Ask...The Question: What Was DC's First Retcon?

Alex Jaffe

Alex Jaffe

May 27, 2020


Hello. I’m Alex Jaffe, better known in our Community as HubCityQuestion. My personal mission: to take on any question you have about the DC Universe -- no matter how strange, granular, or obscure -- and present you with an answer. As a faithful steward of the truth, I offer my time in this weekly column to address these inquiries. If you’d like to submit one of your own, you can stop by my office at any time in our lively Community to state your case, which I will address in turn to the best of my ability. As always, I remain your vigilant detective through the comic book cosmos to discover the answers you crave.


This week is the fiftieth installment of Ask The Question… which means we’re only two away from that all-important milestone of 52! Let’s see what troubles our reading public this week, and which of your quandaries we might finally lay to rest.





“Got a 2 parter for you this week. Was Crisis the first company-wide crossover that attempted to fix continuity errors? And what was DC’s first retcon?” -TheLastGL


While Crisis on Infinite Earths was the most ambitious of DC’s continuity resets to that day (arguably surpassed only by The New 52), it was not DC’s first attempt to bring disparate stories in line with one another. The simple answer to your question might be 1961’s The Flash #123, “Flash of Two Worlds,” which reconciles the separate characters of DC’s Golden and Silver Ages as existing on two different Earths, thereby establishing the multiverse.


Before that, though, there was another explanation for the existence of separate heroes under the same identity: Golden Age heroes like the original Flash, Green Lantern, and Atom were retconned to be fictional comic book characters who merely inspired their Silver Age counterparts, beginning in 1956’s Showcase #4.


Going back even further, the establishment of the very idea of shared continuity itself could be seen as an attempt to reconcile DC’s disparate publishing line. That would place DC’s first attempt at setting continuity as 1940’s All-Star Comics #3, where the formerly isolated heroes of the Justice Society of America convened for the first time.


In another sense, the debut of DC’s flagship hero was itself a change in continuity. When Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster introduced Superman in 1938’s Action Comics #1, that story itself was a radical revisitation of their 1933 short story “The Reign of the Superman,” where Superman was depicted as a telepathic villain.


But DC’s first continuity change goes back to its very beginnings, in its very first issue. 1935’s New Fun Comics #1 began a serialized retelling of Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, a 19th century adventure romance novel which has over time become part of the Robin Hood myth. As each story of Robin Hood changes in the telling, so too does this early comic adaptation take some liberties with Scott’s script to better fit the nascent medium. Which just goes to show that continuity changes have been a part of DC history before there was even a continuity to change.





“Longtime listener, first time caller. I know Alan Scott’s Golden Age adventures were retconned to take place in Gotham City. When was this retcon first established?’ -Joshua Lapin-Bertone


Early DC comics took a much looser approach to geography than we see even today. When cities are referred to at all in the Golden Age, it’s usually just as “The City,” a generic everytown USA which readers across America could imagine as their own. Very early issues of All-American Comics referred to Alan Scott’s hometown as “Capitol City,” a generic term used throughout media history to suggest the center of activity in any given state. But in most of these Golden Age stories, Green Lantern’s hometown isn't referred to by name at all, with stories often going out of their way NOT to mention it. Many Green Lantern stories during World War II don't even take place in the city at all, but depict Alan Scott and his sidekick Doiby Dickles as enlisted men on the march with the US military.



The decision to ultimately place Alan Scott in Gotham City is a sensible tribute to his co-creation by Bill Finger, who wrote Gotham into existence in Batman #4. But it was not Finger who made that connection. Originally, I believed this tribute to occur in John Broome's All-American Comics #100, a milestone issue where Alan celebrates Gotham's golden jubilee. But with the help of Mr. Lapin-Bertone, the question asker and my fellow DCU writer, I was able to pin it down to 1944's Green Lantern #13, shortly into the brief run by Alfred Bester.






“I have really been enjoying the gritty realism of Gotham Central. Can you recommend any titles/runs that take this police-procedural, more realistic approach to story-telling. Thanks!” -Joe Vignati


Ah, Gotham Central. DC’s own Law and Order. There’s nothing entirely like it in the history of the DC Universe, and no better key to the mind of Renee Montoya, successor to The Question. But if you’re looking for something with the same grounded, less Super heroic feel, here are a few titles which may be for you:


Batman: Bullock’s Law. A one shot look into the procedure of everyone’s favorite Bat-skeptic, questionably crooked cop.


Batman: Gordon’s Law. A miniseries focusing on Commissioner Gordon himself, forced to take to the field when he can trust no one else in investigating corruption in his own police force.


Batman: Turning Points. A series focusing on the integral history of Batman’s friendship with Gordon.


Global Frequency. Warren Ellis’ episodic series about a network of 1,001 everyday people acting as agents for a world protecting spy group.


Gotham Academy. A student’s eye view on the goings-on of Gotham City.


Hitman. Another alternate ground view take on life in Gotham, from the eyes of its lowest lowlives.


Human Target. Meet Christopher Chance, the man who keeps you alive by drawing your enemies into the open and taking them out. If this comic intrigues you, then check out the 2010 TV series it’s based on.


Jonah Hex. Not your typical everyday life comic, but one that rarely verges on supernatural -- only the hard cruelty of life in the Old West. Expect self-contained stories with a slow burn through-narrative.


Nathaniel Dusk. A pair of throwback series in the ‘80s to detective noir staples in the 1930s.


The Question. Stars a masked hero, but the problems he faces in a city that makes Gotham look good are often all too real. A fine companion to Gotham Central.


Sleeper. A WildStorm spy thriller by Gotham Central co-writer Ed Brubaker.


World of Metropolis. A 4 issue series about life in the city of Superman.


Oh, and make sure to keep your eyes out for Lois Lane, a current limited series by Gotham Central’s Greg Rucka!


Well, I’ve got to return to preparing for my 52nd column in two weeks. In the meantime, you can continue to pose your questions to me in the community, and I’ll choose a select few for Week 51. Beware of answers you may not be prepared to hear. But you can always ASK… THE QUESTION.


NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Alex Jaffe and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.