There is an anonymous proverb that states the only three things that are certain in life are birth, death, and change. Within the realm of ongoing comic book narratives, these take the form of retcons, resurrections, and reboots. For the purposes of this weekly feature, retcons are elements added into a character’s history after the fact, resurrections are characters returning from death or some state of limbo, and reboots are wholesale changes to a character or characters canon (history, supporting casts, origin story, etc).
These changes, just like all stories, range from those that add definitive things that still stand with the characters to those that sometimes should best be forgotten. Except, they won’t be in this feature. Each week we’ll explore the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to Retcons, Reboots, and Resurrections.
As previous weeks have shown, sometimes the entries chosen for this feature will touch upon more than one of the three R’s in the feature title. This week is one of those as we take a look at the retcon within a reboot that was also a resurrection before being sort of rebooted away. Try to say that ten times fast.
Way back in the year that was 2014, Superman #32 from Geoff Johns and John Romita Jr. introduced a shadowy figure into the rebooted New 52 era. This figure had no name at the time but was watching Superman battling an alien on a screen, and has one bit of dialogue that mentions not only Superman’s real name of Clark but also claims to have taught him about getting back up after falling.
The figure remained through this arc sort of commentating on Superman’s actions, but little is given away about who or what they were. After that arc, though they sort of fell away as others took on the title. Then came 2016’s soft rebooting of a reboot that was called DC Rebirth, which was meant to return beloved characters and continuity that got lost or shuffled away thanks to New 52 while building towards the “reason” the reboot happened.
Johns handled the writing of the DC Rebirth #1 issue and alongside bringing back the missing Wally West, he decided to bring back that shadowy figure. This time the figure confronted Superman and told him to call him Mr. Oz, except that it wasn’t the same Superman that he was watching before. Long story short the rebooted Superman had a massive power surge and died and the Superman from the universe before the reboot had survived in a pocket dimension and came back with Lois and their son Jonathan.
Within this same one-shot, it was implied that it was Watchmen’s Doctor Manhattan that was responsible for the rebooting of the universe seen after Flashpoint. The use of the name Oz for this shadowy figure and his cryptic nature and ties to Manhattan pointed to the figure being Ozymandias from Watchmen as well.
While that didn’t fit the very personal nature of his talking about the previous Clark in the first appearances, the more clinical and detached way the character interacted with characters in this new version seemed to maybe point that it wasn’t someone that close to Clark.
Over time Mr. Oz was behind taking many characters off the board like Doomsday, Tim Drake/Robin (who Oz said was too loved and too close to reconnecting threads that his benefactor didn’t want reconnected), and even the fifth dimension Superman antagonist Mr. Mxyzptlk. Once Mxyzptlk escaped Oz’s clutches though he was part of a whole thing where he pretended to be Clark Kent (the pre-Flashpoint Superman and Lois were living elsewhere as they were not the Clark and Lois of this rebooted universe) and eventually both versions of Clark and Lois were merged together and got a whole new mixed Pre-Flashpoint, New 52 and Rebirth continuity reshuffle.
Mr. Oz re-entered the picture after this and revealed more of his hand during an Action Comics arc where he helped Jonathan pilot Kryptonian battle armor showcasing that they knew Kryptonian items quite well. This was backed up by the fact that they also confronted Lex Luthor, who was wearing Superman’s symbol at this point in an attempt to be more of a heroic type character, and revealed that he wasn’t and never had been a human.
This is where many began to put the pieces together and lo and behold Action Comics #987 revealed the truth: Mister Oz was in fact Superman’s Kryptonian father Jor-El somehow not actually dead as was always thought. Father and son don’t have a happy reunion though as Jor-El declares Earth to be sick and not worthy of his son’s protection, which leads to father and son battling it out over their opposing views for most of the reveal story arc’s issues.
Basically, the being that saved Jor-El, Doctor Manhattan, dropped the man on Earth where he was witness to some of the atrocities and worst parts of humanity for centuries. This led to his whole belief that Earth was trash and that he sent his son to the wrong place. Thus all the actions he took to take figures off the board, help push the Clarks back together, etc.
Clark’s breaking of Oz’s scythe stick reveals that it was part of what was keeping the Kryptonite lodged in his skull from killing him and was created by Manhattan. The story alludes to it maybe controlling him some but that wasn’t fully stated and seems not to be the case with his later behaviors. Jor-El/Oz is then whisked away in the blue teleport again. There is a whole arc where Superman goes back in time with Booster Gold and is able to confirm that this is the real Jor-El, who got whisked away from Lara’s side right as Krypton exploded.
When Jor-El is next seen he arrives during Brian Michael Bendis’ Man of Steel series and Jonathan is given over to his care. Grandfather and Grandson go off into space and to other dimensions for years till he sends Jonathan back who is now a borderline adult level teenager instead of a ten-year-old boy. Jor-El was an off-and-on presence after that in the Superman books, but his topsy turvy story came to its end and beginning with Superman #15 in 2019.
Jor-El’s time manipulations, his crimes including the creation of the villain Rogor Zaar and the shadowy group known as The Circle led to him being sentenced to death essentially by the newly formed United Planets. That sentence was carried out by having him zipped back to the point where he was taken from, and he has a moment to tell his younger self and Lara that it was all worth it sending Kal-El away before they are all obliterated when the planet explodes.
How is this retcon/resurrection/reboot overall? As you can see, it’s messy as hell. Clearly, there were changes made at times with so many cooks in the kitchens (creators) and changes between the times that Johns worked on the character as well. The long delays of Doomsday Clock that was meant to explain more of the rebooting didn’t help, as the rest of the universe just looped past the event and dealt with stuff as they saw fit including stuff with Jor-El/Oz. There were clues that on further reflection pointed to Jor-El, but some of the changes in the middle from Johns himself seemed to nix that as well as of course using the Oz moniker when they knew they were using Manhattan in this.
Most retcons of this type usually don’t get addressed if they get wiped away when future creators decide they are done with it, but it’s almost hilariously ridiculous how this one gets an ending that sees Jor-El just blown up again.
Next Week: The X Stands For Reboot…Sort Of…