The GeeksverseThe Art of the Retcon

The Art of the Retcon
Published on Friday, May 20, 2011 by


It’s a word that strikes fear into most comic book fans. It usually means that the past is going to be changed in order for a present story. And usually it’s not in a good way.

But I’m afraid that the retcon is here to stay. It’s almost needed. When you have characters that have 20, 30, 50 and even more years of history there are only so many new and original stories that can be told built off of the original foundation. So sometimes you need to add a new wing to the structure.

Think about it. Captain America has been around for 70 years. At an average of 12 issues a year that’s 840 issues, 50+ annuals, countless specials, mini-series and appearances in other titles like Avengers and others.

Thats alot of stories.

Let me start off by saying I’m a huge continuity guy. I love the longform comic because of continuity. I think it needs to be adhered to and it needs to be respected.

That being said, there is room for a retcon.

Because there have been so many stories already written, that’s a primary reason that new writers create new characters and add new characters to the history of the character. They want to make their mark on that history. It’s one of the drawbacks that when you play in the sandbox of someone else, there are walls to that sandbox. There are limits to what you can’t do.

So thats why they choose to stretch the sandbox as much as possible. Sometimes there are good results but more often then not there are bad.

Retconning the Red Skull into a hippie for example? Bad idea.

But making Bucky more of a bad-ass then snappy patter sidekick? Good idea.

And that’s the point. Retcons are going to happen. But they don’t have to be bad.

If done right, a retcon can be a good story and only increase and add to the history of that character.

The previously mentioned Bucky retcon by Ed Brubaker is such an example. This led to the Winter Soldier and led to Bucky becoming Captain America for a time. It meant retconning Bucky’s death. He never died. But it was done right and done well.

The return of Barney Barton in the recent Hawkeye: Blindspot is another example of a good retcon. Jim McCann was able to slip in that Barney Barton was able to survive his encounter with Egghead. It was a reason that made sense. It didn’t contradict anything already established. It paid respect to what had come before and the stories that had been built off Barney’s death. The way McCann did it still made those stories relevant.

There are more bad retcons then good, sadly. But a good writer can make a retcon work.

Any writer should be able to make a good retcon because it’s necessary when you work with characters 20+ years old.

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