A retcon can be a scalpel. And sometimes it can be a hammer.
Retcons are a part of comic book life. The longer a franchise is in existence, the more open to reinterpretation it is. Sometimes the current status quo of a character or story-arc doesn’t fit the assigned writer’s vision. With that, come changes. Retcons happen quite often, and are typically so subtle, most readers either don’t mind or don’t notice. But every so often, something big goes down. So big that it stands out like a sore thumb and just cannot be waved off. Here are 10 of the biggest jaw-dropping Marvel Comics retcons in X-Men history that left fans asking: ‘What just happened?’
10. Xavier’s Will
Following his untimely death at the hands of his own star pupil, Cyclops (while possessed by the Phoenix Force), Xavier’s Last Will and Testament are read by Jennifer Walters (She-Hulk). In Uncanny X-Men #23, Jen reveals to a room filled with X-Men types that at some point in Xavier’s past, he not just loved, but married Raven Darkholme, better known as, Mystique.
Yeah, that means Xavier in some form or another was the step-father of Nightcrawler, Graydon Creed, and Rogue. There’s not much more than that to say about it. It wasn’t a fact before, and then it was. It was unnecessary and completely underwhelming. Fans basically stopped talking about it, as soon as the next day. Typical Bendis shock-storytelling tactics. What was the point of that, exactly?
9. Nightcrawler’s Father
It’s common knowledge to most readers by now that Nightcrawler is the son of Mystique. Something that was revealed and confirmed ages ago in 1994. As the story went, Mystique was posing as a German woman and became the wife of a very wealthy and very human man. After giving birth to a very mutant child in Nightcrawler, and exposing herself during labor, she fled and discarded the child. He’d come to be raised apart from Mystique as a performer in a circus.
It was later revealed that Kurt’s odd appearance wasn’t just due to Mystique being a mutant, but due to his father. No, not the human man. Kurt’s biological father is Azazel, a member of an interdimensional group of ancient demon-like mutants. To maintain his presence on Earth, Azazel impregnates women every few years. The children are then used as anchors to keep him aligned in our world. The more children, the stronger the hold.
This retcon didn’t just change Nightcrawler’s origin, but it also gave him several siblings and even altered Angel (Warren Worthington). As an extention of the story, Angel was now a descendant of an equally ancient off-shoot of mutants, but instead of having a demonic appearance, they possessed angelic qualities abilities.
8. Legacy & Magneto (Age of X)
Most retcons happen years, sometimes decades after the original stories are told. So, when Mike Carey reinterpreted his own comic less than a month after it debuted, it was truly something… special. The Age of Xavier (AoX) was a thrilling, and beautifully written event. Simply one of the best stories of the decade. But it came to us towards the end of Carey’s run, which is why I think he went about telling the story in the manner he did. He needed to speed things up between his two favorite characters; Rogue and Magneto. Continuity be damned.
In the issues following the conclusion of AoX, before spending the night with him, Rogue revealed to Magneto that her alternate persona, Legacy, was secretly in love with him. With Legacy’s memories still fresh in her head, Rogue acted on those feelings. Not too bad right? Except that there was absolute, positively, ZERO evidence of this anywhere. Matter of fact, Rogue and Magneto barely interacted throughout the event. The only person she showed any romantic interest in was Gambit, ironically enough.
7. The Trial of Gambit
An unsightly blemish on an otherwise very, very impressive X-Men run by Steve Seale and Scott Lobdell, the Trial of Gambit is one of the most ‘what the #@#%” moments of the 90’s era. In their defense, it didn’t exactly come out of nowhere. They’d been setting it up for a quite some time. By ‘it’ I mean a reveal of Gambit’s secret shame. The only clue we had been given was the possible involvement of the X-Men villain, Mister Sinister. It wasn’t until the issue before Uncanny X-Men #350 did we start to get a picture of what Gambit was hiding.
By the end of the milestone issue, it was revealed by Magneto, posing as Eric the Red, that Gambit was partially responsible for the classic X-Men story, The Mutant Massacre. Fulfilling a request of Sinister, a younger Gambit assembled the Marauders and then led them into the Morlock tunnels under New York City. Unbeknownst to Gambit, the group was ordered to wipe out the underground community of mutants. As they began to attack, Gambit attempted to interfere, but was nearly killed in the process. He was able to save one child, a girl that grew up to be the anti-hero, Marrow.
Why was this a retcon? Well, the Mutant Massacre storyline went down in 1986. Gambit didn’t make his first appearance until 1990. So, that’s kind of the epitome of a retcon. To go a little further into it, Seagle and Lobdell later admitted that when Rogue abandoned him, they had every intention of letting Gambit die. Editorial directed them to have the Cajun return. To justify Rogue’s choice of leaving him to die, it was later explained that Gambit’s own self-loathing influenced her. The side-effect of Magneto forcing the two to kiss during the trial. That’s like a retcon, inside another retcon…
6. Wolverine’s Bone Claws
After having the adamantium forcibly ripped out of his body in X-Men #25 Vol. 2 (somehow his skeleton didn’t come with it, it certainly looked cool though) it was later revealed in subsequent issues that Logan possessed bone claws. This would mean he was born with them. Not a huge revelation, but large enough to blow a hole in several Wolverine stories where he admonishes not having claws before getting involved with the Weapon-X program.
In the past, there were actual panels of Wolverine having his adamantium bonded to his skeleton and it was heavily implied that the claws were implanted. This was waved off by the unreliability of Wolverine’s twister memories. It started a long tradition of tacking Wolverine’s past together which ultimately led to him being well over a hundred years old, and having his real name be James Howlett, not Logan, as he thought it was, since like… forever.
5. Iceman’s Secret
In All-New X-Men #40, Brian Michael Bendis, in the span of two pages forever changed original X-Man, Robert ‘Iceman’ Drake. And with just two words opposed to three this time. The time-displaced Jean Grey, after reading the similarly displaced Drake’s mind, outted him as being gay. Like it or not… this was a retcon. It’s one because for the last 50+ years we’ve been privy to the inner workings of Iceman’s mind via narration and thought bubbles.
Now the problem isn’t with him coming out. People do that every day. It’s normal. It’s in how sloppily it was executed. There’s a difference between an overzealous friend or family member spilling the beans on Facebook and someone ripping the information out of your mind.
4. Bishop’s Madness
From the day of Lucas Bishop’s debut in Uncanny X-Men, issue #282 he was portrayed as a righteous, self-sacrificing man of the law. Unlike most comic book characters that tend to flow from one end of the hero to villain spectrum and eventually back, Bishop maintained his integrity throughout. Which is why when we saw his sudden and drastic change to stark villainy, most fans were left flabbergasted, despite the provided explanation.
As X-Men fans, we always knew Bishop came to the main 616 timeline to stop what was commonly referred to as the ‘X-traitor.’ At first, he thought it was Gambit but ultimately settled on Xavier after the Onslaught catastrophe. Fast-forward ten years our time, and Bishop has locked his sights on the first baby born since M-Day. The child would soon be adopted by Cable and named Hope Summers. Though Bishop never mentioned it before, he was now convinced that Hope was the cause of his nightmare future and from that point on set out to literally murder a baby.
During his horrific journey of attempted infant dismemberment, Bishop nearly killed Professor-X, and while chasing Cable and Hope throughout time for more than 5-years, he razed the entire population of a future Earth. He did this just to make sure the two had nowhere else to run to or receive help. Bishop was ultimately stranded there for an unspecified amount of time but did make his way back to the 616. The entire ridiculous heel-turn was explained away by X-Force writer Sam Humphries by way of being possessed by the Demon Bear.
3. The Fall of the House of M
There are few constants that have been steady over the years. Cyclops is a dick; Storm doesn’t die, and Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are Magneto’s kids. Granted, that was built on a retcon, to begin with, but darn it, this has been the way of things for more than 40 years! It has crossed over into film and TV on more than one occasion and to see it end on such terms was… annoying.
During the Marvel event AXIS, characters throughout the Marvel Uuniverse found themselves inverted. Good became bad, and vice versa. Magneto, while attempting to reason with his inverted daughter came under one of her spells. Trying to curse him and his entire bloodline, she found herself and Quicksilver, who was also present, unharmed. This, of course, meant, that besides years of story saying otherwise, neither Quicksilver nor the Scarlet Witch were biologically related to Magneto. Apparently, again, ignoring volumes of comics, they aren’t even mutants anymore. But I’m sure this has nothing to do with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (sarcasm).
2. Jean & the Dark Phoenix
The Phoenix/Dark Phoenix saga is easily the most impactful story in all X-Men franchise history. In the first encounter with the Phoenix Force, we got to witness Jean and the cosmic being save the universe. In the conclusion, the giant firebird chose to stick around, corrupted Jean and was responsible for the deaths of possibly millions or billions. It was heart-wrenching and tragic to see someone that was willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of the universe, do a complete 180 about-face, turn into a sun-eating, planet smashing terror that was only interested in being amused.
To stop its rampaging, Jean and the firebird committed suicide… or so we thought. Turned-out that the “real” Jean Grey was safely deposited at the bottom of the ocean in a protective cocoon of sorts. This revelation would conveniently resolve her of any crime as it was committed not by her, but a cosmic being wearing her likeness. Does such a twist take away from the weight of the story? I think so.
1. Xorn is not Magneto… He’s a Xorn?
Magneto has done a lot of bad things during the more villainous portions of his comic book career. Many things that would otherwise be unforgivable for most people. Namely, 90% of Fatal Attractions where he’s responsible for quite possibly thousands of deaths that resulted in his EMPing the Earth, and then later savagely ripping the adamantium out of Wolverine’s body… to be fair, Wolvie tried to gut the man. Can’t blame Magneto for that, really.
After Cassandra Nova leveled Genosha, Magneto was presumed dead (no body, no death), but new X-Man, Xorn, revealed himself to be the Master of Magnetism in disguise. Upon the reveal, Magneto destroyed the X-Mansion and attacks New York City, both killing many citizens and making the rest his prisoner. The X-Men eventually triumph, but not before Magneto fatally injures Jean. Wolverine relieved Magneto of his head for that.
Once the writer of the story, Grant Morrison, finished his run they brought Magneto and Xorn back. The Xorn that they’d come to know wasn’t Magneto, but an imposter and the new Xorn was that one’s brother. So, Magneto was cleared of mass-murder, this time which allowed him to eventually join the X-Men without too much pushback. One of the more nonsensical, and sloppy retcons on this list.
Love, like, or hate them, there they are. X-Men’s most jaw-dropping retcons to date as told by me. Got a favorite? Let us know.