Created By: DS9guy on January 4, 2012 Last Edited By: Arivne on May 3, 2016

Origins March On

A superhero origin is retconned to fit with changing times.

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Trope
Needs a Better Title. This trope is in effect when a superhero's origin has to be retconned due to changes in science, politics or anything else since they first debuted and Comic-Book Time is in effect. For example, let's say there is a 20 something German superhero introduced in 1985 who previously had to cross the Berlin Wall in order to escape communism. Today, if he is still the same age, that back-story wouldn't work because he would have been a baby (if that) when the Berlin Wall fell.

By the way, Alternate Universe stories and adaptations in other mediums do not count. These are changes made in the mainstream universe of their companies.


Examples:

Comic Books
  • This is the idea behind Marvel Comics' "Season One" graphic novels.
  • Iron Man had his origins in Vietnam and now it was in Afghanistan.
  • The 1999 miniseries Spider-Man: Chapter One was an attempt to explicitly give Spider-Man an updated origin. (It was written by John Byrne, who had done the same for Superman in the Superman: The Man of Steel miniseries.) It was a flop, and is not considered canon.
  • The Fantastic Four, who gained their powers during a failed space flight, were originally said to be trying to beat the Dirty Commies to the moon. Later retellings of the origin, which became dated as of the real Moon landing in 1969, have said that the ship was intended to test an experimental warp drive instead. Presumably that one won't become dated anytime soon...
  • In a subtler example, the Martian Manhunter's origin as one member of a present-day, populous Martian race was quietly changed once it became evident in Reallife that no large lifeforms exist on Mars. Later tellings of his origin claim that the Martian Manhunter had been teleported to Earth through time as well as space, and that that the other Martians had died off prior to modern times.
  • As of the in-continuity (non-MAX) 2011 series of The Punisher, Frank Castle fought in one of the Iraq Wars rather than in the Vietnam War. His MAX counterpart remains an (aged) Vietnam veteran, however.

Literature
  • Kim Newman's short story "Coastal City" is about a comic book character almost, but not quite, realising that his backstory keeps changing on him. For instance, he's always a war veteran, but which war has changed with the times.
Community Feedback Replies: 38
  • January 4, 2012
    Euodiachloris
    Um - isn't this already covered in Cosmic Retcon - true, it doesn't specifically mention origins in the description (a mistake, maybe)...? But that just means a repair, as it's consistent with this description. Unless you mean more of a Continuity Reboot than a Retcon? In which case: again, covered.
  • January 4, 2012
    LarryD
    Continuity Reboot does seem to mostly fit, although film adaptations of long running material are sort of hard to categorize examples: i.e., the Iron Man movie moved the origin from Vietnam to Afganistan, and the Spider Man movie used genetic engineering instead of irradiation.
  • January 4, 2012
    chihuahua0
    If there are enough examples, it could be a sub-trope.
  • January 4, 2012
    arromdee
    A Cosmic Retcon is a retcon made by internal story forces such as using time travel to change history. This is just a subtrope of Retcon. But I could swear we did have it under some other name anyway.
  • January 4, 2012
    Lumpenprole
    Marvel comics is especially prone to this because several major characters introduced in the '60s were explicitly supposed to be WW 2 vets. Magneto was originally supposed to be a Holocaust survivor. The Hulk's origin story predates the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Iron Man has been mentioned already. Oddly, DC seems to have far fewer characters with dated origins.
  • January 5, 2012
    ParadiscaCorbasi
    Magneto actually still is a Holocaust survivor. He's been de-aged several times to his early 30s. The Fantastic Four were a Space Race created team. They have also been de-aged. That's not changing the origin.

    Spider-Man's origin went from "radioactive spider" to "genetically engineered spider". That's changing the origin. The X-Men were originally called Children of the Atom, implying that atomic weapons testing created all the mutations. Radioactivity was the source of everything in the Marvel 60s.

  • January 6, 2012
    DS9guy
    I think the spider that bit Peter is still radioactive in mainstream Marvel comic book universe. It was genetically altered in the movies and Ultimate Universe but this trope doesn't cover those alternate universes.
  • January 7, 2012
    PaulA
    • Kim Newman's short story "Coastal City" is about a comic book character almost, but not quite, realising that his backstory keeps changing on him. For instance, he's always a war veteran, but which war has changed with the times.
  • January 9, 2012
    PaulA
    • The 1999 miniseries Spider-Man: Chapter One was an attempt to explicitly give Spider-Man an updated origin. (It was written by John Byrne, who had done the same for Superman in the Superman: The Man Of Steel miniseries.) It was a flop, and is not considered canon.
  • February 1, 2012
    FallenLegend
  • February 1, 2012
    randomsurfer
    In the John Byrne story The Incredible Hulk: Chapter One alien Skrulls were the ones to blame for the "accident" that turned Bruce Banner into the Hulk instead of a Dirty Commie. This was later retconned away in a Peter David-penned issue of Captain Marvel, which showed Rick Jones reading Chapter One and dismissing it. Chapter One also showed Rick riding onto Gamma Base on a motorcycle instead of a jalopy, which angered fans.
  • February 2, 2012
    Rognik
    I think Batman has somewhat of an updating origin story. While his parents still get shot, where exactly they were coming from depends on the era. Spiderman, while still bitten by a radioactive spider, tend to try to justify what kind of radiation was used.
  • February 2, 2012
    KingZeal
    • Many retcons of Superman's origin tend to try and explain several things that wouldn't hold up today, such as how his rocket made it to Earth and landed in Smallville without the government noticing. Sometimes, it's because there was atmospheric interference. Sometimes, it's because government bureaucracy made them too slow to respond before the Kents came and left. Other minor updates include explaining how the Kents were able to justify Clark without any legal adoption papers or birth certificates, and despite Martha's infertility. One story stated that a horrible snowstorm (which may or may not have been phenomena created by the rocket itself) had kept the Kent farm isolated for the better part of a year, and that Martha just claimed she'd gotten pregnant and given birth in that time.
  • February 2, 2012
    RossN
    It hasn't happened yet but eventually the Batwoman writers will have to address how the ending of "Don't ask, don't tell" alters her origin story.
  • February 2, 2012
    johnnye
    Is this not Phlebotinum Du Jour?
  • February 2, 2012
    KingZeal
    No. It is related, though.
  • February 2, 2012
    OmarKarindu
    Comics
    • Even before John Byrne, the mutation-induced personality split between the Hulk and Bruce Banner was retconned into actual Dissociative Identity Disorder caused by an Abusive Parent.
    • The Fantastic Four, who gained their powers during a failed space flight, were originally said to be trying to beat the Dirty Commies to the moon. Later retellings of the origin, which became dated as of the real Moon landing in 1969, have said that the ship was intended to test an experimental warp drive instead. Presumably that one won't become dated anytime soon...
    • In a subtler example, the Martian Manhunter's origin as one member of a present-day, populous Martian race was quietly changed once it became evident in Reallife that no large lifeforms exist on Mars. Later tellings of his origin claim that the Martian Manhunter had been teleported to Earth through time as well as space, and that that the other Martians had died off prior to modern times.
    • As of the in-continuity (non-MAX) 2011 series of The Punisher, Frank Castle fought in one of the Iraq Wars rather than in the Vietnam War. His MAX counterpart remains an (aged) Vietnam veteran, however.

  • February 3, 2012
    Chabal2
    Do adaptations count? The cause of the Norsefire party's rise to power in V For Vendetta was nuclear attacks in the comic and germ warfare in the film, because even the small-scale attack in the comic would have done far, far greater damage than depicted.
  • October 21, 2012
    morenohijazo
    Tropable? Already have it?
  • October 22, 2012
    dotchan
    Related to, if not already covered by, Comic Book Time.
  • October 22, 2012
    dotchan
    Related to, if not already covered by, Comic Book Time.
  • October 22, 2012
    SharleeD
    Is this exclusively a trope for comic book characters? Because if not, some perennial literary characters probably rate as this too.
  • October 22, 2012
    acrobox
    Captain America gets the awkward problem of having been created to fight in World War II. Because its difficult to have a superhero invented to fight in Real Life wars in today's more global society but Nazi's are still Acceptable Targets this hasn't been changed. What has been changed is that now he always has to find a way to be frozen in ice or otherwise preserved or transported into the future so he can be both a young present day hero and a WWII vet. Naturally this has also changed his characterization, since now hes a fish out of time. Originally a hero "haunted by past memories, and trying to adapt to 1960s society."...how long he's been frozen keeps changing too.
  • October 22, 2012
    LobsterMagnus
    Not a superhero, but I think he otherwise fits this trope:
  • October 25, 2012
    PaulA
    ^ Sherlock is an example of Setting Update: "Adaptations of old stories will frequently move them closer to the production in time and/or space"

    This trope is about when the original work runs for so long that the origin story becomes dated. (The examples are from comics not because it's a superhero thing, but because there aren't many series outside comics that have run so long.)
  • October 31, 2012
    nemui10pm
    you should probably change the wording of the first example to remove the reference to "this year" - Examples Are Not Recent.
  • February 17, 2013
    marcoasalazarm
    OK, I get the idea here.

    So... this Trope is about origin stories of the character being retconned to fit Science Marches On and Society Marches On *without* hitting the Cosmic Retcon and Alternate Continuity buttons.

    Iron Man 's origin (shrapnel embeds on his chest too close to his heart, gets captured and forced to create weapons for captor, creates power armor to escape instead) being changed from happening during the Vietnam War to Afghanistan to happening when he was visiting some kind of Marvelverse Qurac is an example. The 'New 52' DCU reboot changing a whole lot of details about the characters' backstories... well, it's not.

    OK. Will try to find something to add as an example for this thing. Sounds like should be a subtrope for the regular Retcon Trope, any case.
  • February 18, 2013
    IsaacSapphire
    It's not a superhero story, but this trope is averted in Sherlock; a modern day update to the Sherlock Holmes stories. Viewers thought that Watson's back-story of having served in Afghanistan was Origins March On, but Afghanistan was actually also the location of Watson's military service in the original stories.
  • February 18, 2013
    NESBoy
    Whoever added OmarKarindu's examples to the draft didn't retain the WikiWords and italics. I fixed it.
  • February 18, 2013
    randomsurfer
    The Stone Men from Saturn from The Mighty Thor's origin were later revealed to be aliens from outside our solar system who had attempted to take over Earth 30,000 years ago. Having been defeated then, they set up an outpost on Saturn to organize the next attempt.
  • May 7, 2016
    NESBoy
    The Simpsons attempted this in the episode "That '90s Show", which first aired in 2008 and tried to change the backstory of the series by updating the timeframe when Homer and Marge were dating from the 1970s to the 1990s. It wasn't well-recieved, and the old backstory is still depicted in later episodes despite becoming increasingly outdated.
  • May 1, 2016
    DAN004
    Compare... that trope where the origins of someone changes in an adaptation.

    And Multiple Choice Past.
  • May 2, 2016
    PaulA
    ^ That trope where the origins of someone changes in an adaptation is Setting Update.
  • May 2, 2016
    Pichu-kun
    ^ Not necessarily. Setting Update isn't origin specific.
  • May 2, 2016
    PaulA
    ^ No, but it is adaptation specific, whereas this trope is about when the setting changes within a single continuity.
  • May 2, 2016
    Aubren
    Could you please add where the examples belong? Even if they all have to be comics, just put in a comics folder. It'll look nicer.
  • May 3, 2016
    Arivne
    • Examples section
      • Added a line separating the Description and Examples section.
      • Added media section titles.
      • Namespaced Creator and character names.
  • May 3, 2016
    BrokenEye
    • Subverted with Captain America, who was so strongly identified with the WWII era that the writers opted to insert an accidental cryogenic freezing indecent partway through his superheroing career in order to move him to the present day without changing his origins or getting rid of his WWII-era adventures, although by this point the freezing might as well be part of his origin story regardless of the time between the two.
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