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Encyclopedia > Retcon

Retroactive continuity or retcon is the adding of new information to "historical" material, or deliberately changing previously established facts in a work of serial fiction. The change itself is referred to as a "retcon", and the act of writing and publishing a retcon is called "retconning". Retconning can be done either on-purpose, or accidentally, wherein a break in continuity is not noticed until later and is then blessed by later events. Note: This article is about serials in literature and the audio-visual media. ...


Retcons are common in comic books, especially those of large publishing houses such as Marvel Comics and DC Comics, because of the lengthy history of many series and the number of independent authors contributing to their development; this is the context in which the term was coined. Retconning also occurs in soap operas, movie sequels, professional wrestling, video games, radio series, series of novels, and can be done in any other type of episodic fiction. It is also used in roleplaying, when the game master feels it is needed to maintain consistency in the story or to fix significant mistakes that were missed during play. A comic book is a magazine or book containing the art form of comics. ... Marvel Comics is an American comic book line published by Marvel Entertainment, Inc. ... DC Comics is one of the largest American companies in comic book and related media publishing. ... The first TIME cover devoted to soap operas: Dated January 12, 1976, Bill Hayes and Susan Seaforth Hayes of Days of Our Lives are featured with the headline Soap Operas: Sex and suffering in the afternoon. A soap opera is an ongoing, episodic work of fiction, usually broadcast on television... Film is a term that encompasses motion pictures as individual projects, as well as the field in general. ... A sequel is a work of fiction in literature, film, and other creative works that is produced after a completed work, and is set in the same universe but at a later time. ... Professional wrestling is generally any form of performance art in which pro-wrestlers receive payment for participating in a Show. Historically, European and North American professional wrestling have involved matches where the outcome was predetermined. ... It has been suggested that Multiplayer Video Games be merged into this article or section. ... A novel (from French nouvelle Italian novella, new) is an extended, generally fictional narrative in prose. ... A roleplaying game (RPG) is a type of game in which players assume the roles of characters and collaboratively create stories. ... This article refers to the role-playing game term. ...

Contents

Origins

The term "retroactive continuity" was popularized by comic book writer Roy Thomas in his 1980s series All-Star Squadron, which featured the DC Comics superheroes of the 1940s. The earliest known use of the term is from Thomas' letter column in All-Star Squadron #20 (April 1983), where Thomas wrote that he heard it at a convention. The term was shortened to "retcon" by Damian Cugley in 1988 on USENET to describe a development in the comic book Swamp Thing, in which Alan Moore reinterpreted the events of the title character's origin. The term "retcon" was also used by the Birmingham University Treasure Trap society as early as 1987. Roy Thomas (born November 22, 1940, Missouri, United States) is a comic book writer and editor, and Stan Lees first successor as editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics. ... The All-Star Squadron was an American comic book (1981-1987) created by Roy Thomas and published by DC Comics about the adventures of a large team of superheroes which comprised of most of the feature characters owned by the company that appeared in the Golden Age of Comic Books... DC Comics is one of the largest American companies in comic book and related media publishing. ... This article may contain original research or unverified claims. ... Usenet (USEr NETwork) is a global, distributed bulletin board system (BBS). ... The Swamp Thing is a fictional character created by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson for DC Comics, and featured in a long-running horror-fantasy comic book series of the same name. ... Alan Moore (born November 18, 1953, in Northampton) is an English writer most famous for his work in comics, including the acclaimed graphic novels Watchmen, V for Vendetta and From Hell. ... The University of Birmingham is the oldest of three universities in the English city of Birmingham. ... In 1982 Treasure Trap was established at Peckforton Castle in the United Kingdom and this was probably the first combat based live action role-playing game (LARP). ...


Types

Although there is considerable ambiguity and overlap between different kinds of retcons, there are some distinctions that can be made between them, depending on whether they add to, alter, or remove material from past continuity. These distinctions often evoke different reactions from fans of the material.


Addition

Some retcons do not directly contradict previously established facts, but "fill in" missing background details, usually to support current plot points. This was the sense in which Thomas used "retroactive continuity", as a purely additive process that did not "undo" any previous work, a common theme in his work on All-Star Squadron. Kurt Busiek took a similar approach with Untold Tales of Spider-Man, a series which told stories that specifically fit between issues of the original Amazing Spider-Man series, sometimes explaining discontinuities between those earlier stories. Yet another retroactive continuity book was X-Men: The Hidden Years. The All-Star Squadron was an American comic book (1981-1987) created by Roy Thomas and published by DC Comics about the adventures of a large team of superheroes which comprised of most of the feature characters owned by the company that appeared in the Golden Age of Comic Books... Kurt Busiek (born September 16, 1960) is a comic book writer. ... Untold Tales of Spider-Man is the name of a comic book series starring Spider-Man published by Marvel Comics for 26 issues (#1-25, and a #Minus 1 between #s 22 and 23) from September, 1995 to October, 1997. ... The Amazing Spider-Man is the title of both a comic book published by Marvel Comics and a daily newspaper comic strip. ... X-Men: The Hidden Years is a comic book series in the Marvel Comics universe starring the companys popular superhero team the X-Men. ...


Related to this is the concept of shadow history or secret history, in which the events of a story occur within the bounds of already-established events (especially real-world historical events), revealing a different interpretation of (or motivation for) the events. Some of Tim Powers novels are examples of this, such as Last Call, which suggests that Bugsy Siegel's actions were due to his being a modern-day Fisher King. Alan Moore's additional information about the Swamp Thing's origins didn't contradict or change any of the events depicted in the character's previous appearances, but changed the underlying interpretation of them. This verges on making alterations to past continuity. Such additions and reinterpretations are very common in Doctor Who novels, though they are not usually referred to as retcons by Doctor Who fans. A secret history (or shadow history) is a version of history that is at odds with commonly accepted historical events and which is claimed to have been deliberately suppressed or forgotten. ... A secret history (or shadow history) is a version of history that is at odds with commonly accepted historical events and which is claimed to have been deliberately suppressed or forgotten. ... Tim Powers at the Israeli ICon 2005 SF&F Convention Timothy Thomas Powers (born February 29, 1952) is an American science fiction and fantasy author. ... Last Call (1992) is a fantasy novel by Tim Powers. ... Benjamin Bugsy Siegel (February 28, 1906 – June 20, 1947) was an American gangster, popularly thought to be the impetus behind large-scale development of Las Vegas. ... This article is about the Fisher King from Arthurian legend. ... Alan Moore (born November 18, 1953, in Northampton) is an English writer most famous for his work in comics, including the acclaimed graphic novels Watchmen, V for Vendetta and From Hell. ... Doctor hoe is a long-running nudistBritish science fiction television programmar (and 1996 television movie) produced by the BBC about a mysterious time-travelling adventurer known as The Doctor, who explores time and space with his companions, fighting evil. ...


Additions are among the better-received types of retcons, because nothing is actually undone, and because people generally appreciate the explanation of [previously] ambiguous and/or mysterious events.


Alteration

This kind of retcon often adds information that effectively states "what you saw isn't what really happened" and then introduces a different version. This is usually interpreted by the audience as an overt change rather than a mere addition. The most common form this takes is when a character shown to have died (sometimes explicitly) is later revealed to have survived somehow. This is well known in horror films, which may end with the death of the monster, but when the film becomes successful, the studio plans a sequel, revealing that the monster survived after all. The technique has been used so frequently in superhero comics that the term comic book death has been coined for it. The first famous example in popular culture is the return of Sherlock Holmes: writer Arthur Conan Doyle killed off the popular character in an encounter with his foe Professor Moriarty, only to bring Holmes back, due in large part to audience response.[1] On the other hand, many of these situations offer plausible explanations for how the character survived, by building on what we thought we saw, in which case they can be considered additions. The examples and perspective in this article or section may not represent a worldwide view. ... This article may contain original research or unverified claims. ... Cover to Uncanny X-Men #136 (August 1980, art by John Byrne), the penultimate issue of the Dark Phoenix saga. ... Sherlock Holmes as imagined by the seminal Holmesian artist, Sidney Paget, in The Strand magazine. ... Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, DL (22 May 1859 – 7 July 1930) was a Scottish author most noted for his stories about the detective Sherlock Holmes, which are generally considered a major innovation in the field of crime fiction, and the adventures of Professor Challenger. ... Professor Moriarty, illustration by Sidney Paget which accompanied the original publication of The Final Problem. Professor James Moriarty is a fictional character who is the best known antagonist (and archenemy) of the detective Sherlock Holmes. ...


Another famous example is in Star Wars. In the film, Return of the Jedi, it appears that the character Boba Fett has suffered a horrible death in the belly of the Sarlacc. However, in later in books, graphic novels, and even in a Star Wars Unleashed action figure, Boba Fett is depicted as surviving the whole ordeal by rocketing out of the pit. To date not even the various forms of media can agree on how exactly Fett escaped the pit, or whether he even escaped at all; some say that his rocket pack upset the Sarlacc's stomach so badly that it ejected him. Similarly, fans may invent unofficial explanations for inconsistencies, the challenge itself becoming a source of entertainment. It is important to note, however, that some fans do not consider events outside the movies to be Star Wars canon, and believe that Fett indeed meets his fate in the Sarlaac. Opening logo to the Star Wars films Star Wars is a science fantasy saga and fictional galaxy created by writer / producer / director George Lucas during the 1970s. ... Movie poster Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, is a science fiction film that debuted in 1983, and re-released with changes in 1997 and 2004. ... Boba Fett is a fictional character in the Star Wars universe. ... The mouth of the Sarlacc In the fictional Star Wars universe, the Sarlacc is an ancient creature that lives in the Great Pit of Carkoon beneath the sands of the Dune Sea on the planet Tatooine. ... An action figure is a posable plastic figurine of a character, often from a movie, video game, or television program. ... Opening logo to the Star Wars films Star Wars is a science fantasy saga and fictional galaxy created by writer / producer / director George Lucas during the 1970s. ...


It is commonplace for characters to remain the same age, or to age out of synch with real time; this can be considered an ongoing implicit retcon of their birthdate. When historical events are involved in their biography, overt retcons may be used to accommodate this; a character who served in the army during World War II might have his service record retconned to place him in the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, etc. This is similar to a problem faced by many works of future history: the events they describe happening in years after the initial publication do not conform to history as it actually happens. To accommodate such discrepancies, retcons may be used in later stories, altering dates or other details. Combatants Major Allied powers: United Kingdom Soviet Union United States Republic of China and others Major Axis powers: Nazi Germany Italy Japan and others Commanders Winston Churchill Joseph Stalin Franklin Roosevelt Harry Truman Chiang Kai-Shek Adolf Hitler Benito Mussolini Hideki Tojo Casualties Military dead: 17,000,000 Civilian dead... Combatants United Nations: Republic of Korea  Australia  Belgium Canada  Colombia Ethiopia  France Greece  Netherlands  New Zealand  Philippines South Africa  Thailand  Turkey  United Kingdom United States Medical staff:  Denmark  India  Italy  Norway  Sweden Communist states: Democratic People’s Republic of Korea People’s Republic of China  Soviet Union Commanders Syngman Rhee... Combatants Republic of Vietnam United States Republic of Korea Thailand Australia New Zealand The Philippines National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam Democratic Republic of Vietnam People’s Republic of China Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea Strength US 1,000,000 South Korea 300,000 Australia 48,000... Combatants UN Coalition Republic of Iraq Commanders Norman Schwarzkopf Saddam Hussein Strength 660,000 360,000 Casualties 378 dead, 1,000 wounded 25,000 dead, 75,000 wounded The Gulf War ( 2 August 1990 – 28 February 1991 ) was a conflict between Iraq and a coalition force of approximately 30 nations... A future history is a postulated history of the future that some science fiction authors construct as a common background for fiction. ...


While retconning is usually done without comment by the creators, DC Comics has on rare occasions promoted special events dedicated to revising the history of the DC Comics universe. The most important and well known such event was the mini-series Crisis on Infinite Earths; this allowed for wholesale revisions of their entire multiverse of characters. It has been argued that these were not true retcons, however, because the cause of the changes to their universe actually appeared within the story, similar to stories in which a time traveler goes to the past and changes history from how he remembered it. A miniseries, in a serial storytelling medium, is a production which tells a story in a limited number of episodes. ... Crisis on Infinite Earths was a 12-issue comic book limited series (identified as a 12 part maxi-series) and crossover event, produced by DC Comics in 1985 in order to simplify their fifty-year-old continuity. ... The Earths of the Multiverse and the different variations of The Flash inhabiting each one. ... Time travel is a concept that has long fascinated humanity—whether it is Merlin experiencing time backwards, or religious traditions like Mohammeds trip to Jerusalem and ascent to heaven, returning before a glass knocked over had spilt its contents. ...


Subtraction

Sometimes retconned alterations are so drastic as to render prior stories untenable. Many of the retcons introduced in Crisis on Infinite Earths and DC's later Zero Hour were specifically intended to wipe the slate clean, and permit an entirely new history to be written for the characters. This is commonly referred to as a reboot. This is often very unpopular, upsetting fans of the material that has been removed from continuity. Zero Hour was a 1994 comic book miniseries and crossover storyline that ran in DC Comics. ... Reboot, in series fiction, means to discard all previous continuity in the series and start anew. ...


Unpopular or embarrassing stories are sometimes later ignored by publishers, never referred to again, and effectively erased from a series' continuity. They may publish stories that contradict the previous story or explicitly establish that it "never happened", for example by claiming that events in a previous installation were "just a dream". Likewise, an unpopular retcon may even be re-retconned away.


(See also Fanon, Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome.) Fanon is a fact or ongoing situation related to a television program, book, movie, or video game that has been used so much by fan writers or among the fandom that it has been more or less established as having happened in the fictional world, but it has not actually... SORAS or Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome (less commonly called simply rapid aging) is a fan term for when an infant or young child in a soap opera is aged very quickly by the writers. ...


Reconciliation

Retcons and loose continuity can lead to more retcons. When the "explanation" for an inconsistency makes it into an official work, this is another retcon.


Related

Retroactive continuity is similar to, but not the same as, plot inconsistencies introduced accidentally or through lack of concern for continuity; retconning is done deliberately. For example, the ongoing continuity contradictions on episodic TV series such as The Golden Girls reflects very loose continuity, not genuine retcons. However, in series with generally tight continuity, retcons are sometimes created after the fact to explain continuity errors. Retconning is also generally distinct from replacing the actor who plays a part in an ongoing series, which is more properly an example of loose continuity (i.e. the different appearance of the character is ignored), rather than retroactively changing past continuity. An exception to this can be when the difference in appearance is explained, such as the case with "regeneration" in Doctor Who. The Golden Girls was a popular American sitcom that originally aired Saturday nights on NBC from September 14, 1985 to May 9, 1992. ... To meet Wikipedias quality standards, this article or section may require cleanup. ... Regeneration, in the fictional context of the long-running British science fiction television series Doctor Who, is a biological ability exhibited by the Time Lords, a race of humanoids originating on the planet Gallifrey. ...


Retconning is also distinct from direct revision; when George Lucas re-edited the original Star Wars trilogy, he made changes directly to the source material, rather than introducing new source material that contradicted the contents of previous material. However, the later series of Star Wars prequels did qualify as "new source material", and many fans have pointed out instances that apparently retcon elements of the original trilogy. George Walton Lucas, Jr. ... The DVD cover of the Star Wars trilogy. ...


The "clean slate" reinterpretation of characters - as in movie and television adaptations of books, or the reintroduction of many superheroes in the Silver Age of Comics - is similar to a reboot retcon, except that the previous versions are not explicitly or implicitly eliminated in the process. These are merely alternate or parallel reinterpretations. Showcase #4 (September-October 1956), often thought the first appearance of the first Silver Age superhero, the Barry Allen Flash. ...


Miscellany

In the BBC television series Torchwood, "retcon" is offhandedly mentioned as an ingredient of an amnesia pill. The British Broadcasting Corporation, invariably known as the BBC (and also informally known as the Beeb or Auntie) is the largest broadcasting corporation in the world, employing 26,000 staff in the UK alone and with a budget of £4 billion. ... Torchwood is a British television science fiction and crime drama created by Russell T. Davies and starring John Barrowman and Eve Myles dealing with the machinations and activities of the fictional Torchwood Institute. ... Amnesia or amnæsia (from Greek ) (see spelling differences) is a condition in which memory is disturbed. ...


See also

This article or section may contain original research or unverified claims. ... In narratology, a back-story (also back story or backstory) is the history behind the situation extant at the start of the main story. ... To meet Wikipedias quality standards, this article or section may require cleanup. ... A plot hole is a gap in a storyline that goes against the flow of logic set-up by the plot or that undermines the basic premises of the story. ... Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is one of the best-known prequels. ... Reboot, in series fiction, means to discard all previous continuity in the series and start anew. ... Fanon is a fact or ongoing situation related to a television program, book, movie, or video game that has been used so much by fan writers or among the fandom that it has been more or less established as having happened in the fictional world, but it has not actually... This article or section does not cite its references or sources. ... Fonzie jumps over a shark while on water skis. ... A spin-off (or spinoff) is a new organization or entity formed by a split from a larger one such as a new company formed from a university research group. ...

Footnotes


  Results from FactBites:
 
Retcon - definition of Retcon in Encyclopedia (1613 words)
Retconning is common in comic books, especially those of large publishing houses such as Marvel Comics and DC Comics, due to the lengthy history of many series and the number of independent authors contributing to their development.
Unpopular retcons are often unofficially combated through the judicious use of Krypto-revisionism, which is the phenomenon of a fan base deciding to ignore a particular retcon, itself a form of meta-retcon stating that "it was never published".
Retconning is also distinct from direct revision; when George Lucas re-edited the original Star Wars trilogy, he was making changes directly to the source material, not introducing new source material that contradicted the contents of previous material.
Retcon - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (4249 words)
Retcons are common in comic books, especially those of large publishing houses such as Marvel Comics and DC Comics, due to the lengthy history of many series and the number of independent authors contributing to their development; this is the context in which the term was coined.
It has been argued that these were not true retcons, however, because the cause of the changes to their universe actually appeared within the story, similar to stories in which a time traveler to the past changes history from how he remembered it.
Retconning is also distinct from direct revision; when George Lucas re-edited the original Star Wars trilogy, he made changes directly to the source material, rather than introducing new source material that contradicted the contents of previous material.
  More results at FactBites »

 
 

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