Top 10 Retcons That Improved Characters

A column article, Top Ten by: Thomas D. Crawford

As comic book fans, I'm sure we've all had that moment when we pick up a new comic, read through it, and think "Hey, wait, that's not how that's supposed to go." Love 'em or hate 'em (and I know most people side with the latter), retroactive continuity changes are a permanent part of comic book culture. Amazingly, however, not every retcon is a terrible, terrible thing that completely ruins a character or marriage forever. Here's a look at the Top 10 retcons that actually helped make characters better.

10. Everything you knew about the Doom Patrol is true!

Let your mind carry you back to 2006 and Infinite Crisis. Remember that whole "Superboy punched reality" thing? Well, you can bet the Doom Patrol does. After a recent revamp introduced the "continuity-free" Doom Patrol, it was determined by everyone in the whole world that wasn't named John Byrne that all of the old Doom Patrol stories were just too cool to sweep under the rug. Sure, the way this retcon came about was pretty silly, but it ended up being the best of both worlds. Elasti-Woman is still alive, and Negative Man still has some very bizarre gender issues to work through. Keith Giffen's got a lot of material to work with over on the new Doom Patrol series, so for that I guess I have to say *shudder* thank you, Superboy-Prime.

9. Bucky's alive! And also not terrible! 

My father and I used to joke that the reason Captain America survived the blast and Bucky didn't was because Bucky was too lame to live. I mean, a teenage boy dressing up and fighting gangsters is one thing, but taking on the Nazis in WWII without so much as a super-soldier serum? It strains credibility. The good news, though, is that Ed Brubaker has made me very happy to eat my words. Not only has it been revealed that Bucky survived being blasted by a missile during WWII, but he was trained to be a Soviet super-assassin and was eventually tapped to replace Steve as Captain America. I'm very pleased with how his character has gone from a joke sidekick to a badass Avenger in such a short span of time. Here's hoping my favorite shield-slinging Soviet continues on this path to becoming one of Marvel's major icons.

8. Parallax is a monster made of living fear! 

People should know up front that I have an affinity for Kyle Rayner. So when it was announced back in 2004 that Hal "I blew up time once" Jordan was coming back and putting his ring back on, I was more than a little skeptical. By some divine miracle, though, Geoff Johns pulled it off. Hal was never a bad guy after all, it was a giant space bug! I'm being glib, of course. Johns's ability to maneuver previous continuity to a point where I was willing to actually root for Hal is no small feat, and it gave GL a very creepy looking new enemy, who will probably be making an appearance in the Green Lantern movie that's coming out this summer. Way to capitalize on that, Warner Brothers!

7. Lex Luthor is a businessman! 

It's funny, but up until Crisis on Infinite Earths, Luthor was just another mad scientist with a passion for high collars. In John Byrne's now-classic Man of Steelrun, however, Sexy Lexy (This should be his nickname all the time) was reinvented as not just a megalomaniacal genius, but one who was taking over corporate America. The idea was topical at the time, and has since offered stories about corporate espionage and even politics that might otherwise not have had a place in Superman canon. Lexcorp gets points if for no other reason than it lent a little bit of relevancy to Superman.

6. Magneto is Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch's dad! 

Fun fact: The world's creepiest brother/sister duo was not originally the spawn of Magneto. They were orphans raised by gypsy folk, and that was it. However, once Magneto's identity became public knowledge, people noticed the white hair and angular face were strangely reminiscent of his sometimes-ally Quicksilver. Subsequently, it was later added to the characters' origins that Magneto was the one who left them with the gypsy tribe. Apparently this particular tribe didn't feel the need to teach Quicksilver about personal boundaries with regards to your siblings.

5. Jason Todd is not just a blonde version of Dick Grayson! 

You know the joke: How does nobody figure out who Batman is? Bruce Wayne adopts a kid every time there's a new Robin! And they all look exactly the same! Well apparently it was going to be a prerequisite that they all have the same origin, too. Jason Todd was originally a circus acrobat whose parents were tragically killed in a circus accident arranged by a criminal. Hm, sound familiar, Nightwing fans? But wait! Before you say he was just a carbon copy of the first Robin, you should know that there's one key difference: Jason had strawberry blonde hair. Because, you know, the short shorts and pixie boots didn't make him look effeminate enough. Anyways, following the Crisis on Infinite Earthsseries, Jason's origin was changed so that he was, you know, a new character.

4. Peter Parker isn't quite as big of a loser as he used to be! 

In the early issues of the series, Peter's eyes were actually fine, he just wore glasses because Aunt May wanted him to not go blind from reading too much. People generally acknowledged this as a stupid idea, even by overbearing parent standards, and it was changed to Peter just having bad eyes. After all, the last thing you'd want is a stupid idea in comics. Which brings me to...

3. Harry Osborn isn't dead! It's magic! 

I would call this the best thing to come out of the train wreck and perpetual joke that is "One More Day". Sure, the way they got there was terrible, but Harry Osborn is a great character, and thanks to Spider-Man selling his marriage to the devil. Torn between his friendship with Spider-Man and his conflicting love/hate relationship with his father Norman, Harry's personal battles with good and evil are examples of Stan Lee-style tragedy at its finest. So what if it came about because of a half-assed attempt to curtail Mark Millar's taking Spider-Man in an original direction for the first time in goodness knows how long?

2. Professor X had a twin sister! 

One of Grant Morrison's greatest contributions to the X-Men mythos over the course of his run was the creation of Cassandra Nova, who is Charles' twin sister that he tried to murder in the womb. How badass is that? Fighting IN THE WOMB. Cassandra has a distinct voice and poses a serious psychic threat. Hell, she doesn't even have a physical form. She just manifests as a bald, female Professor X every couple years and raises all kinds of hell. She is awesome, and I'm very happy Grant Morrison planted that seed (Okay, pun intended).

1. Who the hell is Joe Chill? 

Remember earlier, when I said Hal Jordan blew up time? That was in an event called Zero Hour, and it was basically an excuse to rewrite any origins DC missed in Crisis on Infinite Earths. The best thing that came out of that? The man who killed Batman's parents was never caught or identified. The fact that the killer was anonymous made him so much more powerful as a symbol of what Batman fights against. By giving him a name and a face, I always felt that it made him a bit less special, and made Batman's self-torture a bit less valid. Why would he dedicate himself so fully to exacting revenge on a guy that the police knew of and could handle just fine on their own? Unfortunately, this symbolically potent retcon was re-retconned back in 2006, and Joe Chill is once again part of the Batman canon. It's disappointing, sure, but seeing as how the Big Two love to shake up their characters' origins, it's possible that it could change again.

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