5BC: Five More Forgotten DC Retcons

Ever since I did the initial post about the 5 Best Forgotten DC Retcons, people have been turning up to remind me about other stories, most of them of a slightly later vintage, that fall into the same general category. And who am I to keep these sterling masterworks from enjoying the notoriety that they’ve so adroitly earned? So here now are Five More Forgotten DC Retcons. (And for those who have asked, I do have a similar Marvel list cooking–it’s just slightly harder to find examples that fit it as well.)

SUPERMAN #330: Man, everybody brought this comic book up after the first piece ran. In this story, written by the late Marty Pasko from an idea from fan Al Schroeder II and illustrated by Curt Swan, we learn that the real reason why Supeman’s glasses disguise his identity when he’s posing as Clark Kent is that the lenses were made from Kryptonian glass from the ship that brought him to Earth, and that Superman has unconsciously been focusing his super-hypnotism powers through them for years, making Clark Kent seem gaunter and less good-looking than his heroic self. It is actually a pretty solid idea, though there are any number of problems and loopholes–in particular, the fact that Superman has never noticed that he’s been doing this, even when other people have posed as Clark Kent or he’s built robots that look like him. This story was immediately discarded and forgotten about after publication.

SUPERBOY AND THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #235: One of the commonalities that crop up in these sorts of stories is that they’re often attempts to fix a supposed problem that isn’t really bothering anybody. This entry comes squarely from that camp, as we learn that the Legion has been hiding a horrifying secret from Superboy all these years–one sever enough that they have to regularly brainwash him to forget it. And what is this awful secret? It’s that the medical technology of the future has grown good enough to keep the average human being alive for hundreds of years–and this is why characters who are in their twenties are still called Boy or Lad or Lass. Paul Levitz came up with this one early on in his Legion career–he got better–and the story was illustrated nicely by Mike Grell. But it too was discarded and forgotten about just about the moment it hit the stands.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #220: The passage of time inevitably creates some problems when it comes to the histories of certain characters–especially when those characters’ origins are tied to real-world events that cannot be shifted forward along with them. So, years before this, when writer Denny O’Neil needed a new female member to replace Wonder Woman in the JLA, he had the Black Canary leave her home on Earth-2 and join the team. But the Canary’s history with the Justice Society went back to the 1940s, and by 1983 this made her, well, pretty old. To the rescue came writer Roy Thomas who, along with artist Chuck Patton, laid out this convoluted tale about the original Canary having a daughter who was cursed with an uncontrollable sonic scream by her old enemy the Wizard. This daughter was left in suspended animation in limbo until the elder Canary was ready to relocate to Earth-1. But it turns out that the she had been poisoned by the same thing that had killed her husband Larry Lance earlier in the story. So Superman has her mind and personality transferred over to the younger body of her daughter, nobody notices, and everyone goes about their business. And here, the two Canaries are split again, and everybody is happy. It’s a phenomenal piece of nonsense, and it only lasted about a year before the Crisis on Infinite Earths hit and simply put the two Canaries on the one remaining Earth together, streamlining everything.

WORLD’S FINEST COMICS #223: This one actually did get a sequel that tries to clean it up, so it doesn’t quite fit our format here. But it’s so insane that it really needs to be included anyway. In it, we learn that the Boomerang Killer, the assassin that’s being hunted by Superman, Batman and Deadman, turns out to actually be Batman’s unknown older brother Thomas Wayne Jr. Seems Thomas was struck by a car when he was a child which gave him incurable brain damage and the Waynes had him institutionalized. They would have told Bruce about his unknown brother eventually except they got killed in that pesky hold-up gone wrong. But that’s not even the craziest part of this story! In the end, Superman and Batman think that Thomas Wayne has been killed–but instead, DEADMAN HAS MADE OFF WITH THE BODY! He’s got a line about how he’s sure Batman would want him to use Thomas’s form to be able to start a new life. Some hero! This was so abhorrent that somebody put a foot down and a sequel was done in issue #227 in which Batman kicks Deadman’s ass for his transgression, Thomas Wayne is actually killed by a random bullet, and the whole mess is swept back under the table again. But too little, too late. It will come as no surprise that Bob Haney wrote this one, with Dick Dillin supplying his usual reliable work on the art.

SUPERMAN #239: This one isn’t a story–nobody ever did a story following up on this bit of egregiousness. It’s simply a bonus feature. And let’s be clear here, I’m sure it was well intentioned. But DC didn’t have the best track record when it came to depictions of race in 1971 when this piece was done (and nobody else was all that much better, really.) so it proved to be offensive on a number of levels, and rapidly discarded and forgotten by everybody without an encyclopedic memory of the features of Krypton. Because in a feature devoted to the typography and sights of the lost planet of Krypton, writer E. Nelson Bridwell and artist Sal Amendola introduce Vathlo Island into the mythology. Vathlo, you see, is the place where all of the black people live on Krypton–they get a whole island all to themselves. In this feature, it’s described as the home of a “highly developed black race”, which somehow makes it seem like that’s a rare exception when it comes to people of color. Mercifully, this concept was seldom touched on again–somebody realized that they had brushed up against a third rail here and backed away quickly.

9 thoughts on “5BC: Five More Forgotten DC Retcons

  1. Great article! Thank you! I was always particularly irked by Roy Thomas’s need to come up with a reason why Black Canary couldn’t be the original Black Canary because she would have been too old. Yet Denny O’Neil had neatly solved this problem in an earlier JLA/JSA team-up (can’t recall which one, off the top of my head). But in a single sentence, he stated, “Time moves more slowly on Earth 2 than on Earth 1.” And bingo… There’s a perfectly good explanation for why there only ever needed to be one Black Canary. She hadn’t aged at the rate people on Earth 1 age. Simple, clean and way less convoluted.


    1. I enjoyed the Black Canary retcon, except for (a) Earth-1 Superman knowing about it all along (if that was the case, we missed out on an interesting Black Canary/Superman conversation at some point) and (b) the (off panel) thought of a daughter having her mother’s feelings/attraction for her deceased father (who she thought was her husband). But I was thrilled to have a Black Canary focused two-parter and to see Sargon the Sorcerer.


      1. I never understood why Denny O’Neil didn’t just introduce a separate, Earth-1 version of Black Canary. With so many other heroes having E-1 and E-2 versions, that would’ve been the easiest fix of all!


  2. But then Vathlo – as a concept – re-emerges in Legion of Super Heroes with Tyroc. And was just as regpugnant and non-sensical.


  3. My favorite part of that Spellbinder, secret ID issue, was that Clark asked a Planet staff illustrator to draw headshots of himself & Superman. And the artist’s perception sealed it for me. Hahaha. It seems people saw clark as older & more frail than Superman. As a kid, I was sold.


    1. Actually, the idea of Superman “mesmerising” people into believing Clark is a totally different person IS good, and the concept works as an amplification of his disguise. Chris Reeve mesmerised us with his acting capabilities, amplified by suspension of disbelief. What was not working was the concept of linking it to his glasses, multiple people had already briefly seen Clark without his specs many times, the trick would have been blown up very soon: “OMG! He dropped his glasses and suddenly his muscles grew and he got younger!” That’s nonsense, even for a 70s’ comic. Superman as a Super-mentalist would have worked way better.


  4. Ha! I’m not sure they really thought better of the Vathlo Island story that swiftly, since they basically used it again — 5 years later — to explain where all the black people were in the 30th century Earth of the Legion of Super-Heroes.


  5. It truly is depressing that — a full decade after the signing of the Civil Rights Act — DC TWICE defaulted to the notion that black people in futuristic/advanced settings would be segregated on an island or separate dimension. I mean, Top 10 TV shows were having Black people as regular supporting characters by then!


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