In life, they say only three things are certain: birth, death, and change. Within comic books, the three things that are certain are that there will be retcons, reboots, and resurrections. Retcons are elements retroactively added to a character’s history, reboots can either be revivals of a character/their title or extensive changes to canon, and resurrections are characters clawing their way back from the afterlife.
Each week we’ll explore the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to Retcons, Reboots, and Resurrections.
Retcons run the gamut when it comes to how they are approached in either being big and bold or small and hardly noticed. Many of them are often changes that are made (either loudly or more quietly) to long-established characters, especially if their origins or earlier moments from stories are now outdated in some way.
Sometimes though characters or groups that are on the newer side can find themselves as a passenger on the retcon train. While he’s been around for over a decade now, Miles Morales/Spider-Man found himself getting the big retcon treatment after just four years of existence. So let’s turn back the clocks and look at 2015 and the event called Secret Wars, which changed everything for Marvel’s second and younger Spider-Man.
First, though we’ll go back a few more years, to 2011, when Miles Morales first appeared in Marvel Comics. As the Ultimate Marvel Universe was undergoing another of its massive status quo changes (see more about that in the 25th edition of this column), meant to try and give the waning universe more life, the decision came down to do something dramatic and that was to kill off Peter Parker/Spider-Man (not that it lasted, but that’s another story).
A decision was made to create a character that wasn’t white, in order to bring in more diversity but also stick with the notion that ‘anyone could be under that mask’ as Stan Lee used to often say about the character. One of Miles’ creators was writer Brian Michael Bendis who spoke in interviews about how a multiracial Spider-Man had been talked about even before Barack Obama won the election in 2008 but was fast-tracked following the decision to kill Peter but also after Donald Glover donned a Spider-Man costume on the second season of Community (at the time there was an online campaign to get Glover in as the new Spider-Man before Andrew Garfield was announced).
Thus was born Miles Morales who debuted during the Ultimate Fallout miniseries born out of the death of Peter, who then had two series in the Ultimate Universe (Ultimate Spider-Man & Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man) as well as a place on the All-New Ultimates team roster. During that time there were also numerous times, starting with the universal crossover story Spider-Men, where Miles and the 616 Peter Parker teamed up including during Spider-Verse where tons of other multiversal Spider-heroes were along for the ride.
Then came the moment where the long-simmering universe destroying Incursions plot-line of Jonathan Hickman’s run on Avengers/New Avengers brought an end to the Ultimate Universe as well as the 616 main universes, as Secret Wars began.
The Nitty Gritty:
Previously a bunch of Marvel Heroes tried to stop and then fought over what to do about the aforementioned Incursions, which were clashing two universes together as the multiverse was decaying and was being wiped out universe by universe. As they were central worlds where stories took place, the Ultimate 1610 universe and the regular 616 Marvel universe were the last ones to make it.
Secret Wars started off with war between the worlds which led to many casualties, as Reed Richards worked to gather scientists and heroes for escape on a “liferaft” so they could restart humanity elsewhere (while his evil counterpart The Maker creates one just to save the members of the more sinister Cabal). Unfortunately, things escalated and they had to escape fast and only select heroes were teleported to the raft (Captain Marvel, Phoenix powered Cyclops, Star-Lord, Thor, and Spider-Man among them). As the raft made it to the center of the Incursion the part where the Fantastic Four, sans Reed, and the Future Foundation were located was sheered off and destroyed. And then the worlds were fully wiped out and everything everywhere ended.
At least, it did for a moment or two before a Beyonder-powered Doctor Doom used his new vast powers to create a Battleworld that was forged from chunks of former universes all smushed together with him as the God over all lands. The 1610 liferaft is discovered and the Cabal lashes out at those that released them and set about to unleash themselves upon this world. Doctor Strange, the 616 version who is ‘Sherriff’ of Doom’s new world, arrives and realizes there is someone hidden still which turns out to be Miles who secret stowed aboard the raft.
This leads to Strange revealing to Miles and one of the Thors from the world’s police Thor Corps that there was another liferaft. They go to it, open it, revealing the saved 616 heroes which Strange realizes are his compatriots once he sees his fellow Illuminati members Reed and T’Challa. Miles and Peter are reunited, Strange reveals that Doom is the God that saved all, and stuns them with the news that Battleworld has lasted for eight years since the end of all things happened.
A whole bunch of battles and stuff go down, but eventually, it’s revealed that Doom is only God because the hidden and still alive character known as the Molecule Man is channeling the Beyonder’s powers to Doom. Molecule Man, Owen Reece, was unique among the multiverse and was used by the Beyonders to destroy worlds, start the Incursions, so Doom and Strange gathered a bunch of them as a bomb and killed the Beyonders.
Long even story short, things unravel for Doom, and eventually, he and Reed face off with Doom depowered (as Molecule Man makes it a fair fight). The two Spider-Men had infiltrated the castle midway through the story and met the Molecule Man, who was hungry. Luckily, Miles had a hamburger on him from when he was still back on his own Earth which Reece happily took.
Once Doom admitted that Reed would have done a better job with the Beyonder’s powers, so Reece gives the powers to Reed, and Battleworld is wiped out (Black Panther uses the Reality/Time Infinity Stone to protect himself and go back to the restored Earth in the moments before the first Incursion happened, but it doesn’t).
Everything lost is restored, as the 616 Universe becomes the Prime Universe. Reed and his returned family (except Thing/Ben Grimm and Human Torch/Johnny Storm who are returned to Earth) head off into the multiverse to help continue to recreate all the lost universes and birth some new ones. Here comes the retcon for Miles part, I know, took long enough.
Thanks to that hamburger that Miles gave Molecule Man, he woke up on the main Earth instead of the Ultimate Universe with all his friends and family (including his previously dead mother) around him with his history rewritten to make it so that he was always from this Earth.
Overall, this was a fantastic choice because it saved the wonderful character of Miles from a universe that the publisher decided they were done with (as the Ultimate Universe was properly ended with this event, at least for a time) and brought him to the main playground.
At this point, Miles has been a 616/Prime Universe character far longer than he was an Ultimate Marvel Character and has been a member of the Avengers, the Champions, various multiversal Spider teams, and had numerous solo series and big storylines or parts in various events over the years. That being said, the retcon itself has been quite shaky.
Depending on the writer, it fluctuates between whether he was always a member of the universe or he was from the Ultimate universe and it also fluctuates between whether he knew about this change or not. Currently, the status quo seems to be that he doesn’t fully know or think about the other universe, but the Miles Morales: Spider-Man series has played with threats from the Ultimate Universe coming back for him (including the original 616 version of Miles Morales that was introduced in the mostly forgotten and not well received Spider-Men II mini-series).
At the end of the day the fact that it allowed us to keep having tons more Miles Morales stories even after his universe was relegated to non-existence and then barely mentioned cameo level, puts this retcon pretty high on the good choice list.
Next Week: Cartoons of days past find a whole new life in comic book pages