Comic Book Dictionary is an occasional feature where I either introduce a term or explain how I use a term that is not always consistently applied.
Today we look at “retcon.”
Retcon comes from a combination of the words “retroactive” and “continuity.” It was initially used to just apply to ANY retroactive change to continuity. To wit, Superman being raised by Ma and Pa Kent was a retcon under this usage. It was something that was not part of Superman’s past (or “continuity”) when he was introduced but it was retroactively added.
My issue with this usage is that obviously, as you might imagine, pretty much ANYthing you do with a character’s past outside of their very first appearance is a retcon by this usage. It makes the term so common that it’s almost useless as a term.
An alternate meaning for the term, then, has developed over the years that suggests that it is instead retroactive continuity that specifically contradicts established continuity. No one ever said Superman was NOT raised by Ma and Pa Kent. No one ever said Spider-Man’s parents were anything, so it didn’t contradict continuity to reveal that they were spies. However, it WAS established that the early Spider-Man villain the Tinkerer was secretly an alien. Until it was later revealed that he was NOT an alien.
Those examples are a good deal more rare and it is THAT definition that I subscribe to.
So here at Comics Should Be Good, if you see me ever mention the term “retcon,” know that I mean “retroactive continuity that specifically contradicts past established history.” So not ADDED history but added history that specifically supersedes prior history.