Destroyed by a retcon? We’ve all been there. A retcon occurs when writers of a comic, movie, or other piece of established media change the entire story either with a single piece of information or an entire re-imagining of the story. Whether it was Ms. Marvel giving birth to her own husband or Hawkeye becoming a god, superhero retcons have been wreaking havoc among fans for decades.
“Why mess with a great story?” we simultaneously demand while some new writer or other rubs palms together before issuing a macabre “Muhahahaha!” as the lives of our favorite heroes are twisted beyond repair, sometimes to the point of elimination. It’s not uncommon to run into a comic fan still tightly clutching a grudge against a retcon completed years ago. If you need proof, just skip to number five below and feel the monstrous rage come on.
Some retcons may be quite benign, and it’s those that bring forth an eye-roll at most. Peter Parker revealed as his own clone in the ’90s, for example, wasn’t as big a deal a few years later once things returned to normal at Marvel, if there is a normal. Many “light” retcons are forgettable and forgivable, but others are strong enough to rip out your heart and shove it up your… well.
From Spidey’s relationships to Wolverine’s origins as a wolf-human hybrid, here are 15 Marvel Retcons That Destroyed Your Soul.
15. Marvel Heroes Are All Reborn
During the Marvel Heroes Reborn crossover in 1996–1997, The Avengers, Fantastic Four, Captain America, and Iron Man all faced new stories, overwhelming audiences with change. Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld took the reigns for a while and wrote that after the heroes died, they were able to be reborn into a pocket universe, unbeknownst to their previous deaths. This alone isn’t terrible, but the original writers took pretty extreme creative liberties in “updating” all the heroes’ stories to be more modern in an attempt to snag younger readers.
An outpouring of disbelief and horror came from the entire Marvel team when they found out about the changes and the fact that their characters would be moved to another universe. While many fans also expressed outrage over the decision, the tactic did seem to work as sales soared. Still, this universe did not last, and most are happy to keep it that way.
14. Spider-Man As A Spider God
While the Spider-Man Clone Saga was terrible (and over-cloned) enough, Peter’s retcon in Spider-Man: The Other is pretty unbelievable. Instead of the lovable geek we all know and love who was accidentally bitten by a radioactive spider, J. Michael Straczynski’s retcon depicts Parker as the chosen one of a spider god. This may have aligned more with his biologically formed webs of the Marvel Cinematic Universe rather than the traditional mechanical shooters of the comics, but otherwise it made absolutely no sense.
The totemic god then influenced Parker’s actions, gave him the ability to communicate with arthropods, plus extra, new powers like a poisonous bite and wrist stingers (that were never mentioned again following this weird story) and actually allowed him to form a cocoon when he was mortally wounded. This entire retcon was so bad that writers ensured that Brand New Day made everyone involved forget about it. Unfortunately, readers cannot.
13. Daredevil’s Karen Page Becomes A Prostitute And Gets AIDS
It’s one of the worst things that Marvel has done to a superhero girlfriend. No, she wasn’t left in a refrigerator, but Karen Page was such a steady character in the Daredevil comics that wiping her out this way only added insult to great injury. Page stood by Matt Murdock for decades as his on-again, off-again love interest, even working beside him to fight crime, and although she balked when she discovered his superhero status, she remained his great love through many years.
To be fair, the writers didn’t really give Page AIDS; it was a trick that Mysterio played on her. Even so, she returned to New York to inform Matt, who completely freaked out on her. Karen later died at the hands of Bullseye, leaving Murdock so depressed that he contemplated killing himself. Even in alternate reality versions of the story the two never find happiness together, prompting longtime fans to ponder over her fate in the Netflix Daredevil series.
12. Wolverine As a Lupine Instead of a Mutant
Marvel has several wolfish heroes that just look cool. From Wolfsbane to Feral to even Thornn (all who’ve had some pretty serious retcons of their own, with Wolfsbane stalking Sam Guthrie and Feral murdering her family members as a child!), it could almost seem like mutant werewolves run amok in the Marvel multiverse. At one point, Wolverine’s history took a turn into Wolfsville as well when the writers opted to retcon him into a Lupine, a human-wolf hybrid evolved over time rather than a mutant.
Wolverine has had plenty of weird retcons anyway, from his James Howlett backstory to his random healing power introduction (when first introduced in 1971’s Incredible Hulk #181, Logan didn’t have the power) to several contradicting stories about whom he knew when and where in time. He’s also not the first mutant to have his powers explained away by non-mutant means; Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, for example, found out that they were experiments rather than mutants.
11. Gwen Stacy Has Kids With Norman Osborn
Norman Osborn is one of Spider-Man’s most well-known nemeses, and for good reason: he’s the most memorable and oft-used version of the Green Goblin, and it was because of him that Peter’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy met her death in The Amazing Spider-Man’s 1973 comic, “The Night Gwen Stacy Died.” He’s also the father of Stacy’s twins.
In a horrible retcon that broke so many hearts, Marvel tainted Stacy’s beloved history by writing her unfaithful night with Osborn, who took the twins to raise as his own after ensuring Stacy’s death. One of the twins, Gabriel, even grew to side with his father despite the murder of his mother, using the Goblin formula on himself. Poor Gwen, poor Peter, poor everyone…
10. Azazel Fathering Nightcrawler
Poor Nightcrawler. He may not be a saint (in fact, he’s had some pretty demonic moments), but when people cursed at him, feared him and wanted him dead, at least he knew deep down inside that he was not the demon they said he was. His retcon revealed that the joke was on him and all of us, as Azazel the demon is his real father, making him half-demon as a result.
When Mystique had an affair with Azazel, she seemed to be in love, and while it was later revealed that Azazel never cared for another person as he did for her, her pregnancy was really part of his plot to impregnate a bunch of women on Earth in order to escape his own dimension. This retcon pretty much made Kurt Wagner a self-fulfilled prophecy.
9. Scarlet Witch’s Non-Existent(?) Kids
Scarlet Witch has had so many messed up moments in her life that it’s hard to keep track of the retcons involved. From sleeping with her brother to destroying mutantkind, well, let’s just say that she took the road less traveled by. One of her strangest retcons was even retconned itself.
When Scarlet Witch and The Vision were married (yeah… that happened), they believed that they were able to have children because of her magic powers, but much later it was revealed that their kids were, in fact, a figment of Wanda’s imagination! Imagine how devastating it would be to believe you’d had twin boys only to discover that they were all in your head.
In The Children’s Crusade, Wiccan and Speed, the hero aliases of her twins, find her and explain that they are the reincarnations of her children, who were actually pieces of Mephisto the demon. It just doesn’t get any weirder than this.
8. Cyclops’s Other Brother, Vulcan
Cyclops has a bit of a reputation as a stuffy, boring character. When he’s good, he’s usually a straight arrow, following the orders of Professor Xavier and running as tight of a ship as possible. When he’s bad, however… well, he’s been interesting. Cyclops is also more interesting because of his brother Havok, who isn’t nearly as rule abiding as his brother, but did you know that he has another brother called Vulcan?
Appearing in X-Men: Deadly Genesis #1, Vulcan is the youngest of the three brothers and seems a lot like Sam and Dean’s younger brother Adam from Supernatural: he is forgotten by everyone except for the evil guy (in this case, Mister Sinister), he was lost during a mission to save others (after which Charles Xavier brainwashed everyone so they’d forget about him!) and he ended up doing something totally different– flying off into space to become the Emperor of the Shi’ar.
See, it’s not bad enough that his life pretty much sucks and Xavier made it worse; he’s also half-alien, the product of the rape of his mother by another Shi’ar Emperor. At least his original story “Adam X the X-Treme”, which included a day-glow ’90s look with a backwards baseball cap, was scrapped.
7. Iron Man’s Teen Years
It was kind of ridiculous for fans to lose their minds over a Black teen girl genius becoming Iron Man last summer when we’ve already witnessed a teen Iron Man. They may not remember Tony Stark: Iron Teenager, but those of us who do can’t help but groan. Basically Immortus turned Iron Man evil, and we’re not just talking playboy billionaire evil, either.
To remedy the situation, the Avengers go back in time to get a teen version of Tony to take over and stop himself. Teen Tony suffers a heart injury that requires he, too, must obtain a chest plate, which pretty much retcons his entire backstory. Most fans considered it a much weaker version of how Tony got his powers, too.
6. The Phoenix Saga Keeps Going And Going And…
The true title of The Phoenix Saga should be known as “The Phoenix Saga: When Jean was Phoenix, Then Dead, Then Not Either!” Between Jean’s sacrifice (one of many), Cyclops marrying her clone, the Phoenix Force emerging to gobble up an entire galaxy and then Jean sacrificing herself yet again to atone for her sins as the Phoenix, there’s no wonder why the story’s likely to appear on screen yet again.
Indeed, it’s already been (poorly) covered in the first three X-Men movies, but the events in Age of Apocalypse give us hope of a better take on the story. Of course, then the Phoenix couldn’t stay dead, giving us everyone from Teen Jean to the White Phoenix of the Crown. It honestly makes sense to have so many resurrections by a character who is, after all, the Phoenix (except when she isn’t!), but it seems like every time Jena does come back it drives fans bonkers.
The Phoenix Saga is so controversial yet beloved among fans that it’s even referenced in Netflix’s Stranger Things, when Lucas bets Dustin for his X-Men issue #134.
5. Spidey Gives Up MJ
Spider-Man’s Deal with Mephisto in the One More Day crossover is one that leaves a bad taste in readers’ mouths for several reasons. It deals with Spidey making a deal with Mephisto to save Aunt May’s life in exchange for his life with Mary Jane.
J. Michael Straczynski and Joe Quesada came up with the story of Spidey and MJ agreeing to dissolve their marriage in order to save Aunt May because they felt that Parker should be free to run in another direction and be young again without the cumbersome addition of, oh, a wife, no matter how beloved she was to fans.
Not only is it absolutely ridiculous that the demon would value their marriage as the “one thing in the universe that is truly greater than the sum of its parts and tastier than any soul he could devour,” but it was also a decision that May herself would have never approved of, and one that cost the Parkers their daughter. Sure, she was a future daughter, but robbing themselves of a life together with her for a person who’d already lived a long life, who would’ve wanted them to live on and be happy, seemed extra injurious to everyone in the comic.
4. The Age of Apocalypse Changes Everything
X-Men: Age of Apocalypse. Everything about this twisted world is topsy-turvy, from Rogue hooking up with Magneto and having a son (whom she can’t touch, despite being his mother… figure that one out) to Cyclops and Havok working for Mister Sinister. We are supposed to believe that Professor X dying to save Magneto’s life triggered this arc, but does anyone really believe that would happen?
Everyone freezing and shattering was terrible enough. Remember the frame at the end of each series’ comic where everyone looked crystallized and the text basically read, “Sike! None of this EVER happened!” What followed was just chaos. Some fans even left the series because everything, and everyone, they knew and loved were gone just like that.
3. Black Widow’s Betrayal
Despite her history as a Russian spy with original anti-American sentiment as her backstory, Natasha Romanova quickly became the favorite Avenger of many fans, cueing even more rage than normal when Marvel revealed her as a murderous traitor in the Avengers The Ultimates series on Earth-1610. Given that her traitorous activities led to a Black Ops team slaughtering Hawkeye’s family, many deemed her unforgivable, despite the fact that heroes are often thrust into villainous roles during a retcon. Although the murder of Natasha in return at Clint’s hand was brutal, plenty of readers found themselves torn between anger with and empathy for Hawkeye.
Of course, The Ultimates wasn’t just about the destruction of Hawkeye’s family, nor the almost-suicidal maniac he became after losing them. Mark Millar took us down some dark alleyways between the Hulk’s murderous rampage by mixing his blood with the super soldier serum, torturing of Wasp, and his ingestion of an alien leader. There’s so much killing in general going on in The Ultimates that Black Widow teaming up with Loki might not even be that big of a deal without the devastating loss of Hawkeye’s family.
2. Black Cat’s Date Rape
Adding traumatic violence to an already-established character’s backstory is typically met with disdain by many fans. It is often considered a lazy way to add drama and depth to a character, especially when said violence is sexual assault. From Game of Thrones to Spider-Man, the tactic is all too often used in the fantasy and sci-fi world.
When Kevin Smith did this to the Black Cat’s story in the six-issue series The Evil That Men Do, most people were outraged. There was absolutely no reason to add this rape to Felicia Hardy’s history, particularly when Smith already wrote her as experiencing a near rape in the third issue of the series.
Depicting violinist Garrison Klum cutting off her costume after he drugged her and inserting him in the majority of the panels involved also put the reader’s attention on Klum rather than Hardy, another awful tactic that writers who create rape scenes often employ. Rather than focusing on the person being attacked and his or her experience, that person is treated as an object being used by the focal character instead. This story was just terrible from every angle.
1. Cap Hailing Hydra
One of the most recent retcons in Marvel history still has fans in such an uproar that they are even threatening to boycott not only the comics, but the Marvel Cinematic Universe films themselves. Captain America’s latest reveal, that he is not only a recent agent of Hydra but always an agent of the Nazi organization, absolutely destroys the clean, All-American hero image that Steve Rogers has had for decades.
It has also happened during a time in history when Neo-Nazi sympathizers are more vocal than ever following one of the most racially-charged elections in United States history, which only serves as more fuel to the fan outrage.
To taint Cap’s entire existence with this history, no matter how Marvel attempts to soothe fans with a “Just wait and see!” assurance, is one of the most soul-destroying things the Powers That Be have ever done in their history.
Which is your least favorite Marvel retcon? Let us know in the comments!