The TOP 13 Most Unnecessary Retcons in Comics History — RANKED

Not all change is for the better…

Hey, did you hear that Dick Grayson is going by Ric Grayson now? Because, I suppose, DC Comics has grown weary of decades of Dick jokes. And probably because nobody under the age of, say, 70, is named Dick anymore.

The change, first made in the recent Nightwing #50, may very well be temporary, since it’s the result of a brain injury that has Young Master Dick Ric questioning the meaning of his identity. We’ll see.

Nightwing #50

Personally, I think the alteration is wholly unnecessary. I mean, let’s not forget that Mr. Grayson lives in a world where people fly and multiversal travel is as easy as hopping on a subway train. So maybe getting hung up on a name that’s been used for 78 years is a little … silly?

I dunno. But I do know the whole thing reminded me of many other unnecessary changes in comics over the years, almost always the result of a retcon. So, I asked 13th Dimension contributor Anthony Durso for his take on some of the more glaringly awkward revisions.

Now, Dick-to-Ric is not a retcon, mind you. It’s a story development. But you get where we’re coming from. So, here are THE 13 MOST UNNECESSARY RETCONS IN COMICS HISTORY:


Continuity is a major part of the comic-book experience. Usually, events flow forward in a never-ending battle. But quite often creators decide to reach back to the past to embellish or alter events, or slip new ones into the cracks. That’s called a retcon. Some retcons, like Alan Moore’s revamp of the origin of the Swamp Thing or James Robinson’s take on the lineage of Starman, are exemplary. The following, however, don’t fall into that category…

13. The Many Lives of Black Canary. Prior to Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC decided to fix some discrepancies in Black Canary’s origin. Originally thought to be a Golden Age Earth-Two heroine who migrated to Earth-One and developed a Canary Cry as well as a love interest in Green Arrow, it was revealed in Justice League of America #219-220 that Black Canary was actually her own daughter. This bizarre turn of events came about due to some chicanery by the Wizard, Johnny Thunder’s Thunderbolt, and the Spectre. So all of Dinah Lance’s memories were actually the memories of her mother, Dinah Drake Lance. No one seemed to have a problem with this, including Superman, who’d been in on the whole ruse since Black Canary crossed over to the JLA back in Issue #74. Talk about your superdickery.

Post-Crisis, things were simplified with Black Canary II just being a legacy hero. But in yet another unnecessary retcon, it was decided that Black Canary would take Wonder Woman’s place as a founding member of the JLA since the Amazing Amazon was tied up elsewhere thanks to George Perez’s reboot.

At least until that was undone years later, restoring Wonder Woman as a founding member, alongside Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, the Flash, Aquaman and… Cyborg?!!

12. Evil Tony Stark. The Avengers’ The Crossing storyline revealed that Tony Stark aka Iron Man had been secretly working for Kang the Conqueror since the beginning of the Marvel Age. To solve this problem, the Avengers went back in time and brought a not-yet-corrupted teen-age Tony to the present to battle his evil adult counterpart. Realizing the error of his ways, adult Tony sacrificed himself… leaving young Tony as the new (old?) Armored Avenger. At least until Onslaught initiated the Heroes Reborn universe… after which adult Tony Stark returned to the regular Marvel Universe during Heroes Return. What an Excedrin headache!

11. Power Girl. After the consolidation of earths as a result of Crisis on Infinite Earths, Power Girl (formerly of Earth-Two) was left without a home, and an origin. So DC decided to make her the descendant of Arion, Lord of Atlantis. A disastrous costume and mystical pregnancy later, Arion revealed to Power Girl that he made the whole thing up…just in time for her to be from Earth-Two again during Infinite Crisis.

10. The Sentry and Triumph. Remember those new additions to the Avengers and the JLA, respectively, who were actually older heroes that everyone conveniently forgot about? We wish we could forget them again.

9. Jor-El. Once upon a time, Bucky, Uncle Ben, the Waynes and Superman’s Kryptonian parents were the only characters that you knew would NEVER be revived. But Bucky resurfaced as the Winter Soldier (a GOOD retcon) and Thomas Wayne appeared for a time to be the alias of Dr. Hurt. Recently, though, it was revealed that Jor-El was whisked away by an unseen force (Doctor Manhattan?) moments before Krypton’s destruction and was now alive and well and living on Earth, secretly monitoring his son and manipulating events behind the scenes as Mr. Oz. To date, Lara, Uncle Ben and Martha (MARTHA!) are still dead.

8. Emerald Dawn. Post-Crisis it was revealed that formerly straight-as-an-arrow Hal Jordan was once a drunk driver and a convict. No wonder he went mad and tried to restructure the universe as Parallax… which was eventually retconned years later as well in Green Lantern: Rebirth.

7. Superboy and the Legion. John Byrne’s Superman reboot established that his new version of Superman was NEVER Superboy. But that presented a problem for the Legion of Super-Heroes because Superboy was the inspiration of the LSH. To fix this proble editorially, the Time Trapper created a pocket universe where Superboy, Lana Lang and Smallville existed, solely for the purpose of occasional interaction with the LSH. But this eventually proved to be on shaky ground so Superboy and the pocket universe were killed off.

Legion villain Glorith, stepping in for the Time Trapper, recreated the timeline in order to have Mon-El serve as the new inspiration for the Legion. But you can’t keep a good Boy of Steel down for long and the real deal eventually returned to Superman and Legion continuity.

6. Superboy-Prime’s Punch. Have you ever punched a wall so hard that you changed continuity? Yeah, me neither. But Superboy-Prime did just that in what was basically a temper tantrum. See, at the end of the original Crisis, Superboy-Prime — along with Alexander Luthor Jr. of Earth-Three and the original Earth-Two Superman and Lois Lane — entered another dimension where they wasted decades watching the DC Universe grow dark. (Hey, join the club.) But Superboy-Prime couldn’t deal with this and started punching the walls. This created a ripple effect that altered continuity, basically f’ing up the origins of Wonder Girl, the Doom Patrol, Hawkman, and the Legion. You know, the usual poster children for unnecessary retcons.

5. Hawkworld. Originally the Hawkworld mini-series (1989) was supposed to be a look at Hawkman’s revised post-Crisis origin, similar to Batman: Year One and The Man of Steel. Unfortunately, editorial interference decided that instead of being set in the past, Hawkworld would take place in the present. This caused major disruption to Hawkman and Hawkgirl’s continuity and their place in the new DC Universe — until James Robinson and Geoff Johns embraced Hawkman’s mixed-up continuity and created the past lives gimmick, which is now status quo for the character.

4. Deal with the Devil. After years of being at death’s door, Aunt May was FINALLY going to die. (In yet another unnecessary retcon, an imposter died in her place back in Amazing Spider-Man #400, remember?) But her do-gooder nephew Peter Parker had other ideas and made a deal with Mephisto that effectively and retroactively dissolved his marriage to Mary Jane Watson, wiping it out of existence. If only I had One More Day to go back in time and NOT read this.

3. The Ick Factor. The death of Gwen Stacy was retconned more than 30 years later with the Sins Past arc that revealed the REAL reason Norman Osborn killed Gwen. Spite. Spite because she wouldn’t let him see their children. Yes, apparently Gwen hooked up with her friend Harry’s father and secretly gave birth to twins in France. Ugh, I feel so dirty now…

2. Flash: Rebirth/Flashpoint/The New 52. I love time travel and alternate timelines. Except when everything gets botched beyond repair. That’s what happened when DC decided to bring back the deceased Barry Allen in Flash: Rebirth. Writer Geoff Johns altered Barry Allen’s history to reveal that his mother Nora had been murdered when he was a child by future Flash villain Professor Zoom. This darkened the flagship character of the Silver Age and created a storyline in which Barry prevents Zoom from killing his mother, spawning a butterfly effect that would change the entire DC Universe, resulting in… Flashpoint.

Flashpoint was a crossover miniseries that showcased an Elseworlds-style universe. Up was down, cats and dogs were friends, and Atlanteans were at war with Amazons. With the help of Batman (Thomas Wayne), the Flash was able to fix things and put everything back the way it was.

Except…it wasn’t. Instead, Barry Allen’s efforts created the New 52, a modified DC Universe that combined DC, Vertigo and Wildstorm, while removing 10 years of history. The New 52 was filled with numerous continuity problems that crept into the subsequent Rebirth period: How many Robins were there? Was the Martian Manhunter a founding member of the Justice League or not? Who were the original Teen Titans? Will the real Lobo please stand up?

1. Identity Crisis. Um, we’re not going to talk about this one. In fact, I’m going to declare a retcon and IT NEVER HAPPENED!

MORE from Anthony Durso

13 REASONS to Love MARVEL in the BRONZE AGE. Click here.

13 REASONS to Love DC in the BRONZE AGE. Click here.

Anthony Durso is the owner of Retropolis Tees and the custom toy-package website The Toyroom.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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  1. Who is Donna Troy didn’t make the list? Actually you could do a multi part article on all the things Byrne screwed up with the Wonder Woman title.

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  2. I didn’t read Flash: Rebirth, but I did read and love Flashpoint. It (and the animated movie they made of it) was a surprisingly good story. Unfortunately, the creation of the New 52 and the resulting ridiculous retconning (alliteration intended) was a disappointing effect, and Rebirth didn’t really solve it. So I partially disagree with your number-two pick, but on the other hand I agree with it!

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  3. Interesting list! I have disliked all the retcons and wasn’t happy with Infinite Crisis, Zero Hour, etc. All these attempts (Marvel’s too) made things MORE confusing and a major reason I lost interest in comics for the most part. For me Martian Manhunter was always a founding member of the JLA, there was always a Superboy, Barry Allen never died, Hal Jordan never went insane, Peter Parker and Mary Jane are still married, etc.

    I love the Silver Age and Bronze Age!

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  4. Great article Anthony! I had no idea DC was calling Dick “Ric” now. Hoo-boy, they really don’t know what to do with that character, do they?

    I think of all of these grievous mistakes, none is as distasteful as Sins of the Past. That’s a total violation of all the characters involved, and the resulting story is in no way worth it. Just awful.


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  5. Great list! However, personally, I would have replaced “Flashpoint” with it’s ancestor that started it all: “Crisis On Infinite Earths”. In both cases, the original stories are great, but the aftereffects of each were equally awful in different ways. I consider “Crisis” slightly worse than “Flashpoint” because “Crisis” was the first. It paved the way for all of the other retcons, including “Flashpoint”. As well told as it was, “Crisis” made it okay to do retcon after retcon, whenever it suited the editors’ sensibilities. “Crisis” was the first of an endless chain of “Butterfly Effects”. If we didn’t have “Crisis” then, we wouldn’t have “Flashpoint” today and that’s coming from someone who originally absolutely adored “Crisis”, way back in the day!

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    • And I assume the mistake written about Power Girl was in reverting her to Kryptonian roots (and making Arion an ass).

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  6. Spider-Man didn’t make the deal Mary Jane did

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  7. All of these examples are ridiculous and some are sickening. I’m as old school as they come, and I don’t care for the retcon of the long-gone Bucky Barnes, but it has been handled very well. Rebooters should pay close attention. If you must do it, there IS a right way.

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