End of Summer
 

Ret-Cons Revisited

By Michael Hutchison

When the Crisis streamlined the DC Universe into one planet with a shared history, we all knew that a few explanations were in order. There were a few gaps in JSA history. The Fawcett, Quality and Charlton characters had to be integrated into the DCU. There had to be an explanation as to why the two Hawkmen (one a reincarnated Earthman, one an alien) had the same name.

But really, Crisis is not to blame for the absolute mess which continuity is in today. The Crisis was an excuse, but none of the retcons, revamps, reboots and back histories were timed to be introduced at the end of the Crisis. All of the characters had post-Crisis histories (some a matter of months, some several years) before they were changed and the changes were called "Post-Crisis."

In 1986, Superman was re-booted by John Byrne. It was a good idea, really…stripping away all of the complicated history and getting back to the root character created by Siegel and Schuster. Though it required some more re-doing of DCU history, it was well done. The true bad part of the revamp was that it opened the floodgates!

Here now is a list of some of the major ret-cons:

Superman
Pre-Crisis: Superman juggles planets, effortlessly leaps through time, is able to view events happening light-years away, can breathe in space, performs a million computations a second and ignites suns with his heat vision. His superhero career starts when he's a baby. There are about ten different first meetings between Superman and Batman, Superman and Lois Lane, etc…. Kryptonite is crawling out of the woodwork. Ma and Pa Kent are dead. Between the Phantom Zone, Kandor, Argo City and errant rockets that show up every few months, the entire population of Krypton appears to have survived.
Nature of ret-con: Six months after Crisis ends, Superman gets rebooted by John Byrne in the "Man of Steel" mini-series. MOS tells the story of his formative years, and then we skip ahead to the present when Superman's books restart. Regarding Pre-Crisis: stories, Byrne declares that if he doesn't tell it, it didn't happen. However, there is one editorial decree: Superman was never a member of the Justice League of America.
"Post-Crisis": Superman's powers are seriously depleted to the point that electricity hurts him, he can only hold his breath for an hour and he's not sure he can survive a nuclear explosion. There is only one small chunk of Kryptonite on the whole planet. Superman is the last son of Krypton; no other Kryptonians survive. Superman doesn't gain powers until his late teens and doesn't start his career until age 25. Ma and Pa Kent are still alive. Hundreds and hundreds of Silver Age stories are wiped out in an attempt to create a cohesive universe.
Opinion: The first true reboot and still the best one. Serious planning by a lifelong fan of Superman (Byrne, with Marv Wolfman) separated the wheat of the legend from the chaff of four decades of many disposable stories. It also brought Superman down to a power level in which he could be hurt by things besides Kryptonite (modern readers will not believe how often green K had to be hauled out by the villain to keep the old stories from ending in seconds). A few elements have been sorely missed (the Phantom Zone, the giant Fortress Key) while many, many more have been brought back by the current crew (albeit in a lackluster fashion) to the point that Superman continuity has become clogged again. The only true mistake was in removing Superman from JLA history. Superman's removal means that the Justice League of America never consisted of "The World's Greatest Heroes", as his membership would be essential in order to say that.

Batman
Pre-Crisis: Batman's story is relatively the same, although new Robin Jason Todd is a circus performer whose parents are killed by Killer Croc, and Batman takes him under his wing. The two develop a very strong father-son bond, which former Robin Dick Grayson envies.
Nature of ret-con: Batman Year One, Year Two and Year Three, as well as a "New adventures" arc in Batman's comics which redefine subtle parts of the origins of Batman and Robin. Ret-cons are small, but the book undergoes a major change in attitude to become darker (Due to the success of "Dark Knight" and "Killing Joke"). Instead of a definitive reboot, the Bat-books undergo a decade of constant, behind-the-scenes editorial decrees which contradict many recent materials!
"Post-Crisis": (for lack of a better term): Batman is a grim, bitter, driven crazy man. Jason Todd is a streetwise brat who is taken in by Batman. Following Zero Hour, editor Denny O'Neil hands out several outrageous decrees, such as: "Catwoman was never a prostitute," "almost no one knows Batman's ID," "Batman and Talia never had a baby," "Batman has never been a member of the JLA" (actually, he's been trying to make that decree for years), "Batman never found his parents' killer" and, most famously, "the public of Gotham thinks that Batman and Robin are just urban legends…bogeymen used to frighten the criminals."
Opinion: Denny's off his rocker. First off, it's bad enough not having Superman in the JLA; let's leave Batman in. Secondly, trying to contradict such recent (and publicly/critically well received) works as "Son of the Demon", "Batman: Year One," "Batman: Year Two," "Full Circle," "Catwoman: Her Sister's Keeper" and others in order to make arbitrary decrees canonical is asking too much of Batman's devoted fans. No one thinks this "urban legend" nonsense is in any way believable. In his first year of activity, maybe, but not today. So how's about stopping this "the sky isn't blue" balderdash and getting back to telling good stories within the works-just-fine-already world of Batman?

Wonder Woman
Pre-Crisis: The amazon comes to "Man's World" returning downed pilot Steve Trevor. Once here, she joins the military as "Diana Prince" in order to covertly defend the outside world (the reasons are rather muddy). She can't fly, although she has an invisible jet (actually an ancient artifact). She's strong, but not very strong, and using her lasso/bracelets weapons seem to be about all she ever does. She is romantically linked to Steve Trevor, although their relationship is too platonic. Also, she rescues a young child who becomes Wonder Girl.
Nature of ret-con: Reboot and current-day re-introduction in Wonder Woman #1 by George Perez.
"Post-Crisis": Diana returns Steve Trevor to "Patriarch's World" as the first step in spreading the Amazon's theology to the outside world. Steve marries Etta Candy and the two disappear from Diana's life. Wonder Woman doesn't enter our world until after the Crisis; thus, Black Canary, Power Girl, even Firehawk are all more prominent than Wonder Woman is! Wonder Woman is Superman-class strong, can run as fast as the Flash and flies under her own power. As she's introduced into a world where Wonder Girl has been existing for years, it's obvious that she didn't rescue the infant Donna Troy (it would be impossible to make that leap within a 10-year timeline, anyway).
Opinion: A passable revamp, beginning with two very exciting years of stories. The early emphasis on Diana's pacifism makes it very difficult to turn her into a superhero. As a longtime fan, it is sad to see Steve Trevor removed from the mythology, but Diana has been notoriously asexual since her revamp; as with Xena, there are presumably too many lesbian/feminist fans who don't want to see the strong heroine with a man in her life. The biggest mistake in her ret-con is her modern introduction; no only does this make DC's premiere superheroine a Jenny-come-lately in regards to other female characters, but it removes her from the JLA's history.

Aquaman
Pre-Crisis: The son of a reclusive lighthouse keeper and an Atlantean woman exiled to the surface. After the Atlantean woman dies, the lighthouse keeper remarries. The younger brother becomes Ocean Master.
Nature of ret-con: A special by Keith Giffen changes his origin. This is expanded on several years later by Peter David in the "Time and Tide" mini-series.
"Post-Crisis": The son of a mad(?) Atlantean woman and an ocean god(?), the child is exiled from Atlantis and raised by dolphins. He meets a lighthouse keeper who takes him in. Then he meets Eskimos (sorry, Inuits) who raise him; part of this adopted family is a "black sheep" named Orm who becomes Ocean Master.
Opinion: Its too bad this had to contradict the mid-1980s mini-series. Maligned for introducing the "water-camouflage" uniform, it was actually a quite beautiful story that delved into the relationship between Arthur and his estranged stepbrother Orm. Regardless, the changes helped Peter David to pave the way to a deeper character who has survived to fifty issues…something met by few characters in the current market.

Green lantern
Pre-Crisis: Hal Jordan is an ace test pilot. Abin Sur's spaceship crashes due to some yellow rays in Earth's upper atmosphere. Hal Jordan becomes Green Lantern, a superhero of Earth. Later, he meets the Green Lantern Corps and the Guardians of the Universe; a short time later, they tell him of Sinestro, a GL who has rebelled. After years of adventures, several Green Lanterns relocate to Earth, including a GL whom Hal Jordan hasn't met before named Kilowog.
Nature of ret-con: The Emerald Dawn and Emerald Dawn II: 90 Days mini-series.
"Post-Crisis": Hal Jordan's job as a test pilot isn't going very well. Driving home from a bar with some friends, he crashes his car and cripples a friend. Meanwhile, Abin Sur is mortally wounded when he's attacked by an enemy of the Guardians named Legion. Hal becomes Green Lantern but doesn't know what to do. He is brought to Oa by GL Tomar-Re, where he's instructed by Kilowog. Later, as Hal's serving his jail sentence, Sinestro arrives to give him further instruction.
Opinion: While I've never liked the "human failings make a hero more believable" line, this story is pretty good. Furthermore, the changes made in the mini flesh out GL's origin (which was mostly unexplored) while not really contradicting any of Green Lantern's history (or affecting the rest of the DCU) in any serious way. Really, this is the way to do a ret-con!

Robin/Nightwing
Pre-Crisis: Worked with Batman and remained a friend of Bruce's after he went off to college and then joined the New Teen Titans.
Nature of ret-con: The story "Did Robin die tonight?" in Batman
"Post-Crisis": Robin is almost killed, and Batman decides that he can't risk Robin's life anymore. Dick Grayson departs and doesn't talk to Bruce for a year; when he comes back, Jason Todd is Robin and Dick is now calling himself Nightwing.
Opinion: Seems rather unnecessary, adding conflict for the sake of conflict while not really being any more interesting.

Robin - Jason Todd
Pre-Crisis: The son of carnival workers who are friends of Robin. The Todds go undercover for Robin in an attempt to investigate Killer Croc. When Croc kills them and throws them to his alligators, Jason (in disguise) discovers this and attacks Croc. Orphaned, Batman takes him in and makes him the new Robin.
Nature of ret-con: A story in Batman
"Post-Crisis": Jason Todd is living on his own in Suicide Slum. When he steals the tires off the Batmobile, Batman takes him in and makes him Robin.
Opinion: Admittedly, the first origin was too close to Dick Grayson's but it was very moving (I still love that story; EXTREMELY well done!). The new origin has more depth, but I think a lot of us hated the bratty second Robin.

Metal Men
Pre-Crisis: Developed by robotics expert Will Magnus, the Metal Men are six robots of different metals. The team defends Earth from robotic and alien threats with the help of their different scientific properties. Their adventures are educational, fun…and yet, they delve into the concepts of humanity and theology time and again.
Nature of ret-con: Following some fun new groundwork laid down by John Byrne in 1988, the Metal Men vanish for six years. In 1994, a four-issue mini-series revealed a "secret" about their backgrounds and changed the team irrevocably.
"Post-Crisis": The Metal Men are revealed to be six humans trapped in the robotic bodies; supposedly, only human spirits allow Magnus-type robots to function. Gold is destroyed. Dr. Magnus, the brother of the true genius behind the Metal Men's development, sacrifices his life. His soul now inhabits Viridium, a robot composed of superstrong alien metal, and he and Platinum have become a couple.
Opinion: Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad! Whereas most of the retcons were back-to-the-basics, this one contradicted almost all of the previous stories from the 1960s and seems to have completely missed the concept. For a full diatribe, read my Metal Men Retconvention article from 1997.

Hawkman
Pre-Crisis: Thanagarian police officers Katar Hol and his wife Shayera chase an escaped criminal to the planet Earth. Once on Earth, they go undercover as history museum operators Carter and Shiera Hall in Midway City. Dubbed Hawkman and Hawkgirl, the two capture the alien (Byth) and stick around, initially to study Earth's police methods. Hawkman becomes a close friend of Ivy Town's The Atom and the two of them team up on numerous occasions. Hawkman and later Hawkwoman (nee Hawkgirl) join the Justice League and contribute much of the technology for the team's satellite, including the teleporter. They stay in the JLA until Aquaman disbands the team. Thanagar began a secret war against Earth; although they eventually managed to free their home planet, a militaristic faction took control and later joined the alien alliance that invaded Earth. The Hawks assisted the new Justice League in an attack on the Manhunter homeworld, and they served with the team for a short time afterwards.
Nature of ret-con: The "Hawkworld" mini-series. After that, Hawkman is given a modern introduction (post-Invasion) in the "Hawkworld" series and then the "Hawkman" series.
"Post-Crisis": Thanagar is a space empire which exploits dozens of other planets. Its apathetic, drug-addicted population lives in tall cities, away from its suppressed alien population. The "Downsiders" are kept in line by a police force called the Wingmen. Katar Hol is framed for the murder of his father and exiled to a small island for a decade; during that time he suffers withdrawal pains and murders a priest. He returned from the ordeal as a reformed man. When Byth escapes to Earth, he and officer Shayera Thal were assigned to Earth. Numerous complications are added to Hawkman's history in order to explain the many, many continuity errors which occur due to his modern introduction.
Opinion: Who would have thought Hawkman of all people would be so essential to the DC timeline? While Hawkworld was an intriguing and well-done mini-series, Hawkman's modern introduction screws up everything! As Mark Waid said, the failure to slap the label "Ten years ago" on the Hawkworld mini was the beginning of the DCU's continuity mess.

Justice League of America
Pre-Crisis: The world's greatest superheroes (modern).
Nature of ret-con: History reconstruction via "Secret Origins" and the recent "JLA: Year One"
"Post-Crisis": Nothing intentional…but the individual retcons of other characters have removed Superman, Wonder Woman, Hawkman and Hawkwoman (and there have been several attempts to remove Batman as well!). The JLA now consists of five members. Black Canary II is introduced earlier as a charter member of the team, taking Wonder Woman's place. J'onn stays as a member for the length of the team, filling Superman's place. Carter Hall (the golden age Hawkman) takes Katar Hol's place, but it isn't a very good fit.
Opinion: The removal of Superman, Wonder Woman and the Hawks were totally unnecessary in the first place, so the changes to JLA history are merely of a leak-plugging nature.

Justice society of America
Pre-Crisis: The world's greatest superheroes (1940s-1950s).
Nature of ret-con: Post-Crisis leak-plugging via a few issues of Secret Origins followed by a recent story arc in Wonder Woman.
"Post-Crisis": Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Robin, Huntress and Power Girl are all removed from history. Unlike the JLA, the JSA still has plenty of members left despite the ret-cons…but is now an all-male organization in its early years. At first, the little-known Golden Ager Miss America is intended to take her place, but this is never shown. Later, Wonder Woman's mother Hippolyta traveled back in time and became the Golden Age Wonder Woman, staying with the team until it disbanded.
Opinion: There has been much griping about Byrne's messing with the JSA's history; I think his solution is ingenius if ill timed. Hippolyta as the golden age Wonder Woman is a brilliant idea; if only it had been written a decade sooner. Instead, the fans get used to the post-Crisis history and then have this thrown in their faces.

Captain Marvel
Pre-Crisis: Billy Batson becomes Captain Marvel. He's joined by Mary Marvel, Captain Marvel Junior, the Lieutenants Marvel, Hoppy the Marvel Bunny, Tawky Tawny the Talking Tiger and Dudley, et al.
Nature of ret-con: Two full reboots, actually. First, a mini-series by Roy Thomas. When that didn't take, there was another re-launch in the "Power of Shazam" graphic novel by Jerry Ordway.
"Legends": Billy is living in Chicago when his parents are killed in a car accident. Of his two uncles, Dudley Batson and Thaddeus Bodog Sivana, Thaddeus is thought to be the more stable. Unfortunately, Sivana was only angling to be Billy's caretaker in order to use the boy's inheritance for his scientific studies. The mistreated Billy runs away and meets the wizard Shazam, who gives him the power of Captain Marvel; later, Billy meets Dudley and stays with him. Meanwhile, Sivana releases Black Adam from the limbo where he's been exiled. After Adam is defeated, Sivana and his children go to Mexico. As Sivana ponders as to who his next partner will be, we see the worm in his tequila (we never get to see this promised sequel, unfortunately).
Opinion: Very enjoyable, although it's obviously a modern take on the tale. I really wanted to read further stories, but apparently the story was not a wide success.
"Post-Legends": Much more faithful to the original comics, Billy lives in Fawcett City, a city stuck in time. This time, Billy is re-joined by almost all of the Marvels except for the Lieutenants. Dudley isn't his uncle; instead, he's a neighborhood drunk. Tawky Tawny is a stuffed toy who manifests himself (Hobbes-like) only to Dudley and Mary Marvel. The biggest change is that the three Marvels must now divide the energy of Shazam.
Opinion: Very good! Jerry Ordway has outdone himself in recreating the fun spirit of the original Marvel family without being too silly.

Captain Atom
Pre-Crisis: Nathaniel Adam is caught in a missile accident and is reformed as Captain Atom.
Nature of ret-con: Shortly after being purchased by DC, Atom is reintroduced in Captain Atom #1.
"Post-Crisis": Nathaniel Adam, framed into submitting to a radical experiment with some alien metal, is flung into the quantum field. When he emerges decades later, the government covers up his true nature and releases all of the Pre-Crisis: history as a cover story.
Opinion: Innnnnnn-teresting take! Of course, since CA's earlier stories weren't under DC's auspices, any contradiction is irrelevent.

Supergirl
Pre-Crisis: Superman's cousin.
Nature of ret-con: Removed from history during Superman's revamp in 1986.
"Post-Crisis": A protomatter creation from another universe who presents herself as Superman's cousin and then as Lana Lang. After her "pocket universe" is destroyed, she lives in our universe. At first, she's a lover of Lex Luthor's. After she realizes his evil ways, she moves away. Later, she bonds to a teenager named Linda Danvers.
Opinion: A character who looks the same and has the same name, and that's about all.

Power girl
Pre-Crisis: The Earth-2 Supergirl.
Nature of ret-con: Rewritten history, introduced in Secret Origins.
"Post-Crisis": Power Girl arrives on Earth and at first thinks that she's Superman's cousin. She finds out that she's actually the time-traveling granddaughter of Arion of Atlantis.
Opinion: As good a fix as any.

Huntress
Pre-Crisis: The daughter of Batman of Earth-2
Nature of ret-con: Reintroduction as a modern character with a new origin in Huntress #1.
"Post-Crisis": The daughter of a mobster.
Opinion: A lot of fans don't like the new Huntress. I don't really care.

Martian Manhunter
Oh…just read my article from last month!

    Well, that's about as many as I can do without getting too depressed! And I haven't even touched upon the Guardian and the Newsboy Legion, Rip Hunter, the Freedom Fighters, Plastic Man, Fury, the Young All-Stars…

is Editor-In-Chief of Fanzing.com. He is the world's biggest Elongated Man fan and runs the only EM fan site. He lives in Rochester, MN.
AIM: Fanzinger
ICQ: 70101007

 
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