If there’s one thing that DC has loved to do over the years, it’s to explore strange story avenues and then abandon them. In some ways, that’s become their history ever since CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS–it feels that you can’t go but a few years anymore until everything you’ve read is thrown out and they try something different. But this is nothing new, and is somewhat a byproduct of the fact that the DC Universe didn’t start out as a Universe at all, but rather an assortment of different titles (some produced by different publishers) each one of which existed in its own world, each one of which wasn’t especially concerned about continuity except in the broadest sense. So here are five further forgotten DC retcons from days gone by.
SUPERMAN’S POWERS ARE IN A LYNX, SUPERMAN #254 – This one really wouldn’t qualify except that it became the status quo for the character for three or four issues before it was eventually undone. I’m not sure what the thought process was–other than maybe the feeling that, despite the de-escalation that writer Denny O’Neil had put him through, Superman was still too powerful. In any event, the prior issue introduced Billy Anders, a handicapped boy who, thanks to a run-in with an alien artifact, had his mind residing in his pet Lynx–the Lynx needed to be near Billy for him to be alive and active and mobile. To make that situation even crazier, in this issue Superman is hit by an alien device that causes his super-strength to backfire on him whenever he uses it–causing a backfire of equal force to whatever he uses. The solution to this madness is for Superman to implant his strength into Billy Anders’ Lynx–which he can then summon as needed whenever he needs to do anything strong by visualizing the cat in his mind and saying the word “Lynx!” The whole thing has a weird quasi-Captain Marvel flavor to it. But Superman went about his business in this way for a couple of issues, thinking about the cat and shouting Lynx every time he had to hit something or lift something. Eventually, though, somebody realized that this whole situation was dumb, and so the connection between Anders and Superman was severed, and everybody went back about their business. Artwork was handled by Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson, so it at least looked good for all that it seemed to be nonsense.
THE FLASH’S SUPER-SPEED WEAKNESS, FLASH #154 – Every good super hero has an achilles heel, a weakness of some kind–or at least that seemed to be the thought at DC during the 1960s. Whether it was the omnipresent Kryptonite, an open flame, the color yellow or the absence of water for an hour, the DC heroes of the period all carried with them a fear of a given substance or situation. All except for the Flash. Now, clearly that wouldn’t do–so Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino decided to give the speedster a weakness of his very own. In this story, the Flash’s speed begins to go haywire, to the point where he cannot control his actions. This is caused, we are told, by a build-up of speed energy in his body–and so he’s going to need to regularly drain himself of excess speed energy regularly or risk a recurrence of his Haywire Speed. Before Flash can accomplish this, of course, he needs to take on a gang of crooks without using his super-speed–which he does, with flying colors. The story ends with Flash needing to regularly return and drain his speed energy in order to remain in control of his powers, but this is the last time this situation is ever mentioned. The idea was thrown out as soon as the story was finished. (Actually, this makes a lot more sense in recent years since the revelation that all of the speedsters in the DC Universe draw their powers of motion from an extradimensional Speed Force–but none of that mythology was in place at the time of this story in 1965.)
PLASTIC MAN IS HIS OWN SON, PLASTIC MAN #7 – A number of factors went into the decision by DC to bring back Plastic Man in the mid-1960s–the two biggest being that a girdle manufacturer wanted to license the character (whom DC had purchased from the defunct Quality Comics when the latter had gone out of business) for a national ad, and a competitor had tried to come out with their own Plastic Man character in the short-lived Myron Fass CAPTAIN MARVEL series. So Plastic Man made a hasty appearance in the Dial H for Hero strip to re-establish DC’s ownership of him and then rushed into production as a new super hero series. Unfortunately, this new revival of Plastic Man wasn’t a success, and the hardcore audience of fans were very outspoken about how many liberties it was taking with the character–making him a secret agent working alongside uptight agent Gordon K. Trueblood. So in this issue, writer Arnold Drake and artist Win Mortimer attempted to placate those vocal fans. They revealed that the Plastic Man they had been writing about for the past seven issues wasn’t the genuine article at all, for all that that’s how he’d appeared. Rather, he was the son of the original Plastic Man of the 1940s, who had been exposed to the same acid that had given his old man his stretching abilities. (Dad kept a bottle of it lying around the house for sentimental reasons.) The older Plas and his sidekick Woozy Winks have retired to an old folks’ home–one that the villainous King of Spades is trying to take over because it supposedly contains the Fountain of Youth. The younger Plas and Gordy put an end to the King’s scheme, and the older Plas isn’t seen again for the rest of the short run. But thereafter, none of this is mentioned again, and Plastic Man is the one-and-only from this point forward–whether the depressed self-loathing version from Bob Haney’s BRAVE AND THE BOLD stories or the more light-hearted one in Ramona Fradon’s 1970s revival series.
THE JOKER’S DAUGHTER IS TWO-FACE’S DAUGHTER, BATMAN FAMILY #9 – This is one where a planned story element just didn’t work and over time it was forgotten and dispensed with. In the pages of BATMAN FAMILY, writer Bob Rozakis (paired in this instance with artist Irv Novick) introduced a new running antagonist for Robin: the Joker’s Daughter, She appeared in a couple stories, then began taking on a succession of other identities: Catwoman’s Daughter, the Penguin’s Daughter, the Scarecrow’s Daughter, etc. It turned out that she was really the daughter of Two-Face, who was trying to prove her skills to Robin so that he would sponsor her for membership in the Teen Titans, so that she could atone for her father’s career of crime. The problem here, of course, is that Robin was already Batman’s sidekick when Two-Face was scarred and turned to a life of crime. And if he’d had an infant daughter at that time, she couldn’t be as old as Duela Dent is in these stories. Despite that, the Joker’s Daughter continued as a character in TEEN TITANS, eventually adopting a new, similar identity as the Harlequin before the series ended. Years later, Marv Wolfman and George Perez would bring her back for a single panel in their NEW TEEN TITANS run in order to point out that her origin as presented made no sense–but they didn’t try to solve the temporal conundrum themselves.
MAL DUNCAN IS THE HORNBLOWER, NO HE’S NOT, TEEN TITANS #49 – Speaking of the Teen Titans, no character on that team went through more insane gyrations during the title’s short 1970s revival than Mal Duncan. This was primarily due to changes in writer and editor, as each successive incumbent had their own idea as to what to do with the African-American Titan. In the first issue of the book’s revival, Mal uses an exo-skeleton from an old story and the costume of the Newsboy Legion’s Guardian to become the Guardian himself. This was intended to be the status quo, but incoming editor Julie Schwartz didn’t like giving Mal the identity of another hero. Instead, he and writer Bob Rozakis gifted him with the horn of Gabriel, which would make him the equal of whomever he fought–but if he lost a single fight, he would lose his life. This didn’t do much of Mal’s super hero profile, so in this issue he was given the costumed identity of the Hornblower, attired in a costume suggested by a fan that is one of the ugliest things to see print in that decade–and that’s saying something. It was so ugly, in fact, that by the end of this issue, Mal goes back to his Guardian uniform, and conceals from his teammates that the horn has been stolen. It would never be recovered, as the book only lasted four more issues, so we can be thankful for small mercies. But I have no idea why Rozakis and Schwartz bothered, unless somebody (new publisher Jenette Kahn maybe) saw the suit and thought it looked lousy and asked for a change? This shift occurs in teh final three panels of the story, so it sure seems like a last-minute add-on. Art on this issue was by Jose Delbo.