Mar 30, 2021
3 dumb ways superhero comics tried to rewrite the past
Back when they started out, superhero comics didn’t care all that much about keeping track of who did what, mainly because it was the 1940s, they were printed on the cheapest possible material (which incidentally is why most old comics look like those bootleg Chinese action figures they sell at Mexican carnivals), and they were mostly intended to be read and thrown away by the semi-literate street urchins they were marketed to. There’s a reason why Action Comics #1 is worth $3 million, and it’s not because of its story quality.
However, as the Silver Age rolled around and reintroduced superheroes to the world, people started to actually keep track of what was going on, and editors couldn’t just shrug and hope that older readers had died of polio and wouldn’t notice the plot holes they introduced with new stories. As the decades passed, this problem just got worse, as writers had to find ways to retroactively make stupid past decisions fit in with the stories they wanted to write without making the Jenga tower of continuity collapse completely. Their attempts did not always work.
1. Superboy Punched Reality Until it Broke
By 1985, DC Comics had become so bloated with alternate reality bullshit that the only recourse was to burn the whole thing down and start over. This was the purpose of the crossover Crisis On Infinite Earths that pruned down all DC worlds to a single streamlined one, containing elements from several of the pre-Crisis worlds, with only a few characters like Power Girl and the Psycho-Pirate surviving from the original multiverse. From that point on, DC only had one universe to tell stories in.
Unfortunately, they ran into the same problem they had before: dumb plots kept piling up, and now they couldn’t just dump their bad decisions into another universe anymore. In 2005, DC decided to restore the multiverse, and kicked it off by changing a whole bunch of shit they weren’t satisfied with in the main universe. How? Superboy literally punched reality like a malfunctioning TV and stuff just popped back into existence.
A little context is needed, but honestly it doesn’t make it much better. One of the surviving characters from the old Multiverse had been Superboy Prime, the Superboy of “our” Earth who had moved to another dimension with the original Superman and Lois Lane, along with Alexander Luthor, the son of Earth-3’s Lex Luthor, to prevent them from being wiped from existence during the original Crisis. Unfortunately, as we learned in the later crossover Infinite Crisis, all there was to do in said dimension was observe the main universe, and they weren’t any more satisfied with the grimdark nonsense they were seeing than the readers were. Alexander Luthor convinced Superboy that there had been some cosmic mistake, and they should wipe out the current universe and restore the original, more “positive” one, where they’d get to be the heroes.
Frankly, all I recall from their “ideal” universe is Superman dicking around with everyone.
Superboy Prime agreed, though this was more because he was being forced to undergo eternal puberty in that damn space dimension, along with having superpowers he couldn’t really use for anything. As a result, he started literally punching the wall of reality (keep in mind, he had the pre-Crisis Superman power set, back with the Super-fam could travel in time and move planets around like they were made of papier mache) in an effort to escape. As a result, several changes were made to years-old plots, most notably that the second Robin, Jason Todd, was no longer dead. Although, unfortunately for him, he was still in his grave.
Aside from forcing Jason Todd to undergo a less sexy version of that scene from Kill Bill, the main changes to the timeline included trying to patch together the disastrously convoluted backstories of several older characters that the previous Crisis had ruined, most notably Hawkman (who DC had to put a ban on using because Hawkman suddenly existed in both the ’40s and present day) and the Legion of Superheroes (whose literal existence was no longer possible, due to modern Superman never having been Superboy). In the latter’s case, the title underwent two reboots in ten years just to make sense of the trainwreck the first Crisis had made of their history.
2. Doctor Doom Only Loses When He’s a Robot
When talking about the concept of a supervillain, there’s one man most people think of… well actually, that’d probably be Lex Luthor, but our next entry is a close second: Doctor Doom. Originally appearing in Fantastic Four #5, Doom would quickly make a name for himself as the Marvel supervillain, a genuine Eastern European dictator in a sea of wannabes, as Jack Kirby really only knew how to write fascist lunatics as villains. Fighting in WW2 didn’t do the guy any favors.
One notable aspect about Doctor Doom is his frequent use of robot duplicates, his Doombots, which are basically used whenever the writer doesn’t want the real Doom to lose and look like less of a threat. This started right out of the gate, as the first goddamn time the Fantastic Four met Doom, he turned out to be a fucking robot. And thus the stage was set for countless future unsatisfying conclusions and anti-climactic fights.
Problem was, soon writers started changing past storylines, attributing things done and said by the real Doom to a Doombot whenever they didn’t like how some other writer had used the character, turning the Doombots from a plot device into a literary weapon. One of the most notable incidents occurred in an X-Men storyline where Doom briefly teams up with the villain Arcade (he’s what you’d get if you mix the ’60s Joker with a carnie) to go after the X-Men, but mostly so he could try and hit on Storm, the latest superheroine unlucky enough to have Doom get a villain boner for her. So what was this unforgivable loss that could only be mended via Doombot? Oh, it wasn’t a loss at all: Arcade just lit a match against Doom’s armor.
Yeah, that was the whole thing: Doom had let Arcade do that without force-feeding him his own stupid bow tie. John Byrne, the then-writer of the Fantastic Four series, absolutely hated the scene and changed it so that the encounter had only been a Doombot, which he proceeded to destroy in his own stories. Superhero comics can be a rather petty business at times.
3. The Avengers Played Along with Hank Pym’s Mental Breakdown
Like I mentioned in my last article, Hank Pym isn’t a very good fit for Marvel’s movie universe, thanks to his comprehensive history of mental breakdowns and awful behavior in general, but it’s actually even worse than I made it sound. One of the low points of Ant-Man’s Trainspotting phase was his change to his Yellowjacket identity, which you might recognize as the villain from the movie, only with ridiculous ’80s shoulder pads (which was weird, because the costume was introduced in 1969). Pym as Yellowjacket was a goddamn asshole. Oh, and he tried to bully his way onto the Avengers by claiming that he was some new jerk who had killed Hank Pym. For some reason, the Avengers didn’t take this well.
It doesn’t last long, as Hank’s girlfriend Janet Van Dyne AKA the Wasp quickly figures out it’s really Hank. The rest of the team finds out when the two get married and the Circus of Crime gatecrashes the event. Pym stays in his Yellowjacket identity, which eventually culminates in the infamous wife-slapping and robot-building incident that got him ostracized and would define the character into the present day. However, they never resolved the fact that the Avengers were apparently fine with Wasp marrying some douchebag who’d just shown up on their doorstop and claimed to have killed her previous boyfriend in cold blood. Sure, she apparently figured it out right away, but the team didn’t. Well, turns out they actually did know, which only makes it slightly less awful. When writer Joe Casey took over in 2007, he didn’t like the implications of the original story, so he changed it to something much more positive: the Avengers knew it was Pym the whole time, and were just humoring him in his massive psychotic breakdown.
Yes, the Avengers weren’t unforgivably negligent at all; they were just playing amateur psychologists and allowing a dangerously unbalanced man with superpowers to run around fighting crime! Rather than, you know, getting Pym professional help or medication or something. If you’re going to rewrite a 30-year-old story, you should probably make sure you’re not replacing it with something even more nonsensical. In fact, if you want to retcon something, you might want to start with Pym’s atrocious fashion sense.