Excuses for Bringing Back a Dead Character
16 Types of Retcons
19 Ways to End a Superhero’s Romance
22 Ways to Show a Superhero Killing Someone
9 Categories of Continuity
5 Types of Superhero Team Members
Secret Identities: 10 Ways to Unspill the Beans
Superhero Finances: 10 Situations
13 Reasons to Use a Deathtrap
14 Functions for a Superhero Costume
10 Types of Superhero Successors
14 Ways to Rehabilitate a Disgraced Hero
14 Motives for Becoming a Superhero
12 Tricks for Keeping Superheroes Young
13 Reasons to Quit the Superhero Racket
12 Rationales for a Hero-Versus-Hero Slugfest on the Cover
What To Do With a Supervillain After You Catch Him: 12 Options
14 Motives for Becoming a Supervillain


On point 1: hey, look again at the story where Damien’s conception is shown. The scene shown in the flashback looks like it’s from “I now pronounce you Batman and Wife”, not from “Son of the Demon”. Morrison just retconned some fun before Talia being knocked out by her Lover. Since Talia disappeared for quite a while after that story, it’s feasible. The baby thing brings up the reference to “Son of the Demon”, quite commonly. But if you look closely, it’s not.

Thanks. I love this list. I’m gonna go run it through some various comic runs now!

On a side note I’ve been studying a lot about Gnostic Christianity and the founding of Catholicism, and I find it amusing to note that in assembling its list of ‘canonical works’ and its religious belief system, the early church is guilty of numbers 3, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, and 13.

DC’s got nothing on the Church!

I’d point out that “Green Lantern: Rebirth” is really more of a #7 (Rehabilitate the Image) than a #3 (Remove an Embarrassment from Continuity). But then again, the difference between #3 and #13 (Working Out a Personal Grudge) is really just in the eye of the beholder anyway. I’m sure that Byrne felt that he was removing embarrassingly out-of-character Doom moments from continuity, just like Peter David felt like he was removing an embarrassing Hulk moment from continuity by having the Hulk claim that he deliberately threw a fight with Doctor Octopus (which I’m betting Erik Larsen would have called a #13.)

Tom Fitzpatrick

February 9, 2009 at 6:22 am

I seem to remember Donna Troy of The New Teen Titans (Wolfman & Perez era) where they did a “Who is Donna Troy?” storyline to explain her origin.

I have forgotten just how many times her origin has been retconned over the years.

Simpler answer: “Comic book writers are nerds.”

Regarding the ‘ongoing sliding timescale retcon’…I also enjoy two other little varitions on that idea…

1) The character is so tied to his era that we can’t use the sliding timescale…so we have to find some other mechanism to explain the aging process. Example – Nick Fury. His backstory with WWII is so engrained that they can’t get red of it…so enter the Infinity Formula to slow down his aging process. (Although that fails to explain Dum Dum and Gabe).

2) Oops, we accidentally referred to a date in a comic book. I love the fact that you could over time see the date on Jean Grey’s headstone gradually disappear. After the Dark Phoenix storyline it was established that she died in 1980. That stuck through most of the 80’s as very people (including Jean) came to visit the grave. By the 90’s the date was erased…and eventually (IIRC) they just destroyed the tombstone altogether. Shades of Back to the Future that is…

I’s add #15: Laziness. When writers have no idea what to do with a character, they go through the character’s backstory with a magnifying glass, looking for inconsistencies they can parlay into an arc. Hence the perrennial Spider-Man ‘Guy who killed Uncle Ben’ stories or the Batman ‘Joe Chill’ stories.
Also, Chris Claremont had editors?!? :D

RE: #7 Rehabilitate the Image
“Years after Jean’s death, someone at Marvel — I’m not sure whom, except I’ve heard it definitely was not anything Chris Claremont wanted — decided it would be a really cool idea to start a new title called “X-Factor” and have its core membership be Professor Xavier’s first five students, the original X-Men from the Silver Age, now reunited after many years.”

I don’t have the links right in front of me, but I believe this has shades of the feud between Byrne and Claremont mentioned in #13. I was under the impression that Byrne has gone on record saying that X-Factor (and, specifically, Jean’s resurrection) was his idea. In fact, I believe the feud between them stems from Jean’s death in the first place.

Sounds like a job for Comic Book Legends!

Whoops, my mistake.

According to the X-Factor Wikipedia entry:

“However, future Marvel writer Kurt Busiek suggested a solution to this problem, which became one of the most notorious examples of retconning in comic book history: Jean Grey had never actually been the Phoenix. Instead, the Phoenix entity copied Grey’s identity and form, keeping her safe in a cocoon-like structure beneath Jamaica Bay. Busiek related the idea to Roger Stern, who related it to John Byrne.”


Every single one of these motives contain examples that are destined to become Grant Morrison comics at some point.

I’m glad this was posted…I’ve been wanting to vent. Apologies for the crankiness in advance:

So how do we classify “Because it’s the way the editor thinks it should be?”

I was frankly appalled at reading Dan Didio’s column in the back of Batman #684 (I think) where he elaborates how he Johns had planned to always bring back Barry Allen as the Flash and Hal Jordan as Green Lantern because, no offense to Wally West and Kyle Rayner, to really understand the Flash and Green Lantern, you needed these characters. In his opinion, we were dying to read these characters, so he worked for years to retcon them back into existence.

I love arrogance like that, especially when it’s clear one guy didn’t like what everyone else in the company had been doing for the past 20 and some odd years, so it’s his job to fix it. Nice. I wish I had that kind of power.

Forget that it is well documented by numerous writers and editors over the years that the motivations for moving on from those characters (and I would argue they did move on in both cases successfully) was because they had ran a course. Barry Allen was seen as too powerful when he died during Crisis, and Hal Jordan was seen as unwriteable as a character (which at that point in time, while I disagreed with how DC handled that mess with Parallax/Spectre, I agreed with the assessment in principle…he’s got the most powerful weapon in the universe on his hand, picked because of his extraordinary lack of fear and willpower, part of a police force where he had a headquarters, shelter and food [presumably], and yet the writers at the time had him picking fruit and/or trying to fly planes…or whatever else the job of the week was).

That said, Barry Allen is more bothersome because while I get that some people didn’t like Kyle and could never warm to him, Wally West has clearly become the Flash of record over the last 22+ years. I see no conceivable reason to bring back Barry in a retcon save for a quick sales hit (established as well that Allen became the lightning that struck him originally…Secret Origins and Who’s Who). Seriously, was anyone clamoring still for Allen’s full on return? Was West suddenly not a good enough character that you have to undo one of the best, lasting, and pointed deaths ever in a comic? Is there some awesome Barry story we haven’t read yet? Or can we continue making Allen a heartless bastard and undo everything that the character was about since Johns has taken control (one of the established, most morally upright characters in the DCU back in the day felt it was ok to mindwipe villains…maybe we’ll have a quiet panel soon where Allen tells Thawne that he enjoyed breaking his neck and wishes he could do it again)?

You know, old Barry Allen, like old Flash and Green Lantern villains, isn’t interesting unless we alter and update him in some ways…oh, heck, we’re DC! What difference does it make what we do? If we don’t like our continuity, we’ll simply re-start from scratch with a Crisis, or a Zero Hour, or another Crisis…or two…hey, about one every decade or so on average since the 80’s. Apparently they can only get 10 years of stories out of their characters nowadays before rebooting…

I’m taking Didio at his words. He claims this needed to happen. I ask “why?” Beyond a need to exert authority and say “Because I’m the editor, that’s why” (which seems like a lousy reason for any storytelling motivation), or maybe a secondary reason as sales, why enact this plan at all and then take a page out to gloat about it? And beyond the initial bump in sales from doing so, what’s the long term prognosis? Will Thawne be found alive and come for Allen with a “league of evil speedsters” (y’know, Thawne, Zoom, Savitar, Inertia…christ, Magee or Christina haven’t been used in a while) who want to kill Allen, forcing Allen to recruit a bunch of “good speedsters” to fight back? Maybe they fight for control of the speed force? Maybe they can all wear different costumes to reflect some aspect of speed they’re really good at? What happens then?

I mean, haven’t seen that storyline before. I’m curious.

Gripes ended…

Apparently they can only get 10 years of stories out of their characters nowadays before rebooting…

Ten years is pretty good. Personally, I’ve always thought the cutoff was about four to six years. That’s usually the longest any ongoing superhero title can go without a change in the creative team or embarking on a Startling New Direction.

The only real difference is that today companies are a lot quicker to cancel and restart a title, so fans notice it more. Superhero comics have always been subject to reboots and retcons, but it was the first Crisis series that made it okay to show that kind of thing in-story. Before that, it was just something as simple as relocating the hero to a new town or redesigning the costume or something. What it really amounts to is that when a new writer comes on a book he or she is going to have some new ideas. When Gail Simone came on Birds of Prey, all the changes she made amounted to a soft reboot. She just did it slowly, with respect for what had come before, and executed her changes with enough craft that nobody got bent out of shape over it.

We don’t often see it done with that level of craft and care, though. Even before doing a Crisis became DC’s favorite way to shuffle the deck, they did reboots all the time. Hal Jordan was the poster child for this treatment, long before “Emerald Twilight.” His entire publication history is a series of reboots in search of a direction. Even his most famous and celebrated era, the “Hard-Traveling Heroes” GL/GA stuff, didn’t last very long. Hell, Lorendiac could get a whole new list just out of Green Lantern Desperation Reboots. Over at Marvel, Dr. Strange is almost as bad. It’s just that in recent years companies have discovered that fans will buy a reboot JUST BECAUSE it’s a reboot. So now they publicize them instead of trying to sneak them through.

But anyway, ten years is actually an amazingly stable example. Offhand I can only think of a couple of titles — counting from the Silver Age forward, let’s say — that went ten years without a major shakeup. And even the ones we think of as stable — Spider-Man, or Superman — had major changes between 1965 and 1975. (The death of Gwen Stacy, the elimination of Kryptonite, etc.)

I don’t actually disagree with Blackjack about Didio, by the way… but that’s just symptomatic of what happens when you put fans in charge. You can make that same criticism of lots of other editors too.

Thanks, Greg. I guess you summed up my point better than I actually went off about it. It is the craft issue.

Look, one of my favorite JLA villains was Starro because of the absurdity of it (though the beauty was there were some solid stories in the absurdity, like the old JLE 3-parter). Morrison rebooted him and made him a less absurd threat in JLA and handled it with a level of craft.

Now, was I thrilled that the purple, bulls-eyed starfish I loved was suddenly green and odd looking? Not really, but once I got beyond the cosmetics (and the JLA’s insistence that they had never fought anything like this before), I liked the new concept and direction (both in the JLA origins book and the 2 parter with the Sandman in JLA). Today the changes are just too overt for my liking and reeks of stunts rather than storytelling…I’m still waiting for Steve Rogers to be found alive and well after being captured by the Skrulls, for example, so Marvel can say “he was never dead…here’s a whole new direction”.

And Didio…I understand any editor can have the same complaints lodged, but the overtness again is what made it stand out. The editor can do what he wants and short of not buying his books, I can’t do much about it, but they don’t have to rub it in like that.

I’ve never understood why they just never used madelyne Pryor as the fifth member of X-factor instead of having to dig up Jean, or uncacoon her or however that silly explanation goes. Just give the girl who looks exactly like Jean a few powers and be done with it.

Cool list, but I think you conflate “motive” and “method” at times. Some things, like #5 Keep Them Young, are really solutions that get at something else … usually #7 Image Rehab. Along the same lines, #3 and #8 might just be forms of rehabilitation, i.e. getting the character back to a money-making status.

I think Didio’s intellectual defense of returning Barry Allen and Hal Jordan to the roles is compelling, but disingenuous. If DC is primarily concerned with “confusion” in the marketplace, I’d argue Wally West has already clearly supplanted Barry in all forms of media. A similar argument could also result in John Stewart becoming GL permanently. So there must be some editorial bias there, skewed towards the Silver Age versions the editors grew up with, rather than who makes the most sense for those roles at this point.


Enjoyable and interesting entry — thank you.

I agree that most retcons fit into one of the items on your list. But I think there are times when it is done deliberately and legitimately out of a desire to tell the best, most interesting story possible (Brubaker and Bucky Barnes come to mind).

Your article made me think about Robert B. Parker. I used to be a huge fan of his Spenser novels (and I still follow them to a lesser extent). In the first novel, the character of Spenser was very different from what it ended up being later, and there were references to Spenser’s parents. Many, many books (and almost 20 years real time) later, Spenser’s backstory was revealed and it completely contradicted several things in the first book. Parker has been asked about this many times in interviews, and his reply is something along the lines of (this is just from memory) — he reserves the right to have a better idea later.

With retcons, it isn’t usually the original writer who’s having a better idea later — but in some limited cases (e.g., Brubaker’s Captain America) I can buy the same rationale in comics. With the Bucky example, I guess you could make the case for #7 on the list (rehab the image), but I don’t think that’s what it was about.

Having said that, though, the ‘good’ retcons are so rare that the Bucky example is the only one that comes to mind.

is it possible to give the link for the sins past parody?

The worst retconning I can think of which probably falls under #11 is when Marvel killed off Tony Stark and brought in a young Tony who was dragged forward from the past. Then when the whole Heroes Reborn, Heroes Return mess was finished, the old Tony was back (despite the fact that he had died) and no explanation whatso ever about what happened to Young Tony. For several months after the letter pages in Iron Man claimed the story of what happened would be revealed, but it never happened and people just forgot about. The only lame explanation ever offered was that Franklin Richards (who was the savior of the whole Heroes Reborn/Return story) remembered the older Tony and when he returned all the superheroes he brought the Tony he knew best. Pretty Lame!!!!

Another great article by Lorendiac (I really need to read the rest of his stuff.)

I used to be one of those continuity-obsessed fans; however, I’ve matured over the years and realized that there are *plenty* of good reasons why stuff needs to get rebooted, as summarized above. Still, as a reader, I DO have one demand: IF you’re going to reboot something, LET US KNOW FIRST. Not just with “After this Crisis everything will be different!” but with details. I thoroughly enjoyed All-Star Superman, for example, despite knowing it wasn’t in-continuity (or that it was leading to the inevitable Death of Superman) because I felt it was a very honest story about what it was and what it was trying to do. On the other hand, all the reboots we’ve had in the DC Universe since 2005 (With Infinite Crisis, 52, and now Final Crisis) only serve to confuse us because they CLAIM to change things but don’t say HOW. I’m aware that the real reason is to effectively “write a blank check” that later writers can fill in as they need, but even THAT DC won’t acknowledge. Sheesh. Just drop it already, and let things be fixed by *good writing* like Hatcher’s Birds of Prey example above.

Btw, the one kind of reboot that took the longest for me to recognize on my own… was #13. It’s kind of hard, especially when you’re young and read comics just for the fun of it, to face the fact that the people behind comics are human- and human beings CAN be really, really petty sometimes. I recall at least two Jim Shooter characters -The Beyonder and Korvac- whose origins and motivations were inexplicably changed years after the fact, effectively twisting the whole point about them, for no particular reason other than (I conclude) SOMEBODY IN CHARGE AT MARVEL HAD A GRUDGE AGAINST SHOOTER. Pathetic indeed…

So….which category do we file “The Anatomy Lesson” under? I can’t really argue it into any of the 14, so do we need a “15: The writers story simply required (or at least works much better with) a major change in the character(s)’ backstory, implemented as a revalation rather than a reboot.”

Reading through this list (and it is a very good, fun list) and the comments just leads me to a conclusion that I had already been inching toward for quite some time: when it comes to continuity, I don’t care. I just don’t. If a writer feels he needs certain things in place to tell a good Batman story, and that requires some level of retconning, it does not bother me one bit. Even if the story he just wiped out was one of my favorites. Because guess what? That story he just wiped out is still available in my collection, or in a trade, or in a back-issue bin somewhere, for me to pick up and read and enjoy. Just because it isn’t part of Batman’s “official” history anymore doesn’t lessen it at all.

Even when I did care more about continuity, I always accepted retcons as a necessary evil for comics. You have stories about certain characters that span decades of real time, being told by a very large number of different individuals. At some point there are simply going to be inconsistencies, no matter how careful you are. And even if there are no inconsistencies, things are going to get so byzantine and convoluted over the years if any new writer strictly observed all of it, he or she would be ridiculously limited in the stories that could be told. I would rather a writer artfully (and that part IS pretty important) make some retroactive changes in order to tell the story they want to tell than be unduly constricted by what has gone before.

Speaking of Bruce N. Wayne, Batman’s first cousin once removed, don’t forget Batman’s older brother Thomas Wayne Jr. Unless he’s no longer in continuity–in which case, go ahead and forget him.



We don’t often see it done with that level of craft and care, though. Even before doing a Crisis became DC’s favorite way to shuffle the deck, they did reboots all the time. Hal Jordan was the poster child for this treatment, long before “Emerald Twilight.” His entire publication history is a series of reboots in search of a direction. Even his most famous and celebrated era, the “Hard-Traveling Heroes” GL/GA stuff, didn’t last very long. Hell, Lorendiac could get a whole new list just out of Green Lantern Desperation Reboots. Over at Marvel, Dr. Strange is almost as bad. It’s just that in recent years companies have discovered that fans will buy a reboot JUST BECAUSE it’s a reboot. So now they publicize them instead of trying to sneak them through.

Hal Jordan has always seemed problematic in modern continuity. Like Barry Allen, he is so completely a a person of the Korean War and the early ’60s that Reboot #5 makes them progressively less interesting and even likable. In the context of Darwyn Cooke’s “The New Frontier”, he is an amazing character. Sadly, DC does not have its universe set in the early ’60s. The same is true (albeit to a lesser extent) of the majority of the “Satellite era” JLA line-up. Mike Grell was smart enough to realize that post-hippie value system of Oliver Queen made him seem old. Hal is additionally freighted with sci-fi origin that seems utterly archaic. I mean, a galactic police force just is not that compelling an idea in the 21st century. The Gil Kane costume design is about the only thing that has aged gracefully.

After several decades of re-boots both soft and hard, I wish that someone would do the full Julie Schwartz on the Green Lantern. Start over from the elevator pitch, “… a guy finds a magic ring that he has to re-charge once every day in a Green Lantern”. But, I tend to believe that the entire DCU should get the full Julie Schwartz treatment every twenty years, or so. I have a hard time believing that post-“Smallville” and post-“Superman Returns” that DC hasn’t learned lessons about how to tell a Superman story. Ditto Batman and the Chris Nolan films.

Regarding continuity….I tend to agree with Neal K. I don’t care that much.

If you take the decades and decades of continuity established by DC and Marvel. At any given moment only a fraction of it may be relevant to comics currently published today.

Facts so important that they become an integral part of a characters bible is continuity that matters. Captain America returning from his apparent death at the end of WWII. Uncle Ben. Batman’s parents, etc. Every character has a handful of essential points that don’t often change.

Beyond that the only continuity that matters is intra-run continuity. Brubaker’s Captain America has its own internal logic and continuity, and the writer may bring up plot points from earlier in the run to inform current stories. That said…earlier creator runs (Bryne, Grunwald, etc) probably aren’t relevant to the book in the here and now.

doron asked:

is it possible to give the link for the sins past parody?

In January of 2006 I posted the parody in two installments on our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man forum here on CBR. I just checked and found those threads are still archived here, so I’ll offer the links:

Sins Unsurpassed, Part 1 of 2 [PARODY]
Sins Unsurpassed, Part 1 of 2 [PARODY]

Bernard the Poet

February 9, 2009 at 2:45 pm

I’d like to echo Beta Ray Steve’s suggestion that laziness often plays a big part in ret-cons. It’s easier to put a new spin on an old story than go to the trouble of writing something completely new.
For example, it seems clear to me that what makes Superman special is that he is the last son of Krypton. I’d bet that most of his writers and editors would agree. But even though they know Superman works best as the last son of Krypton, they just can’t resist the allure of Superman interacting with other Kryptonians:- “ what if an evil Kryptonian came to Earth or a girl kryptonian or a canine Kryptonian?” It’s so easy, the story writes itself. So even though the writer knows he /she is damaging the product in the long term, they just can’t help themselves.

What about a retcon designed to make the source material like the new movie or tv show? For example, Mr Freeze was a 3rd tier Batman villian who was killed off unceremoniously by the Joker. Then he gets reinvented in an Emmy award winning episode of the animated series. Suddenly he’s brought back in the comics and made a lot more like his cartoon counterpart.

#11 seems like it might belong more on the method of implementing a retcon list than on a list of motives for doing one, but as always, highly entertaining.

We’ll done on an interesting article Lorendiac, but if I may take issue with number 2. While I agree with the idea, the way it has perhaps been framed and calling it ‘apathy’ seems a little unfair. It seems to me more a philosophical position, placing the aesthetics of the story as itself over the aesthetics of the story as a chapter in a continuing tale. I don’t think it is apathy in that they just don’t care about continuity, but rather that they just care MORE about the present story. In this way I think you could Jeff’s (Anatomy Lesson) and Toby’s (Brubaker’s Captain America) examples under #2, where the writer has consciously valued the present story over previous ones.

It seems to me that there is, if you like, an almost partisan political divide between the ‘Continuitists’ and the ‘Discontinuitists’, those that place a stories value by itself over its value as a continuing chapter and vice versa. And if we look back at the many, many arguments over Final Crisis it seems that people were being divided into these 2 camps.

Full discloser, I’m in the Discontinuitist camp, and if I may put words in your mouth Lorendiac, given your list making I would guess your in the Continuitist camp. That being said I don’t think you can argue that either position is definitely right or wrong. It does however, and I try to say this without offence, though that may be impossible, seem that this list is somewhat unfairly biased towards the Continuitist side. It seems an unspoken undercurrent that retconning is philosophically incorrect in itself, which is certainly a legitimate opinion, but in the interests of objectivity this may distort your findings. But other than that well done.

Sjio, I think you bring up a great point. Just like the day time soaps have the voice-over that the start “Today the role of X will be played by” I think that retcons should just be done with big, bold letters at the front of the book “From now on X, Y and Z happened” and from then on that will be continuity. I think you’re right through about the blank cheque, but another reason is that I think the writers want to use the (re)discoveries as plot points. This is definitely a bad move, it is one thing to have a mystery plot where the readers don’t know the truth yet, but it is quite another to have a mystery plot where he readers don’t know how the truth has changed. Retcons are, I believe, a necessary evil but they shouldn’t be used as plot points.

I think a couple of the not-fully-addressed examples mentioned here might fall under a larger category called something, like, say, Tabula Rasa.

This would seem to occur when a character appears to a creator to be so underdeveloped, or so long in limbo, or so little regarded by the vast majority of the fanbase that said character is, for all reasonable intents and purposes, a nonentity, often nothing more than a costume and a name in the minds of most fans. The writer can then, for all intents and purposes, creates what amounts to a whole new character wearing the old one’s skin, presumably on the logic of “Hey, no one really cares about this guy anyway, so I’m pretty much free to run wild on him without worrying about, well, almost anything!”

Interestingly, this seems to be the kind of retcon most likely to result in success (defined, roughly, as more fans liking the new versions than the old).

Brubaker’s Bucky, Gaiman’s version of Kirby’s Sandman, Robinson’s Ted Knight, Moore’s Swamp Thing, Supreme, and MIracleman, etc, etc, all made major changes to characters’ history/nature/personality, and the results were overwhelmingly positive, possibly because these were gifted writers correctly estimating the blank slate like nature of their targets.

Reading this list made me realize that I have no emotional investment in continuity, I get really actively annoyed by inconsistencies in the telling of a particular story or arc. Stuff like #13s drive me nuts as a result– if you didn’t like the guy’s Doom story, just ignore it! I don’t want to have to go read a crappy Doom story to make sense of your Doombot story!

Likewise, I get annoyed if a company publishes a lot of contradictory stuff not marked off as a prestige project in the course of a single year, because that only means somebody was asleep at the wheel. If a story is ignoring or contradicting stuff from five, ten years ago, eh, whatever. If what I’m reading at the moment is good, I can go with the flow.

John Byrne sounds like kind of a huge sack of crap from everything I’ve heard about him.

For example, it seems clear to me that what makes Superman special is that he is the last son of Krypton. I’d bet that most of his writers and editors would agree. But even though they know Superman works best as the last son of Krypton, they just can’t resist the allure of Superman interacting with other Kryptonians:- “ what if an evil Kryptonian came to Earth or a girl kryptonian or a canine Kryptonian?” It’s so easy, the story writes itself. So even though the writer knows he /she is damaging the product in the long term, they just can’t help themselves.

You see, this is why I fall into the Discontinuitist camp. I think Byrne painted himself into a corner with the whole “Last Son of Krypton” rule. I love Supergirl, Krypto, General Zod, Ursa and Non. I think the Fortress of Solitude is cool, but I prefer it when the Ghost of Jor-El there is giving directions. I think marrying Lois and Clark resolved the central conflict of the series and removed all the tension. I hate battle-suit Lex and love Citizen Lex.

And so forth…

If a talented writer happens to agree with me and has an awesome story to tell, then I want to read it. Period. I don’t want to have to care whether Dan Didio loved “Battle of the Super-Friends” so much that he made all DC comics resemble it.

Another great retcon by Moore: In WildC.A.T.s, the main characters, who have been continuing a war between alien races the Kherubim and the Daemonites on Earth for thousands of years after it began on their home planets, actually return to those planets to find that the war had ended and that the race we think of as the villains (the Daemonites) were enslaved by the good guys long, long ago. There was a lot more to it, such as racial inequality and political in-fighting among the Kherubim races and sects the main characters belong to.

@papabaron: I know that somewhere, they did a story that explained exactly what happened to Tony Stark during the “Heroes Reborn” thing and why he came out as “classic” Tony instead of Teen Tony, but I can’t for the life of me remember where. It wasn’t in the regular series…maybe a back-up in an Annual? Something tells me it was collected in with Kurt Busiek’s Avengers run…grr. I remember stumbling upon it and being pleasantly surprised that Busiek had made good on his promise to explain that.

I agree with his rationale for not putting it front and center, though–the new “Iron Man” series didn’t need to start with fifteen pages of continuity porn that would turn off new fans, explaining away something that old fans were eager to forget anyway. Better to just start with a good story, and work from there.

[…] Lorendiac’s Lists: 14 Answers to “Why So Many Retcons?” Comic Book Resources ,February 09, 2009 About a year and a half later, Marv Wolfman felt it necessary retcon this during a conversation between Nightwing and Batman, in which Nightwing said … […]

Facts so important that they become an integral part of a characters bible is continuity that matters. Captain America returning from his apparent death at the end of WWII.

Actually, the return of Cap in the early 1960s after being frozen in an iceberg at the end of WWII is itself a retcon, one of the first major ones ever done in superhero comic books. After all, Timely/Marvel published a number of Cap stories in the late 1940s, and a few more in the mid 50s. Stan Lee ignored all of that with Avengers #4.

If that book was published today, fans would be loudly shouting “Hey, what the heck happened to Cap’s time in the All Winners Squad after the war, and his adventures fighting the Commies in the 1950s? And how can Bucky have died in 1945, since he was also in those stories?” And Marvel eventually did have to get around to explaining, via retcon, that those were the adventures of another guy in Cap’s costume… actually, three other guys. That was kinda messy.

So, yeah, retcons, and their ultra-tangled aftermaths of reconciling blatantly conradictory stories, have been part-and-parcel of superhero comic books since the 1960s.

This is a fun list.

I’d like to think I was pretty easy-going about continuity, but the “grudge” category always bothered me. I remember reading those Byrne stories that would poke holes in the X-men issues, and even as a kid who was otherwise blissfully ignorant of inter-office politics, I found the pettiness pretty glaringly obvious.

The Dr. Doom robot thing was the most blatant, and Byrne personally called Lilandra a witch when she put Reed on trial for rescuing Galactus (he had written himself into the story). The X-men was my favorite comic, so this sort of stuff bugged me.

Interesting that Claremont wanted to shoot back. I’m glad he ended up staying above it all, even if it was due to the editors’ watchful eyes.

Bernard the Poet

February 10, 2009 at 3:20 pm

Claremont wasn’t completely blameless. In X-Men issue 167, he has Lilandra call Reed out for saving Galactus’s life.

There is one major reason for reboots that isn’t quite covered by the list: MONEY.

I don’t think the 1986’s reboot of Superman was motivated by an aesthetic desire to streamline the character. Rather, it’s been caused by at least 2 decades of Superman comics dwindling in sales. The same can be said of Wonder Woman and the Perez reboot.

On Continuity:

I think it depends. I like continuity from the standpoint that I value characterization, and without some semblance of continuity, you can’t get what a character is all about or what the role of the character is in the larger narrative. That’s part of what bothers me about them bringing Barry Allen back. He not only was a paragon as a hero in his comic life, but served a very important role in his death not only in the storyline (saving the universe), but also in motivating and defining Wally West’s character. Now you can toss that all out window, more or less.

That said, I like a lot of out of continuity stuff. Some of my favorite stories are things that are “what ifs” or “elseworlds” kinds of stories. There are also times where I think there needs to be a retcon simply because the storytelling was…odd (one that sticks out is the X-Men storyline a few years ago…think it was right before Morrison…where they killed/mindwiped Magneto in Genosha and then went out for a beer at the end of the book; just didn’t make sense to me…or why exiting writers on X-books kill Magneto consistently, but that’s another rant).

Maybe it just boils down to a) how important the story was to the character/plot of the book and b) whether it was well written as to why a retcon does or doesn’t bother some of us.

“Claremont wasn’t completely blameless. In X-Men issue 167, he has Lilandra call Reed out for saving Galactus’s life.”

Actually I’d forgotten about that. At the time I didn’t really think of that as a dig at the FF storyline but a natural reaction that may set up a future storyline. Looking back now it could be taken as a bit of a slam (Lilandra calls Reed a fool, and her hologram is sprung on the Richards in bed together, which didn’t make them look terribly dignified or powerful in the exchange).

Now I’m curious how much of that was setting up the Trial of Galactus story in FF (which it did do nicely) and how much was Claremont having a few panels to kill so why not mention, “What’s up with saving Galactus?” Probably more of the latter, given the history between the two creators.

On John Byrne’s website, Byrne Robotics, he says that the Trial of Reed Richards was specifically written in response to Claremont’s jibe.

One major motive for reboots has been the growing maturity of comic readers.

Most of DC’s biggest characters were created in the ‘Forties and ‘Fifties and squarely aimed at seven-year-olds. When the Stan Lee revolution happened in the ‘Sixties, the average age of a comic reader increased to about 14-years-old. By the late ‘Sixties, DC felt that they couldn’t ignore the Marvel phenomenon and in response started to up-date their own characters. So Batman erased Aunt Harriet from continuity, sent the Boy Wonder to college and played down the Batmobile and Batcave. The Wonder Woman series killed off Steve Trevor and turned the lead into a hot, white-suited kung fu babe. Green Lantern’s ring was reduced in power and Hal Jordan gained a social conscience. Speedy became a junkie. And so on and so forth.

By the ‘Eighties, the average age of a comic fan had aged still further and DC felt obliged to reboot their characters even more dramatically, but this created a tension. DC had to maintain a balance between the key elements of the original character and creating a new status quo suitable for a more mature readership. Getting this balance right was tricky.

George Perez’s reboot of Wonder Woman emphasised that she was a Greek Amazon princess sent to the Man’s World as an ambassador for Paradise Island and to further the cause of women’s rights. She does all this while draped in the Stars and Stripes – an unlikely costume for a Greek ambassador to wear. Perez does address the origin of the costume and comes up with a rather rum old plot about honouring Steve Trevor’s mother, but the real reason is that Wonder Woman is one of the most iconic images in comics and she sells a lot of lunchboxes, so Perez was stuck with the Stars and Stripes costume whether he liked it or not.

If you look at the DC characters with the most tortuous back stories, you invariably find that these are the heroes with the most childish origins. Writers keep throwing more and more story at them to hide their innate silliness.

Aquaman is the son of a mermaid and can talk to the fishes. Slaughter his family, chop off his arm, change his outfit and he is still the son of a mermaid, who can talk to the fishes. Hawkman flew across the galaxy in a spaceship, but now fights crime bare-chested with a mace. That is a tough one for even a seven-year-old to accept.

If you look at the DC characters with the most tortuous back stories, you invariably find that these are the heroes with the most childish origins. Writers keep throwing more and more story at them to hide their innate silliness.

To me, this is just more of a case for periodic hard re-boots.

Hawkman (and Hawkgirl) have a one thing going for him: a great visual. The wings and old weapons look cool. That matters in comics. The Silver Age back-story about Thangar has, indeed, become hopelessly silly. Ironically, the Golden Age version has aged much better.

So … why not ditch everything except the visual? Let some hungry, young talent take a run at re-building those characters from the ground up?

Aquaman has a bit more going for him. The basic concept of who is as comfortable under the water as on land is solid enough. Watch the Pilot for the TV series on iTunes sometime. Arthur Curry is kind of an interesting protagonist. The dead family are a big part of the problem there. It is too sad. The other piece is that there isn’t much mystery to the Atlantean culture in Aquaman. They are blue and have a quasi-Monarchy. **Yawn**

One major motive for reboots has been the growing maturity of comic readers.

I literally do not understand why DC doesn’t have three distinct imprints that have their own “universes” targeted to different segments of readers. To me, it is a no-brainer that you should have:
– A G-Rated universe targeted to kids that are coming over from the animated shows with Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Justice League and the Teen Titans.
– A PG-rated universe that is targeted to fanboys who have collected their various titles since they were kids.
– An R-rated universe that is accessible to adults that are dabbling in comics (maybe for the first time) after being exposed to movies and TV series. It would have a Batman that would immediately familiar to viewers of “The Dark Knight” and a Superman that is accessible to fans of “Smallville” and “Superman Returns”. Plus, versions of the rest of the “Big 7″ that are consistent with those characters.

Marcelo Soares said:

On point 1: hey, look again at the story where Damien’s conception is shown. The scene shown in the flashback looks like it’s from “I now pronounce you Batman and Wife”, not from “Son of the Demon”. Morrison just retconned some fun before Talia being knocked out by her Lover. Since Talia disappeared for quite a while after that story, it’s feasible. The baby thing brings up the reference to “Son of the Demon”, quite commonly. But if you look closely, it’s not.

I couldn’t find my copy at first, but now I’ve checked. Toward the end of “Batman #656″ (the second issue of Morrison’s first arc), Talia says to Batman: “But have you forgotten that night you and I shared under the desert moon above the Tropic of Cancer?”

At the top of the next page, Batman responds: “I remember being drugged senseless and refusing to co-operate in some depraved eugenics experiment. That night, maybe?”

Batman’s description sounds nothing like events portrayed in “I Now Pronounce You Batman and Wife,” nor the events of “Son of the Demon” when the two of them were living together for months.

My understanding is that Morrison, even before the first issue of his run saw print, had led people to believe he was dusting off the baby from “Son of the Demon.” I had certainly heard those rumors before I ever bought the first issue of his run a few years ago. I don’t think it was just a case of fans jumping to conclusions re: which old story about a Batman/Talia romance Morrison might be inspired by.

(Incidentally, didn’t the “wedding” from the late 1970s happen on a ship just outside the legal boundaries of the USA, near Gotham City, as opposed to their being in a tent in a desert at the time, as Talia describes in Morrison’s dialogue?)

And Morrison himself has said:

GM: Well, Damian plays into a few story ideas that will become more central as we get to the end of RIP. I always loved the idea of Batman having a kid from Mike Barr’s Son of the Demon story. That was the initial inspiration for doing a grown-up ‘evil’ son, even though I hadn’t read the story in years and couldn’t remember what happened in it! (laughs)

That last quote is what I had in mind when I said, in the last paragraph of my discussion of #01 on this list, that Morrison has conceded that he didn’t bother to refresh his memory before writing the scripts which introduced us to his version of the child of Batman and Talia.

That “Anonymous” comment immediately above was from me. I didn’t realize the PC I’m currently using wouldn’t automatically populate those fields.

John Seavey — as a matter of fact, when I was doing last-minute revisions to this, it did occur to me that “Green Lantern: Rebirth” could probably serve as an example of more than one of the items I had listed, but it was late and I decided to just leave my brief comments about that the way they were. :)

Tom Fitzpatrick — you mentioned the many origin stories of Donna Troy. I had toyed with the idea of mentioning some of that myself. The rough draft of my listing for “02. Apathy” included mention of reports I’ve heard that Bob Haney, back in the 1960s and 70s, shared much the same attitude more recently espoused by Jeph Loeb regarding the details of continuity, i.e. “I can live with it or live without it,” basically. So I’ve seen conflicting theories as to whether Haney honestly didn’t know the “Wonder Girl” who sometimes appeared in Silver Age “Wonder Woman” comics was supposed to simply be WW at a younger age — or did he know that darn well, but saw no need to let it interfere with his desire to have a “junior sidekick of Wonder Woman” be a founding member of the Teen Titans, right alongside the junior sidekicks of Batman, of Flash, of Aquaman, and a bit later the junior sidekick of Green Arrow as a new recruit?

I finally deleted that portion on the grounds that it was too vague to definitely be an example of “Apathy” when it could just as easily have been “Ignorance” instead, and I figured this entire post was getting too long anyway! :)

Beta Ray Steve — I think the only story I remember hearing of, offhand, which “revisited” the question of “who shot Spidey’s Uncle Ben and why did it happen?” was “Amazing Spider-Man #200.” What were the others you’re thinking of?

Wesley — I remembered hearing the bit about how Kurt Busiek, before he was a big-name writer in the industry, had come up with an idea for how the “Dark Phoenix” who wiped out a planet and then died on the Moon was not the original Jean Grey. But I was pretty sure Busiek wasn’t the guy who had been able to make waves at Marvel and insist upon actually implementing that decision by having Jean turn up at the bottom of a river in a pod. I knew that event was done partially in an Avengers story (written by Stern during his long run in the 1980s) and partially in a Fantastic Four story (written by Byrne during his long run in the 1980s), but I wasn’t clear on exactly who had said, with enough clout to make it stick, “I know! Let’s bring back Jean Grey so we can use her as one of the ‘founding members’ of our new X-Factor concept!”

Bernard the Poet

February 12, 2009 at 3:19 am

Dean – I agree that the Earth 2 Hawkman’s origin stands up a bit better than the Thanagar version, but in this age of automatic weapons, both would be dead within the year.

i also agree that DC need to give their comics a rating system. Seven-year-olds would soon start reading comics again if Marvel and DC marketed them properly.

I started reading DC when you could go to the local newsagents and buy a hundred page comic for 25p.

A great read. How about a retcon-that-is-necessary-to-spur-a-massive-line-wide-crossover? :-) Like, if Wonder Woman had killed Maxwell Lord the cyborg, it wouldn’t have been such a big deal. So they had to make Max human. It’s really a retcon to serve the plot. (I know could also be seen as either Apathy or Removing an Embarrassment.)

I literally do not understand why DC doesn’t have three distinct imprints that have their own “universes” targeted to different segments of readers. To me, it is a no-brainer that you should have:
– A G-Rated universe targeted to kids that are coming over from the animated shows with Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Justice League and the Teen Titans.
– A PG-rated universe that is targeted to fanboys who have collected their various titles since they were kids.
– An R-rated universe that is accessible to adults that are dabbling in comics (maybe for the first time) after being exposed to movies and TV series. It would have a Batman that would immediately familiar to viewers of “The Dark Knight” and a Superman that is accessible to fans of “Smallville” and “Superman Returns”. Plus, versions of the rest of the “Big 7? that are consistent with those characters.

Well we have the Animated Series style comics, the main DCU, the Wildstorm Universe and the Vertigo universe. The big difference here obviously is that only the first two I listed actually share their own versions of the same characters.

Blackjack — I haven’t read “Batman #684,” so I haven’t seen the DiDio column you mention.

I will say that I never cared all that much about Barry Allen. I have a lot of his adventures from his solo title in the late 70s and early-to-mid 80s, but what I’ve read of them doesn’t leave me breathlessly waiting for dozens of issues’ worth of the same kind of stuff that Cary Bates was writing about Barry for so many years. Whether or not Barry would eventually come back from the dead for keeps was not a question which kept me awake at night.

On the other hand, I completely disagree with the theory that Hal Jordan, as of the late 80s and early 90s, had become a fundamentally unwriteable character. I enjoyed the way Gerard Jones handled him in the first couple of years of the “Green Lantern” title which began in 1990 — although I freely admit that the Gerard Jones run was going downhill in the later issues, before “Emerald Twilight.” But I don’t see that as proof that the character was getting worn out and useless. Just that Jones should have handed the reins over to a different writer much sooner than actually occurred.

Greg Hatcher — I have trouble thinking of Simone’s work on “Birds of Prey” as any type of reboot, even a “soft one.” To me, a “reboot” is when you throw away most or all of what has gone before . . . not just changing the tone or whatever, but saying: “Years and years of old stories about these characters Never Happened. Forget all about them, please!”

By the way, I’ve read reprints of the Superman story from the 1970s that removed kryptonite as a threat by having all the stuff on Planet Earth get turned into harmless iron (I think it was iron?), but by the time I was a kid buying some DC titles in the early 1980s, that had obviously been undone. Just how long did that attempted “shake-up” to his status quo actually last before he started having Lex Luthor (or whomever) wave Green K in his face at the drop of a hat, same as before?

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