Topsy-Turvy

It's so great it's wonderful!

In this section, we have all the stuff that worked out well and wonderfully in retcons and such.

Like an Angel from the Ashes!

Some people 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.

So you 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 horrible crimes.

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!

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?

As Alan 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!

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.

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 time.

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, 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.

All-Star Specifications!

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 original stories.

-- 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 from 1984).

-- 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 Freedom Fighters.

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 Golden-Age story.

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.

Marvelous merger!

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 this one?

Copyright Avi Green. All rights reserved.

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