Matt Nixon & Toby Cypress’s RETCON from Image Comics is one of those books that can be easily lost on those without a deep understanding of comics history. Beyond just knowing what the term retcon means (retroactive continuity: a way to reset your story so certain things didn’t happen), you have to know how continuity shifts have changed comics since their inception. For instance, the first two issues of the book have not only drawn on comics history, but pieces of comics history that have rarely been revisited since they first were established. It isn’t an easy ride.
The book references heavily the early 2000’s terrorist hysteria that ran through all media, including comics., updating it to focus on Syrian refugees and the heroes who hate them. This is not a superhero book. The superhero is only a supporting character who largely has his own narrative, so “supporting” is even a stretch. More than anything, it’s a book about real loss, and thinking we have the power to fix the pain from that loss.
True to the era, the government-sanctioned, military-funded super being we see in this issue is more on the side of bureaucracy than justice. Though he’s clad in the conventional tights, he enters the action like a predator, and his first line comes when he orders all surveillance devices (smartphones) to be destroyed. This guy is a bad cop in tights, and a great addition to the dystopian, modern atmosphere.
You might not have thought much about how post-9/11 hysteria persists, and has even evolved since the early-2000’s, but this book is basically every uncomfortable video of injustice on social media in book form, so you can’t read RETCON without at least considering reconsidering your stance. Where a lot of books will bury their political commentary under a metaphor relevant to the superhero aesthetic, Nixon doesn’t try to entertain, nor does he try to educate. Nothing in RETCON #2 is news as of the time of its release, it’s the history of the last ten years.
Juxtaposing a message that may be hard to swallow for some is Toby Cypress’ interiors. Although this book shows some images of American patriotism in a shocking light, Cypress’ style is so minimalist that the emotional impact we should feel from a man with Islamophobic tattoos, or a superhero looming in front of a camera phone like a zombie, may feel lost on those looking for the realism to match Dixon’s words.
The veins of the story are still being fleshed out, but superheroes and demons notwithstanding, RETCON #2 doesn’t seem to be a book about fantasy. What I mean by that is it isn’t escapist. It’s entertaining, there’s plenty of cussing and zany visual moments thanks to Cypress’ chaotic style, but the problem faced by the hero, arguably by the entire world both real and within the pages of this story, isn’t one that can just be wiped away.
Story: Matt Nixon
Art / Cover: Toby Cypress
Publisher: Image Comics