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Gonna Change My Way of Thinking #1

This is the first in a series (of indefinite length and regularity) of pieces looking at the wild world of comic book retcons (retcon being retroactive continuity, but as I will be using it here, pretty much any use of retroactive storytelling). ALL sorts of retcons will be discussed here, from minor ones to major ones, pretty much just whatever ones I feel like writing about.

We start with the curious history of Edwin Jarvis.

As we discussed in the most recent Top Five list, Edwin Jarvis made his debut in Tales of Suspense #59.

That sounds about right, as he was Tony Stark’s butler.

However, he did not debut in an Iron Man story! No, he debuted in that issue’s debut of the Captain America co-feature (a co-feature that ended up taking over the entire series with issue #100).

Yes, remarkably enough, this issue of Tales of Suspense came out in mid-1964 (cover date of November 1964), the same month that Avengers #10 came out and 20 issue after Tony Stark debuted in the pages of Tales of Suspense!

So Tony Stark and, as we see here, the Avengers’ butler, did not appear for some time before those characters had been around, and in fact, Jarvis debuted as the Avengers’ butler BEFORE we ever saw him as Tony’s butler!! Not only did he debut as the Avengers butler before he was Tony’s butler, he was the Avengers butler in another title well before he ever actually showed up IN the Avengers!

He first showed up in the pages of the Avengers in issue #16, in the famous scene where Hawkeye proves himself worthy to be an Avenger.

Note how everyone treats Jarvis – they don’t even call him by name!! Iron Man doesn’t even seem particularly concerned!

Jarvis shows up an issue or two later, but does not get named. That’s two issues of Avengers without him even being NAMED!

For awhile, Jarvis kept appearing in Tales of Suspense as an occasional background character for Cap. Note that he NEVER has any interaction with Tony Stark over in Tales of Suspense. He and Cap, though, have a nice relationship.

He doesn’t show up again in the Avengers for another 20 issues! Here he finally gets named in the pages of the Avengers and he gets his first piece of dialogue.

In the first Avengers Annual, Jarvis and Iron Man have their first interaction. It isn’t much.

It wouldn’t be for another year or so before Jarvis was FINALLY given a personality by Roy Thomas, who almost seemed to base his story on the very notion that Jarvis was just a total background character…

So here, more than 50 issues into the Avengers, THEN Jarvis actually becomes a major part of the book and he continues on in that capacity for the rest of the book’s run.

However, his relationship with Tony Stark is still quite distant.

Check out this page from Iron Man #17…

And here, check out how Jarvis thinks about Tony in these pages from an Iron Man in the #50s…

Jarvis did not even really have a full appearance in Iron Man again until the Demon in a Bottle storyline, and look at how Jarvis handles it…

It seems pretty clear that his relationship with Tony is a employer/employee one (and yes, this is THAT resignation letter that I dealt with in a previous edition of Comic Book Legends Revealed.

Heck, even in the super sentimental (but very good – I believe I’ve spotlighted it for a year of cool comics) issue of Avengers where Jarvis looks back upon his career on the Avengers while recuperating from his injuries he suffered during the Masters of Evil’s invasion, his interaction with Tony really isn’t anything but a friendly and admiring employer/employee relationship.

It was not until the Crossing, over 30 years after Jarvis first showed up, that suddenly the two had a close relationship. Here is future Jarvis proving to past Jarvis that future Jarvis is, well, Jarvis…

Then, after Tony Stark dies, check out his will…

So now, all of a sudden, they saw each other as a father/son or best friends? Pretty weird.

In any event, there you have it, the long, strange history of Edwin Jarvis on his road to Avengers stalwart and Tony Stark parental figure.

24 Comments

Man, am I glad that I never read The Crossing… I’ll never view Jarvis as being a father figure to Tony, no matter how many times they try to retcon it.

On the other hand, Cap’s chats with Jarv have been an Avengers perennial for as long as I can remember. You can tell that both men truly respect each other, with Cap valuing Jarvis’ advice and counsel.

The very first issue of Avengers I ever read was #212 (“Men of Deadly Pride”) and the very first character I saw there was Edwin Jarvis, tray in hand as always. Both The Avengers and Marvel itself just wouldn’t be the same without him.

Sounds like later writers were trying to give Jarvis more of an Alfred-Bruce relationship with Tony, which seems so unnecessary. Jarvis is awesome because of his consummate professionalism.

Buttler:

And what more, Alfred/Bruce didn’t even have that distinct father/son relationship until Dark Knight Returns and later Year One, when Miller established that Alfred had been serving Bruce’s parents. Pre-Crisis history had Alfred showing up after Dick Grayson became Robin and didn’t know Batman’s identity right away.

So although Batman/Alfred didn’t originally have that relationship, it fits so well that it seems like it’s always been that way. Obviously the Tony/Jarvis thing doesn’t fit the mold the same way!

Avengers vol. 1 #54 frickin’ ROCKS!!!

More like this, please. Given that you’re probably one of the few people on Earth who has read all 50+ years of most of these comics, this is a unique and valuable service. I used to love it when the fanzines would do “hero histories” and this reminds me of those.

Agree with Matt Bird. This was great stuff, Brian! Very fun and insightful, especially for a character I didn’t know I was so interested in…until after I read this.

Great, great stuff Brian. Very informative. You’ve been on quite a roll lately.

The story revealing his childhood in the Bronx was one of the first comics I ever read…so it always pained me to see almost every subsequent writer ignore that salient point and write his dialogue in a mock British dialect because they saw “butler” and thought “he must be British like Alfred Pennyworth.” Just think how much more interesting it would have been had anyone thought to write him as “working-class guy from the Bronx who reinvented himself as a gentleman’s gentleman” instead of writing him with the voice of C-3PO.

Hey,Brian, when wrote “Check out this panel from an Iron Man issue in the # 40s,” you made a slight error. The panel was from IRON MAN # 17 (page 17,panel 3).

Is this series of blogs going to reveal that everything we know about Comic Book Resources is a lie?

Seriously, great post, and I look forward to future editions.

I thought he was supposed to be British. Avengers #300 has a Marvel Handbook-type profile of Jarvis, and it says he’s British and even served in the RAF. Then I read another issue (I can’t remember what it was) that referred to him being from the Bronx. But until now I’d never seen anything to back that up. I wish they could keep these details straight.

I’d seen a flashback of Hawkeye’s arrival in #150. It left out the two panels with the Widow. I had no idea the scene had been tampered with.

Aside from the aforementioned #150, I’d never read any of the early appearances of Captain America until now. I am amazed at the emotional depth he shows here. If any other writer of that time period had written the Avengers, he probably would’ve adjusted to the modern word without any emotional turmoil (maybe some pleasant surprise at new inventions or something, but not much else). I know there are a lot of people who find Stan’s writing to be laughably old-fashioned and melodramatic, but you have to recognise his creation of super-heroes with real personalities. And he was often able to do it with just a few panels here and there between the action scenes.

Thanks, trajan!

The official explanation is that Jarvis’s father was British and his mom was American.

Great post. I’ve actually read most off the issues you highlight here, but I never really noticed how Jarvis has changed and evolved over the years. I’ve always pictured him as being a pretty integral part of Avengers continuity. Didn’t realize it actually took so long for him to become that way.

I love Iron Man in the last panel when Hawkeye joins the team. “I’ll give you an Avengers Manual so you can study our by-laws!”

Yeah, Hawkeye strikes me as the by-law studying type.

The Avengers really did like their by-laws/parliamentary procedures back then.

Great feature, Brian! I look forward to the next entries (whenever and whatever they may be).

Great article, Brian.

Mary, Captain America was described as “our brooding, tragic, melodramatic, muscular Hamlet” in the “Mails of Suspense” letters page, Tales of Suspense #60 (Jan 1965). Definitely a description looking for a character, fully realised when the Silver Surfer came along a year later.

Jarvis is gonna make himself a different set of rules; stop bein’ influenced by fools!

Hmm, this barely counts as a retcon in my opinion. More like a reinterpretation, and those happen all the time in comics. There was nothing in Jarvis’ relationship with Stark that couldn’t have been accounted by with off-panel scenes or catching the two at an off day.

Now Alfred’s origin, that WAS a retcon, and a perfect one- it keeps Wayne in contact with his parents’ lives, and thus explains why he became a decent hero instead of a revenge-seeking nut.

Hawkeyes introduction to the Avengers was pretty weak. A masked man whom you know of only as a villain -assuming it’s even the same person under the hood- bursts into your headquarters, ties up your butler, gives you a sob story that you have no evidence is true, and proves his skill by doing a VERY dangerous stunt with the butler, and you go OK. This reminds us that in the Silver Age, Marvel may have been less silly than DC, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t have their wallbangers. Oh well at least it was fun.

Joe Casey delved into the first year and a half of the Avengers in his Earth’s Mightiest Heroes miniseries. One of his more interesting and, in my opinion, brilliant, development / retcons was to reveal that Jarvis and Hawkeye had actually met prior to the events of Avengers #16, it was Jarvis who helped convince Hawkeye to try to become a crimefighter & join the team, and the whole thing with Jarvis being tied up and then shot free by Hawkeye was really a hoax the two concocted to get the rest of the Avengers’ attention.

In any case, going back to Avengers #280, in addition to that story detailing that Jarvis was working with the Avengers right from the very start, it also retconned aspects of the Ultron/Crimson Cowl storyline. The reasons why Jarvis felt that the Avengers regarded him as little more than a lacky who barely rated their attention, why he betrayed the team so easily to the Masters of Evil, and why he didn’t just go to Tony Stark to ask for a loan to help out with his mother’s medical bills, was because Ultron used his Encephalo-Beam to brainwash him. Which clears up a bit of dodgy plotting from the original story and redeems Jarvis.

(It also makes him Jarvis another in a long line of Avengers-related characters who have had their lives seriously screwed up by Ultron, one of my main reasons for arguing that robot is the team’s number one enemy, because he just keeps hurting them on a personal level no other villain can ever achieve.)

Schnitzy Pretzelpants

September 25, 2010 at 4:08 pm

Just what the hell kind of relationship did Captain America have with Jarvis?

“I’ll just take a shower – single handed.”

If Steve had to make that distinction, one wonders….

nice start to the colum. always thought Tony and Jarvis saw each other as employee and employer later good friends not the father and son thing. like Alfred and Batman have. not to mention even the times tony has been a real jerk to Jarvis like with the crossing and demon in the bottle. Jarvis has always stood by tony proving to be iron mans real true friend.

Good article, great research. But no mention of Silverclaw?

Great article. Do Bobbi Morse/Mockingbird next!

Not trying to be a jerk, but the panel right after Cap has a lot of internal dialog is sorta superfluous; Jarvis and Cap hold a conversation and Cap calls Jarvis by name in the panel before you point he gets named and gets his first bit of dialog….I’m just a bit confused….

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