When geeks collide, sparks go a-flyin’. Here at Panels On Pages, we settle our differences like men… in the Fanboy Thunderdome.
In this installment, Secret Warriors #1 poses the question “Is this a retcon?” between Lee Rodriguez and Jason Kerouac. The simple query led to a debate over what a retcon actually is. Was there blood on the hallowed floors of the Thunderdome or did our heroes manage to resolve their conflict without violence? Read on and see.
If you haven’t read Secret Warriors #1, there are spoilers ahead. More importantly, GO READ SECRET WARRIORS #1!!!
Lee: [finishes Secret Warriors #1] I didn’t know how much I wanted a Nick Fury book until I read this. I was looking forward to it, sure, but I had no idea it was going to hook me this badly this quickly. There is NOTHING not to like about what’s in here. Even the $3.99 price tag is worth it for the EXCELLENT supplemental material. I love that the reveal is monstrous in its scope, but in no way affects the past. There’s no retcon at all here, but it is BRILLIANT in its execution.
Jason: I agree with everything except the no retcon bit. This absolutely IS a retcon, just like Emma’s fishy affair was. But it’s a fine retcon. It just means that the whole time, someone else was pulling the strings and you never knew it.
Lee: I disagree. It’s not like it’s ever said that Hydra DIDN’T create S.H.I.E.L.D. I guess it all comes down to your definition of retcon. Just like the Emma/Namor thing, I have no problem with it because it doesn’t actually contradict anything we’ve seen before. It’s not conflicting in the slightest. I say if it doesn’t actually affect change in past continuity, then there’s no retcon, but that’s just me.
Jason: But see, correct me if I’m wrong, doesn’t retcon stand for “Retroactive Continuity”? To me, it’s anything established now as having happened in the past when there was no prior existence of it. Sentry, Winter Soldier, Emma’s Affair, X-Men Deadly Genesis, Cassandra Nova… to me, these are all retcons.
Lee: That is indeed what “retcon” means, and I would agree that Winter Soldier, Vulcan, etc. had their roots in a firm retcon; GREAT retcons, but retcons nonetheless. Maybe it’s just me, but I think of Emma/Namor and this thing with S.H.I.E.L.D. to be something else. By your definition, [X-Force villain] Eli Bard is the product of a retcon just because we had never seen the chapter of Selene’s life wherein he was introduced before. I think there is a degree of subtlety here that lets it skirt by as opposed to Deadly Genesis, which ultimately rewrote the history of the X-Men, same as Winter Soldier.
Jason: Well, I’ve since taken a look at wiki’s definition for retcon, and while wiki is in no way, shape or form the bottom line, it has this to say about that:
“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.”
To me, what separates Eli from the S.H.I.E.L.D./Hydra situation in particular is that there are numerous things this can change about the history of the two organizations, changes that have yet to unfold. What happened with Eli and Selene is just an untold chapter of her history being used to introduce a new character. But the fact that S.H.I.E.L.D. was created by Hydra and presumably had some degree of Hydra influence in its activities means that the entire nature of S.H.I.E.L.D. is suspect. THAT, to me, screams retcon.
The wiki entry even lists things like Untold Tales of Spider-Man as being retcons, so in its loosest sense, any story that takes place in the past regardless of its impact on the future counts as a retcon. To me, the defining mark is IF it has impact on the future. If you tell the story of how the X-Men fought a dude named Pumpernickel man after their first encounter with Magneto, well then, to me, that’s just a story set in the past. If you write a story where the X-Men are plagued by a mysterious foe, and in the end, it’s revealed that he is Pumpernickel man, the guy the X-Men fought after their first battle with Magneto who is now looking for revenge, THEN it’s a retcon. This S.H.I.E.L.D. reveal is OBVIOUSLY meant to have some sort of impact on the direction of this book, so to me, that guarantees it’s a retcon. But even if that weren’t the case, it’s fairly fundamentally changing the nature of S.H.I.E.L.D. as a whole.
Lee: I’m all for waiting to see how it shakes out. CLEARLY Fury didn’t know about Hydra’s involvement in his organization, so he was leading S.H.I.E.L.D. for decades like he would have anyway. How greatly a story affects the past is what I tend to judge its retconnicity on. Although it did just occur to me that this could have a serious impact on Secret War and Fury’s eventual ousting. THEN we’re talking about a retcon.
Jason: Fury was Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., but it strikes me that the way this is being written, he was answering to someone. If S.H.I.E.L.D. intelligence was heavily populated with Hydra moles who were completely undetectable as being Hydra moles because all they had ever been was S.H.I.E.L.D. intelligence, they could have shaped Fury’s decisions and actions. Then, as you said, there’s Secret War. NOTHING has come of that yet except for Daisy Johnson and Fury’s ousting. I’d like to see some sort of story tied into why that all happened, and it’d be cool if this is that story. Even if it isn’t, I maintain that whatever elements of Hydra created S.H.I.E.L.D., they retained some sort of control.
Lee: S.H.I.E.L.D. in recent years answered to the U.N. as a worldwide peacekeeping force. Back in the day there was a board of sorts he answered to, but according to Wikipedia (here’s your grain of salt), even Fury didn’t know who those guys were. As passable as that detail is, I’m sure Kickman and Bendis know about it, so there is certainly wiggle room for those guys to have been Hydra’d-up. That’s an extremely obscure bit of comic history, so I don’t know. Given Bendis’s love of Sterenko, it’s certainly possible that they’ll revisit it. I’d say the council thing is probably the only way I’ll swallow this as retcon; that and the people that shut Fury down before his invasion of Latveria. If Hydra’s involvement was limited to intelligence officers and such, then I see no retcon. S.H.I.E.L.D. funneling intel to Hydra doesn’t necessarily affect too much retroactively whereas Hydra legitimately running the show does.
I can’t help but think that if Fury were truly being manipulated for decades by Hydra that he would have picked up on it. Take Secret War, for example. The minute the deal started to sound fishy, he said “Fuck it,” and assembled his team. Fury’s never been one to take shit from anyone. Like Daisy said in Secret Warriors, he’s a badass. Hell, he’s THE badass. If Hydra was actually controlling things to the degree that past events will be viewed drastically differently (i.e. a full-blown retcon), I don’t think Fury would have lasted as long as he did in charge. Clearly he was expendable. Secret War proved that.
Jason: In reference to the intel officers, I didn’t mean that they were S.H.I.E.L.D. intel officers giving Hydra input, I meant S.H.I.E.L.D. intel officers being fed info FROM Hydra in order to misdirect S.H.I.E.L.D., keeping little bits of information from Nick while sending him after their more inconsequential branches. Imagine this, you have a plan to control the entire world. You’re fairly sure that someone will try to stop you. So you create your own world peacekeeping force and place your own people throughout it. Everytime you’re about to do something major, you orchestrate a completely pointless yet believable operation elsewhere and feed the “cops” info about THAT op. They stop the dummy operation, and you come one step closer to enacting your plans.
As for Fury “falling for it” or “putting up with it,” I’ve always maintained that a true villain would be secretive and duplicitous enough to carry on their activity subtly without giving themselves away. If S.H.I.E.L.D. was really a construct of Hydra all these years, and Fury never figured that out, you HONESTLY can’t accept the possibility that they were jerking his chain the entire time and he didn’t realize that, either? This is the Nick Fury who figured out the Contessa he was schtuping was a Skrull. I have to believe if Hydra got this much over on him, then pretty much anything is a go as long as it’s not too overt. Certainly, they couldn’t have gotten away with telling him the POTUS was an LMD, but I think as long as they were careful with how they handled things, and clearly they were to have avoided detection, they could easily have had a measure of control over Nick and therefore the agency as a whole.
Lee: This is all exactly why the story is incredibly fascinating and reeks of awesome. The implication is marvelous, but unless there’s a dramatic reveal that something huge happened and was covered up that Hydra’s control over S.H.I.E.L.D. was directly responsible for, this still doesn’t fall under the retcon umbrella to me. At this stage in the game, we’re still in Pumpernickel Man territory. The potential is there for them to go full-on Vulcan on our asses and seriously alter the landscape of past stories, and certainly at a week out it’s too early to tell, but right now I don’t see any reason to put the retcon stamp on this one, same as Emma and Namor.
I think this is where our opinions are fundamentally different. You gauge a retcon by how its reveal affects the future whereas I focus more on the past. Emma and Namor’s affair in no real way affects either character’s past, but has great ramifications on the present and future. Vulcan’s mere existence annoyed the hell out of me in the beginning, to be honest, because of what it did to the past of the X-Men and particularly Xavier (and I know you agree with me on that one). The story has grown on me since then and I love it now, but at the time, I cried foul, much like many did when Bucky resurfaced as the Winter Soldier. I for one was behind that one, but I know a lot of people weren’t. Now, for the most part, everyone’s on board. That’s the core of “retroactive continuity” to me. That’s turning back the clock and monkeying around with things while you’re back there.
Jason: And to me, it seems obvious that the S.H.I.E.L.D./Hydra reveal WILL mess with something somewhere along the way, otherwise, why do it? S.H.I.E.L.D. is disbanded, so it’s not like you did this to tell a current S.H.I.E.L.D. story where they’re going to assassinate a world leader or some such. The only reason to have made this reveal is to set up a story where something in the past was affected by it. It seems, to me, that by your assessment, the retcon status is inevitable if not yet accurate.
I still say that you’ve changed something in the past, and regardless of any present or future impact, that is a retcon. You have made a retroactive alteration to continuity that, however minute its impact, makes things different than they were.
Lee: Sure, it will affect SOMETHING, but unless it rewrites something to the degree that an event no longer happens the way we thought it did, we’re still in Pumpernickel Man land. Maybe it IS a retcon, but this is like, a first degree retcon at best right now. Bucky’s a second degree and Vulcan’s a third degree.
That’s just the nature of the medium. In the ever-evolving serial stories told in comics, this is inevitable. I think one of my big hangups is just the negative stigma the word “retcon” seems to instill in people. Even Alex Ross rallied against Bucky’s return saying something to the effect that it was what’s wrong with comics today. He would later design Bucky’s new Captain America uniform, but that’s another story entirely. I guess he wiped his tears with his paycheck.
And THAT, I think, we can both agree upon.
Lee: Absolutely. I just think that far too often fans throw the word around hailing blasphemy all the while when it’s not entirely necessary to the point that when something genuinely intriguing comes about, the stigma of “retcon” hangs over it. This is the plague of the true fanboy. Even recently there have been examples of the dreaded evil retcon *cough*brandnewday*cough* but there’s still room for it to be done correctly in the ever-changing landscape of comics. It’s the stigma that gets my goat up and puts on the defensive of the good stuff.
Jason: Retcons don’t kill comics, editors kill comics.
Lee: Be fair, editors and Kevin Grevioux kill comics.