Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Top 10 Tuesdays - 10 of the Biggest Comic Book Retcons

This week's Top 10 Tuesdays features what I consider to be 10 of the Biggest Comic Book Retcons ever.

For the purpose of this article, I defined 'biggest' as things that changed the fundamentals of a universe, the origins of a character, the revival of a character or something downright ridiculous. So, while one retcon might only change the background of a single character in some random way, I still consider it to be equivilent to a universe altering event.

Of course, these are just some of the retcons that struck me as being the biggest out there and I even left off things like the recent return of Barry Allen or what's going on in Morrison's Batman and, to be honest, I could have did an entire article on the X-Men with things like Xorn, Apocalypse's origin, Psylocke's British / Asian heritage, Onslaught, the Morlock Massacre or dozens of other random retcons from the 90's alone.

As always, feel free to let me know what you think in the comments, either with your own list of retcons or by simply talking about my choices.

TOP 10 TUESDAYS - 10 of the Biggest Comic Book Retcons


Spider-Man: One More Day depicts Spider-Man's deal with the devil, Mephisto. In exchange for saving his Aunt May's life, Peter sacrifices his marriage to Mary-Jane Watson, and the last twenty years of comic book history has been retconned to reflect this change.

This event saw the 'reviving' of Aunt May, who was on her deathbed, the retconning of Mary Jane and Peter's marriage, revived Harry Osborn and made him Peter's best friend again, as if none of his Green Goblin history ever happened, and removed the knowledge of Peter's secret identity from, seemingly, everyone in the Marvel Universe. In effect, it reset the continuity by 20 years, give or take.


In a controversial 1994 story, Emerald Twilight, Hal Jordan went insane and either killed or depowered the rest of the Green Lantern Corps. Green Lantern: Rebirth retconned many of these deaths, including Hal's, and revealed that his mind had been controlled by an alien fear-powered parasite, Parallax, throughout the duration of his time as a villain.

Furthermore, this mini retconned or rebooted the entire Green Lantern franchise and the seeds for many of today's stories can be found in this story, including much of the motivation for the Sinestro Corps and the introduction of the emotional spectrum powering the other corps.

Interested in reading more about this retcon? Purchase Green Lantern: Rebirth and help support the Weekly Crisis!


Prior to Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC Comics featured characters who lived on a variety of alternate versions of Earth; afterward, these characters were said to have always lived together on the same Earth.

Many characters' origins or back-stories were altered and several other characters, including Superman, Wonder Woman and Hawkman, were fully rebooted. Some people argue that this is not a true retcon, as the changes were caused by actions of the characters within the series (similar to time travel), not the writer; the key difference being that some characters in the universe are aware that their continuity is being changed.

However, if we look at the Multiverse, as a whole, it's been retconned several times over now, including Zero Hour changing Crisis on Infinite Earths, Hypertime's disasterous attempt at 'fixing' things and, now, 52 and Countdown's flustercluck of a return to the Multiverse. Countdown even destroyed and retconned back into existence several Earths and characters to the Multiverse that it destroyed.

Hell, if the New Frontier Special is to be believed, Rip Hunter makes fun of the whole 52 Earth limit and tells us there is an infinite number of alternate Earths out there, making the whole mess that much more confusing.

The question comes down to this - is it a retcon if it's as if it never happened, as is the case with DC restoring everything from pre-Crisis to the present day universe?

Interested in reading more about this retcon? Purchase Crisis on Infinite Earths and help support the Weekly Crisis!


The Batman origin story, Batman: Year One, stated that Police Commissioner Gordon was the father of a boy named James - not Barbara - contradicting stories set in the present involving his daughter Barbara, better known as Batgirl.

It was then retconned that Gordon was the uncle and adoptive father of Barbara. It was further retconned in Gotham Knights #6, by Devin Grayson, that James Gordon had an affair with his brother's wife, i.e. Barbara's mother, and is, in fact, her biological father again.

While probably not as universe altering or dumb-founding as other retcons, this is still a major change that is typically overlooked by many people.

Interested in reading more about this retcon? Purchase Batman: Year One and help support the Weekly Crisis!


Perhaps the greatest hoax ever played on comic fans, this "long, lost creation of Stan Lee" saw the introduction of the Sentry into the Marvel Universe as a whole, right down to Silver Age stories featuring the character.

While it could be argued that the Sentry, himself, is a relatively useless character who's Superman-like powers don't fit in the street level Marvel Universe, it's hard to argue against how great a retcon his original introduction was and how seamlessly they've managed to integrate the Sentry into their continuity.

Sadly, many people failed to read the original Sentry introduction, seeing as it was in the early 2000's, placing it before the resurgence of the comic industry post-crash, leading to the general disdain the character is now seen with.

Interested in reading more about this retcon? Purchase The Sentry and help support the Weekly Crisis!


Gwen Stacy had sex with Norman Osborn, went overseas, gave birth to bastard twins, returned to America and Peter and never told him about it. I don't think there's anything I can say about this to downplay how ridiculous it really is, so I'm just going to do what OMD did and just forget it even happened.


Two words - Retcon. Punch.

Interested in reading more about this retcon? Purchase Infinite Crisis and help support the Weekly Crisis!


The retcon for the X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga arises with its ending, which saw the first of many deaths for Jean Grey. To start, the original ending was supposed to feature Jean Grey depowered by Lilandra and the Shi'ar.

Editor at the time, Jim Shooter, didn't think this was an appropriate punishment for someone that had committed genocide after extinguishing a star, killing billions in the process.

Jean Grey could have lived to become a god, but it was more important to her that she died as a human.  
After committing suicide, it was forbidden to resurrect Jean Grey unless they found a way to obsolve her of her crimes as the Dark Phoenix. This lead to an fascinating chain of events that saw Kurt Busiek, a young comic fan at the time, coming up with the idea to have the Phoenix Force make a duplicate of Jean's body, leaving her trapped in a coccoon at the bottom of Jamaica Bay in suspended animation.

It wouldn't be for several years, after which Busiek had become a Marvel intern, that Jean's resurrection finally saw print. While Busiek didn't write it, he was given credit and was paid for his ideas.

While others wrought massive, universe spanning retcons, in my opinion, X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga retcon is the biggest retcon to ever occur for the simple fact that it is one of the earliest known retcons and I contest it sparked the whole super hero resurrection retcons that dominate comics to this day.

Interested in reading more about this retcon? Purchase X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga and help support the Weekly Crisis!


Remember the old comic book adage, "the only characters that stay dead are Uncle Ben and Bucky"? Well, Ed Brubaker must not have heard, or cared, about it when he decided to resurrect Bucky a few years back as the Winter Soldier.

More surprising than the fact he was revived is that it was one of the best resurrections and stories in comics ever - something no one exepcted when they heard Marvel was foolish enough to bring Bucky back.

Interested in reading more about this retcon? Purchase Captain America Vol 1: Winter Soldier and help support the Weekly Crisis!


The original Superman introduced in Action Comics #1 was born Kal-L of the planet Krypton (later versions of the character spell his Kryptonian name Kal-El). He crash-landed on Earth in the present, which at the time was publishing year 1938, and was adopted by John and Mary Kent (close, but not Jonathan and Martha).

As Clark Kent, he worked at the Daily Star based out of Cleveland, Ohio. Later issues retroactively relocated him to the fictional city of Metropolis, positioned at an undetermined locale in the Eastern United States.

From 1938 until about 1955, Superman operated out of Earth-Two with the odd crossover with the Flash, Atom, etc. After joining the JLA in the 50's, he was retconned into Earth-One.

Eventually, DC introduced multiple versions of the character, having the Earth-One and -Two versions active at the same time, further retconning each to have fantastical differences. The Earth-Two version was changed so that he never knew he was an alien and that he didn't have his powers as a child or operate with the Legion and, finally, having him age and marry Lois Lane.

Still with me? Okay, well, after Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC killed off the Earth-Two version and launched John Byrne's Man of Steel, which rebooted the Superman origin again. The changes were massive and many, including, but not limited to:
  • He was never Superboy
  • Krytpon became an emotionally sterile, highly evolved planet of people
  • Supergirl and all other Kryptonians no longer existed
  • Clark Kent became the 'real' identity and Superman was the mask (Clark wasn't a bumbling, mild mannered reporter either)
  • Superman's powers were toned down greatly
  • Only green kryptonite and it was extremely rare
  • Lex Luthor became an evil, billionaire genius
  • Superman wasn't 'born' on Krypton and was sent to Earth as a fetus
These are only a few of the many changes wrought and they've lasted for close to 20 years.

However, still not content with the origin, DC released Superman: Birthright, which changed much of the origin to reflect Smallville continuity - which made Superman have his powers in Smallville, was friends with Lex Luthor, who was now from Smallville as well. It also reintroduced Supergirl to the origin.

For a few years, Birthright and Man of Steel were the official origins, working in tandum, but Infinite Crisis changed that by introducing a new, untold, origin for Superman. This has already seen conflicting versions arise from portrayals of Jor-El, Lex Luthor's background and Krypton and its origins.

It appears the current DC origin for Superman is based on Richard Donner's films from the 70's and 80's Superman films. This has seen the reintroduction of Krypton's society as a technologically advanced, formerly warmongering race that used it's superpowers to expand their empire, the crystal-like technology Donner favoured for his movies, Zod and his Phantom Zone followers return and more changes everyday, including the return of Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes to the origin as well as the changes to Toyman and Brainiac, as well as the most recent Kandor changes.

The saddest part of this origin mess is that even with having read just about all of these stories, I still don't know what the hell Superman's origin is anymore and I didn't even list every single retcon or change from stories other than the few I mention here.

Interested in reading more about this retcon? Purchase Superman: Birthright and help support the Weekly Crisis!

Related Posts


Eric said...

I didn't know about Barbara Gordon's birth. You learn something new everyday.

Andrenn said...

OMD and Sins past will never stop being a black eye to Spider-man. It's a shame too, because while OMD was horrendous, int the end, Sins Past was, at the least to say, interesting. Though now it's lead to lots of Gwen Stacy fetish jokes, which I feel bad for laughing at.

I didn't know that about Barbara. Huh, wow...well that is actually pretty cool.

Sentry does not now, nor will he ever, fit into the Marvel U.

I just want to say this...I wish Jason Todd stayed dead.

mq1986 said...

"Street level Marvel" my foot! Considering the large number of uber-powerful characters in Marvel (Thor, Doctor Strange, Phoenix, Silver Surfer, Hulk, and many, many more), Sentry fits in quite well--at least he's got his psychological problems to cripple him frequently.

PJ said...

I loved what they did with Jason Todd when he came back...but then after that...wow..DC dropped the ball with that one...Marvel clearly had a long term plan with Bucky...I doubt they could have made us care about Jason as much as Bucky (Todd as Batman compared to Bucky as Cap)...I'm gonna keep my fingers crossed they got something great for him post R.I.P

Randallw said...

I've stayed clear of OMD but I do have House of M. I just want to say the part of House of M where Peter is furious when he isn't with Mary Jane, while he has Aunt May, Uncle Ben and is married to Gwen Stacy, is hilarious in the circumstances. He's so mad that he isn't married to Mary Jane he wants to kill Magneto.

Matthew said...

Andrenn - I cannot disagree with you more regarding The Sentry. The only problem with him is that he's essentially a cosmic-level Marvel hero who is kept on Earth for his stories.

And his original miniseries was fantastic. I'm so excited yet so fearful for the Age of The Sentry series.


I think Stan Lee bringing back Captain America is the first 'super hero resurrection retcon.

Steve said...

Yeah, the funny thing about the "return of Bucky" retcon is that the death of Bucky was itself a retcon to begin with...

Simon Mac Donald said...

The return of Jason Todd as Red Hood was an excellent story but since then his presence in the DCU has been an annoyance at best.

In my honest opinion the best retcon ever was Brubaker's return of Bucky. In fact his whole Captain America run is one of the best runs of all time.

rlsims said...

Wow, Gwen "fathered" twins? That IS a retcon!

Ethereal said...

First real "retcon" was All-Star Squadron. The hilarious part? It's all about Earth-Two. Go Figure. X-men seems to have the most retcons of all the marvel series, with such a large amount of characters, and alot of time-travelling, or confusing past/present/futures.

Ricardo said...

How about the Legion of Super-Heroes? Those are more messy than most other retcons presented here, and had more effect on the comic book than most cases here.

Patrick Hulman said...

i don't think that the Dark Phoenix Saga itself was a retcon. Yes the ending was changed but it (the original ending) wasn't published until much later. Now when Byrne and Busiak brought Jean back that was the retcon (that was a FF book).

I'm surprised that you dont have the other big spidey retcon..... The clone saga.

Simon Mac Donald said...

Ug! We are all trying to forget the clone saga, thank you very much.

Pj Perez said...

Just to clarify: Kurt Busiek, while not the superstar he would eventually become, was already an established writer at Marvel by the time his "fan"-spawned idea about Jean Grey's resurrection was enacted in 1986.

And honestly, I'd say the unnecessary return of Jason Todd is a bigger retcon than Bucky's. Just sayin'.

Manny said...

i've heard both sides on the superboy retcon.. one comic book site even goes as far as saying that the superboy punch wasnt a retcon because he was still dead up until the time that he was ressurected by the the punch. bucky should be the top.. on the other was revealed to be alive this entire time.. even though he was intended to be dead since way back when

Parallax207 said...

Interesting Choices... I would add as an honorable mention The Earth 2 Huntress's retcon post Crisis of Infinite Earths... Having their be a Wayne heir out there crimefighting was awesome... then the entire memory of her was blinked out when the shift happened.

Jack Norris said...

I'd have to say that the fact that Superman's adopted parents stay alive into the present is just as significant a change as the other post-Crisis changes you listed.

The Old Bum said...

I feel like Sins Past would have been less ridiculous if they went with JMS's original plan that they were Peter's kids. Marvel was absolutely right to veto it, but it would have been less ridiculous. Of course, the whole "they age fast" thing was, for lack of a better word, dumb.

On the other hand, I'm one of the four people out there that actually liked the humanizing of Gwen Stacy; she was a young, naive woman sexually manipulated by a powerful, older man (to those not familiar with grown-up, sexual relationships that occur outside of comic books, it happens. Sadly, more often then you think), but it's safe to say that most readers didn't agree (understatement of the decade).

Michael Wong said...

It's a real shame what they've done with Superman since Byrne's re-imaging. They might as well bring back all the silly powers now too, like super-hypnosis, super-thinking, super-farts. DC had a chance to make Superman a character that could stand up to any in the Marvel U. But nooooo!!! We need red kryptonite! And the perverts wanted Supergirl!!! So out went Byrne's Superman. Sign.

Pj Perez said...

Wong! Dude, I so feel you. Superman from Byrne's reboot until ... I guess the Death of Superman was AWESOME. Everything since then has been ... intolerable, not counting All-Star Superman. And Birthright.

Oh, Byrne, where are you when DC needs you?

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