With Disney’s success with the Avengers franchise, geeks everywhere are being treated to an outrageously large number of TV shows and movies based on comic book superhero characters. For the fall season alone, we’re going to see new TV series based on The Flash, Constantine, Gotham City before Batman, and even a series featuring Captain America’s crush, Agent Carter. Comic book movies have gotten so popular that Disney actually decided to roll the dice on a Guardians of the Galaxy movie that features a talking tree and a raccoon with automatic weapons.
We’ve come a long way since Saturday morning cartoons were the only time we saw comic book characters on TV. Even then, they thought we needed a monkey and a couple of twins for comic relief, just for kids to get through it.
But all these movies and reboots mean that we’re playing around with origin stories quite a lot, and sometimes for good reason. Iron Man is a perfect example. The original Iron Man origin story takes place in Vietnam. There are obvious reasons that that story needs to be updated for a new movie that meshes with modern characters.
Sometimes, we play with origin stories for rights reasons. Marvel sold the rights to the X-Men to Sony and the Avengers to Disney. So this year, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, who were in both groups at one time, will appear in two different movies played by different actors.
Sometimes, it seems like we do it because people can’t leave well enough alone, as with the Incredible Hulk. People often forget that the Hulk actually is transformed when Bruce Banner is caught in a bomb test blast trying to save a little boy. They also forget that he was abused by his father as a child and his first “rage moment” actually came decades before he becomes the Hulk, when he retaliated against his abusive father. Instead, we’ve got boring experiment gone wrong in most of the movies.
Why do I care about the origin stories so much? Because that’s the moment when a regular person (even possibly a person who already has powers) becomes a hero. It is the best moment in every hero’s first movie. At least the good ones. There are a lot of ways to become super. Here’s a look at some of the best and worst ways to become super:
The death of your parents. This is a recurring theme. Spider-Man, Batman, Iron Man, the Hulk, and Superman all endure the loss of their parents before they become heroes. Interestingly enough, only one of them, Batman, doesn’t need added help. Batman goes so crazy from the loss of his parents he straps on a belt and starts knocking heads. At least the others wait to actually get super. It stinks, because even though it makes you a hero, you’re stuck with dead parents.
Exile. This is the ultimate Superman plot. But it also goes for Thor, Submariner, and Wonder Woman. Usually in this case the hero is more ordinary in his or her home, but after coming to Earth is extraordinary -- compared to us. Exile shapes the heroes' views of the world and gives them their powers. But it's the death of your parents on steroids. You lose not only your family, but your way of life and everything you know. I’ll pass.
Baby, I was born this way. In the Marvel universe, they’re called mutants. Sometimes they’re called gifted, evolved, or chosen. But every comic book universe seems to have a race of humans that is just more advanced than we are. Sounds cool, right? By the lottery of birth you are given incredible power. No deaths in the family. No loss of your planet.
The problem is that humans don’t tend to take too kindly to people who are different. You get hunted down, lose your rights, and live in seclusion or at some pretend school. Worse yet, when you discover your power the first time, you’re almost always incredibly embarrassed, like blowing your first kiss or something. Sometimes things go really bad.
An experiment gone wrong. Marvel loves this one. Spider-Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, and a bunch of others fall under this category. It usually involves some sort of radiation. This is a good one, because usually you have a couple things going for you here. You’re probably pretty smart, because a lot of times it is your experiment gone wrong. You don’t always have to go through emotional trauma to get your powers (though sometimes to be a hero). You do get pesky side effects though, like sometimes you can’t control the powers, or you get changed physically forever. Or there’s this guy who was probably granted the power of making flat drinks fizzy.
An experiment gone right. An even better origin is when you plan to make yourself super and the thing actually works. Captain America and his super soldier serum is the obvious choice. Even better is Ant-Man, who invented his own serum. That way you’ve got super smarts as well as super powers. The only problem with the experiment gone right is that you become someone else’s experiment. For 60 years a recurring plot around Captain America is trying to replicate the formula that has been lost to time. No one wants to be the bad guy’s guinea pig.
Making your own gadgets. Some of the best heroes are normal folks who build cool toys, like Batman, Iron Man, and Hawkeye. The smarter you are, the cooler your toys. But the problem is that, without your toys, you’re just you. That’s why the best way to get your super powers is…
Gifts and artifacts. It is one thing to make your own iron suit. It is another to have an alien hand you a ring of power or to have a special hammer that only you can lift. That’s where the action is. No worries that you aren’t worthy. Some alien or god granted you the right to wield the thing. No worries about being “normal,” because alien artifacts don’t get lost as easily as special guns or bows and arrows. Take an oath and that awesome power is yours -- even if you are Ryan Reynolds.
What do you think? How would you want to become super? What powers would you choose? What would be your origin story? Comment below.