One of the most common tricks for a comic book writer when taking over a title is to reveal that “Everything that you thought you knew is a lie!” The easiest way to do that is to reveal that the superhero’s origin isn’t what it originally appeared to be.
As comic book companies age, however, there are often continuity reboots and when those reboots happen, a lot of times the basic origins of the heroes stay the same (Abin Sur is likely always going to crash land on Earth and give Hal Jordan the Green Lantern ring), but seemingly just as many times, the origins are re-invented. Some a lot more often than others. Here, then, are the superheroes who have seen their origins retconned the most times. With their two line-wide reboots so far, expect to see a lot of DC Comics characters on this list!
15. SPIDER-MAN (3 RETCONS)
The original Stan Lee and Steve Ditko origin for Spider-Man had Peter Parker attend an exhibition on radiation where a spider was accidentally irradiated and then bit Peter Parker, giving him super-powers. After first using the name and costume of Spider-Man to become a TV personality, Peter becomes a hero when a criminal he allowed to get away (because it wasn’t his “responsibility”) then killed Peter’s beloved Uncle Ben.
John Byrne famously retconned this origin in the miniseries “Chapter One,” where the exhibition was now given by Doctor Otto Octavius. There is an explosion and Octavius becomes Doctor Octopus while Peter gets his spider powers. The burglar this time around sees Spider-Man exiting the Parker house and actually robs the house (and kills Uncle Ben) to impress what he thinks is another criminal. This retcon was just ignored.
J. Michael Straczynski revealed that the spider that bit Peter was actually, in effect, a magic spider, and that it transfered its power to Peter before it died. Dan Slott later revealed that the spider also bit another student at the exhibition, Cindy Moon, who became the hero known as Silk.
14. SWAMP THING (3 RETCONS)
Alex Olsen was a scientist whose partner betrayed him and tried to kill him in a lab explosion. Instead, the chemicals in the explosion turned Olsen into a monstrous swamp creature. He avenged himself and killed his former partner (managing to save his wife at the same time).
When Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson first invented the Swamp Thing in “House of Mystery” #92, they were not considering he’d be an ongoing character. However, the story went over so well that they were asked to give the Swamp Thing his own series and make him a hero. They revamped the origin, renamed the scientist Alec Holland and when he was revived as a swamp creature, he could now talk (which he couldn’t in the original story).
Years later, Alan Moore shocked the world by revealing that Alec Holland did die that day in the explosion and that instead of a man becoming part of the swamp, the chemicals animated the swamp to believe that it was a man.
After years of having Swamp Thing cut off from the rest of the DC Universe, Swamp Thing was reintegrated and now Alec Holland once again was transformed into Swamp Thing, while still keeping all of the events that happened to Swamp Thing in the Moore series.
13. POWER GIRL (3 RETCONS)
When she was first introduced in “All Star Comics” #58 in 1975, Power Girl was a sort of a riff on the idea of Supergirl. She was, in effect, the Earth-2 Supergirl, as she was the Earth-2 Superman’s cousin from Krypton, although she reached Earth at a more advanced age than her Earth-1 counterpart, Kara Zor-El. Power Girl became a valued member of the revamped Justice Society of America.
When the “Crisis on Infinite Earths” happened, Power Girl became a bit of a problem. Not only was there no longer an Earth-2, but also there was no longer a Supergirl of any kind! So DC quickly came up with the idea of having Power Girl just think that she was Superman’s cousin, but actually was part of the history of Atlantis (yes, Atlantis. And yes, we know that makes no sense.). Once DC brought back the Multiverse, Power Girl was revealed to once again be from Earth-2.
In the “New 52,” Earth-2 was drastically revamped, and now Power Girl was again the Earth-2 Supergirl. When she and Robin (Helena Wayne, daughter of Batman and Catwoman) ended up on Earth-1 after an attack on Earth-2 by Darkseid, Kara took the name Power Girl and Helena took the name Huntress.
12. CAPTAIN MARVEL/SHAZAM (3 RETCONS)
Young orphan Billy Batson was led into a mysterious subway tunnel where he ultimately met the wizard Shazam, who blessed Billy with the ability to transform into the mighty Captain Marvel by shouting the magic word, “Shazam!” Each of the letters in Shazam connect to a god or demigod who gave Captain Marvel part of his powers).
Captain Marvel’s adventures occurred on Earth-S. Following “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” however, there were no more alternate Earths, so Roy Thomas came up with a new origin that would place him firmly within the DC continuity. Thomas’ new origin included the clever idea that Billy Batson maintained control of the Captain Marvel persona (in the past, they were two distinct people). This allowed Captain Marvel to maintain his old-school innocence.
Jerry Ordway then revamped the origin again in “Power of Shazam!” which basically brought it back to the original Fawcett origins, only with some slight twists.
In the “New 52,” Geoff Johns and Gary Frank re-did the story, with Billy Batson now being a bit of a brat who lives with a bunch of other kids in a foster home. He convinced the dying wizard to give him the power of Shazam (he’s now called Shazam instead of Captain Marvel) and he ends up sharing his power with his foster siblings, making them the Marvel Family.
11. IRON MAN (3 RETCONS)
Tony Stark was a rich industrialist who made weapons for the United States government. During the Vietnam War, he was caught in an explosive trap and then taken captive by a Vietnamese general. Stark was near death, as there was shrapnel in his body slowly working its way to his heart. The general, Wong-Chu, told Tony that they would operate on him and save his life if Stark built him a great weapon. Stark agreed, but secretly built a chest plate that would keep his heart beating as part of a powerful suit of armor that allowed him to escape.
John Byrne later updated the origin to make it no longer directly tied to the Vietnam War, and now Wong-Chu was just a warlord in Southeast Asia working for the Mandarian. Otherwise, the same basic origin took place.
During the “Extremis” storyline, the events now took place in Afghanistan and it was now the Taliban who took Stark and Ho Yinsen captive. Besides that, the same basic origin applied.
10. BLACK CANARY (4 RETCONS)
Originally, the Black Canary was a florist named Dinah Drake who decided to become a vigilante. (EDITED TO ADD: Reader Tom S. noted that since she was introduced as a charming villain, her first retcon was that she was secretly a good guy undercover as a bad guy. We’ll take it). She fought alongside the Justice Society of America. When the Silver Age came about, Black Canary was now Dinah Lance, having married her detective beau, Larry Lance. After Larry’s death, she left her world of Earth-2 to go live on the Justice League’s world, Earth-1, where she became involved with Green Arrow.
Eventually, a retcon revealed that the current Black Canary was actually the daughter of the original Black Canary, who had been placed in suspended animation for years. The original Black Canary’s mind was accidentally transferred into her daughter’s body.
After “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” it was now a more simplified case where there were two Black Canaries. The original Dinah Drake Lance, and the current one, Dinah Lance, who grew up with her mother’s friends in the Justice Society of America and was trained to become a hero from a young age.
In the “New 52,” Dinah Drake was now born to a single mother who put her into foster care. Dinah got out of foster care by working at a dojo for a mysterious former Special Forces operative. Her martial arts skills got her drafted into the elite team of government operatives known as Team 7. There, Dinah met Kurt Lance, who became her husband before he was seemingly killed.
9. SUPERGIRL (4 RETCONS)
We’re only talking the Post-Crisis Kara Zor-El here, as otherwise, that’d be way too many Supergirls. In any event, Supergirl first showed up on Earth with the same basic origin of the original Pre-Crisis Supergirl. Then, at the end of the first story arc on “Supergirl,” writer Jeph Loeb threw in a shocking twist: she was actually sent to Earth specifically to kill baby Kal-El! Later writer Joe Kelly revealed that she had been sent to protect Earth from “phantoms” that could possess Kryptonians. Kelly revealed that Kara had actually killed her own mother who was possessed by a phantom.
This was then revealed to not be the case. In fact, her parents sent her specifically to take care of her younger cousin (this is basically the set-up for the current “Supergirl” TV series). Later, it was revealed that her mother had never been killed. In fact, her parents were alive still.
Then the New 52 occurred, and Supergirl returned to basically her Pre-Crisis set-up, which is that she was not sent here for any particular purpose, something that she had to take a long time getting used to (as she was, by nature, directionless).
8. GREEN ARROW (4 RETCONS)
The first origin for Green Arrow was bizarre, one of the worst origins ever. It involved Oliver Queen being a famous archaeologist who teamed up with an orphan to stop some bad guys from robbing one of his digs. After defeating the bad guys, they decided to become Green Arrow and Speedy.
Jack Kirby later came up with the most famous origin, having Oliver Queen be a playboy who accidentally fell off of a boat and washed up on an island, where he had to teach himself archery. When rescued, he became Green Arrow.
“Green Arrow: Year One” changed it so that Oliver was shot by his best friend, who was embezzling from Queen Industries. The island he washed up on was an island controlled by the drug lord, China White. Oliver stopped her heroin operation and decided to become the Green Arrow.
The New 52 had Oliver being a playboy who had a party on an oil rig when pirates attacked. Oliver tried to stop them, but instead blew up the oil rig, seemingly killing his best friend, Tommy Merlyn. He washed up on an island with a bow and arrow and taught himself to become an expert marksman. This was later retconned again to reveal that Oliver’s own father, Robert Queen, was behind everything as a way to prepare Oliver to become part of a secret society (built around “sacred” weapons) known as the Outsiders.
7. STAR-LORD (5 RETCONS)
Originally, Star-Lord’s stories were set in the future. He was also born on a very special astrological date. After his mother was killed by some rogue aliens, Quill devoted his life to becoming an astronaut. He encountered the Master of the Sun, at which point he became the Star-Lord, complete with a special gun.
Later on, Chris Claremont and John Byrne revealed that the reason Quill’s mother was killed by aliens was because his father was an alien and that Quill was actually the heir to the throne of an entire alien planet! Doug Moench then added a bizarre retcon where it was revealed that the Master of the Sun was secretly one of the aliens who had killed Quill’s mother!
Keith Giffen then retconned the whole “set in the future” aspect of Star-Lord’s origin and brought him squarely into the Marvel Universe (Giffen also seemed to implicitly retcon the whole “half-alien” part of his origin). Brian Michael Bendis then retconned the origins so that Star-Lord never met the Master of the Sun and the special gun was just a gift from his alien father. This Peter Quill became an interstellar hero on his own.
Most recently, Sam Humphries roughly combined the origins, with Quill still an astronaut, only now he stole a ship and ended up encountering space pirates (like the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie) who introduced him into the world of space adventure.
6. SCARLET WITCH (5 RETCONS)
When introduced as villainous members of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and then later as heroic members of the Avengers, a mystery surrounded Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, namely “Who were their parents?” They eventually appeared to learn the answer when the Golden Age hero known as the Whizzer met the Avengers and let them know that he was their father and that their mother was the Golden Age hero known as Miss America (their mother died in childbirth).
Soon after, Scarlet Witch learned that she had been altered at birth by the demon Chthon to make it so that she could use magic as well as her mutant abilities. That’s why her powers had been so weird over the years. At the same time, though, they learned that Whizzer and Miss America were not their parents. They eventually learned that Magneto was their father.
Recently, they discovered that, actually, Magneto was not their father. They were just two normal children that the High Evolutionary had experimented on to give them their powers. Their alleged foster parents were their actual parents. Even more recently, in her ongoing series, the Scarlet Witch learned that her birth mother was actually Natalya Maximoff, and she was the magician known as the Scarlet Witch before her daughter!
5. WONDER WOMAN (5 RETCONS)
In Wonder Woman’s debut origins, the goddess Aphrodite was behind the creation of the Amazons, as Aphrodite created them in response to her brother, Ares. Ares then sent Hercules to conquer the Amazons. He succeeded, but Aphrodite freed them and they escaped to their mysterious Paradise Island. There, Aphrodite gave life to a statue that Queen Hippolyta had made which would become Princess Diana, who eventually became Wonder Woman as an ambassador to “Man’s World” after a World War II soldier, Steve Trevor, crashed on Paradise Island.
Briefly, during the Silver Age, Diana was a naturally born baby whose father was killed at war and then the gods just blessed her with powers as a tribute to her. After “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” Wonder Woman’s origins were altered once more, with her being made out of clay and sent as an ambassador of peace in present day (and thus had no longer been around the DC Universe for years, but rather was new to the scene).
In the “New 52,” it was revealed that Wonder Woman was actually one of many children of the powerful god Zeus. Then, during the “Darkseid War,” Wonder Woman learned that she had a brother who she never knew about! Most recently, following “DC Rebirth,” Wonder Woman learns that she is not Zeus’ daughter, but rather that her origins more closely follow her Post-Crisis origins once again.
4. LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES (5 RETCONS)
The Legion of Super-Heroes first showed up in the late 1950s in a “Superboy” story where they test the young hero until he is offered to join their superhero club of the future. The three members who met Superboy that day (Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad and Cosmic Boy) were the founding members of the group, which was formed when they saved the life of one of the richest men in the galaxy, R. J. Brande.
Decades later, they discovered that they had never actually met the “real” Kal-El, but rather the Superboy from an alternate “pocket universe,” who died soon after. However, DC then decided that no, Superboy could not be involved with the Legion at all, so Daxamites Lar-Gand and Laurel Gand took his and Supergirl’s place in the Legion’s history. The time traveling Lar Gand (who was born in “our” present) was now the inspiration for the creation of the Legion.
Following “Zero Hour,” the Legion was completely rebooted, with a brand-new continuity that was still mostly based on the original origins of the group. After about a decade, it was rebooted one more time, with the team having new origins.
Finally, following “Infinite Crisis,” the original Legion were written back into continuity and it was revealed that the alternate Legions were actually the Legions of alternate Earths in the Multiverse.
3. HAWKMAN (5 RETCONS)
The Golden Age Hawkman was an archaeologist named Carter Hall who discovered an ancient metal tied to a past life of his. He used the special metal to create wings that could fly. During the Silver Age, a brand-new Hawkman showed up that was an alien cop named Katar Hol, who was sent from his planet Thanagar to fight crime on Earth.
After “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” Katar Hol’s origin was retold, only now it was set in modern times, with all of Katar Hol’s past adventures having been erased (with Carter Hall now retroactively filling in for some of them). Following the end of the “Hawkworld” ongoing series, Katar learned that he was actually half-human. Then, during “Zero Hour,” Katar and Carter merged into the same person, so Katar’s origins were now as one of Carter Hall’s lives.
In the “New 52,” a new Carter Hall is introduced. He is an archaeologist who discovers an alien metal in a crashed space ship. The metal merged with Hall, giving him the ability to power wings. Later on, it was revealed that Carter Hall was actually from the planet Thanagar.
2. SUPERMAN (6 RETCONS)
When Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster initially came up with the origin for Superman, they only briefly thought about his parents on Earth. In addition, in their original take on Superman’s powers, they were due to the fact that Kryptonians were a superior race compared to human beings. For Superman’s tenth anniversary, a new origin was given in “Superman” #53, and now it was gravity that gave Superman his powers on Earth. In 1961, Superman’s origin was told once more, with now Earth’s yellow sun responsible for his powers.
That was the standard origin for over two decades until “Crisis on Infinite Earths.” Following that event, Superman was rebooted by John Byrne. Byrne kept much of the 1961 origin, only now Krypton was a sterile and cold world that actually Superman sent to Earth in a gestation chamber, so he was technically not “born” until he landed on Earth.
In 2004, Mark Waid wrote “Superman: Birthright,” which made Krypton a happier place to live. Waid merged together various takes on Superman’s origins, including the films and even the “Smallville” TV series. Following “Infinite Crisis,” Geoff Johns’ “Superman: Secret Origin” adapted Superman’s origin to more closely resemble the classic Richard Donner film.
1. DONNA TROY (7 RETCONS)
When Wonder Girl debuted, she was literally Wonder Woman as a teenager. Eventually, Wonder Woman shared her comic with her younger self, when Wonder Girl was made a part of the Teen Titans. Wonder Woman and Wonder Girl were then seemingly sisters. Eventually, Marv Wolfman revealed that Wonder Girl was Donna Troy, an orphan taken in by the Amazons following a fire. During “New Teen Titans,” Wolfman then revealed that Donna was part of a baby trafficking ring.
After “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” Donna was instead an orphan that had been raised by the mythological Titans to be a “new” Titan in the future. Later, it was revealed that Donna was actually a magical double of Wonder Woman created when Diana was a child. This allowed Donna to become part of the “Wonder Woman” mythos again, as she was, in effect, a part of the Wonder Woman family now. After “dying,” Donna was temporarily revived and led to believe that she was a moon goddess as part of a plot by the Titans of Myth.
In the “New 52,” Donna was now a double of Diana again. However, during “DC Rebirth,” Wally West told Donna that he remembered her from his past, so she is in the midst of having an origin retcon at the time of this article’s publication.
What was your favorite superhero origin retcon? Let us know in the comments section!
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