Warning: contains spoilers for The Marvels #11!
In recent years, Iron Man and the Punisher’s origins were subtly retconned, and now these changes get an in-continuity explanation. Both Marvel heroes’ origins were once tied to the Vietnam War, but 2019’s History of the Marvel Universe changed this to the “Siancong War,” and in Marvels #11, readers learn there is far more to the Siancong War than initially thought; leading to stunning revelations about continuity changes that affected not only the Punisher and Iron Man, but the Fantastic Four as well.
The Marvel Age of Comics began in the 1960s, a turbulent decade that saw the United States heighten its involvement in South Vietnam, in an attempt to prevent Communism from gaining a foothold in the country. As such, some characters in Marvel’s first wave reflected this conflict. Iron Man was one such character; years later, the Punisher was revealed to have served in Vietnam as well. However, as the Vietnam War recedes further and further into the past, and Iron Man and the Punisher stay the same age, new socio-political touchpoints were needed, and History of the Marvel Universe provided one: the fictional “Siancong War,” an event that was for all intent and purposes the Vietnam War.
However, in Marvels #11, writer Kurt Busiek, artist Yildiray Cinar, colorist Guru eFX and letterer Simon Bowland, take this “Siancong War” a step further, revealing the country Siancong was an actual living, entity. At the conclusion of issue ten, a ragtag group of heroes, including Iron Man, Captain America, and Aarkus (the Golden Age Vision) find themselves in an extra-dimensional comic book shop. Brought there by the mysterious Ace, he presents them with a comic, and in a mind-bending “comic within a comic,” they learn the secrets of Siancong. Once an alien entity named Shan K’Ang, Siancong oversaw a distant world, leading its inhabitants into an era of peace and prosperity–until invading aliens called the Kaaragga lay waste to Shan K’Ang’s world. The survivors rebuild, this time creating giant mechas to protect them. However, the mechas are no match for the Kaaragga, who return to Shan K’Ang’s world once again; each time the survivors rebuild, the Kaaragga return, until eventually nothing is left. In her grief, Shan K’Ang departed her planet, eventually making her way to Earth; once here she “disguised” herself as a country in Southeast Asia called “Siancong,” weaving a fictional backstory out of the histories of nearby countries, including Vietnam.
Shan K’Ang’s arrival on Earth had huge ramifications for Iron Man and the Punisher, as it rewrote their entire histories. When Iron Man first appeared in 1963’s Tales of Suspense #39, his origin was specifically tied to the conflict in Southeast Asia. While Frank Castle’s military background was not discussed in his first appearances, later stories put the Punisher in Vietnam. Shan K’Ang morphed herself into a Southeast Asian country, taking cues from nearby countries in creating her own backstory, even going so far as to incorporate the colonialism and imperialism that drove much of the conflict in that area–all in the name of passing herself off as a “real country.” Since Iron Man and the Punisher were tied to the Vietnam War, spurred by Western colonialism, they became incorporated into Shan K’Ang’s narrative–and thus received new origins.
However, they are not the only heroes impacted by Shan K’Ang’s “disguise.” History of the Marvel Universe situated a number of other Marvel heroes, such as the Thing, in the Siancong War, meaning the Fantastic Four’s origin has been subtly rewritten as well. Retcons are a major aspect of superhero universes, and Marvel has provided a clever explanation for a massive retcon to the origins of the Punisher and Iron Man.
Next: Iron Man’s Greatest Rival is a Dolphin in a Mech Suit (Yes, Really)
Marvels #11 is available now from Marvel Comics!