Topsy-Turvy

The Definitions of Retcons, Revisions, Mopees, and When Everything You Know is Wrong

As far as I know myself, the phrase of RetCon may have risen when Roy Thomas was working on All-Star Squadron at DC Comics in the 1980's. He and his staff used the first term, if any, in the letter column in issue #18 from February 1983, to describe retroaction, and, as he once pointed out, the term came from a fan he had met at Adam Malin's Creation Convention in San Diego back then, and Thomas was using it to describe what he was trying to do with All-Star Squadron. And the abbreviation of EYKIW draws from a caption that originally appeared on the cover of Ravage 2099 issue #9, August 1993, the earliest place I know of where such a phrase was used. The rest can be read below.

Retroactive Continuity (RetCon). This occurs when the writer goes back into a character's past and explains a heretofore unexplained change or development. It could also be described as a continuity implant, or even a backstory shoe-horning. The benefits: it can enrichen the character's background without changing any of the previously established facts of the character. Example: Roy Thomas' story to explain why the Sandman changed from his business suit/gas mask/opera cape outfit to the standard super-hero skin-tights. The detractors: it can sully one or more characters backgrounds, or even an entire universe. Example: the tarnishing of Dr. Arthur Light's image as a recurring villain in Identity Crisis, and the demonization of many of the superheroes as well, by exaggerating their roles in erasing any knowledge the villains may have gained of their secret identites.

Everything You Know Is Wrong (EYKIW). This occurs when the history, or significant portions of the history, of a character is outright changed, usually in the form of a revelation. It is contained within the fictional conceit of the series; thus, the character is aware of the change and discovers that it overturns a previously accepted "fact". In some cases, these can be great and can work for the better, but in others, they can be really lousy. Good examples: the Swamp Thing discovers that he was never really Alec Holland, or the discovery that the Phoenix in X-Men was never Jean Grey, but rather, an energy being that committed an identity theft. Bad examples: the Flash discovering that a heavenly angel-like figure, Mopee, was responsible for his super-speed, or Superman learning that the space pirate Black Zero actually caused Krypton's destruction. In between examples: Black Canary Jr, who thought she was actually Sr, discovering she is really the daughter of the original, in Justice League of America #220 in November 1983, and because of what was initially considered a curse, that being her "canary cry", put upon her in her childhood by the Wizard, in an attempt to exact revenge upon the Sr. for putting him away, had been stored in a coma in the realm of Johnny Thunder's genie, T-bolt, until she'd come of age, and when revived, was given memory implants similar to her mother's, thereby turning her power from a curse into a blessing.

Revision. Similar to a EYKIW in that the history of a character is outright changed; however, it occurs outside the fictional conceit of the series. In fact, it alters that fictional conceit; thus, there is no awareness by the characters in the series that there was ever a different incarnation. For a good example of this, look no further than Crisis on Infinite Earths from 1985-86, where DC continuity as we know it was reworked, with some characters getting their established backgrounds reworked/rebooted, while others had slight alterations done to theirs. There are bad examples too, but I think I've spent time enough on any of them, and would rather not get into more of them just now.

Revamp. This is when the details of a character's background are reworked or reinvented in a way that usually doesn't change the character's past, in contrast to the above concept of revisioning, and thus, their backgrounds as they were first created are still almost entirely intact, and/or the same as they were. Example: Bobbi Morse-Barton, who had been the wife of Hawkeye/Clint Barton, became the crimefighter Mockingbird without discarding her past job as a biologist for S.H.I.E.L.D.

Mopee: While not as common today as they were before, this describes an EYKIW gone so horribly awry that everyone washes their collective hands of it. These stories purportly alter the significant facts of a main character's established history and this change turns out to be so bankrupt, universally rejected and reviled by both the readership and the publisher that it is ignored without “correction” in the canon, never to be mentioned again. It arose from the name of a character featured in Flash #167 Vol. 1, in a story that was ignored soon after, and was used by the Comics Buyer's Guide to describe any such embarrassment. It gets some more mention in the section for bad stuff here too.

So there, for your help in understanding these phrases and definitions, are at least four terms used to describe the many elements that make up this section. I hope everybody will enjoy them.

Copyright Avi Green. All rights reserved.

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