It’s All Geek to Me/Retcon This – MacGuffins, Deus Ex Machina, and Chaos War

Whether we’re talking Boom Tubes or retcons, there’s plenty of jargon in the world of comics. The PoP! Stars are here to ensure you’re not left scratching your head, saying “It’s All Geek to Me.”

MacGuffin – n.1) a plot point of no specific consequence used to set a plot in motion  “Most Simpsons episodes begin with a MacGuffin of some sort that has little to do with the main plot of the episode, but which is often touched on once again at episode’s endsee also: McGuffin, Maguffin

Deus ex machina – n.1) literally “god out of the machine,” a plot device that comes as if from nowhere to resolve a story’s conflict. The term refers back to Greek theater, where many plays were concluded by an actor in the role of a god being lowered by crane onto the set to come to the protagonists’ aid “Relying on deus ex machina rather than a logical turn of events to conclude a story is a poor, but all too common, practice in writing today

So this is a slightly different approach to a Saturday – two new vocabulary words AND a retcon of sorts!? There’s a method to my madness… just wait.

First, we must discuss the dual plot contrivances of the MacGuffin and the deus ex machina, and there’s no better place to turn for both than the old Adam West Batman show. The typical set up for each episode was that the villain of the week was planning some sort of caper, which was the MacGuffin. Ultimately, it didn’t matter what they were trying to steal, who they were trying to kidnap, or where they were going to attack – every episode was more about getting Batman and Robin in some sort of death trap and watching them try to escape than it ever was about the heist at hand. And yet, how did the Dynamic Duo escape these perilous plots? Inevitably, Batman had tucked away in his utility belt the exact means necessary for their escape. We’re not talking about a batarang, or cutting torch, or anything so universally practical. No, we’re talking about Bat Anti-Penguin Gas Pills (no, not Gas-X) and Bat-Shark Repellant – things so specific and absurd that they couldn’t possibly have been the result of proper preparation on the part of our protagonists, but were instead little more than dreaded dei ex machina (that’s the plural form!).

Got it? Good. So here’s where Chaos War factors into all of this… it was nothing BUT one giant MacGuffin capped off by a deus ex machina, quite literally.

When you look at an event like Civil War or Blackest Night, the meat of the event was hugely relevant to the stories as they unfolded and – further – instrumental in shaping the worlds they left behind. Civil War altered alliances and redefined certain characters by putting a bold new concept on the table and forcing the Marvel heroes to deal with it. Blackest Night introduced new Lantern Corps and then explored their effects on the characters of the DCU; killing a few, resurrecting some, and repurposing others still – all with respect to the various new corps. So what about Chaos War?

Chaos War spent four issues and a handful of tie-ins establishing the idea that there was a being out there – the Chaos King – who was more powerful than any (or even all) of the gods of the Marvel Universe. No matter what they tried, no one could stop this being of great destruction. Not even the recently resurrected Avengers, X-Men, or Alpha Flight. But none of that mattered, because in the end, a couple of gods punched him, and then Amadeus Cho teleported him into a pocket universe where he was perfectly content. The portal between universes was closed, and that was the end of that. What was the point?

Well, you see, Hercules was killed off in his own book about a year ago, and then resurrected as an “All Father” with more godly power than he knew what to do with. Now, he’s back to normal – or less than, I guess. He may just be human now. And Mount Olympus is now sitting off the coast of New York, because American comic book writers are egocentric enough to bring Asgard to Oklahoma, so why not bring Olympus to the East Coast? Oh, and while everyone else who was supposed to be dead has seemingly returned to that state, Alpha Flight is still alive.

It’s all ridiculous and has nothing to do with anything. Marvel editorial just needed a villain who was powerful enough to make these changes seem halfway logical, but in the course of building him up, made him too powerful, and resultantly had to come up with some sort of Hail Mary maneuver to see to his defeat. The whole thing smacks of the original Onslaught event, and that is NOT a compliment. And… does no one else remember that while the Chaos King was attacking the 616, everyone was going on about the threat he posed to the multiverse as a whole? Why, then, did shunting him off to a different universe mean he was no longer a concern?

The only ongoing this book has directly affected – so far – has been Incredible Hulks. Is it possible, then, that we chock this whole debacle up to some sort of Hercules/Hulk fever dream/vision/hallucination and play it off like it all just happened in Herc’s head? Or… something!?



Filed Under: ColumnsIt's All Geek to MeRetcon This!

Who ARE these people!?

Jason Kerouac is a co-founder of He spends roughly half of his waking life in servitude to the Giraffe. Raised in a town in New Hampshire you've never heard of, he now lives in Indianapolis, IN and is pretty sure that's a step in the right direction.

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