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Comic Book Dictionary – Underscorigins

This week’s first issue of Venom: Dark Origin brings up something that I call “underscorigins.”

Read on if you don’t mind being spoiled about the first issue of Venom: Dark Origin!

An Underscorigin is when a writer (always after the fact) comes up with an origin for a character that underscores later character traits.

It is not ALWAYS cheezy, but most of the time, it is pretty cheezy.

In Venom: Dark Origin #1, we learn that Eddie Brock has been lying to make himself look good his entire life, which underscores the fact that that is how he becomes Venom – he lied about who the Sin-Eater was and was called on it and had his career as a reporter ruined because he was caught in the lie.

Another recent underscorigin was also a Spider-Man villain, as the origin of the Sandman included lots an lots of references to sand in his childhood.


Ah, so we have a term for what Peter David did in that Sandman story…and in most of his retellings.

I just chalked it up to his losing subtlety’s phone number some years back and never bothering to call 411.

Geoff Johns’ spotlight issue on Captain Cold is another good example. It shows his unhappy childhood, where the only place he felt safe was with his grandfather (IIRC)…who drove an ice delivery truck.

Would you apply this to the origin of almost every Batman villain? The Scarecrow sticks out most in my mind, especially after his Year One treatment at the time of Batman Begins.

Sounds like the preview blurb for Superman/Batman… Something about Jor-El and Thomas Wayne meeting before they had kids to arrange for their children to work together….




I actually found that Jor-El/Thomas Wayne story funny in a very dark way. Here they were planning for their kids to be friends. Then they both died, but their kids met anyway.
Also, I don’t really mind underscorigins (awesome word, BTW), especially in this case. Most people who tell a big lie that bites them in the ass got to that point through many little lies. And in the case of Captain Cold it makes sense from a psychological perspective. Underscorigins are only cheesy in cases like Sandman when the powers are the result of a freak accident yet somehow relate to something in the character’s past.

lol…so now every villan has an excuse as to why he’s bad?

no one just wants to be the villian for fun and they can all trace it back to the fact they weren’t hugged enough? or maybe too much…

does there always have to be a reason?

next Doomsday will be found to have some kind of repressed homosexual feelings for Superman and doesn’t know how to express them properly, so he hits him like a school boy hits the girl he likes and runs away…i guess we could also use that as an explanation to him just wearing underwear and boots..maybe some exhibitionist need to be seen…lol..

im thinking with enough imagination the whole DC Universe could really be rewritten with some interesting twists…

Captain Cold might be more interesting if he developed some kind of ice fetish whe he was younger which left him impotent so now his gun is representing his lost manhood and everytime he fires it it’s his ‘release’ and sexual gratification…now go back and re-read those stories with that in mind…lol…

I liked the Thomas Wayne/Jor-El meeting, for the most part.

It was the type of story you’d see frequently during the Silver Age, and I’m actually kind of surprised that we haven’t seen it since.

The only thing that put me off a bit was Wayne reverse-engineering the Kryptonian technology to give him an edge on the other Gotham companies – that seemed to be a bit much.

The only thing that put me off a bit was Wayne reverse-engineering the Kryptonian technology to give him an edge on the other Gotham companies – that seemed to be a bit much.

That sounds absolutely horrid.

The Venom comic doesn’t sound much better.

Wait, that Superman/Batman story actually happened?

Jesus, I thought he was kidding!

The Venom underscorigin doesnt’ actually sound that bad. It makes a certain amount of sense, and is definitely no worse than the original Michilinie origin.

The Superman/Batman underscorigin sounds awful though. Just awful. All of it. Yes it was the kind of thing that would happen in Silver Age DC stories, which is all the more reason not to do it. There’s a reason why DC hemorrhaged readers to Marvel over the course of the Silver Age, and stories like that were why.

Another awful underscorigin was Michael Green’s Joker story in Batman confidential.

“Read on if you don’t mind being spoiled about the first issue of Venom: Dark Origin!”

Why on Earth would I mind being spoiled about a comic with the words “Venom” and “Dark” in the title? It’s not like I’m ever touching the thing.


August 6, 2008 at 6:57 pm

I just plain don’t get a mini-series about a characters origin, when we’ve already seen that characters origin.

I can maybe understand it in the case of something like Superman: Birthright (which wasn’t great at all), where they are trying to re-jig an origin into place*, but other than that?

*And that only gets a pass as there are a lot of books hanging off of Supermans origin.

I don’t recall Eddie Brock being a liar, particularly, in his original origin. He was just a bad reporter that didn’t check his sources. He didn’t make them up, though.

Yeah, but I can see the Eddie Brock thing making a certain amount of sense to me, too, though (keeping in mind that I haven’t read the new issue and can’t really comment on how it’s handled). I mean, what does one show in his origin? That he was an awesome reporter with a lot of integrity who just happened to screw up once on the biggest case of his life? And then became a murdering psychopath almost immediately after being found out? Even if he wasn’t conclusively shown to be liar in his earliest appearences, he was clearly always a guy who cut corners and didn’t worry so much about whether he was getting things exactly right. To me, at least, it makes sense as a villianous origin, and he doesn’t have quite so far to go when the symbiote gives him a push.

The Sandman thing, however, sounds hilariously ridiculous.

I like “Undersorigins.” It’s one of those things that I’ve never really consciously thought about, now I’m thinking “Oh yeah, that happens all the time!” In fact, I think one of my “prequel” pet peeves would fall under the umbrella of underscorigins: when a hero who had always been presented as a normal person up until his or her superheroic career started is revealed to have lead a life of action and excitement BEFORE he or she got powers. Like, Reed Richards being an Indiana Jones-style adventurer, or Storm being a cross between the Artful Dodger and Lara Croft before her powers manifested (okay, Storm was never presented as a “normal person” per se, but it always seemed to me that she was originally intended to have rarely – if ever – set foot outside the community she was living in when Xavier recruited her, until Claremont started layering new skills and backstory on her).

I know, the logic makes sense: “Anyone who reacts to getting powers by becoming a superhero must have been basically heroic and adventurous before they got their powers.” But it happens so often (I believe every member of the Fantastic Four fought at least one monster or villain before getting powers) that it just ends up seeming too convenient.

Bill Mantlo did that with the Hulk, when he was all savage and wordless and lost in the Crossroads Dimension, Hulk imagined three floating friends based on toys he had when Bruce was a child and his dad was mean to him, so the Hulk was an abused child, or some tripe. Wait, some of that got into the Ang Lee movie!

Reed Richards being an Indiana Jones style adventurer is not really that bad an underscorigin as it was revealed early on in the Lee/Kirby run that he used to run around with Nick Fury before he got powers and have adventures with him.

in every other medium on this planet its called fleshing out a character over time…every character in literature evolves this way..Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, Jason Bourne….most rational human beings expect this when they read books and dont decry the fact that it was spelled out in the first Sherlock Holmes story that he had an addiction problem. How is it possible for a character to evolve over the course of 50 yrs without finding out more insight into their personality and past??? Wouldnt it be worse to tell a story from the characters past and have it NOT underscore their future behavior? we have the only medium where fans expect everything to move forward and never change at the same

could anybody suggest the best place to buy second hand comics??

randypan the goat boy

May 30, 2011 at 6:53 pm

I dont know how to put quotes on here, but the guy that said” why would i be worried about spoilers in a book with dark and venom in the title…im never going to touch it” Im kind of paraphrasing, but that guy understands how i go looking for comics. If I see the words dark and or venom then i know to stay away. Its almost like a sixth sense. I feel the same about the words Rob and Liefeld. or if i see the word blood in the title[surprisingly enough the words Rob Liefeld and Blood are in the same sentence a bunch]. I have to be honest about one thing though. i only buy trades and usually its of something i know i will like.

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