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Comic Theme Time Month – Best Retroactive Insertion Character

All December long, I will be doing daily installments of Comic Theme Time. Comic Theme Time is a twist on the idea of a “Top Five” list. Instead of me stating a topic and then listing my top five choices in that topic, I’m giving you the topic and letting you go wild with examples that you think fit the theme.

Today’s topic is “who is the best retroactive insertion character?”

A retroactive insertion character is when a new character is inserted into continuity as though they have always been part of the continuity of the comic, just never mentioned until this point. One of the most famous examples of this is Matt Murdock’s first major love, the assassin Elektra. Matt just never mentioned the enormous impact this woman had on his life until she showed up again well into his career as Daredevil. Murdock’s teacher, Stick, also fits this pattern.

What’s your pick?


Rose Wilson, Deathstroke’s long-lost daughter. She was introduced about 13 years after Slade Wilson.

Speaking of Daredevil, I also liked Rosiland Sharpe, Foggy Nelson’s mother, who was introduced during Karl Kesel’s underrated DAREDEVIL run.

And I guess even Donna Troy would count here…. introduced long after Wonder Woman in 1965, and later received an origin in TEEN TITANS, where is was revealed Donna was raised amid the Amazons as Diana’s step sister.

Does the Hulk’s dad count? I mean, he was never alive in the Hulk’s history, and it wasn’t until Incredible Hulk #312 that we’d ever heard of the guy. But he was created as a drunken, abusive parent, and suddenly the psychological basis for the Hulk made total sense. But even after his creation, we really never heard much about him until Peter David started playing with him around #338, and slowly kept revisiting the character thereafter. Now you *can’t* tell a Hulk origin story without Brian Banner.

Jessica Jones being a classmate of Peter Parker.

In recent years, IIRC, it was shown that Xavier tried to recruit Wolverine way before he eventually became an X-Man, and how Xavier helped him regain control over his damaged mind.

While I didn’t like that one, I must bring up the insertion of Bucky/Super Soldier into Wolverine’s backstory, being the assassin who killed his loved one in the 1950s.

Again with Wolverine(…): Black Widow encountering him (and Captain America) as a child in WWII.

And one last with Wolverine: The role he played in Frank Simpson’s childhood and the creation of Nuke.

Ultimate universe Gregory stark

Vulcan, Darwin, Petra and Sway inserted as a rescue team up against Krakoa. This is important because one of theses characters became a major cosmic threat and centered in a war and crossover story a few years ago, another had a role in the latest X-Men movie that came out this past summer.

I liked in “Untold Tales of Spider-Man” the character of Sally Avril (the girl that blew off Peter in favor of Flash in Amazing Fantasy #15) was fleshed out some. She also made more of an appearance in the “Spectacular Spider-Man” animated series.

A special favorite would have to be Wolverine and Squirrel Girl having some form of “history” together.

But the big one that’s become my new favorite, in spite of myself: Damian Wayne, the new Robin. Born “first” in a supposedly out-of-continuity graphic novel, and despite being a little…well, he’s become someone everyone wants to read about now.

Have to agree that the Daredevil insertions are among the best. Daredevil is unthinkable without them now.

How about Dr. Strange and the Avengers joining the Fantastic Four against Rama-Tut?

The entire All-Star Squadron series. As well as the entire Avengers Forever maxi-series.

Proty’s replacing Lightning Lad in that controversial Legion of Super-Heroes story.

And don’t forget Deadpool’s one-time insertion into that old Spider-Man story.

The Sentry.

That’s right, I said it.

Vulcan and the Sentry certainly were retroactive insertions. Whether they were the best ones or not is another matter. ;-)

The X-Men’s entire history seems like a retroactive insertion. In addition to the examples already mentioned, there’s Prof. X and Magneto’s history. Mr. Sinister. Christopher Summers and the Starjammers. Storm and the Black Panther. Amelia Voigt. Legion. Warpath. Etc.

Does Black Canary being split into mother-daughter count?

Jessica Jones, for sure.

How about Parallax, the fear entity, in Green Lantern?

Would the new characters Roy Thomas introduced in The Invaders count as retroactive insertions? You know, Union Jack, Spitfire, Baron Blood, Master Man, Warrior Woman, etc. All of them were written as if they had existed in the 1940s and fought in World War II, but they weren’t actually created by Thomas in the real world until the 1970s.

In any case, I’ve always really liked most of the new characters Thomas devised for the Invaders. The fact that so many of them continue to pop up to this day can be seen as a testament to their impact. In the various World War II-eras stories published by Marvel in the last 30 years, I estimate that at least half of them have had an appearance by one or more of Thomas’ characters alongside the genuine WWII guys like Captain America, Namor, and the Human Torch. And they also keep popping up in present-day stories.

Jim Rhodes. He retroactively met Iron Man/Tony Stark during the Vietnam war. Stark’s best friend, he replaced him twice as Iron Man and eventually became his own superhero (War Machine).

Would Maestro being inserted in the Hulk origin (I assumed the gamma rays tearing him apart before hitting Bruce were the reason that he took on that sort of alternate form), or Barry Allen becoming the lightning bolt that struck his lab (though, obviously, that was retconned out of existence) count?

I thought both of those were cool riffs on the idea, the character in death somehow being directly responsible for his own existence in the past.

Isaiah Bradley.

It makes a fantastic amount of sense that the fictional history of the Marvel Universe would be just as white-washed as the real history of the United States, and that older black heroes would be hidden in the ether, not getting the recognition of their white counterparts. It was a commentary on the Tuskegee experiments, a great way to inject some black history into 616, a thematically strong story about building bridges between people, and it eventually gave us Elijah Bradley, Patriot, of the fantastic Young Avengers series.

The First Line, from Marvel: The Lost Generation.

Oh! Sal Kennedy and Baron von Blitchschlag, for sure!

Leather Boy, fetishist and founding member of the Great Lakes Avengers.

I think the xavier and magneto storyline is one of the most ludicrous but also one of the most brilliant. In the ray xmen, their headquarters are a secret, even though magneto knows who xavier is and his address is public knowledge. Magneto was just evil in the early issues. It was only when Claremont reworkedhim that he received any depth asap character. A big part of that was the prior relationship with Xavier. It’s gone on to be a major cornerstone of the comics, cartoons, games and films.

I don’t know if this quite fits the bill, but I’d say inserting Black Canary into the Justice League’s original adventures when Wonder Woman was rebooted in the mid-80s.

Yeah, I’m going to agree with Black Canary Jr. Not only is she a fun character, but she qualifies as a retroactive insertion character twice and that’s not easy to do.

Max Mercury was so well done as a retroactive insertion that people were convinced he wasn’t, and that they’d just forgotten which obscure comic he appeared regularly in. The way the Flash team handled him and the Speed Force was masterly, very well done indeed.

Max Mercury was both a retroactive insertion and a reimagining of an existing character. He was originally a Quality Comics character called Quicksilver, who was a masked adventurer with no apparent super-powers. Only one of his Golden Age adventures was reprinted by DC in the 1970s. It was Mark Waid (I think) who renamed him (since the name “Quicksilver” was already trademarked by Marvel by then) and reimagined him as the “Zen Master of Speed,” throwing in the time-jumping business to make him pre-date the other speedsters (Jay Garrick having first appeared in late 1939 in the 1/40 dated “Flash Comics” #1, with Johnny Quick showing up in “More Fun” in 1941).

I’ll second two of the nominees, Isiah Bradley, although the timeline of the story was somewhat screwy(and I think that Marvel really should retcon Caps origin by about a year or two earlier anyway) it was still a great addition and a great series.

And Max Mercury wedged in so well that as mentioned, I really thought he was an obscure character that had been forgotten.

It’s easier to point out to the bad ones (say Vulcan, most of Wolverines origin, or other x-men villains origins, or even portions of Green Goblin’s story that makes him getting Gwen pregnant and being behind the clone business etc. That it’s hard to remember sometimes that they do work out well)

The Crazed Spruce

December 25, 2011 at 3:59 pm

I’ve gotta go with Danette Reilly, Firebrand from the All-Star Squadron. She was a real pistol, that one…. :)

would have to pick vulcan and the team that would up being sent to krakoa after the original x-men before storm and wolverine came. plus that vulcan is cyclops brother. that and would stephanie aka spoiler former batgirl count being the daughter of clue master in the batman books.

Lana Lang


What? It’s Christmas. I thought I’d throw him a bone.

Alfred. Originally he came to work at Wayne Manor after Dick had moved in. Then history was rewritten so that Alfred worked for Thomas and Martha Wayne and was a father figure to Bruce after the Waynes were killed.

Leslie Thomkins also qualifies. First she was added to Bruce’s backstory as a frail old woman who cared for Bruce in Crime Alley immediately after the shooting. Then she was rewritten as a much more active woman, a doctor who ran a clinic for the poor, a colleague of Thomas Wayne, and an important person in Bruce’s childhood.

A lot of good ones already stated…

So I’ll go with Orson Randall and the whole Iron Fist legacy. Danny discovering he was just one in a long line of immortal weapons bore some of the best comic book stories ever.

Only because it’s one of my favorite Batman stories:

The Wrath from “Player on the Other Side”.

Somehow appears in that one story yet is supposedly operating as a criminal assassin in costume for at least as long as Bruce has been Batman with a direct tie to Commissioner Gordon (shown in the background on him) and the spiritual opposite of Batman.

Extra votes here for Max Mercury and the ASS additions. Firebrand (Danette) and Amazing Man were so well written that I still find it hard to believe they were created in the 1980s and not the 1940s.

Surprised no one has mentioned Gambit yet and his retconned role in the mutant massacre.

Also when John Constantine first appeared in Swamp Thing Alan Moore quickly had him interact with characters like Zatanna, Sargon, and Baron Winters as though he had known them for years. He and Zatanna apparently even used to be an item.

I think it could also be argued that Morpheus is a retroactive character.

Mister Sinister. Stupid name, character design, and retconned insertion into everything.

Jessica Jones for the win. This one really stands out to me as for my two cents she’s one of the best new characters of the 21st century.

How about Chemo? He’s just full of the stuff, it had to be inserted at some point.

Oh, damn, I keep reading this wrong, it’s not RADIOACTIVE insertion, is it? Oops.

I keep giggling at insertion, too, because I’m juvenile.

As much as I like what Busiek did with Sally Avril in Untold Tales of Spidey, it’s a prime reason why (many?/most?) retro insertion characters CAN’T work well. If the story has the impact that Sally’s did, that impact should have reverberated throughout the whole series through the years. Except it couldn’t have, because until UT, Sally WASN’T an important character. So the impact ends up being lost, because we know that this isn’t really an important story.

I’m trying to avoid spoiling UT/the Sally storyline for anyone who hasn’t read it, so I’m fearing my point is dulled due to that. Just everyone buy the Omnibus of UT that’s coming out soon, and then you’ll get my point. Maybe.

It’s the same reason that if we see the “future” of a character, and a past storyline is being told at the same time, the impact is dulled. (See the new Action Comics — this is taking place 5 years ago, but in the “current” stories, things are “ok”, so a bit of the suspense goes away.)

Of course, there are exceptions….

Donna Troy! The long unseen step-sister of Wonder Woman.

Jericho (Joe Wilson) and his mother, Addie…. introduced long after Deathstroke.

Rose Wilson, Deathstroke’s long-lost daughter.

The already-mentioned Jessica Jones and Rhodey.

Not a great one, but Holly Granger (Hawk III), Dawn’s (Dove’s) never-before-mentioned younger sister.

Hmmm, Loads of good ones mentioned already. I’ll second votes for Jessica Jones.

How about Richard & Mary Parker. It took a long time to explain why Peter stayed with his Aunt and Uncle, and since then they’ve been used a few times in flashback stories. Think they helped Wolverine in one of the Flashback titles in the mid-late nineties.

The WORST by far was when Marvel was shoehorning Cable into every character’s past to give him false importance. Anytime he ran into a Big Gun like Cap or Wolverine, he’d say something cheesy like “Hey (insert name here), haven’t seen you since that dust-up in (insert place here) in 19XX . An absolutely ridiculous and superficial way to add false weight to a mess of a character.

Put me down for Rose Wilson too, along with Joey and Addie.

Do Canon immigrants count? I don’t remember Renee Montoya being introduced as the ‘new girl’ on Gotham PD. She was just always there.

For Marvel, Rhodey is the best, with Strong Guy (originally just Lila’s bodyguard, later full backstory) as a close second. Does Tessa/Sage count? She goes from wallpaper to one of the original X-men. Oh, and Danger and Ameila Vought also come to mind. And Legion and his mom… Wow, lots of X-men retros.

Of course Firestar wins the Marvel Canon immigrant award, though we do have an origin miniseries.

The original Baron Zemo, who not only was retroactively inserted into World War II to kill Bucky, but whose presence then caused a whole bunch of other characters to be retroactively created and placed in continuity in order to explain him, such as the 50’s Cap and Nomad.

I remember hearing about a character whose whole deal was that he was a “retroactive insertion”. One of the big two did a comic with this random hero who supposedly was involved with every major event in the company’s fictional history, but he never appeared in any of the original comics because everyone somehow forgot about him. Is this ringing a bell for anyone?

I always thought it sounded like a cool idea, but I can’t imagine it actually being pulled off well.

TJCoolGuy, I think you must be thinking of the Sentry from Marvel. Introduced in a mini by Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee (with one shots by other artists like Tex and Billy the Sink), he was then made a regular in New Avengers by Bendis (including, as I understand, an appearance by Jenkins himself in the book). He’s been retconned to have been way more important than he should have been.

But the original mini was decent looking, and part of the concept involved claiming that the character itself was an early Marvel character that was “forgotten” by Stan Lee and crew.

I’m pretty sure Brian covered Sentry stuff in a couple of CBLR columns (one about the “forgotten” creation from the early Marvel years, and one about Rick Veitch’s role in the Sentry’s creation), so if you’re interested, check out the CBLR archive.

TJCoolguy was being sarcastic, I think? Maybe not.

Now that you mention it, it does look like it could be a bit of a play on things on TJCoolGuy’s part, but if it wasn’t, now he knows, and knowing is half the battle, or some such.

If he was playing, yeah, he totally got me.

Not sure about the best, but the worst retroactive insertion has to be Doctor Light during his scenes with Sue Dibny in Identity Crisis.

Ooh, I thought of a couple: Jenny Sparks in Stormwatch/Authority and Elijah Snow in Planetary. They were sorta kinda wedged into the Wildstorm U. after the fact (which makes me wonder if they’ll appear in the DC52). That whole “born on January 1 1900″ was a cool Ellis bit.

Another vote for Rhodey

It’s getting outside comics, but Dawn was inserted as Buffy’s sister with style!

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