It all began with my controversial assertion that “Marvel doesn’t revamp its legends – we got them right the first time.” I got a lot of mail about that Mark’s Remark – mostly negative – and thought that if I distinguished between a character’s legend (origin, motivations, and standard mode of operation) and his/her current status quo (his/her present circumstances, and whatever deviations from his/her long-term status quo), the controversy would subside since every series character (Marvel and elsewhere) undergoes status quo changes from time to time to keep things fresh. But no, I’m not off the hook yet. Some readers pointed to recent revelations in Hawkeye’s origin (see SOLO #2) as evidence of sneaky revamping. I replied that enhancement and expansion of murky areas of a character’s origin (e.g., how did an expert swordsman with no skills in archery train the kid who’d become the world’s greatest archer?) did not a revamp make since it did not substantially negate any element of what was established before. Then I brought up the problematic question of Captain America’s origin.
Cap was created in 1940, and his basic origin was chronicled then. When he was revived in 1965 and the origin was retold, a few details were at variance from the original account (e.g., was the scientist who created the Super Soldier formula named Reinstein or Erskine? Where’d these vita-rays come from?) Otherwise, the story was essentially the same. (Later stories accounted for these apparent discrepancies.) But the background of the boy who became Cap was pretty much a blank slate, and fertile ground for exploration,. A subsequent CAP writer (not me) filled in a few details – gave his parents names and occupations and gave him a brother who died at Pearl Harbor. Oops – a problem there. Not that Steve Rogers had an older brother we’d not yet heard about, but having his brother dying on December 7, 1941 played hob with prior accounts of when Steve underwent the Super-Soldier treatment. What to do? A still subsequent CAP writer (not me) “explained away” this background story ingeniously as a false set of memories given Cap by the War Department in the event he was captured and interrogated. Do we have revisionist history here? Yes and no. Certain “facts” previously presented as true were indeed falsified in an effort to restore some semblance of consistency to Cap’s legend. This process, undertaken for the reasons it was, does not constitute a revamp. To me, it would have been a revamp if essential details were altered with no attempt to account for the alteration. In other words, if it was passed off as the way it was all along. Marvel gums up the details sometimes and has to backtrack to make things jibe, but we don’t wave our magic editorial wands and say “This new version of the origin was the way it was all along, and if you have any comics that say otherwise, throw them away because they don’t really exist.” I trust I’ve now beaten this subject into the ground.