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Reimagining the Artifact
Stradleyism: The act of dismissing an element of canon altogether on grounds of it being "stupid", without taking the effort to do something interesting with it.
You have an ongoing serial or a Verse
of some kind. In the canon of that work is an element that has become an embarrassment
or is just plain out of date, one that has been abandoned or is in severe danger of being abandoned. Canon Discontinuity
is what happens when that element is written out. Reimagining the Artifact
, on the other hand, is what happens when you try to make that element work
with the overall tone of the serial.
To qualify, the element must have either been abandoned or been treated purely as The Artifact
If the problem was with an Artifact Title
, this strategy may result in a retroactively-Justified Title
Related to Reconstruction
(when something similar is done for a trope or genre, rather than a character or concept) and Rescued from the Scrappy Heap
. Took a Level in Badass
is also related. See also Cerebus Retcon
, where something similar happens mid-story. May also involve a Replacement Artifact
if something thought to be The Artifact
was first removed, found not to be, and then replaced with a tweaked version.
Film - Live Action
- Apache Chief, widely regarded as one of the lamest of the Super Friends, was re-adapted in 2002 by Joe Kelly into a much more interesting character, Manitou Raven.
- This is what Brian Michael Bendis has done with Marvel's lesser or dated 1970s characters like Luke Cage and the first Spider-Woman.
- According to his commentary in an Ultimate Spider-Man collection, Bendis seemed to believe he was doing this with Venom when he was brought into that series. Their treatment of The Clone Saga is a more solid example.
- Grant Morrison's Batman has a bunch of these, as part of his quest to make everything canon.
- Grant Morrison loves doing this: in his JLA run, he brought back such goofy stuff as Aquaman's Silver Age imp sidekick Quisp in a way that fit the tone of the new title. And Seven Soldiers was a project whose entire remit was to take dated or underused old characters and re-imagine them for today. All-Star Superman is similarly almost nothing but Reimagining Artifacts from the 1960s and 1950s stories.
- Specifically related to his Batman run, Morrison's unconventional take on Robin with the character of Damien Wayne deserves special mention. Where many fans have previously taken the very concept of a Kid Sidekick with a grain of salt (see below) because of the obvious dangers of the superhero profession, Damien shook up the classic Batman/Robin dynamic in that he was a scarily competent fighter who was raised as an assassin from an early age, and he could be even more deadly in the field than Dick Grayson, who served as the Batman to his Robin.
- This is the entire point of Planetary, except when Warren Ellis is savaging superhero characters.
- Superman had several of these:
- Bizarro was a silly character; nowadays, the silly character is around, but the idea of "Flawed Superman clone" (the mechanics, whether there's only one or the process to make them is sufficiently known to allow more to be made, and other details vary) called "Bizarro" has been brought back repeatedly in both the comics and adaptions.
- Krypto the Superdog has been brought back... but to keep down the silly factor, he's sufficiently ill-tempered that he has to be kept in the Fortress of Solitude, and thus serves as a guard dog rather than as an Non-Human Sidekick.
- Superman did this with the Clark Kent identity Post-Crisis. In the old days, he was just what the TV intro said: Superman, disguised as mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent. He really had no reason to have a human identity, especially after his powers increased to the point that the job at the newspaper in order to find out about dirty deeds was no longer necessary. Post-Crisis, he's now more Clark Kent who dresses up as Superman and not the other way around. It's also been said that he likes having something he's good at for reasons other than his Game Breaker powers; being able to throw a whole island into space won't help you win a Pulitzer.
- There's also Superman's use of glasses to hide his civilian identity. Today, very few people seriously believe that he can effortlessly disguise his face just by donning a pair of glasses, but a few modern writers have toyed with the idea that he actually uses the glasses to hide his distinctive eye color (a bright shade of robin's egg blue that isn't seen in normal human eyes), which is one of the few visible markers of his Kryptonian heritage.
- Fittingly, this detail came right about the time that Clark's extraterrestrial roots were starting to get more focus in the series (they were originally just a convenient explanation for his superpowers, but have since become a crucial part of the Superman mythos).
- Christopher Reeve's performance in the movies also made Clark Kenting make more sense. With his acting ability, the total change in demeanor was enough to make pretty much anyone say "Okay, now I can see it."
- Don Rosa did tons of this in The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck.
- DC brought back widely-hated Fad Super / Captain Ethnic Vibe, who was killed off in the 80s shortly after his debut. They've given him a less-ridiculous costume and removed the more offensive aspects of his back story (he's no longer a Gang Banger who talks like Al Pacino from Scarface (1983)) to make him a more well-rounded character.
- Earth 2 was meant to do this with a number of Golden Age characters, reimagining them in a modern context. For instance, Wing is now a young Asian-American cameraman rather than the racist Asian Speekee Engrish caricature he was in the 30s. However, Executive Meddling led to the original writer leaving, and the new writer having to throw away all of that writer's work in favour of a Darker and Edgier plot revolving around an evil Superman.
- Robin, no matter who it is this month. As comics get Darker and Edgier, a Kid Sidekick is more and more obviously an unethical endangerment of the poor kid, especially since letting them actually die is nothing new. Why is there still always a Robin? Because the kid is usually going to try avenge the Death by Origin Story victim or otherwise operate on his own anyway, and so Bats takes him under his wing to make sure the kid can actually survive his chosen path, and in some cases, be a proper hero instead of crossing the line for vengeance. Sometimes it's also explained that Batman's borderline-instability could easily turn into a He Who Fights Monsters case if he didn't have someone to keep him down to Earth.
- Likewise, Bucky Barnes. While Robin's reimaginings tend to keep the Kid Sidekick angle as a basis, Bucky, though remaining a junior partner to Captain America, became a kind of shadow assassin that did the dirty work that an iconic symbol like Cap just couldn't be seen to do. The Kid Sidekick turned into a sniper that used "Kid Sidekick" as a cover.
- Meanwhile, a lot of other works help Bucky Barnes, by just aging him up to be a best friend of Cap, who is the same age.
- Rick Remender has stated he's fond of this practice, as he considers it a challenge to use obscure or hated characters from periods like the 90s. He's since stated that Onslaught, a widely hated 90s villain, will be the Big Bad in his Uncanny Avengers run.
- In X-Men, the New X-Men series ditched the standard superhero threads, a Silver Age convention seen as Narm by the writer in light of today's Darker and Edgier comic stories, for black and yellow leather outfits. When the spandex returned in Astonishing X-Men, we're given a good reason for it: The people need to feel like they can trust their heroes, so a "Darker and Edgier kill squad" look was wrong for them.
- Wonder Woman had her invisible jet rendered pointless after it was decided she could fly, and it's been a topic of teasing ever since. However, more recently, people have realized that having a stealth vehicle that could transport people or cargo could be pretty damn useful and a lot more effective than simply carrying one person in your arms.
- IDW's Transformers works do this frequently, reimagining old gimmicks from the franchises' early years.
- Combiners are treated as a Fantastic Nuke, with the Autobots having to pull out of Earth when the original combiner is abducted by the Decepticons, who naturally want their own.
- Micromasters are an attempt by the villains to re-create Cybertron on another world, and aside from being smaller and more energy-efficient they are incredibly manoeuvrable, agile, and numerous, what with there being a whole planet of them.
- Headmasters are the result of several thousand years worth of tinkering and stealing by their creator, and the final result is much more efficient and deadly than the average Cybertronian.
- The first Pretender managed to ravage Cybertron, and all the ones after are still portrayed as powerhouses and credible threats, resistant to things that would normally be serious threats to a Transformer.
- The Dinobots choose their out-of-place alternate modes in order to survive on a prehistoric Earth where the conditions are hazardous to them without protection, and quickly become attached. Their designs are also reimagined to look more like real dinosaurs, complete with scale alterations as needed (meaning the member who turns into a brachiosaurus is now head and shoulders over everyone else).
- Action Masters, the Transformers that didn't transform at all, are Cybertronians who have renounced transforming for religious reasons, even having the mechanisms needed to transform removed surgically, for which they have faced a lot of prejudice, including at one pointbeing the instant suspects in a terrorism case.
- In a rather ironic case of Celebrity Paradox, Brainiac's name began to come off as a bit ridiculous after the character had been around for a decade or two, as the term "brainiac" eventually entered the popular American lexicon as a juvenile slang term for "genius", making one wonder why an alien robot would unironically call himself that in-universe. The Post-Crisis comics eventually retroactively decided that his name was an abbreviation of "Brain interactive construct", making it a bit easier to take seriously.
- The Shadow Hero is a Revival of the little-known 1940s superhero the Green Turtle, and provides in-canon explanations for many of the more peculiar aspects of the character, such as his unnaturally pink skin, Stripperiffic costume, and curious turtle-shaped Living Shadow.
- In today's political climate, it's next to impossible to unironically portray an American Captain Patriotic character who can be taken seriously, since unquestioning loyalty to the most powerful military superpower in the Western hemisphere is far more likely to be seen as the mark of a soldier than the mark of a superhero. So then why is Captain America still such a popular character? Well, in addition to being the oldest example of such a character still in publication, the modern incarnation of Cap is easy to root for because he fights for American ideals—freedom, democracy, equality and human rights—rather than for America's government. He's actually far more likely to question (or outright challenge) authority figures than many other superheroes, and will gladly disobey any order that goes against his conscience. In his own words: "I am loyal to nothing...except the dream."
- On Star Trek: The Original Series, Dr. McCoy's nickname "Bones" comes from the term "Sawbones", which was an old nickname for doctors. Since the term has fallen from the parlance, the 2009 film had Kirk call McCoy "Bones" because, in his introduction, he explains he's joining Starfleet because "The ex-wife took the whole damn planet in the divorce. All I've got left is my bones."
- Similarly, simply having an African American woman as a major character was revolutionary and progressive in the 1960s, but many more current criticisms would point out the Uhura was "answering the phones" while the white male leads went off on adventures. This criticism wasn't strictly fair, but that didn't stop the reboot from making sure to point out that Uhura's linguistic skills were extremely valuable and elevating her to an Action Girl along with the male leads. When dealing with completely foreign cultures, often for the first time, whoever "answers the phone" better be a gifted speaker for your people.
- In Iron Man 3, the Mandarin's somewhat politically incorrect "evil foreigner" persona is refitted for the 21st century by having this version of the character ultimately revealed as an actor hired to play up foreign terrorist stereotypes to cover up for the real mastermind, Aldrich Killian.
- Although The Star Wars Holiday Special was treated by Lucasfilm as an embarrassment that would never again see the light of day, elements of its still made their way into the canon. Chewbacca's family, named the unfortunate "Malla", "Itchy", and "Lumpy", had those be retconned to nicknames akin to "Chewie", with their full names being "Mallatobuck", "Attichitcuk", and "Lumpawarrump". It's still accepted that every plot event in the special happened, but in something that wasn't an awful variety show.
- Ryan Howard of The Office (US) eventually lost his role as the newcomer for obvious reasons, and went through an arc that saw him become a Corrupt Corporate Executive and then fall from grace. Despite having no storyline to advance, he stuck around because as he was played by an executive producer on the show. Later seasons remedied this by making the character into a satire of a hipster, thus giving him something unique to do again.
- Doctor Who:
- In the 1970s the idea of the Doctor travelling around wildly in space and time had been largely dropped in favour of earthbound stories thanks to the show's ReTool into a Spy Fiction-style show, with the exception of one space jaunt Once a Season. Season 12, which introduced the Fourth Doctor, went noticeably 'retro', harkening back to the Hartnell and Troughton era in terms of tone. Not only do all of the stories (except the first of the season) involve time and space travel, there is a Dalek story written by Hartnell-era writer and Dalek creator Terry Nation and a Cyberman story written by Hartnell/Troughton-era writer and Cyberman creator Gerry Davis, and a Troughtonesque (but Darker and Edgier) "base under siege". The only Pertwee elements are Sarah Jane's continued presence, "Robot" which was deliberately written as a Pertwee style story but with the new Doctor in it to show off by contrast how different his new personality was, and the Sontarans who reappear as the antagonists in a two-episode Bottle Episode to save money on monster costumes.
- A combination of this and Ascended Fanon lent plausibility to the biggest narrative conceit of Doctor Who: that even when the characters stop off somewhere for totally innocent reasons, they will inevitably encounter not just trouble, but extraterrestrial trouble. Fanon for years has been that the TARDIS, which is a living being, purposely drops the Doctor off in places and times where he is needed. This was heavily implied to be true throughout the revived series, and eventually explicitly made canon in "The Doctor's Wife".
- The TARDIS' police box design. At first, in The Sixties, it wasn't anachronistic, but nowadays, characters ask "What is a 'police public call box?'" and the broken chameleon circuit, though part of the setting from day one to a smaller degreenote , is sometimes a running gag (It's fixed! ...and its new form is not under the Doctor's control, highly inconvenient, and at least you know how to enter the police box version. It's fixed! ...and when it scans the area and decides on an appropriate form, it's always a police box. Or Donna can fix it with her new time lord knowledge! ...which is about to burn out her brain, and what comes next is not funny.) and the Doctor has at least once admitted that he could probably fix it if he really wanted to, but likes it the way it is.
- They also introduced (and named) the idea that the TARDIS has a Perception Filter that makes people not notice it even if its apparent form isn't period-appropriate.
- The Daleks had suffered some extreme Villain Decay by the end of the Classic series, becoming quite easily explodable and harmless even in great numbers, as well as having no agency thanks to the introduction of their leader, Davros. This was not helped by the species being a UK cultural meme for forty years - impressions of their obnoxious, squawky voices and jokes about their use of plungers as weapons and (imagined) inability to climb stairs were something of a hack comedian standard routine. The new series reintroduced the Daleks in the episode "Dalek", in which we find out that the Dalek race was on the brink of annihilating the Doctor's race, and the Doctor had to commit genocide against both species in order to save the universe itself - the Dalek in the episode gets a much less shrill, much scarier and much more expressive voice than the original series Daleks had, is treated realistically as the death machine that it is, and incorporated elements from the very first Dalek serial (such as the idea of Daleks as objects of pity as well as revulsion) in order to make them just as terrifying as they had first been forty years ago.
- Several other classic-Who races that'd been fairly lame from the moment of introduction, such as the Silurians, Ice Warriors, and Nimon, have likewise been re-vamped into something much more formidable by the revived series, making them scarier in some cases and more tragic or multifaceted in others.
- "Cold War" is a whole episode written to explore the stereotype about Doctor Who monsters always being easily outrunnable Mighty Glacier creatures with movement impeded by the actors' unconvincing rubber suits. It reintroduces an Ice Warrior, an old-school monster who fit this description, and reveals that what was assumed to be his body is in fact his armour. The armour impedes his movement just like the monster costumes do in real life, and once he's shed it, he is a lot faster.
- The Cybermen started out fairly scary for the 60s, with their emotionless desire to convert other beings into more Cybermen. As time went by, less focus was put on the assimilation aspect of their personalities, and they became generic robotic soldiers, often openly displaying emotions as well. When they reappeared in the new series (initially as parallel universe counterparts, but later as Original Recipe), much more focus was placed on the Body Horror and Loss of Identity aspects of their nature, making them scary once more. This includes a direct Internal Homage to their big Nightmare Fuel moment of the Classic series (slowly emerging from tombs) in "Death in Heaven".
- Pathfinder had several bestiaries dedicated to re-imagining various monsters; in particular, "Misfit Monsters Redeemed" is purely this trope, as they chose the stupidest monsters from the Gygax era and attempted to make them work.
- This was inspired by their revamp of Dn D Goblins, who are generally just treated as fodder, as they lack the 'technical skills' that they have in other works.
- The Elder Scrolls has done this several times.
- Cyrodiil, the setting of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, was described as an "endless jungle" in earlier games. It was changed to a temperate region for Oblivion. This is explained in obscure texts as Talos terraforming the region because of it being inconvenient to live there. Due to the Cosmic Retcon involved, Cyrodiil effectively never was a jungle. When the developers of The Elder Scrolls Online, which takes place before this happened, dismissed this inconsistency as a "transcription error", Fanon Discontinuity was declared among lore junkies.
- The Khajiit's appearance changed between The Elder Scrolls: Arena and The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall, and again between Daggerfall and The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, becoming steadily more cat-like. Lore from after Daggerfall explained this by establishing that there are different "breeds" of Khajiit that are born depending on the phases of the moon. However, no such explanation has been made for the Argonians, who were merely grey-skinned humans in Arena.
- Mortal Kombat's Palette Swap ninjas were a running joke in the series. They were an artifact of a time when limited sprites were able to fit on the hardware available, and so some needed to be reused. From Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance onwards they were all given a complete overhaul and unique looks.
- SCP-148 of the SCP Foundation was originally a metal alloy which blocked psychic energies without any side effects or downsides, and was used to make some of the Tailor-Made Prisons for other SCPs. Wiki site members decided this was boring and rewrote it so that it has such extreme downsides that no one uses it for anything.
- Similar to the above Apache Chief/Manitou Raven example, the campy characters original to the old Super Friends show were re-imagined as the Ultimen and given a tragic arc in an episode of the DC Animated Universe Justice League series.
- In yet another example, Young Justice: Invasion did a more serious, respectful take on Apache Chief and several other of the "Affirmative Action" Super Friends. Samurai and El Dorado became Asami "Sam" Koizumi and Eduardo "Ed" Dorado, losing their stereotypical costumes and quirks in the process.
- Apache Chief's popular for this. The Young Justice version is even named for and voiced by the same guy as his Justice League counterpart. (However, Longshadow is actually his last name, as opposed to Long Shadow as a codename.)
- Beware the Batman uses the D-list and extremely 80s villain Magpie◊ as a recurring character, but she's been given a 21st century makeover so that she now resembles a flashy, modern pop starlet like Lady Gaga rather than a hair metal groupie.
- The villains in Thunder Cats 2011 are named after each animal they're based on—Lizards, Jackals, etc.—instead of them all being called "Mutants", and often get new names that while still based on their animal, are a bit more imaginative (Vultureman becomes Prefect Vultaire.) Third Earth is populated by many animal races and the Mutants' equivalents are drawn from them.
- Cutie marks in the My Little Pony franchise were there in the first generation and have since been The Artifact. It wasn't until Generation 3 that they were given a name, and only in Friendship Is Magic did they actually have a purpose in the story other than just sort of being there.
- The Friendship Reports in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic were originally meant as a recap of the episodes events, but began to be phased out near the end of Season 2 and were practically non-existent in Season 3. As of Season 4, the concept has been brought back after the Mane 6 found the Princess' old diary and decided to keep one for themselves.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987, for obvious reasons they couldn't actually show the heroes slice and dicing with their weapons, at least, with those who were flesh and bone. What to do to compensate for the lack thereof? Simple. Have a number of enemies, like the foot soldiers, turned machine where slicing and dicing is shown freely.
- Happens again in the 2012 series, where multiple things from the 2012 series are reimagined to be less silly. Even the aforementioned robots are given a boost. In their first scene, they are revealed to be adaptive, and can challenge the heroes. It's also justified: The heroes keep beating up the Foot so much, they can't recruit any more minions!
- In DC Showcase: Green Arrow, this is done with Green Arrow's infamous boxing glove arrows. The arrows were designed to impact with blunt force, but wasn't taken seriously. Here, there are replaced with cylinders or segments (about the size of the exploding arrowhead) made out of what appears to be vulcanized rubber or something similar as to be able to impact hard without impairing the arrow's flight or looking goofy.