Recently I saw a claim that Marvel once tried to say that a new Black Panther series was actually a "reboot" of Black Panther continuity, and then later backed down and said it wasn't a reboot after all. I must have missed that controversy at the time.
This got me wondering: Has Marvel ever done a full reboot of one of its character concepts?
(And let me clarify something: I mean aside from the titles set in their Ultimate Universe. That obviously qualifies as one Huge Reboot of dozens of characters, except that Marvel cleverly buttered its bread on both sides by keeping them around in their old versions, with decades of continuity piled up, at the same time in different titles!)
If you're not quite sure what I mean by "Reboot," then just let me quote some material from a post I once did about DC's history of rebooting this, that, and the other at the drop of a hat. [Note: some of the stuff I mention below about DC's continuity, if you care, has been further retconned since the time I wrote this almost a year ago.]
What is a Reboot?
Reboot = Everything from before gets thrown away!
All -- or very nearly all -- of a character's previously published stories, that had him at the center of the action, get erased from continuity, leaving a clean slate for a fresh start. In the new continuity, they never happened and the other superheroes in that same comics universe don't remember anything about them. Now a writer is "starting all over from scratch" with the essential character concept, That is a Reboot.
If some bits and pieces of a character's history get changed on the spur of the moment, that is a Retcon. But if a lot of his old adventures are still supposed to be valid, allowing for some changes to various details, then he has not been Rebooted.
Things that aren't Reboots
1. The character's origin story gets retold with some new twists, but all of his subsequent adventures are still supposed to have happened, just about the way his veteran fans remember them.
For instance, Mark Waid recently wrote "Birthright," which is apparently supposed to retcon and replace the version of Superman's origin story that was offered to us twenty years ago in John Byrne's "Man of Steel" miniseries. But that does not mean Superman is getting Rebooted all over again, because just about everything else that's happened to him in his comics in the last twenty years is still in continuity.
2. The old character dies or retires and someone else puts on a costume and starts calling himself the successor with the same name.
For instance, Barry Allen (the Silver Age Flash) died in COIE. Wally West took over the role of being the Flash. That was a big change, but not a Reboot, because most of Barry's old Pre-Crisis stories were still in continuity. People in the DCU still remembered that those things had happened.
3. A new writer comes along and makes some changes, giving the hero a new supporting cast, giving him a different attitude, telling his stories with a whole different style.
This happens all the time in the comic book industry. It isn't a Reboot; it just means different writers will have different stories they want to tell.
4. The hero's old series got cancelled; he gets a new series with a new #1.
That isn't a Reboot unless all the hero's past adventures from the old series have just been erased from continuity, the way Wonder Woman's were twenty years ago when her old series got cancelled and then a new one started up later. Most of the time, this is simply a Relaunch.
5. Changing the exact roster of the "Founding Members" of a team, but saying that the team actually still had most of the same adventures from its old series, is not a Reboot.
For instance, in the Post-Crisis continuity regarding the original JLA, the official version said that Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman had not been Founding Members of the League. The second Black Canary had been, however, "replacing" Wonder Woman. Superman and Batman were apparently admitted to have lent a helping hand to the old JLA on various occasions if opportunity permitted. That was a Major Retcon to JLA continuity, but we weren't being told that all those stories from the JLA title of the 60s, 70s, and early-to-mid 80s had "never happened at all." They had just happened with a somewhat different set of members than we previously thought. That was not the same thing as tossing out the old JLA series and saying, "All that stuff never happened at all!" (It was a rather obnoxious thing to do to veteran JLA fans, however.)