Greetings from the Odinson,
Retcons and Reboots: The Good and the Bad
Everybody who has been reading comics for a length of time has become quite familiar with the words retcon and reboot. Those moments in comics history that tweak or flat out change continuity. Sometimes for the better, but sometimes with not so good results. These are the situations that make the reader completely reinterpret previous events by shedding light on them in a new way.
Example of a Retcon: All these years Captain America thought his wartime partner and friend, Bucky Barnes, had been killed in their final mission during the waning days of World War II, the very same mission that sent the Sentinel of Liberty plummeting into the drink where he was frozen for decades only to be reawakened in the modern world. But, Bucky did not die in that explosion. No, he was taken in by the Soviet Union, brainwashed, and turned into the cyborg assassin known as the Winter Soldier, a shadowy Cold War boogie man that would resurface throughout major political upheavals in history.
Example of a Reboot: Tim Burton made the Caped Crusader a movie star with 1989’s Batman and its sequel Batman Returns. However, Joel Schumacher torpedoed the franchise with the campier follow up Batman Forever and the ridiculous Batman and Robin. Eight years later, when it was time for another Batman film, Christopher Nolan decided to restart the franchise. His new trilogy – Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises – had no ties to the previous Bat-films and presented the legend of Gotham City’s protector from a decidedly different point of view. It was a new take on the same material.
The Odinson’s Top 5 Retcon/Reboot Fails
5 – The Question is an Immortal? (Reboot) – Originally, Vic Sage was a street level vigilante. He was a conspiracy theorist, genius level detective, and superb martial artist. He was super cool and the template for Rorschach, the breakout star of Alan Moore’s masterpiece – Watchmen. However in DC’s The 52 rebooted universe, the Question is part of the Trinity of Sin, a trio of immortals cursed thousands of years ago by wizards to walk the earth, forever. The Question, stripped of his face and identity, is forced to always question everything and seek out answers he will never find. What?! I’m sorry, I’ll take the super cool Denny O’Neil Question, an urban avenger and righter of wrongs any day over the new version. What’s next, Bruce Wayne is actually from Krypton?
4 – The New 52 Earth 2 (Reboot) – The original Justice Society from Earth-2 were a distinguished group of veteran heroes fighting a never-ending war against the Nazis. That’s right, World War II never ended on this alternate plane of existence. Hitler’s Third Reich has mastered the mystic arts and keep Superman at bay with a barrier spell. So the super heroes of the Golden Age are locked into an eternal struggle against the greatest force for evil in the history of man. In the New 52 version, the eternal struggle takes on the form of the invading forces of Apokolips. However, the veteran heroes of the original Earth-2 have been replaced with neophyte younger versions of themselves. I don’t know, maybe it was the demise of the DC Trinity in issue #1. Maybe it was the new pill-popping Batman. Or, maybe it was seeing my hero, Superman, turned into a lap-dog for evil. Whatever the reason, give me the original Earth-2 over this rebooted version. I’d even take the post-Crisis JSA, a team of veteran heroes taking the next generation of heroes under their wing and teaching them how to be legends. I’m just not warming up to the New 52 Earth 2, not yet anyway.
3 – Heroes Reborn (Reboot) – Oh, where to begin? The up and down and inconsistent artwork? The disjointed storytelling? The forced continuity? Yikes! This was a mess from the get go. Now, were there good moments? Of course. This event firmly planted the seed to what has become the Tony Stark/Bruce Banner relationship we know today. I also enjoyed the Galactus event involving Doctor Doom that brought the Heroes Reborn Universe to the brink of disaster. But overall, the best part of this failed experiment was when it ended and Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and Marvel’s First Family were welcomed back to the 616 with Heroes Return!
2 – The Gwen Stacy/Norman Osborn Affair (Retcon) – Ok, follow me on this one. In the year before her untimely death at the hands of the Green Goblin, Gwen Stacy was in France and had an affair with Norman Osborn, got pregnant, and gave birth to twins. What?! So, not only did Peter Parker lose the love of his life, but she had a liaisons with his most hated enemy? My Odinson head is spinning. You know this one is terrible when even J. Michael Straczynski, the man who wrote this story, feels bad that it saw print. This is just one of those retcons that the Odinson refuses to acknowledge. In my mind, much like the last thirty minutes of the Man of Steel movie, it never happened.
1 – Jason Todd Alive (Retcon) – I get that the Red Hood is one of the more popular New 52 characters with the younger audience. And, I will admit that Jason Todd has become a far more interesting character now than he ever was as Robin. That being said, this retcon completely takes the wind out of the sails of one of the most poignant moments in the history of Batman. Next to the death of his parents, no singular moment in Bat-history has had the impact on the life of Bruce Wayne and the Batman mythos than Death in the Family. In light of Todd’s return to the land of the living, going back now, that once seminal tale has lost some of the power, some of the pathos, the weight it once carried, and that’s a shame.
The Odinson’s Top 5 Retcon/Reboot Wins
5 – Wonder Woman Embraces Her Greek Mythology Origins (Reboot) – In the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths, the DCU reset itself. There are so many great reboots launching at this time, but head-and-shoulders right there has to be George Perez’s take on the Amazing Amazon. Her Greek Myology origins take center stage and become the drama and driving force for her adventures. At this time, a young Odinson is coming off Walt Simonson’s epic take on the Mighty Thor, a run that used Thor’s Norse Mythology ties unabashedly. I have always been a fan of mythology, and Perez doing this with Wonder Woman allowed me a way to relate to the material. I know her Greek origins had always been there, but they were never as prevalent as they are now thanks to George Perez.
4 – Swamp Thing is Not a Man (Retcon) – Originally, the Swamp Thing had a traditional monster/comic book origin. He was Alec Holland, a scientist who was caught in an explosion of chemicals whose body was transformed into the muck-encrusted protector of the swamp. However, writer Alan Moore reworked his origins and revealed that Swamp Thing was not a man transformed into a monster but was in fact a plant that absorbed the essence of Alec Holland and his shambling configuration is the creature’s attempt at reforming a man’s body. Furthermore, the Swamp Thing is also an emissary of the planet itself and an elemental protector of The Green. The Odinson loves the early Swamp Thing cannon, but even I have to admit that Alan Moore and his artists took this character to a whole other level with their seminal run on the book.
3 – Magneto’s Children (Retcon) – Magneto is easily one of the most complicated and interesting characters in the history of comics. For years, he was the most notorious mutant terrorist in the Marvel U. But over the course of his transition from villain of the week to anti-hero (see Uncanny X-Men #150 and 200, God Loves, Man Kills, and X-Men vs. the Avengers) there was one more bombshell that would shock the heroes of the Marvel U and the readers alike. In 1983, it was revealed that Quicksilver and the Scarlet were in fact the children of Magneto. Not only does this make going back and reading those early X-Men adventures featuring the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants resonate differently, it also makes the growing and intertwining Family Tree of the Avengers, X-Men, and Inhumans all the more exceptional.
2 – One More Day/Brand New Day (Retcon) – I know a lot of fans jeer the demise of Perter Parker and Mary Jane’s marriage, and I’m not too pleased that the details involve the fiendish Mephisto, but I, for one, am happy to see Spider-Man as a single man again. I was there when the Wedding happened and it was fantastic, but all those stories have been told. Of all the iconic characters – Superman, Batman, Captain America, Hulk – Spider-Man is the representative of youth. A wife? A baby? While those are wonderful, they don’t really make Spider-Man relatable to a younger audience. I didn’t hate that Spider-Man was married to Mary Jane nor did it make or break me on reading his adventures, but I do like an unhitched Spidey better.
1 – The Man of Steel (Reboot) – I’m not talking about that regrettable movie. No, I’m talking about the landmark take writer/artist John Byrne had on the Last Son of Krypton. Back in 1984-85, before Crisis on Infinite Earths, Superman being the very first comic book super hero was beginning to show his age and felt dated. He was a hero for a bygone era. Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? was a love letter saying goodbye to the Golden and Silver Ages. John Byrne’s Post-Crisis take on the Man of Steel was a much needed shot in the arm. He invoked the best of Christopher Reeve and Kurt Swan mixed in a little Magnum P.I.’s Tom Selleck and gave Superman a modern day makeover. Those first few years of adventures in the pages of Action Comics, Adventures of Superman, and Superman are some of the best and most exciting Man of Steel comics ever produced.
Sometimes retcons and reboots work, and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they are for the best, and sometimes they can be quite baffling. For instance…
Let me get this straight, the Beyonder, the all-powerful being responsible for the original Secret Wars, is not a Cosmic Cube given life, but he is in fact an Inhuman? And, the events of Secret Wars II did not actually happen? It was just him living out some fantasy of a petulant child playing with his toys in the middle of the asteroid belt near Jupiter? Alright.
This is Odinson bidding thee farewell