Artist: Toby Cypress
Letterer: Matt Krotzer
Cover: Toby Cypress
Publisher: Image Comics
A review by Nico Sprezzatura
Retcon is a shortened form of retroactive continuity, and refers to a literary device in which the form or content of a previously established narrative is changed. (Merriam Webster)
With DC currently in the midst of their latest Rebirth, and Marvel about to undergo their third consecutive line-wide relaunch in as many years, this week’s Retcon #1 (from Image Comics) asks the question: how many times can you reboot yourself? And just because you can, does it mean you should?
From Grant Morrison’s Animal Man to the currently ongoing Unbelievable Gwenpool at Marvel, the comic book medium loves getting meta and self-referential. This is especially true of superhero comics between the Big Two, which both provide plenty of fodder for writers and artists to poke fun at.
Retcon seems to be poking fun at the corporate comics industry’s tendency to refresh themselves on a quasi-annual basis. Take some deliberate wording choices in the solicit for this first issue, for example:
The reboot of a comic book miniseries that has never existed begins with an all-new, all-different issue #1! Time to travel back and jump in on this comic while it was new!
One thing I’ll say about Retcon #1 is that it definitely disorients the reader, which seems to be by design. It’s not unusual for casual fans of the Marvel & DC universes to experience a sense of confusion when diving into a character that has decades of continuity behind them, especially if they’ve been rebooted a few times beforehand.
Retcon #1 uses that unique sensation as a plot device for its story. While it’s a clever angle for story, I’m not totally sure it works here – at least not yet.
The problem with rebooting a fictional universe in the same installment you’re introducing it with is that you have no context for anything that’s happening. After DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, for example, decades of inconsistent continuity were jettisoned for a singular, streamlined history. With Marvel’s recent Secret Wars, popular aspects from their ailing “Ultimate” universe (Miles Morales, evil Reed Richards, et. al.) were imported into the main one. Because we’ve never encountered the world of Retcon before its inaugural issue, it’s hard to pinpoint what’s different about this world from its previous incarnation, thusly making it difficult to have any investment in the proceedings.
That’s not to say Retcon is bereft of interest. Though I read through it with some confusion, the story intrigued me; there’s enough of a hook to pull you in and continue reading further issues. It’s hard to describe what the story is exactly, but it involves supernatural elements and espionage intrigue… I think.
As interviewer Henry Barajas mentions in the back matter, it’s a “backwards” superhero story, and I think experiencing Retcon as a complete narrative, rather than a piecemeal one, will benefit the reader. Some comics just work better that way! Coming full circle with the comparisons to corporate comics, I’d even argue that most superhero stories from Marvel and DC would vastly improve from being released as graphic novels rather than monthly issues.
While writer Matt Nixon’s story is a little muddled in its early state, the real draw for my money here is artist Toby Cypress. The same back matter interview compares Retcon to the 70s work of Jim Steranko and Steve Ditko, which I absolutely see. Cypress’ art doesn’t necessarily resemble either of those artists’ output, but the same psychedelic, kinetic sensibility applies. The colors, also by Cypress, are sweaty and acidic, which boost the comparison. If the story doesn’t hook you along for the ride, the art probably will.
Matt Krotzer’s lettering is also very good, making the best of a wordy script filled with exposition. Like Cypress’ art, Krotzer’s lettering is similarly grimy and harried, which helps establish a sense of mood with the former’s visuals. Also, great rendering of onomatopoeias. I love great onomatopoeias.
Wait. There’s an interesting concept unfolding in Retcon #1, but waiting for the collected edition might make for a better reading experience.