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Comic Theme Time Month – Best Superhero Origin

All December long, I will be doing daily installments of Comic Theme Time. Comic Theme Time is a twist on the idea of a “Top Five” list. Instead of me stating a topic and then listing my top five choices in that topic, I’m giving you the topic and letting you go wild with examples that you think fit the theme.

Today’s topic is “What do you think is the best superhero origin out there?”

Read on to see what I’m looking for specifically, along with some examples to get you started…

We’re all used to making fun of silly superhero origins, but what about the GOOD ones? What are the best superhero origins?

I think Iron Man has a really good one. Well, outside the depiction of the Asian guys in the book. But if you take that out, a cocky munitions designer gets blown up by a bomb and taken prisoner by the people his weapons help kill. He is dying from a heart injury but is forced to build weapons for the people who took him prisoner. However, one of his fellow prisoners helps him build a device that not only keeps his heart working but also serves as the main part of a suit of armor that the munitions designer can use to escape. This fellow prisoner then sacrifices himself to give the hero time to get the armor ready. So he escapes and gets revenge on his new friend’s murder. He then returns to America and uses the armor that he built while in captivity as a force for good.

That’s a great origin.

What superhero origin do you think is the best?

47 Comments

Born this way.

Spider-Man’s origin has an air of Greek tragedy to it. Peter chooses to use his powers for personal gain, and gets his uncle killed.

I like Solar: Alpha & Omega.

Yeah, I’d say Spider-Man has a pretty classic origin. Batman’s is great as well – he witnesses the murder of his parents and commits to eradicating all crime.

Like Iron Man, Spider-man’s origin is about redemption/atonement, but the difference between the two is that while Iron Man worked on his suit, Spider-man was simply given his powers by fate. The idea that he was given his powers for a reason goes beyond basic character development, but also conveys a deeper significance for the reader to accept responsibility for their actions, and do what they can to make up for their mistakes. In addition, Spider-man becoming responsible for his own uncle’s death is a feeling which many of us feel too often; we all feel responsible for the death (or injury) of a loved one, constantly asking, “What could I have done differently?” I think that the universal message which Spider-man’s origin tells is what makes it an unparalleled origin in which no hero could possibly compare.

How do you beat Batman’s? Tragedy inspires him to become the ultimate self-made man. He doesn’t have a radioactive spider bite, a god for a parent, or the sun as a battery. He used his economic resources and unequalled will to turn himself into the most mentally and physically formidadable man on the planet, able to stand with the children of Krypton and Zeus. Batman has truly earned what he is.

Superman, especially as depicted in All-Star Superman #1.

It never played out this way, but Spawn’s is great. Imagine being told you’re basically a superhero, except your power is limited. Therefore you can save the kid from the burning building, but that shortened not only YOUR life but the lifespan you have ot do good in other ways. The time counter rarely worked that way in practice, but put a standard-issue cape in a situation like that and that’d be some good moralizin’ every month.

Dr. Strange’s origin is pretty bad-ass.

I’m not sure I agree with this distinction between “silly” origin stories and “good” ones. If “good” means the most mythic or timeless origins, you can’t beat Superman’s; he’s basically Space Moses. But a more interesting question is how well the origin reflects the character, and if the character’s appeal is that he or she is weird, then weird origins are the best ones.

For instance: One of my favourite superhero origin stories is Steve Ditko’s Creeper. Jack Ryder is just a confident, wacky guy who takes all the insane nonsense that happens to him with a laugh and a grin, and his origin reflects that. It’s preposterous, but it’s fitting for a preposterous character.

If you’re looking for heroes who “earned” their abilities, don’t forget Steve Rogers becoming Captain America.

The great heroes seem to have great origins. Perhaps they’re great partly BECAUSE of their origins, which have a mythic quality.

These are the origins that every comics fan and much of the public knows: “Rocketed from Krypton,” “parents shot in alley,” “bombarded by cosmic rays,” “radioactive spider bite,” and so forth.

I think Captain America’s is one of my favorites.

A scrawny everyman, more than making up for his lack of physical strength and stamina with scrappy determination and boundless heart, puts his very life on the line for an experimental treatment in service to his country (which is being drawn into war against a ruthless, genocidal dictator). The moment of truth is both triumph – Steve Rogers is transformed! – and tragedy – the murder of Dr. Erskine by an assassin/saboteur, ensuring that the ultimate goal – an army of American super soldiers – will never be realized. But though he is only one man, Captain America becomes a veritable army of one, taking the battle to the Axis, and beyond.

Iron Man’s classic comics origin is WAY better than the modern movie version. It doesn’t depict Stark as a selfish egomaniac creating killing machines. Instead, Tony is shown as a wise and fair inventor, who specializes on magnets primaly. He has nothing in common with terrorists (Who are not the “10 Rings Gang” in the comic and who actually are from Vietnam) that take him hostage due to the fact that he has never been working on creating weapons. He is really the man that one can respect.

Hitman.

Born in the heart of one of the worst crossover promotions to generate new characters, the only one of said generation to be an awesome character, and the only one to be killed off as the proper conclusion of his own storyline rather than as a one-off throwaway sacrifice like every other Bloodlines character.

Also known for pretty much never using his superpowers.

I think The Coffin (http://cyberpunkcomics.com/cyberpunk-books/201011/the-coffin-10th-anniversary-hardcover) has a great origin. It takes elements of the Frankenstein story and weaves in a bit of Greek tragedy for good measure.

Always been a fan of Barry Allan’s origin. Special sciency chemicals, one in a lifetime lightening bolt….all the delicious trappings of a good science fictiony superhero origin.

The SHAZAM/Captain Marvel origin is a good one also. I like how DC/Jerry Ordway sneaking in the ghost of Billy’s father into the mix.

Ive always dug Moon Knight’s too, tossing yourself at the feet of a god of vengeance? brutal and baller at the same time.

I’d say Spider-Man, Batman, Superman, the Hulk, Iron Man, and the TMNT have great origins. Basically I think this comes down to the origins that you experienced when you were young. As a kid I loved all the origins I listed except for Iron Man and the Hulk, which I experienced much later. I could extend this to say that the origins of most of the older Marvel and DC characters are pretty great. They’re great stories that fit nicely into one issue. I still feel affected by Uncle Ben’s death in Amazing Fantasy 15 whenever I reread it. Newer heroes like Wolverine tend to have much more convoluted origins.

Batman, Spider-Man, and the Punisher: all three essentially riffs on the same basic idea They witness and/or are indirectly responsible for the deaths of the people closest to them, and use this as the inspiration (for lack of a better word) to fight evil. But the ways in which they do it could not be more different from one another.

I loved the Danny Ketch Ghost Rider and Michael Collins Deathlok origins, too. In one, the guy has no idea what’s going on (nor does the spirit possessing him), but almost everyone he deals with thinks they do because he looks like a previous character. In the other, a pacifist is transformed into a soulless war machine, the thing he most despises. I always thought both of those improved exponentially upon far less interesting characters who had basically been swept under the rug and forgotten.

I know we have a tendency to groan when these two are mentioned, but I really think Venom/Eddie Brock and Carnage have great origins. Eddie and the symbiote becoming bonded (in a church! along with the suicide/despair/”religious conviction” to kill Spidey), plus Eddie’s unwillingness to accept responsibility for his actions in the Sin-Eater debacle all provide nice, but subtle and more sinister, parallels to Spidey’s origin.

I guess that Cletus getting his symbiote wasn’t especially well-done (weird random birth of a new one; extra powers because it was spawned on Earth, etc etc yuck), but I do love that Carnage’s first murder was to read through the phonebook until he found the dumbest name possible to kill. Perfectly sets up his chaotic-yet-meticulous M.O. and provides a nice twist on Venom’s established behaviour.

While both characters have had their ups and downs since, I think McFarlane, Michelinie, and Bagley really struck the right chords in creating these characters and launching them to super-star status right off the bat.

No, Venom and Carnage both have terrible origins. Which fits, as they’re both terrible characters.

I’m a sucker for the origins tinged with some personal tragedy: Spider-Man, Batman, Daredevil, Hulk (that one with a nice dose of betrayal/treachery thrown in the mix).

Something always bugged me about Daredevil, though: growing up, I assumed the radiation that blinded him and gave him super senses also gave him increased strength, speed and agility. The first time I read his Marvel Universe entry, where it explained he got his physical abilities through rigorous training, it kind of soured me. Given the ridiculous feats I’d watched him perform for years, he actually seemed LESS realistic (which sounds silly, I know, but in comic book logic where radiation does wondrous things, it kind of makes sense).

Similarly, Moon Knight’s incredible skills were chalked up to intense training, and similarly, I’d have been perfectly satisfied with the story that Khonshu resurrected him, and also granted him enhanced abilities to strike out in the name of vengeance.

I guess what I’m saying is I can handle the rigorous training origin sometimes (Batman is kind of the original example, and with someone like Shang Chi you accept it ’cause that’s pretty much how you become a master of kung fu) but when that’s the go-to story too often, it loses its charm.

captain marvel/shazam! family, both cap and jr. have great wish-fulfillment stories that are timeless and universal.

i also love when someone comes up with a new origin story for a green lantern corps member.

For any hero with a long enough publishing history, there’s the original origin, and the various retellings of it. These often differ in quality, but a great origin survives a mediocre retelling. And sometimes one of the retellings is actually so good you want to consider it an enhanced origin.

I’ve never seen a bad telling of the origins of Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Hulk, Daredevil, and some have been fantastic, but my nomination for an okay origin that became great through enhancement is Barry Allen’s Flash, as revealed in Secret Origins Annual #2.

Spider-man is the best to me. it’s a great story (it really could be a twilight zone episode with minimal rewriting) and it gives us everything we need to know about the character. I love when the origin gives you the broader theme in the context of the story (with great power…)

Hulk is also up there as one of my favs for lots of the same reasons,.

Basically every Steve Ditko character. Even Dr. Druid.

In addition to those already mentioned, I’ve always liked Green Arrow’s origin. Stuck on an island, Oliver Queen has to develop his archery skills to survive. Along the way, he encounters criminals, uses his skills to defeat them, and finds a purpose for his life.

The origins I’d call best belong to Dr. Strange, Spider-Man, and Batman.

I love the Doom Patrol origin revamp, with Niles Caulder mucking up the lives of three pompous victoms. He tuned them into freaks, then into heroes, then nearly killed them all. On many levels, he’s worse than Dr. Doom

It goes without saying that Batman, Spider-Man, and Superman are the classic Superhero archetype origins, to which all others are rightfully judged. I think they also encompass 3 of the 5 different classic varieties of Superhero origins: accident (Spider-Man), self-discipline (Batman), and alien (Superman), with the other two being scientific creation and born that way.

But my favorite origin, and one that I think doesn’t get enough credit for how wisely it was conceived over time, is Wolverine. To be clear, I’m only talking about the contributions made to the character (or the “take” on the character) by Claremont, Hama, and Windsor-Smith. I think everything “revealed” about Wolverine since those writers laid the blueprint has been so-so to bad.

But the most basic idea of Wolverine is a great one. A mutant born with the gift of being the perfect, unkillable hunter is experimented on because he’d be able to survive the upgrades. The experiments are designed to turn him into the perfect weapon/soldier, but in doing so, his humanity is compromised even more than it already was. To prevent the subject from knowing he was poked and prodded in a lab, his memory was tampered with. His age is unknowable, and he has fought in countless wars over the years. Particularly, the interpretation of Wolverine created by Claremont and Frank Miller in the original mini-series is nearly perfect: the idea that Logan’s basic nature is animalistic, but his aspiration is to maintain the inner serenity and control of a samurai. This is the perfect dichotomy of the character.

I think Wolverine has written the wrong way an unfortunately large number of times over the years. Like Batman and The Punisher, his “coolness” and obvious violent nature make it incredibly easy and tempting to go overboard with the character. But when you just look at the core elements of the character, he’s one of the best.

And, to change the subject, I’d like to give an honorable mention to Bendis and Millar for the way they conceived the origin of the Ultimate Universe as a whole. The idea that Spidey, Hulk, Iron Man, Pym, Green Goblin, Doc Oc, etc. all originated from different scientists competing with one another to try and recreate the Super-Soldier process that led to Captain America was an extremely effective idea that made the Ultimate line feel like a cohesive whole. It also makes sense from a real-world motivation standpoint: When Captain America, the first super-hero, is created, the world’s scientific community is so awestruck by the possibilities that they spend the next 60 years trying to one-up it. This is completely believable within the context.

Ronald Jay Kearschner

December 5, 2011 at 3:01 pm

I prefer Spiderman to Batman because Batman is essentially motivated by vengence, leading to all those grim and gritty stories. Spiderman is spurred on on by guilt from his own inaction. Maybe if bratty Bruce had thrown a temper tantrum until his parents took him to that movie in a bad neighborhood…

Josh said, “Spider-man is the best to me. it’s a great story (it really could be a twilight zone episode with minimal rewriting)”

It’s funny you should say that because I’ve always found the other stories published in Amazing Fantasy to be very reminiscent of Twilight Zone episodes.

I wonder how long before Marvel resurrects Amazing Fantasy as a title of a new series?

I agree that Spider-Man has the best origin.

Superman, Batman and Spider-Man’s origins are classic for a reason.

Also, I’d like to put in a vote for Ultimate Hulk. I like it a lot more than 616 Banner, because there’s that great element of hubris and tragedy in the Ultimate version. Bruce Banner was a miserable little man with no self-esteem. Captain America was his childhood hero. He wanted to be like his favorite superhero, something many of us can relate to: he wanted to be strong and confident and admired. He tried to replicate the Super-Soldier Serum, and decided to test it on himself. Instead of being punished for heroism, as in 616, Ultimate Banner is punished for trying to cheat at self-improvement, taking a special serum instead of improving his life like normal people do. And of course it backfired tremendously.

I also really like Mark Millar’s origin for Ultimate Iron Man. It’s got a nice simplicity, and a good branch-off from 616. Tony Stark was a selfish hedonist who decided to help the world, not because he had a close brush with death, but because he is ACTUALLY DYING, with no fancy sci-fi way out. He has an inoperable brain tumor. There’s some nice symbolism there, too – Tony Stark’s heart has never been his problem, it’s his mind that’s always getting him in trouble. So it’s kind of horribly perfect that his brain is literally killing him.

Call me crazy, but I love the Barry Allen Flash’s origin. Love, love, love it. A bolt of lightning hits a wall of chemicals and a scientist gets super speed. (As opposed to being electrocuted or poisoned. Or both). It’s so big and bold and colourful and more about the spectacle than the actual science. Pretty much like the Silver Age it ushered in.

For all I know, DC has probably retconned the hell out of it but I’ve always liked Plastic Man’s origin. Essentially it’s the same as the Joker’s–a crime goes wrong and douses him with chemicals– but unlike the Red Hood who went on to be a villian, the Eel saw the light and joined the FBI.

I have to admit Spiderman and the Hulk’s origins are better but the transformation of G-man from criminal makes Plastic Man stand out (that and Jack Cole).

Maybe if bratty Bruce had thrown a temper tantrum until his parents took him to that movie in a bad neighborhood…

You may know this already because you’ve described it so precisely, but that’s exactly what happens in some of the later tellings of the origin.

Basically every Steve Ditko character. Even Dr. Druid

I like this comment, but Druid was Kirby. (Ditko was the inker, though.)

I like Hal Jordan’s Green Lantern origin, as this ordinary guy gets his world opened up to him by the encounter with the dying space alien.

I also like the Legion of Super-Heroes team origin. Brian once put it this way on one of his polls: “Three young people discover their calling,” or something like that. It makes for one of my favorite team origins.

He was a joke character, but Argh! Yle! had an awesome origin, a completely ridiculous send-up of Superman and Spider-Man (with a giant radioactive spider biting the escape pod in space). And it tied him permanently to his arch-nemesis Ambush Bug. Not bad for a crazed sock with a Dr. Doom mask.

Actually, mentioning Argh! Yle! reminds me of the Tick’s origin, which was also a joke but awesome. If I’ve got it right, he was simultaneously struck by lightning, hit by a meteorite and bitten by a special (radioactive?) tick, which caused him to accidentally utter an ancient Egyptian incantation at the same time.

Spider-man was the first name to pop into my head, it just works on a lot of levels. Batman is of course another great one. Ritchard mentioned the Michael Collins Deathlok, and I’ll join in mentioning that I loved that take on the character. Captain America and Superman’s origin work I think because a lot of stories after the fact have filled in the blanks to make them better.

One probably not mentioned because it’s somewhat silly, but at the same time it’s kinda cool is Booster Gold’s origin. I mean imagine if you had a chance to come back in time, yes Abra Kadabra choose one way to go about doing that, but I like the youth fullfilment aspect of Booster, coming back to be a superhero(and heck if you make money off of it, why not)

Captain America

Someone actually mentioned Wolverine and included the entire origin? Yechh… You can go with about a third of his origin and get a good origin, you start adding all these other layers, which were mostly created to retcon whatever the writer wanted and it’s not so good.

I mean good origin a mutant born with healing powers(among others, including an animal like rage) is captured by the government, experimented on, turned into an ultimate killing machine, escapes to the wild, where he at some point in time regains his humanity and eventually travels the world where in Japan he works on controlling his animalistic tendencies taught to him by a great sensai, ….. Good origin. Add the stupidity of him always having the claws, making him 100+ years old, having him cross over into every event on earth for his first 70 years of life is just unnecessarily complicated for a straight origin.

Of course you could take other aspects and make a good origin, it’s just the mess of all the different origins that make it unwieldy and to be frank, quite dumb. Wolverine has about three good origins in him, and a mess of other crap that tries to explain away or shoe horn other writers take on the story.

@capt usa

I specifically said in what I wrote about Wolverine that I’m really only counting the Claremont aspects, along with a bit of the more detailed takes on Weapon X done by Windsor-Smith and Hama. I’m not counting all the later retcons by Jenkins, Way, and whoever else.

The aspects of Wolverine’s origin that you listed as good are almost exactly the same as the aspects that I listed.

And I maintain that the aspects of Wolverine’s origin that were conceived by Chris Claremont and his collaborators made for a great super-hero origin.

Yorick Brown.

(Yes, Yorick is a superhero. He has the super power to make babies.)

Also Mark Grayson.

Superman. He is rocketed off to Earth just as home planet explodes. Get that, his home planet blew up! Case closed.

I like Hulk’s and Daredevil’s because they both get their powers in the process of risking their lives to save someone else.

It’s hard to beat Spider-Man, Iron Man, Captain America or Batman for really involved stories though.

The Alan Moore take on the Joker in “Killing Joke” is pretty great (though he’s not a hero). Even though DC has made it clear that we will never get a definitive origin so he can remain a mystery, I know I’m not alone when I say that that is the the one I think of as closest to “official”.

For a great take on “realistic” superheroes, the fact that most of the “heroes” in Garth Ennis’s “The Boys” are intentionally created by a big, evil corporation for no other reason than to exploit them for financial gain is pretty much exactly what would happen in real life (unfortunately).

I remember once in an old Marvel Team-Up with Spidey and Beast, where the Beast is (inexplicably, to me) shown as incredibly popular with women hanging all over him, and Spidey thinks to himself “Sheesh, why couldn’t I have been bitten by a radioactive blue gorilla?”

Which paints quite the mental picture of being killed by the “superpower catalyst” before a superpower has time to develop.

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