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Where's Chuck?

Banes at 12:00AM, July 13, 2017
tags: retcons

Where's Chuck? - Retcons

Hello again!

On the previous Quackcast we talked about retcons - here's that episode if you care to listen:

A retcon is a little tricky to define perfectly, but I guess it boils down to an alteration that changes the previously understood or pre-existing history or nature of the series.

The retcons can be made a big deal, like the new revelations of the Star Wars prequels or Scream 3, where a secret history behind all the killers is revealed, or it can be relatively smaller changes that the creators try to sneak past us.

“Where's Chuck” comes from the show Happy Days, where an older brother to Richie existed for the first season or two. Chuck showed up two or three times, played by a different actor each time, then the character was quietly dropped and never mentioned again.

Series do them to retroactively explain how a hero who died last year was actually able to survive and return (he was hexed by aliens as a child to be able to survive exploding cars!), or how the shocking turn to evil the former Hero went through was actually mind-control. We just didn't mention it until all the readers hated the Hero for doing such a horrible thing.

The “serious” fans of The Simpsons say that the series got worse after the episode that revealed Principal Skinner was not the real Seymour Skinner. He was a guy named Tanzarian, I think-? Who had replaced his Army commander Skinner when the real Seymour apparently died. In this episode, the real Skinner returns.

People HATED…and still hate… that episode. Personally, I liked it fine. A parody of a classic story that ended with the jerky real Skinner leaving, and our beloved(?) Principal Skinner remaining, and keeping his fake identity. Everything goes back to status quo, and the townsfolk say “now let's never mention any of this again!”

I didn't feel it was a betrayal of the Skinner character or anything - but a LOT of fans felt that way.

There was a retcon of Dr. Bashir in Deep Space Nine, a more serious show, that was a bit of a betrayal. No spoilers; it happens in season 5 I think. It definitely felt like a cheat. I don't think the actor was crazy about it, either, though it led to a good episode or two.

Just this year, the Captain America comic did a big retcon, revealing that the original Marvel hero, a soldier who fought the Nazis in World War 2 and battled all forces of evil since then has actually been an agent of the evil HYDRA organization all along. It's not a trick, not a dream, and not an alternate reality. It's for realsie reals - Steve Rogers is a HYDRA agent!

This retcon might end up being retconned, of course, but like big comic events are supposed to, it got people talking! I heard about it from someone at work, and saw rumblings of it online without even looking for it.

The reaction desired from a retcon is that it will blow people's minds, make them lean forward and pay attention to the comic, or show, or book series, or web series. But the word has a negative connotation. Like it's a “cheat”.

They often make people roll their eyes with disdain; the in-story retcon where a writer with an agenda rewrote history, in-universe, to magically break up Spider Man from his wife Mary Jane by retconning their marriage out of existence is an example of one of the most loathed comic book storylines ever. I believe it was called “One More Day”, if you want to Google it. As far as I know, this retcon has held for years, and Peter Parker is still a swingin (literally) single.

Long running series need to get new material somehow, and eventually they will mine their own history. It makes sense. The problem comes when that retcon interferes with existing continuity, especially when there are major character or setting elements that are contradicted by the newly revealed, just-made-up history.

What do you think of retcons in general? A good way to shake up a long-running series or introduce new dimension to the status quo? Or are they just a big dumb cheat? Which retcons have you liked? Which have you hated? Have you ever done one in your own work?


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jerrie at 4:07PM, July 15, 2017

Captain Americana being a Hydra sleeper agent is IT, for me. I am DONE with Marvel. too much!!!!

bravo1102 at 4:31PM, July 13, 2017

You know Highlander not only retconned out the first movie, they retconned in the TV series. Wow. Another example was how Star Trek dealt with Klingon brow ridges from DS9 to Enterprise.

Banes at 10:13AM, July 13, 2017

@Pitzeria - thanks! Wait...a universe-retcon?? Oh, dear...

Banes at 10:12AM, July 13, 2017

@KimLuster - haha, love the Highlander references! Yeah, the Captain America thing...I mean, they create a sleeper that defeats them at every turn for decade after decade? Worst...evil plan...ever!

Banes at 10:11AM, July 13, 2017

@bravo - That's right! Dallas must be one of the biggest retcons ever, cancelling out a whole season for a do-over!

bravo1102 at 7:20AM, July 13, 2017

@Pit: well God retcons life. We call it a mass extinction event.

PIT_FACE at 6:00AM, July 13, 2017

Seconding the Net Neutrality issue. Good on ya for advocating it, man. Also, do you think god ever retcons the universe? wwhhhoooooooaaaa------

KimLuster at 5:06AM, July 13, 2017

Good stuff!! I have mixed feelings but they're extreme feelings! On one hand, I LOATHE when they take an established character and do something that makes so many backstories just make no frickin sense!! The 'Captain America is a Hydra Agent' seems to be one of those (haven't ready any C.A. comics but I know he's supposed to be a paragon of American ideals (life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, etc...)) and that he's fought for such for decades!! Hydra agent...? For real...?!! On the other hand, when a Bad Retcon does happen, I don't really mind if it's later Retconned away, even if just a 'let's just never speak of it again' (I think most Highlander lore pretends the 2nd movie, Highlander 2020, never happened, and that's for the best!!!)

bravo1102 at 3:25AM, July 13, 2017

Dr. Bashir wasn't so much a retcon as a revelation. Always felt he was too perfect. How could you forget the most infamous retcon of all time? Dallas! Bobbie Ewing walking out of the shower last two seasons were all a dream!

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