Casualties of Retcon

The title comes from a series of articles on The Quarter Bin. The subject is a pair of very literal casualties from the recent mini-series, Titans/Young Justice: Graduation Day. I am speaking of Lilith and Donna Troy.

I was rereading the story yesterday, and I realized the two characters killed were those whose origins had been rewritten so many times that people didn’t know how to write them anymore. In fact, Donna has her own article at the Quarter Bin.

And both of them can be traced back to the post-Crisis decision to move Wonder Woman’s origin forward in time.

The immediate result of this was that Wonder Girl had appeared on the scene several years before Wonder Woman. So (1) she was no longer a teenaged sidekick, just a teenaged hero, and (2) she needed a new explanation for her powers. This was left an open question for a couple of years, then handled in Marv Wolfman and George Perez’ excellent “Who Is Wonder Girl.”

The only problem with that story is that it contradicted Lilith’s origin. Lilith had been an orphan, who could see glimpses of the future, but knew nothing of her own past. Her search for her parents (or at least her mother) served as a series of backup stories in the original Teen Titans series, and was finally concluded when she learned (just months before the Crisis) that she was the daughter of Thia, the sun goddess of the Titans of Greek myth. Unfortunately, Donna’s new origin also involved the Titans of Myth, but Thia had never left — leaving Lilith an orphan again.

The real messing up I lay squarely at the feet of Dan Jurgens and John Byrne (although a healthy amount can be blamed on the editorial policy of killing off any concept whose series has been cancelled — like the Darkstars, whose ranks Donna joined after she lost her own powers).

In Jurgens’ Teen Titans series, he introduced Omen, who was kind of a bargain-basement Raven, and eventually was revealed to be Lilith. She remarked that her psychic powers made her a blank slate, and she picked up elements of everyone around her. I think the “blank slate” part stuck in writers’ minds, because Lilith-as-Omen was extremely boring.

Meanwhile, when Byrne was writing Wonder Woman, he completely rewrote Donna’s origin, for no apparent reason other than to find a convoluted way to make her Wonder Woman’s sister. Near the end of the story, she was left a — there’s that phrase again — blank slate. They had to rebuild her history from one person’s memories. (Everyone else had been caught by a worldwide forget spell.) Supposedly, the universe would fill in the gaps, but the next Titans writer, Devin Grayson, chose instead to give Donna huge gaps in her memory and major identity issues. Jay Faerber tried to fix this in a sequel to Byrne’s story, but the series descended into mediocrity immediately afterward. (The best stuff in the series is that story and the issues Grayson and Faerber co-wrote during the hand-off. Then after this story, a new editor came on board, and the series descended into mediocrity and daytime talk show fodder — see Superheroes Behaving Badly: Jesse Quick.)

No one else’s history — on either team — had been rewritten as much as these two. Sure, Cyborg and Raven had been reinvented over and over again, but always in “current time” — never retroactively — and besides, both are in the new Cartoon Network show. (And Geoff Johns seems to have his own plans for Cyborg.)

So I’m sure there are people out there who look at these more as euthanasia than publicity stunts. And from the editorial perspective, they may be right. But all it takes is a good writer (and an editor willing to trust that writer) to fix a messed-up character.

5 thoughts on “Casualties of Retcon

  1. Amazon Prince 64

    I just wish they’d get a good origin for Donna and stick with it.
    They’ve changed it more time than I change my underwear. I really
    loved the George Perez version best. And the first Troia costume
    rules. I was beautiful.

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