Top Ten Unsavory RetCons

Recently the Spider-Universe has been (web) spinning all over the place. Seems like the instant something is established, somebody comes along and changes it all over again. First Ben is the real wait, now Peter is. The Jackal could make, he couldn't...yes, he could. Carrion is the clone of Prof. he isn't...yes, he is. What has been even more maddening about all this is the sloppiness, the inattention to detail of some of the recent events, as well. (For example, does anyone remember that, at the end of Spectacular Spider-Man #193, the Black Crow strips the Puma of the knowledge that Peter Parker is Spider-Man? Tom DeFalco certainly didn't.)

Now I'm no opponent of change and I don't even mind retcons as a general rule as long as they're done correctly. (The re-telling of Amazing Spider-Man #15 with the new characterizations of Kraven and the Chameleon comes to mind.) Here are ten that didn't sit well with me.

  1. The Lizard: All this mumbo-jumbo with the new look Lizard and the revelation in Spectacular Spider-Man #240 that the new Lizard is not the old Lizard only served to introduce a glaring mistake. The Lizard that hung out with Calypso in Spider-Man #1-5 and killed people was Curt Connors, right? The Lizard that Calypso freed from the Vault in Web #109 was Curt Connors too. (We even saw him in the Vault AS Connors before turning into the Lizard.) How then can Connors be safe and sound at home at his lab in the Everglades? It has been established that the government knows he's the Lizard and he has, after all, killed people. Why isn't he back in the Vault?
  2. MJ Has Known Since the Beginning. Sometime back, in the Parallel Lives graphic novel (1989), Gerry Conway decided to retcon Mary Jane's knowledge of Pete as Spider-Man all the way back to the night Uncle Ben was killed. In Untold Tales of Spider-Man #16, Kurt Busiek again had MJ witnessing Spider-Man exit the Parker home on that fateful night. Now, I haven't gone through every issue of Spider-Man to double check, but I refuse to believe that Mary Jane knew Pete was Spidey through all those years of early appearances. It just doesn't fit with the facts. And when did the Watsons become next door neighbors? Was this ever established? (There was a family called the Abbots who lived next door but they could have been on the other side.)
  3. Aunt May Knows, Too. So, when exactly did Aunt May figure out that Pete was Spider-Man? Was it when she thought she was going senile because she saw a web dummy in Peter's bed? Was it when she tried to shoot him, protecting Dr. Octopus? Was it when she was so disappointed in Pete for not coming to keep her company when she knew Spidey was fighting Jack O'Lantern at the hospital? Actually, I enjoyed this revelation in Amazing #400 but I can't think of a single time prior to J.M. Dematteis' Vulture story in Spectacular that even implies that May was aware of Pete's dual identity. And, hey, when was that Vulture story in Spidey-time? About two months before Aunt May's death?
  4. The Jackal and the High Evolutionary. It beats me why Marvel got so embarassed by the first clone story that they thought they had to retcon the whole thing out of existence. (Maybe it was that Gwen Stacy clone wandering around that got to them.) This decision was unfortunately combined with the 1988 Annuals; a summer long storyline entitled The Evolutionary Wars. Suddenly Gwen wasn't Gwen and the Spider-Clone was Anthony Serba and worst of all the High Evolutionary got added to the mix. Ouch!
  5. The High Evolutionary and the Jackal. And when the whole Evolutionary War thing got retconned back, a whole painful, confusing double-sized issue (Scarlet Spider Unlimited #1 and only.) told a hairbrained story about the Jackal being the High Evolutionary's partner and rival and who knows what? I'd still be trying to figure that mess out if I cared enough to try.
  6. Venom - The Lethal Protector. Well, of course, most creators in comics are trying their best to make their books as creative and absorbing as possible. But let's not fool ourselves. Comics are big business and money makes the big decisions, not creativity. So, when Marvel realized that Venom had become hugely popular and could sell lots of copies of his own (consistently awful) book, he had to be converted into some semblance of hero. Out went the immensely creepy characterization that made Venom so popular and frightening. In came the "protector of the innocent" who Spider-Man doesn't even bother anymore. So, tell this to all the various guards he killed over the years. And remind us again why we should now care about this character. (But keep the faith, True Believers! The latest word is that Venom's many mini-series get cancelled this fall. Maybe we can get the "old" Venom back after that!)
  7. The Demise of Ben Reilly. I'm not going to argue the case of whether Ben should have died or not. The problem is in the way that it was done. I finally got around to reading 101 Ways to End the Clone Saga and, folks, almost every scenario in that book was better than what they decided on. I still believe the best solution would have been to find some way to make Peter and Ben the same person (Peter goes back in time and becomes Ben, for example. And don't give me the "if he went back in time there would be a five year difference in their ages" and "if they are the same person, why doesn't Ben remember being married to Mary Jane" arguments. With all the incongruities comic writers have had to resolve over the years, these problems would have been a cinch.) This could have solved the question of how the clone survived (he didn't) and what the skeleton was (the clone!). But best of all, we would have been spared the embarrassment of Marvel forgetting that Ben ever existed. Where was his funeral? What about his relationship with Betty Brant? Well, never mind. I went through this already in PPP Volume 3, Number 2. But, honestly, folks, while I'm no fan of "DC Crisis on Infinite Earths" type solutions, I would prefer Marvel come out and say the last two years of Spidey books never happened rather than muck things up even more with a bad retcon.
  8. The Life of (Ben) Reilly. OK, speaking of the clone surviving, just how did he, anyway? According to the (ugh) Osborn Journals, after the explosion in which the Jackal was apparently killed, "Parker and his clone were buried under heavy rubble where they lay unconscious for a time." The real Jackal came down and "injected the one who tested as the real Parker with a drug that would simulate death." Soon, "Parker revived, brought his seemingly dead clone to a factory in Brooklyn and threw the body down a smokestack." Now, let's examine this by looking at the actual issues involved. At the end of Amazing #149, there is no time that Spider-Man is unconscious. None. So, there is no time when the Jackal can sneak down, test to see which is the clone, and inject his drug. Not only that, but the Gwen Stacy clone is present and conscious throughout and would have seen this happen. (Yes, you could argue that the Jackal imbued her with some post-hynotic suggestion, though no one has yet bothered, but did the reader receive the same hypnosis? The panels on page 27 are clear. Spidey was NOT unconscious.) As for the drug that simulates death...sure, I'll buy that. But there's no way that Peter woke up and took his clone to the smokestack. If you examine #149-151, it has been a MINIMUM of two days between the explosion and the smokestack. How long before "simulated death" becomes just "death"? You know what works a lot better than this, guys? The clone is dead and Peter and Ben are the same....oh, have I mentioned this already?
  9. The Tinkerer and Mysterio. Just to show I'm an equal opportunity complainer, allow me to whine about two changes made by two of my favorite Spidey writers; Len Wein and Roger Stern. In Amazing Spider-Man #2, the Terrible Tinkerer was revealed to be a dopey-looking alien from outer space. But in Amazing #160, Len Wein brought him back, revealing that he had never been an alien after all. Nor were his henchmen aliens. (Sure. They just walked around in those dopey alien costumes on the one in a million chance that someone would find their hideout.) Why was this done? Was it so necessary to bring the Tinkerer back as a human? Was Marvel ashamed of the dopey aliens? (What's the matter? Spidey can fight the Beyonder, Thanos, and Drom the Backwards Man but not dopey-looking aliens?) Roger Stern compounded this error by revealing that one of the aliens-in-disguise was actually Quentin Beck before he became Mysterio. Sorry, Roger. I just don't believe that Beck's first appearance is Amazing #2 instead of Amazing #13. (I mean, which one is he? The dopey-looking alien second on the left?)
  10. Traveller and Scrier. Can't we all just close our eyes and forget that Amazing Spider-Man #417 ever existed? I was never a fan of these characters and I must admit that the omnipotence of Traveller rather drove me nuts but we went through too much talk about being centuries old (no, I don't buy the ridiculous Osborn Journals explanation) and too much action involving amazing powers to ever convince me Traveller is just a mutant with illusion abilities. (Explain to me again how Traveller used these abilities to create the "Parker at Ravenscroft" trial in Amazing #403 and how he wiped out Carnage's memory?) And what's this nonsense about Scrier being a secret organization? What, do you have to be seven feet tall to join? This whole story absolutely reeked of desperation. The only chance with this is to retcon it right back again. And quick.
  11. The Hobgoblin is Ned Leeds. Well, Roger Stern has retconned this one out of existence, but for the sake of history, I thought I'd mention it. Remember Amazing Spider-Man #289 and what a letdown that was? Remember Web of Spider-Man #30 and all its attempts to make the "Ned as Hobgoblin" story make sense? No matter what you think of Hobgoblin Lives, at least it put all of THAT to rest. Thank you, Roger, thank you.
  12. Everyone Knows Norman Osborn is the Green Goblin. I really hate to bring this up, but...umm...when did THIS happen? When Spidey originally defeated the Goblin in Amazing #40, he removed Norman's costume and told everyone that the Goblin had died. When Norman "died" in Amazing #122, his son Harry removed the costume. And remember, when Harry took over and was defeated in Amazing #137, he told the authorities that Peter Parker was Spider-Man. Harry said he knew this because he himself was the Green Goblin. No one believed him because he was too young to be the Goblin and Harry was eventually shipped off to the waiting arms of psychiatrist Dr. Barton Hamilton. BUT...if everyone now knows that Norman and Harry were the Green Goblin, shouldn't SOMEONE remember that Harry accused Peter of being Spider-Man? And how did everyone find out the Osborns were the Green Goblin, anyway?
  13. The Osborn Journals. With apologies and respect to my esteemed, discerning, and wise colleague Jonathan Couper and the five webs he gave to this book, I cannot remember the last time I disliked a Spidey comic as much as I disliked this one. To me, this was a disgraceful quick-fix, filled with holes and using as an explanation nothing more creative than that Norman Osborn was apparently behind virtually everything. (I'm waiting for the book that tells us Norman arranged for Thor's hammer to be in that cave, Rick Jones to be out in Bruce Banner's gamma bomb test, the shielding to be missing from the Fantastic Four's rocket ship, and the Spider to be at the radioactive experiment.) I didn't buy a single page of this hokum (and I could barely bring myself to read the whole book). I mean, come on! What's this nonsense about Scrier hanging out at Warren's clone tests and Seward Trainer being Warren's assistant? This comes out of the clear blue sky with no tie-in to the original issues. What about this business of the Jackal injecting one Spidey when both were unconscious? Tell me where in Amazing #149 both Spideys ARE unconscious. And this stuff about Osborn going to all the trouble to reverse Warren's scheme because it's "too early"? Excuse me, but...Huh? No, I'm sorry. There is only one way to deal with this misbegotten book. The realTraveller and Scrier show up and reveal that they manipulated Osborn's memories so that he believes that all this is true. In the meantime, don't let Glenn Greenberg fool you...none of this ever happened at all.
  14. Untold Tales. Yes, I know it's one of the best series out there. I love it too. (And with the rumors swirling that it will be cancelled after #25, I feel like a real heel for picking on it.) Still, even in the hands of Kurt Busiek, longtime fan and continuity lover, the series has credibility problems. I don't believe that one of Spidey's earliest foes was a guy named the Scorcher. I don't believe there was a guy named the Headsman using Goblin equipment before Osborn. I don't believe that Dr. Conners EVER turned into the Lizard between Amazing #6 and Amazing #44. And how many times did Spidey fight the Vulture between Amazing #7 and his "death" in #48, anyway? I liked it better when we could assume he was in prison all that time. Still, it could be worse, you know. Someone else besides Busiek could have been writing this series. (Remember Amazing Spider-Man Annual '96?) At least it was a consistently good read.

Are there any retcons I DO care for? Will you settle for five?

  1. Hobgoblin Lives. OK, the story wasn't the greatest but it fixed all that Ned Leeds stuff.
  2. Kraven and Chameleon. Who ever would have thought the Chameleon would become one of Spidey's best villains?
  3. Sally Avril, the Bluebird. The introduction of Sally, Jason, and Tiny fill us in on who those other anonymous kids were that always hung around Flash and Liz in early issues. And, in Sally's case, we know why she's not hanging around with them anymore.
  4. Non-Spidey villains in Untold Tales. I'm not hot on these new/old villains like Headsman and Scorcher but I LOVE the idea of Spidey battling early Marvel villains like the Black Knight, the Radioactive Man, and the Scarlet Beetle.
  5. Norman Osborn Lives. I liked almost nothing about Spider-Man #75 and The Osborn Journals gave me hives, but let's face it, Spider-Man's greatest villain is the Green Goblin and the greatest Green Goblin is Norman Osborn. I'm thrilled to have him back (though I was surprised to discover that I'm now bothered that he got away with murdering Gwen Stacy. Maybe, the dead Gwen is a clone and the clone-Gwen is.....?)

My favorite retcon? That would have to be the one in my head; the one which will take care of all the messes from the clone saga and all the messes from the retcon of the clone saga. Whenever you're interested, Ralph.