In any long-running series, there’s going to be a magnetic pull among a certain type of writer to want to change things, to make adjustments to details, to eliminate contradictions in the stories that have been told and to introduce new information about foundational events. These ideas can sometimes be additive and sometime be destructive, but they aren’t usually forgotten–unless it’s by common consent. Here are the five best forgotten DC retcons.
FLASH #167: This unassuming cover conceals the most derided Flash story of the Silver Age of Comics, and one which was, by universal acclaim, completely ignored hereafter and scarcely mentioned again. In this story, the Flash is visited by Mopee, a ridiculous angelic character clearly in the mold of Clarence from the film IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. He’s come to let Flash know that he needs to take away the speedster’s powers–because he is the one who gave them to him in the first place! According to Mopee, as an assignment as a Heavenly Helpmate, he caused the lightning bolt to strike Barry Allen’s lab, dousing him with electrified chemicals and granting him the gift of Super-speed. But because Barry Allen didn’t own those chemicals, Mopee violated the rules and needs to reverse the whole thing. Flash finds a loophole through which he can purchase replacement chemicals and re-create his powers-giving accident–but to do so, he must earn the money as the Flash and it all needs to be done within 24 hours. Well, that’s plenty of time for the Flash, and at the end, Mopee flies off–before Flash can tell him about his protege Kid Flash’s identical origin, which must have been a fluke. Mopee was meant to be comical, but he was instead embarrassing, and the whole story was brushed under the carpet without a single glance back. Gardner Fox, creator of the original Flash, and Carmine Infantino were responsible for this travesty.
ACTION COMICS #370: Editor Mort Weisenger’s Superman stories were often full of Imaginary Stories and unbelievable occurrences, but right at the end of his tenure as editor, he became especially sloppy about what was and wasn’t canonical in the world of the Man of Steel. And so, this story of Superman’s lost life, courtesy of writer Cary Bates and illustrator Curt Swan. In this tale, Superman is having strange dreams of another life, so he analyzes the age of the rocketship which carried him to Earth and discovers that it it well over 100 years old. From there, we’re shown how, while on its flight across the cosmos, infant Kal-El’s ship passed through a dimensional rift and landed on a different planet. There, he is raised as Sonn–but rather than possessing super-powers himself, he instead radiates a strange energy that causes the inhabitants of his new home to evolve rapidly. They go from being primitive cave-dwellers to a modern society in the space of about 25 years. But Sonn’s sister is jealous of her adopted brother, and she unleashes a Living Evil into the world which causes the society to destroy itself in an atomic war. Superman survives and lives out his life as an old man. But his son Vol has studied the situation and has figured out how to devolve Kal-El back into a baby. Doing so, and then firing him back out into space in his rocket and through the gap that brought him here, should reverse the effects of his presence, allowing nature to take its natural course. And so, Kal-El’s rocketship completes its flight to Earth. Fortunately, time passed differently in that other dimension, so while Superman lived a life of 100 years, in our world only about five minutes had passed. None of this has been mentioned once since this story first saw print–and it’s a positive miracle that some writer hasn’t brought back Vol as a villain for Superman to fight in the decades since.
SUPERBOY #158: This one can’t be laid at the feet of Mort Weisenger but rather the editor of SUPERBOY, Murray Boltinoff. In this story by Frank Robbins and Bob Brown, we learn that (along with just about everybody else, apparently), Superboy’s parents Jor-El and Lara also survived the destruction of their home planet of Krypton. Superboy gets a message from them and soars to a section of space that he’s never visited before. There, he finds his parents sealed in a life support pod, surrounded by deadly Kryptonite. He’s confronted by an old friend of his parents, Kryptonian scientist Dr Krylo, who tells Superboy that he was the one who shot Jor-El and Lara into space before Krypton’s detonation, and himself as well in a separate pod (how he had time to do all of this, to say nothing of constructing these pods, is a mystery.) After a brief adventure, Dr Krylo sacrifices his life to aid Superboy in getting his parents out of the deadly Kryptonite field–but he still cannot free them. For he discovers a last message that they had recorded for him, telling him that, in Jor-El’s last investigations into Krypton’s unstable core, he and Lara had absorbed a fatal dose of radiation. So they give Superboy a Do Not Resuscitate order–despite the fact that I imagine getting super-powers might have done something to fix that radiation poisoning. In the end, unable to find a solution, Superboy sets his birth parents adrift in space again as per their last wishes. And then he and everybody else forgot about this implausible story. (Though I guess Jor-El is alive again in the DC books of the moment, so it’s only Lara who is forgotten.)
SUPERMAN #205: Now this one falls squarely on Mort’s shoulders–really, I could have filled this list with stories from the end of Weisenger’s storied tenure, really. Otto Binder and Al Plastino put together this issue, in which Superman contends with the interplanetary terrorist Black Zero, who annihilates planets just on the verse of attaining space travel. Years before, Black Zero was given the job of exterminating Krypton for that reason. He arrived to discover Jor-El giving his warnings about Krypton’s impending doom–but it turns out that Jor-El was wrong, the idiot! Fortunately, Black Zero takes it upon himself to make sure that Jor-El’s prophesies of doom do come true, and Krypton is destroyed on schedule. In order to prevent the same fate from befalling the Earth, Superman enlists the assistance of the criminal Jax-Ur from the Phantom Zone. He’s really giving himself an out here, as we all know what’s going to happen: Jax-Ur, afflicted by Red Kryptonite, becomes a medusa creature and turns Black Zero to stone. Then, he pulverizes the stone figure so that he can never be resurrected. And Superman’s hands are clean in all of this–he even puts Jax-Ur back into the Phantom Zone for the murder. This whole mess was also mercifully forgotten (although the name Black Zero was later adopted for a terrorist organization from Krypton’s past.) And these days, DC has introduced a different character who was responsible for Krypton’s demise.
HAWKMAN #22: Editor Julie Schwartz was forced to give up oversight of the HAWKMAN series to George Kashdan in 1967, as other work called. Kashdan wasted no time in putting his imprint on the series. In the first issue under his direction, Bob Haney and Dick Dillin have Carter Hall exposed to the world as an alien living among them. While his alter ego as Hawkman remains a secret, he is nonetheless shunned and hated because of his status as an alien spy living on Earth. This became the set-up for the last few issues of the series, a desperate change in the status quo in an attempt to drum up some interest. And it failed utterly. After only five issues, HAWKMAN was combined with THE ATOM into a single ATOM AND HAWKMAN split series and the winged wonder was back in the hands of Schwartz–who immediately ignored everything that had happened since he had been gone. As has everybody since. Though Hawkman is possessed of the most confused and tangled history of any DC classic hero, the victim of retcon upon retcon over the years.