It's so great it's wonderful!
In this section, we have all
the stuff that worked out well and wonderfully in retcons and
Like an Angel from the Ashes!
may be surprised to know that I, of all people, dislike the
Phoenix story in X-Men from 1979, in which Jean Grey was
seemingly turned into a planet-killing machine that declared
unto the team, "Hear me,
X-Men! No longer am I the woman you knew! I am fire! And
life incarnate! Now and forever... I am PHOENIX!" My reasons for disliking it? Well, let's just say
that I for one wasn't raised on the Brothers Grimm "fairy
tales", what with their horrific misogyny taking place in such
stories as Hansel and Gretel, among others, and this story, to
say the least, almost owes more than a bit to those awful
horrors of the 17th century. The idea of turning a beautiful
woman into a murderess is something that I personally find
offensive in the extreme, and this story, which stems mainly
from stereotypes that came up in the 1970's, was just simply
bottom-of-the-barrel. Supposedly, it was meant to a take on
the "power corrupts" topic, but even that can be going a bit
far, and in this case, more than a bit implausibly too at
that. How many women, really, while they can come under the
influence of evil men, are genuinely prone to commit crimes of
the scale depicted in the Phoenix saga? The answer? According
to most studies, not many.
can tell how relieved I feel that the story's depiction of
Jean as the deadly entity was thankfully retconned, and in
1985, in the pages of Fantastic
Four, it was revealed that the real entity, an energy
life-form, had abducted her from the spacecraft the X-Men had
been trying to save from disaster, and taken her place
instead. It wanted to explore solid life-forms and what it's
like to live as one, and so, it took Jean and enveloped her
body in a cocoon at the bottom of the ocean, where Reed
Richards and company found her, and soon returned her to her
team, and to her loving boyfriend Scott Summers.
Admittedly, it doesn't really change my overall viewpoint of
the story when first told, or make it any more tasteful. And
it's really a shame to think about how only so many times it's
been reused, each time to less avail. Agh! But if anything, if
there's anything I was most certainly glad about when it
happened, it's that the whole implication that Jean was the
Phoenix was done away with, and Jean exonerated of all those
The two worlds of auntie Iris!
In 1971, in "The Flash's
Wife is a Two-Timer!", which was written by Robert
Kanigher, it was revealed that Iris West Allen was acutally
born in the 30th century, at a time when a hellish war wrecked
havoc upon the world, and her real parents, the Russells,
fearing for her life, sent her back to the 20th century where
she was adopted by professor Ira West, who had also been
Barry's college instructor years before. He raised her as his
very own daughter, alongside his two other children, and until
she was in her mid-20's, she hadn't even known.
And it works surprisingly
well within the parameters of the Flash's world, given that
time travel is within his range of storytelling. It helped to
create a poignant background story for Iris, who was quite
surprised indeed to learn that she was actually from another
timeline, making her no more ordinary than her hurrying
husband Barry, and something for even him to be quite amazed
by as well. He later took her on another trip into the future
to take an even closer look at what her true era was like, and
it was quite a trip indeed.
And it certainly works a whole lot better than the premise
given to Iris' brother Rudy years later, which is spoken about
in another section of this catagory!
Never really a
man, but still a gentleplant!
All these years, the poor
creature, persecuted for what he was, a monster made of
vegetation, had been searching in misery and in vain for a
cure for his condition, to no avail, and while he actually did
manage twice to turn himself into human form, because he was
never really human in the first place, the elements of sorcery
he'd been using simply hadn't worked.
When the Swamp
Thing first began in the early 1970's, the
premise was that Louisiana-based scientist Alec Holland
had been murdered by a trio of gangsters who were trying
to get ahold of his formula for turning barren lands
fertile, at the behest of a criminal organization in
Europe, where the monster later travelled to search out
the head honchos themselves (and met both archnemesis
Anton Arcane and his neice, Abigail Arcane), and had been
reanimated by the exact same chemicals as a creature made
of vegetable-like material.
Or was he?
Moore wrote during issues #21-23 of the second volume when
he took over the writing chores in 1984, when Jason
Woodrue, alias the Plant-Master/Floronic Man, hired by the
Sunderland Corporation to figure out why only their
vegetable-like subject had been tured into a plant-like
creature, the answer he found, simply put, was that Swamp
Thing had never really been Alec Holland to begin with!
So while he had been in a state of psychological shock at
first, he soon accepted himself for what he was, and took on a
personality all his own as the series went on during that
And it worked very surprisingly well. While we were always
meant to feel sorry for the big plant guy due to the
persecution he faced in his adventures around the US and the
world, it was felt that the way he was being portrayed as a
self-pitying type had become much too tepid to really work,
and so, thanks to Moore, a new direction was taken that worked
out for the better. It even helped to explain a few things in
retrospect, such as:
-- That Alec Holland's formula had been meant to give life to
plants in a manner of speaking, and in this case, while
certainly unexpected, it gave life to the Swamp Thing.
-- That a duplicate monster grew out of the arm he had that
got sliced off during his adventure in Divinity, Maine, when
he was trying to rescue "The
Last of the Ravenwind Witches!" from a lynch gang in
1973. The duplicate turned up in 1975 in the story called "The Mirror Monster!",
when it tracked him to Gatorsburg, Florida, and did battle
with him, and it's quite possible that Swampy may have
subconsciously directed its movements. Plus, as was later
established, he can dwell in two bodies at once!
-- That the formula itself didn't actually ever turn any real
humans into plant creatures like Swampy himself.
Simply put, Moore's task was even easier than one would think,
and worked out very well as a result, setting a great standard
for years to come.
Children of the Magnetism!
For the starting years when they first debuted, Scarlet Witch
and Quicksilver had been written at first as being the
children of Bob and Madelyne Frank, Whizzer and Miss America
of the MCU, respectively. Later, this was changed to their
being the children of Django Maximoff, a gypsy from Europe,
but while both families were quite interesting as characters,
the idea of Wanda and Pietro being either the Franks' or the
Maximoff's children wasn't seen as anything special beyond
that in anybody's opinion.
That all changed however, when, in the Vision and Scarlet Witch
miniseries from 1983, when it was revealed there that Magneto
was their biological father, and their biological mother had
been Magda Lensherr, Erik Lensherr's wife when he was trying
rebuild his life in post-WW2 Europe years before.
And it worked. While both
the Franks and the Maximoffs had involvement in raising Wanda
and Pietro years before as legal guardians, in actuality it
was really the Master of Magnetism who'd fathered them, but
never got the chance to raise them himself. Magda had after
all fled the village they lived in when Magneto destroyed it
in revenge for having led to the death of a young daughter of
his when they tried to target him after finding out that he
was a mutant with superpowers, and had spent time at Wundagore
Mountain in eastern Europe, where she bore her two twins, and
then placed them at the time in the care of a diplomat who
lived there (she later left and vanished without a trace), who
later appointed the Maximoffs for starters as their guardians,
with the Franks having taken up partial custody of them later.
And it even helped to explain a lot of things:
-- Magneto had once saved Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch from a
prejudiced mob in Transia, where, thanks to the fair mental
powers he had at the time (today, they may have worn off), he
was able to locate them and rescued them from danger.
-- Wanda and Pietro
were probably the only members of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants whom Magneto was really nice to (the
Toad may have fared the worst, and eventually came to realize
it), and he treated them a lot better and more respectably
than the other members too.
-- SW&Q, at least initially, felt an obligation to Magneto
that they often carried to extremes in the beginning, and
their unnatural fealty was questioned often in the comics --
even by Wanda and Pietro themselves. That's one of the reasons
why they reformed some time later, of course, and turned to
the good side, where they unexpectedly became a success.
-- Mags and Pietro both had similar hair (silvery/white-ish or
platinum blond, it's hard to say), and looked almost alike
too. Even their idealistics often coincided, though of course,
Pietro later modified his own, so that, while he still often
tended to look down his nose at non-mutant humans (and during
the Bronze Age, he married an Inhuman, that being Crystal of
Attilan, sister of Medusa, the queen of the Inhumans'
community), he still strove to protect humanity from the
dangers imposed upon it by all them evil mutants and aliens
and time-travelling warlords who popped up at any given moment
to cause trouble for the planet earth. (Yet, I have no idea:
did Wanda look almost like her mother, say, like having an
almost similar hair color? It's possible, but so far, I have
no clear knowledge on that.)
And that, to say the most definate, worked very well for the
characters and their development since the early 1980's.
Roy Thomas' All-Star
Squadron was one of the best series of its time,
besides just his work on the Invaders in the mid-1970's, to employ the
concept of retconning without even contradicting anything
older. Here are some of the best examples of retroactive
explanations I know of:
-- The reason why Dr. Fate switched from his full-face helmet
to a half-faced version, which wasn't explained in the
-- The reason why the Sandman changed from his business suit,
opera cape, and gas mask to a convention super-hero outfit.
-- An explanation for why the various planets in our Solar
System visited by members of the Justice Society in All-Star Comics #13, Oct/Nov
1942, in no way resembled the actual nature of those
planets or even how later DC stories described them.
-- An explanation for why Hourman changed from ingesting a
Miraclo pill to using a Miraclo ray to acquire his
super-powers as of Adventure
Comics # 71, February 1942 (as was first indicated in the All-Star Squadron Annual #3
-- An explanation for most of the JSAers continued longevity
into the 1960's and 1970's.
-- Provided origins for heroes who heretofore had never had
one, such as Starman (in All-Star
Squadron Annual #3 from 1984, for example, where it
was pointed out that he was a New York native), and elaborated
upon the origins of those who had only cursory debuts the
first time around, such as in the cases of Johnny Quick,
Tarantula, Phantom Lady, and the Shining Knight.
-- How the Red Bee died at the hands of Baron Blitzkreig,
which motivated Hourman and inspired the formation of the
All this without even contradicting previous canon, a problem
many writers and editors seem to have a problem with these
days.And not only that, Roy Thomas took pains in the letter
column pages to show how these stories could fit into or
between the original Golden-Age stories without disruption or
how they explained a discrepancy which had appeared in a
All of this built into a considerable effort to ensure that
previously established facts and history were not changed by a
new story, and it shows. And if we accept the fact that Roy
Thomas was the first writer to actively use retroactive
continuity, then it stands to reason that how he applied it
should be its definition. And for Roy's genuine dedication to
the art of comics writing, even retroactively, he is to be
very strongly commended.
When DC's own Captain Marvel, Billy Batson, was fully merged
with the rest of the DCU during the time of the Crisis on Infinite Earths,
I'll have to admit, that was actually a good idea, and worked
pretty well, since he too makes a good addition to their list
of superhero members. For if you ask me, a character with such
a sincere premise as Shazam's, plus the Marvel family, lest we
forget, makes a very good addition to the DCU in full, and
since then, they've become very good additions to many of
their team titles as well.
The Force of the Aura!
In 1994, Mark Waid undid the notion that Barry Allen went
travelling back along his own timeline in Crisis on Infinite Earths
by writing a story in the Flash
#95-100 Vol. 2 on how all speedsters draw their power
from what he called the Speed Force. That story, of course,
was named Terminal
Velocity, and is considered one of the best that he
wrote at the time.
And somehow, it certainly does seem to work out pretty well,
even though there may be a few story holes involved. In the
case of Barry, what must've happened was that he turned into
pure energy and evaporated when he crossed the last finish
line into heaven via the Speed Force effects, whereas in the
case of Wally, who by no means was interested in going there
so quickly, just ended up entering the dimension, or whatever
it's called, until Linda Park could draw him out with her
subconscious wish to have him back. Whatever, it worked out
well, and made an interesting new concept for the world of the
Fastest Man Alive.
And isn't love just wonderful in science-fantasy tales like
The Real Deal!
When Stan Lee first developed his take on Thor, the Norse God
of Thunder, in the Silver Age, his initial idea was to make
Don Blake an ordinary man who stumbled over the pagan deity's
Uru hammer in the cave, which gave him similar powers. But
Lee's brother, Larry Lieber, may have recommended making Blake
the actual Thor, and it's a good thing they went with that
idea, because it enabled them to introduce more cast members
from Asgard, as became apparent with the 3rd Thor story (in
Journey Into Mystery, which subsequently became Thor's solo
book, taking up the numbering from the prior series title).
Indeed, if it hadn't been for that, we probably would never
have had Odin as his father, Sif as his childhood sweetheart,
or Loki as one of his most notable adversaries. Not to mention
the Warriors Three (Hogun the Grim, Fandral the Dashing,
Volstagg the Enormous), as co-stars who provided everything
from seriousness to comic relief.
When you expand your imagination, it can produce charming
Copyright Avi Green. All rights reserved.
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