Superhero comics are a confusing place. There’s years and years of continuity to deal with, not to mention a massive pool of writers. Often what it all comes down to is an endless creative circle-jerk. A writer will find previous story or characterization they don’t like and then come up with some explanation that erases that story from existence so it’s no longer relevant to the character This is called a “retcon”, short for retroactive continuity.
For example: Dr. Doom does something a writer considers out of character? One of his robot minions did it. A character you like dies? It was a trick! Or something happened to make them come back!
Sometimes retcons or needed. Sometimes they get rid of stuff that was detrimental to the character or the character bought back truly was unjustly killed. But sometimes they’re utterly weird and lead to a bunch of convoluted storytelling and logic snarls nobody asked for.
What are your favorite weird retcons? Did any of them not make the list? Talk about them in the comments!
Batman Becomes Bat-Jerk
From Nightwing: Year One
A while ago, DC Comics became concerned with retroactively making Batman more of a jerk to fit his then current super-jerk characterization. The first major change to this was in regards to his treatment of his ward and later adopted son, Dick Grayson aka Robin. Originally, Dick quit being Robin of his own accord, deciding it was time to grow up, move on and take the codename Nightwing. But DC quickly changed this to Batman firing Dick as Robin after he got shot. This move wasn’t too egregrious, as it was at least done out concern for Dick’s safety.
This couldn’t be said for other retcons.The story of how Batman met his second Robin, Jason Todd ,originally went down with Batman thinking it was hilarious a down-on-his-luck twelve-year-old kid was trying to jack the Batmobile’s tires. He didn’t even take it personally when Jason hit him in the stomach, treating him with gentle concern about his living situation. But in Nightwing: Year One, Chuck Dixon had Bruce react to the scene by KIDNAPPING Jason, tying him up, gagging him and dragging him to the batcave where he “interrogated him”, which translated to basically scaring the shit out of him. The panel where Jason silently pleads with Alfred to please help him is pretty disturbing.
The trend of Bruce knocking out young people, kidnapping them and terrorizing them continued to be retconned in-Bruce treated Barbara Gordon the same way (when previously he had just totally accepted her) but since she was a young adult rather than a child, her reaction was less “terror” and more “ticked off”.
The meeting with Jason was later RE-retconned to something more like the original, but that period where DC Comics just wanted Bruce to be as much of a jerk to children as possible was definitely bizarre.
Hal Jordan and Parallax
From Green Lantern
In the 90s, DC Comics turned Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern, into a mass murderer, who basically lost it and started killing everyone after everyone in his city was killed. He sort of made up for it by sacrificing himself to save the world, as much as you can make up for something like that. Hal Jordan had done some sketchy shit before, like banging a 14 year old (she can transform to look like an adult so it’s okay, guys) or letting Jon Stewart take the blame for a crime he committed and get sentenced to an Apartheid-era prison, so I dunno, it doesn’t seem too out of character for me. But I can’t exactly blame his fans for taking issue with the storyline either.
The retcon of the whole situation was pretty gloriously silly- Hal was bought back to life and his killing spree was blamed on him being brainwashed by something called Parallax- which was basically a yellow space bug. That will hold up in court!
One More Day
From One More Day
Marvel comics editor Joe Quesada was tired of Peter Parker being married to the love of his wife, Mary Jane. Basically outright staying that his readers could only relate to Peter if he was perpetually single and never matured (ouch), Joe also felt that Mary Jane and Peter divorcing would send a bad message. But what would be much more wholesome than divorce? Peter selling his marriage to the devil! Yep. Really.
In exchange for Aunt May’s life, and with the encouragement of his wife, Peter let a literal demon take his relationship with MJ and all the memories associated with it. What a great role model.
Superboy Primes Punches Time into Submission
From Infinite Crisis
Probably the silliest method of retconning ever was when DC had a character (Superboy Prime, a very angry Superboy from an alternate timeline) get so ticked off he literally punched reality until it broke. Among other things, this somehow bought the aforementioned Jason Todd back to life. That’s one way to do it!
Wonder Woman's Mom is Also Wonder Woman, Somehow
From Wonder Woman
DC Comics, for some ridiculous reason, retconned it in the 80s so Wonder Woman came to Man’s world a good few years after like, every other superhero had debuted.
But John Byrne wanted Wonder Woman to be active in the 1940’s! So he had Diana die, had her mother Hippolyta take over as Wonder Woman and travel back in time to the 1940’s and act as Wonder Woman there. One wonders why he didn’t just send Diana herself back in time, but I guess that would have made too much sense.
Donna Troy's Whole Mess of Origina
Originally, Donna Troy’s origin was pretty simple- Wonder Woman rescued her as a baby and since she was an orphan, took her back to Paradise Island where she was given powers and raised as Diana’s younger sister. She became Wonder Girl, member of the Teen Titans.
But then, as mentioned earlier, in the 80s DC changed it so Wonder Woman debuted decades after the other heroes, yet left it so Donna was a longtime member of the Teen Titans. This meant Wonder Girl had somehow debuted before Wonder Woman.
The logical thing to do would have been NOT to do the “Wondy is younger than everyone else” retcon in the first place, but DC eschewed all logic and instead tried to explain away the situation in a convoluted way- instead of being rescued by Wondy, Donna was rescued by a Greek Titan named Rhea and then given superpowers and her memories were erased and somehow she was also Wonder Girl.
This was later changed again to Donna being a magically created playmate for a young Diana, who was kidnapped by a villain and forced to live multiple lives full of endless suffering, with her being erased from everyone’s memories at the end of each life. Confused yet? Things just continued to get more convoluted there, until basically everyone threw up their hands and gave up.
Cassandra Cain Turns Evil
A lot of times retcons can be downright offensive. This was certainly the case for the retcon that turned Cassandra Cain into a villain. The previously honorable Batgirl, who detested killing and had broken ties with her abusive, assassin father long ago, was suddenly killing left and right.
Her justification for this was that she had discovered her father had another daughter he loved and trained, and she just couldn’t take that she wasn’t special. This was despite the fact she’d already been confronted with the fact her father had other children in previous storylines and her only reaction to it had been to pity them, since they were, y’know, abused just like she was.
Cassandra was suddenly able to read perfectly (and even read other languages) despite the fact she had always been depicted as having a learning disability that made her struggle with reading. And finally, her ability to flawlessly read body language was changed into her being unable to do so if her opponent fought thoughtlessly enough.
Many fans were outraged at this stupidity, and DC scrambled to fix it with another retcon- turns out Cassandra had been a victim of brainwashing drugs and not truly evil! It was a silly explaination, but it was better than nothing.
From Identity Crisis
In an effort to make the DC Universe more dark and edgy, Identity Crisis revealed that goofy villain Dr. Light was only silly because he had been mindwiped to the point of being pretty much brain-damaged by the Justice League, after raping the wife of one of the League members, Sue Dibny.Oh, and we got to see Sue brutalized in graphic detail. Then she was killed off.
Not only did this add unnecessary exploitative violence against women to the DC Universe, it also threw several characters under the bus, particularly Zatanna, who was shown not only tampering with the minds of rapists, but also the minds of her friends.
Gwen Stacy Sexes It Up with the Green Goblin
From Amazing Spider-Man
One Spider-Man storyline changed it so that Peter’s sainted dead girlfriend, Gwen Stacey, had actually got impregnated by the villainous Norman Osborn and had twins. She kept them a secret from Osborn, which is why he killed her. Then those twins became Spider-Man hating assassins because why not. Soap operas have nothing on this.
A Pacifist Doctor Kills Her Patient So Batman Can Look Good
From War Crimes
Back in the day, DC Comics excited many by having Stephanie Brown become the first in-continuity female Robin. Then they had her graphically tortured and killed pretty much immediately. Nice! This marked the second time one of Batman’s teen sidekicks had died horribly. DC realized this made Bruce look kind of bad, so they decided the nearest woman should take the blame for Stephanie’s death and keep Batman blameless and pristine.
The woman chosen was Leslie Thompkins, a complete pacifist and mentor to Bruce and the doctor who tried to save Stephanie. It was revealed that Leslie had just let Stephanie die to teach Bruce a lesson about putting teenagers in danger. That totally sounds like something a pacifist would do.
It doesn’t even make sense on a logic level, since Bruce had already had a teenage charge die on him and that hadn’t stopped him from dressing kids up in green tights, so why would it stop him this time? But characterization and logic didn’t matter to DC, just as long as Batman didn’t come off as morally questionable. Though the fact he didn’t have Leslie arrested for malpractice still makes him look pretty horrible.
Later, this was changed to Leslie faking Stephanie’s death so she could live a peaceful life in another country. Still kinda rude, but a lot more in character than the alternative.
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