What is truth? No, wait, let me amend that question. How does one recognize the truth? Hmmm, let me make it a bit more specific. How can a reader tell if what s/he’s reading is what really, actually, truly “happened” or is slightly distorted due to the imperfections of the storytellers (writer and artist), or worse, is a total fabrication that is passed off as truth until a later storyteller sets the record straight? In recent columns, we’ve been discussing how Marvel doesn’t do wholesale revamps of its heroes’ legends (origin and history), but it does on occasion provide new revelations about old events, and on the rarest of occasions, “explain away” certain details, phenomena, or incidents that are inconsistent with the consensus of past accounts (or aesthetically displeasing to the current storytelling team).
Last month I wrote about how biographical information about Steve Rogers before he became Captain America was revealed and then later revealed to be false. I’ve got two other famous examples of amended Marvel history. First there’s the origin of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. In GIANT-SIZE AVENGERS #1, evidence was presented indicating that the mutant siblings were the progeny of the Golden Age Whizzer and Miss America. This didn’t jibe with previous recollections of Quicksilver’s of how he was raised by gypsies. In AVENGERS #186, the Whizzer/Miss America theory was “explained away,” the gypsy upbringing was accounted for, and the twins’ true mother, a Gypsy named Magda, was revealed. (Their father, Magneto, was revealed to the readers but not to them in that month’s X-MEN.) The Magneto/Magda parentage is what is believed to be true today.
The Second great example of amended past history concerns the Hulk. In the short-lived RAMPAGING HULK black and white magazine, new accounts of the Hulk’s activities between the time of the cancellation of his original comic (a 6-issue Limited Series) and his assumption of a regular feature in TALES TO ASTONISH (with issue #60) were given. These new accounts undercut certain classic early Marvel tales by featuring the Hulk’s first meetings with such folks as the Avengers and the X-Men prior to the previously known first meetings of said heroes. Furthermore, since these new accounts didn’t appear for at least a decade or so after the original accounts did, no mention could be made in the original accounts of recognizing the Hulk from these “continuity-implanted” stories. Then in INCREDIBLE HULK #269, the RAMPAGING HULK material was revealed to have actually been the movies of alien movie-maker Bereet, and thus didn’t actually happen at all. (So that’s why no one mentioned these prior meetings with the Hulk before!)
So the question is, how do you know if a story’s “true” or if it won’t be revealed to be somebody’s misconception or an alien’s movie at some later date? The answer is you don’t. But Marvel’s writers tend to be a pretty responsible lot – they don’t mess with past stories lightly, and when they do there’s generally a pretty valid reason. As a general rule, be suspicious of flashbacks (events that are not presented at the time they occurred) because these are subject to the subjectivity of whatever character is having the flashback. Also be leery of stories whose details are inconsistent with the consensus of information in other stories. Beyond that, the bulk of Marvel history is pretty much what it says in print.