Let's Do The Retcon Again1 of 12
Writer Mark Waid is about to tell the entire history of the Marvel Universe in just six issues. How exactly this will shape up is unknown, but presumably the series will define the publisher’s floating “ten year” timeline, sanding over some inconvenient bits and tuning things up for the modern era.
Though Marvel hasn't ever done a full-on reboot of its central timeline, the publisher has done enough acrobatics and adjustments that the Marvel saga isn't exactly an unbroken line.
With that in mind, we're looking back at ten times Marvel re-wrote its own history.
Angela/10th Realm2 of 12
When writer Neil Gaiman won his lawsuit for control of Angela, a character primarily associated with Image Comics' Spawn but whom Gaiman co-created, he then sold the character to Marvel Comics, who quickly incorporated her into the Marvel Universe.
But bringing Angela in fully-formed took some finagling - and involved tying her history directly to Marvel's Asgard and Thor.
In her updated incarnation, Angela is Aldrif, the daughter of Odin and Freyja who was seemingly killed as a child before being secreted away to Heven, a previously unknown Tenth Realm in the Asgardian cosmology which remained hidden for eons.
In Heven, Angela served as an "angel" (similar to the guardian spirits of modern religious folklore), until a confrontation with Thor and Loki led to her permanently leaving Heven behind - and joining the Guardians of the Galaxy.
The Grey Goblin3 of 12
Almost everyone knows the story of Spider-Man and Gwen Stacy. Gwen, the girlfriend of Spider-Man’s alter ego Peter Park, was kidnapped by the Green Goblin to threaten Spidey. Norman Osborn took Gwen to the George Washington Bridge, holding her hostage in a confrontation that resulted in her death.
And until the early 2000s, that was Gwen’s story – another casualty of Spider-Man’s superhero career. That is, until writer J. Michael Strazcynski went back in time and revealed that Gwen had carried on a sexual relationship with Osborn before her death, even resulting the birth of twin babies who were secretly raised in Europe, where they rapidly aged to adulthood thanks to Osborn’s enhanced genetics.
Eventually the pair, Sarah and Gabriel, returned to the U.S. to seek Peter Parker, who Osborn told them was their father, with Gabriel eventually becoming the villainous Grey Goblin.
Unlike many of the entries on this list, while definitely a retcon, this story has almost never been referenced since, with most fans and writers preferring to leave this secret history a secret.
Tony Stark is Adopted4 of 12
"Tony Stark" is almost more recognizable as a name than "Iron Man" these days - so what happens when it turns out the "Stark" part isn't exactly correct?
That's what happened in Kieron Gillen's Iron Man run, in which it was revealed that Tony Stark is in fact adopted - not the biological child of Howard and Maria Stark as he always believed.
Instead, as revealed later by writer Brian Michael Bendis, Tony's real parents were a Hydra agent and a famous British radio DJ who had Tony out of wedlock - just before his Hydra agent dad revealed his true colors and betrayed Tony's birth mom.
Tony was later adopted by Howard and Maria, whose biological son Arno was revealed to be alive, confined to a hospital bed.
Original Five X-Men5 of 12
Following the fracturing of the X-Men in the wake of Avengers Vs. X-Men, Cyclops and his team of fugitive mutants went on the run. Hoping to appeal to his old friend and reunite the team, Beast went back in time and brought forward the younger teenage versions of himself, Cyclops, and the rest of the original X-Men.
Beast’s plan wasn’t exactly clear, but the holes in it became readily apparent as the teen X-Men became stranded in the present – and quickly started undergoing radical, timeline altering changes. Angel had his feathered wings replaced by flaming ones, Cyclops met his dad, Jean Grey encountered the Phoenix, Beast learned magic, and Iceman came out as gay.
The young X-Men recently returned to the past – though doing so required some time travel legwork from a teenage Cable, and resulted in the memories the young X-Men made while in the present being erased.
However, some psychic manipulation from Jean Grey allowed those memories to be restored to the original five as adults, closing the time loop and restoring Marvel’s classic X-Men history.
Jean Grey's Return6 of 12
It may seem only sensible that Jean Grey would return to life after her death in the climax of the “Dark Phoenix Saga” – after all, what does a phoenix do but rise from the ashes?
Strangely though, this wasn’t always the plan for Jean Grey. Uncanny X-Men writer Chris Claremont intended Jean to stay dead after she burned out as Dark Phoenix, even going so far as having Jean’s paramour Scott Summers leave the X-Men and marry Jean’s clone (the X-Men were never not complicated).
But Claremont’s co-creator, John Byrne, who was writing and drawing Fantastic Four at the time, had the FF discover Jean alive in hibernation in a cocoon at the bottom of the Hudson Bay – a way to bring her back and reunite the original X-Men for the spin-off title X-Factor.
Since then, Jean has died and come back again, while her younger counterpart also encountered the Phoenix Force while in the future (which we covered elsewhere on this list).
Wolverine's Origin7 of 12
It would almost be easier to explain the parts of Wolverine's history that haven't been written, re-written, retconned, and retold - at this point, his whole past gets kinda contradictory - and that's partially by design.
For years, part of Wolverine's character was the mystery surrounding his long and storied past, with new, sometimes surprising revelations about his history coming to light all the time.
But in the early 00s, Marvel decided to take the bits of Wolverine's established past they liked - the Weapon X program, his World War II history, his time in Japan - and redefine the other elements of his life in a more cohesive way.
The result was Wolverine: Origins, which established Wolverine's true identity as James Howlett (not Logan), the child of wealthy landowners (well, the landowner's wife and their groundskeeper) who fled into the Canadian wilderness after developing his powers.
The revelations of Origins have stuck, though Wolverine often finds ways to build new mysteries around himself - like the one that unfolded around his recent resurrection.
Clone Saga8 of 12
Peter Parker’s life has been fraught with lies, secrets, and hidden truths – and one of the biggest is the true story of his clone.
Back in the 1970s, Professor Miles Warren, one of Peter’s college teachers, became obsessed with cloning Spider-Man, even succeeding in pitting his clone against Peter Parker in a seeming fight to the death, leaving Peter victorious and the clone having died in the fight.
But the infamous 1990s “Clone Saga” twisted the story – it supposed that the Peter Parker whose adventures fans followed since the original clone fight was in fact the clone, the genuine article seemingly having died with the clone taking his place. The original Peter, now calling himself Ben Reilly, returned with the plan to take his rightful place as Spider-Man.
From here, things just get more and more complicated, with multiple clones, threads, twists, turns, and revelations coming to the surface over the ever-expanding (and seemingly unending) Clone Saga.
In the end, the one true Peter Parker won out, with the guy we all knew being vindicated as the genuine article when Ben Reilly’s body disintegrated.
As for Miles Warren, he’s returned time and again as the cloning-obsessed Jackal, even cloning almost everyone from Peter’s life in 2016’s Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy - which permanently returned both Doctor Octopus and Ben Reilly to life.
Avengers #49 of 12
One of Marvel’s earliest retcons is also one of its most well-known stories – the discovery of Captain America frozen in ice by the Avengers in 1964’s Avengers #4.
Though the story is known – Captain America and his partner Bucky (more on him later) died after falling in the ocean while disarming an experimental rocket – its actual ramifications are a little less widely understood.
In bringing Captain America back and putting him among the Avengers, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby erased decades of Captain America post-WWII stories from the late 40s and 50s that no longer fit into the hero’s new timeline – and effectively enacted Marvel’s first major retcon.
Later writers re-added the Captain America post-WWII tales that no longer fit back into continuity, though these adventures were later explained as having featured other people besides Steve Rogers acting as Captain America, some of whom even played other roles in later stories.
Winter Soldier10 of 12
Remember Bucky, Captain America’s sidekick who as we mentioned before seemingly died with Cap at the end of World War II? Well much like with Steve Rogers himself, things didn’t actually go down quite like that.
See, after Bucky fell in the ocean, he too was found much worse for wear and brought back, rebuilt and trained to be an assassin by the Soviet government – a secret life he lived for decades until Steve Rogers discovered and helped deprogram him.
Since reforming, Bucky has operated as a hero, and even went on to fill in for Steve as Captain America when Steve was presumed dead (again) following Marvel’s original Civil War.
One More Day11 of 12
2007’s One More Day is likely one of the first examples many fans will call to mind when thinking of Marvel “destroying” its universe – the controversial story still draws ire from longtime Spider-Man fans for its handling of the end of Peter Parker’s relationship to Mary Jane.
Owing partially to the perception that Spider-Man’s stories had become limited by his marriage with Mary Jane, Marvel Comics tapped writer J. Michael Straczynski to pen a story in which Peter and Mary Jane trade their marriage to Mephisto to save the life of Aunt May. As a result, Marvel’s timeline was altered so that Peter and MJ were not only no longer married, their marriage never happened.
The ripple effects of the erasure of their marriage were widespread – Peter Parker’s true identity was made secret again, Harry Osborn was brought back to life, and numerous other changes cropped up for years following the tale.
Hardcore Pete/MJ fans who have held out hope for a retcon of the retcon are currently getting their wish (partially) as the most recent volume of Amazing Spider-Man has brought the pair back together - not married, but closer than they've been in some time.
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