Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Who's the Best... Origin Story?




20 comments:

Rip Jagger said...

The three examples we see above are all decent beginnings. Spidey is created by accident but accepts what fate delivers into his hands. Green Lantern is essentially hired by the Guardians to do a difficult and dangerous job. Captain America is recruited to go on a dangerous mission, one which will consume the rest of his life. Great stuff.

But the origin which resonates most in my opinion is that of the Batman, because the pain of the loss he suffered as a boy motivates him every moment of his life to do what he does. He is in many ways trapped within his origin, never able to fully move beyond it and so it never really ended.

Likewise I'd say The Punisher is similar, but in his case the mania is more obvious and his brutality more apparent.

Rip Off

dbutler16 said...

Either Spider-Man or Batman. I guess I'll lean towards Spider-Man. OK, the getting bitten by the radioactive spider bit is lame, but the fact that he could have prevented his uncle's death, and his own apathy and lack of concern for others and for doing the right thing prevented it, and this this (along with his uncle's awesome quote "with great power comes great responsibility") is what drives him to be a superhero, and continually try to make up for (not necessarily avenge) his uncle's death, makes his origin more interesting to me than most others.
With Batman, there is the psychological angle as to what drives this rich kid to try to avenge his parents on every two-bit crook out there, plus the long journey of training it to to build this kid into the goshdarn Batman.

Colin Jones said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Edo Bosnar said...

Kudos to Colin for mentioning two from the Bronze Age; I also thought of Spider-woman's as rather, well, original if not the best from that period. It's also noteworthy for being so completely different and unrelated to the origin of her male counterpart.
In general, though, I think Spidey and Cap have the best origin stories, and the first Captain America movie really did that origin justice.
And since the field is also open to villains, I think Dr. Doom has an outstanding origin and backstory - it really fleshes him out quite nicely.

J.A. Morris said...

I'm going with Spider-Man, I don't care how ridiculous the radioactive spider-bite is. In some ways, the ridiculousness is one reason it's such a classic origin story. The "with great power" part is icing on the origin cake.
What was worse than the original bite was Byrne's attempt to make the origin more "realistic" in 'Spider-Man:Chapter One':
http://www.chasingamazingblog.com/2014/05/07/how-not-to-retcon-an-origin-spider-man-chapter-one/

Humanbelly said...

Spidey's origin immediately goes to the top of my list. The mechanics of the origin tale are far, far less important (and correctly so) than the heart of the life lesson being taught over its course. It's one of the few cases where the hero's experience can be applied directly to anyone's life, on almost any scale. The Power/Responsibility maxim really should be right up there with the Golden Rule and the Hippocratic Oath.

(As an aside, which I may have mentioned before-- during a class discussion in grad school we were asked to name what work of fiction had the most impact in shaping our own personal life philosophy. I knew I was in trouble, since most of my classmates were pulling out the expected greater works of literature-- Victor Hugo, Steinbeck, and so on. But when my turn came, I took a deep breath, steeled myself, and said that, yes, it was indeed the Amazing Spiderman. . . hoo-boy, took one for the team, I did. . . )

In general, I do tend to prefer origin stories that have an element of a "second chance" or perhaps redemption woven into them. Dr Strange is good in that regard; same with Green Lantern (Hal); and the Vision, of course. And Lionheart's origin tale (as we've discussed before) in the waning days of the Avengers vol 3 run was both harrowing and heartbreaking at a point when you thought a comic book couldn't do that anymore.

HB

Anonymous said...

How about Iron Man? Weapons manufacturer...captured by the enemy...creates the suit to escape his captors...I just basically liked the idea. And I especially liked the way his story was "updated" to the 21st century in the movie.

Tom

Edo Bosnar said...

Great call on Dr. Strange, HB. That is a fantastic origin story, and one of my favorites.

Pat Henry said...

I liked Dr Strange's origins. Very pulpy, his profession stripped from him through a life of debauched excess, driven on a journey to the high Himalayas to seek a new master... Classic.

Colin Jones said...

Gosh, I forgot all about Dr. Strange - yes, that's a fantastic origin story !!

Humanbelly said...

Iron Man was probably the next one I was going to suggest, in fact, Tom. I couldn't quite recall how Tony was presented as a character before his capture, so I wasn't sure if there was a redemption angle. But the fact that, with the help of Shinsen (sp? Is that the old guy?), he was responsible for his own salvation from the dirt floor on up, using his own knowledge and abilities, is very compelling. No radioactive accident, no bolt of lightning or chemical baths, no coincidental uncovering of totemic power, no journey from a distant time/star/dimension-- it's purely a guy in extremely dire circumstances saving himself with what he has on hand.

HB

Garett said...

Batman always has great motivation for stories, so I'll go with him from the classic characters. In the Bronze age, I like the offhanded origin story of Reuben Flagg, a tv star on the show Mark Thrust: Sexus Ranger. He loses his job because CGI has made actors obsolete, and becomes a cop out of necessity. He doesn't have a particular stake in anything, but turns out to be the most conscientious one on the force. There's something appealing about an origin story that isn't so intense and overriding, and it suits Chaykin's writing style.

Jon Sable has a typical "revenge for death of a loved one" start, but lightens up with the origin of Sable's alter ego as BB Flemm, children's book writer. Sable wants his book about his life as a mercenary published, but the only part the publisher thinks is salable is a chapter where he tells a fanciful children's story to his kid. So the tough mercenary dons glasses like Clark Kent and a wig, and must do book signings and tv interviews as the friendly children's author BB Flemm. He doesn't like it, but his kids books sell like hotcakes and it pays the bills! Also character relationships develop with his publisher and the female artist who illustrates his books. Again not a typical origin, but a fun twist here by Grell with dramatic contrast.

Martinex1 said...

As Colin mentioned the Silver Surfer, I have to throw my hat in that ring. Here is a guy that gives up his humanity to save his world only to travel the cosmos seeking out other worlds to destroy. The original concept was that he was a conflicted "villain"; he sacrificed everything (including his own morality) to save his particular world. Like Colin said, the initial intention was to have him doing so for eons causing hi to even further losing touch with his own humanity. Norrin Radd basically took on an eternity of loneliness to do what he thought was right at the time. I think all of the heralds have been tragic to some degree. Although I too dismiss how short lived they are, after the Surfer in quick succession we get Gabriel, Firelord, Terrax, Frankie Ray, and who knows how many others. It also always struck me that Galactus does not really need a herald; surely his super science can find him countless worlds to munch on. I think he does it out of a) a need for companionship and b) perhaps the desire that the herald will indeed protect the world from Galactus' own cataclysmic nature. This has Shakespearean tragedy written all over it (and Stan Lee gladly adds the tortured dialogue).

A close second for me is the Vision. He is similar in some ways. Created by a villain for a purpose of destruction but finding hope in the best of humanity.

How about the worst origin? Whizzer. Mongoose blood transfusion anybody? On a more serious note, I always thought despite hitting all of the right notes that Daredevil's origin was a little weak. I cannot put my finger on it, but it just seemed contrived to me. I think it has gotten better somehow over time as more recent writers added more of the psychological aspects, but the initial story was limited in my opinion.

Humanbelly said...

Oh man, Mart1, SOOOOO many of those Golden Age and early Silver origins are beyond the pale in their cringe-worthiness-! At least in their first, non-retconned iterations. . .

Who was the speedster that gained his powers by saying his scientific "speed equation" backwards, or something? Was that the first Johnny Quick?

In Thor's origin, he's nothing more than a transformed (and completely astonished) Don Blake who has blundered upon that hammer, and then used affected speech patterns to put the Stone Dudes off their game.

And, even though it's practically the definition of "iconic" the origin sections of FF#1has had me slapping my forehead since my earliest days of reading the story as a child. Sure, I loved 'em as much as everyone, but. . .

Reed impulsively takes his immediate circle of (mostly) untrained friends, and steals a rocket ship that, clearly, he doesn't personally own-- against the sound advice of the one qualified person in the room. And then they crash it to smithereens without ever achieving any purpose whatsoever. This borders on death-penalty level of treason, doesn't it? I mean, this whole origin sequence is more like what the BAD guys do-!

HB

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I always loved Spidey's origin because of whole "responsibility" thing; it gives him a real motivation to keep doing what he does.

I also like a good "out of nowhere" origin, where someone gets powers and they really aren't sure what to do at first. I think Nova was kind of like that, and I think it's realistic; if I suddenly got super powers, I'd be flying around like a maniac, smashing stuff to see how strong I was, and so on. I'd leave the heavy philosophical questions till later.

Mike Wilson

Humanbelly said...

There was a book from Malibu called The Strangers several years ago that I somehow acquired the first issue of (a stack of FCBD discards left by someone at my shop, I think), and I have to say that, whereas most group books don't have real whiz-bang origin issues, this one was not bad at all at setting up the premise right along with the "out of nowhere" sensibility that Mike mentions. It's a little on the hokey/old-fashioned side-- but it still had a certain feel to it that appealed to me. Reminds me that I'd intended to track it down, as well. . .

HB

Anonymous said...

For me it's the ones with the tragic elements built in which resonates the most with me - Spidey's failure to seize the burglar who then kills his uncle, Bruce Wayne's witnessing his parents killed before his very eyes, the loss of humanity for both Swamp Thing and Man-Thing, the Punisher's violent loss of his wife and children and Michael Morbius's unsuccessful cure for his rare blood condition.

Heck, even the Hulk falls into this category - Bruce Banner becomes transformed into one of the most powerful superheroes ever yet he's feared by society and hunted like an animal because he's a raging monster. How many heroes actually want to get rid of what makes them a superhero in the first place?


- Mike 'trying to find out the origin of burgers' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Joe Super-shmoe said...

Captain America: The 1941 origin was awesome except the silly part about Bucky. Then the various retcons in the 1960's to 1980's to explain his disappearance, reappearance and other plot holes were Charlie Foxtrot. God and Country! They should have belayed it to spare the sanity of freedom loving individuals everywhere.

Batman: Emotionally powerful, and also one of the best explanations of how he acquired his special abilities. But when does an important businessman have time to go on all those adventures? Holy work-life balance! And how does he manage to keep his home base secret with those highly visible vehicles like the batmobile and batplane, which by the way he has to build and maintain secretly as well? Holy privacy gap!

Spider-man: Emotionally even more powerful than Batman, because the hero bears some responsibility for the tragic events. But, hmmm, does exposure to radiation really give super-powers? My science sense is tingling like mad!

Dr. Strange: Excellent! A normal flawed individual goes on a quest for selfish reasons but finds spiritual transformation instead.

Luke Cage: Wild! A gritty journey through purgatory and redemption.

BK said...

Best or Favourite? It's so hard to make that distinction when talking about superheroes. So many are dumb or implausible; poor sci-fi. Some are pulpy and hardboiled, but just a little bit ludicrous. Some have a timeless sense of wonder about them. Maybe these are the best? I find myself gravitating to the more childlike, magical origins as I age.

I've always loved Wonder Woman's original origin. Just unique in the pantheon of heroes. So much though went into it. She's made out of clay! Probably the best.

Capt. Marvel has one of the most beautiful origins.

There are many magic users who had years of training and mythic quests, but few started out as jerks and had a "conversion" like Stephen Strange.

Love some of the Silver Age origins. Superhorse is just mixed up but part of what makes the Supergirl mythos so weirdly sad. Bouncing Boy is one of my favourite all-around characters and part of that is his dumb origin.

Of all the "freak accident" origins, perhaps the Hulk's is the best. I like the curse aspect of the Hulk and Doc Banner's sacrifice. I like how Rick is indebted to him. Tragic. (But where does that extra mass come from???)

Many of the Bronze Age Marvel characters are equally cursed. Luke Cage is a black version of Captain America, with a redemptive origin. Morbius is cursed. Ghost Rider, Son of Satan, and Master of Kung Fu all have a "sins of the father" thing going on…

The "who am I?" origins also give a nice structure or impetus to a superhero career. Starting with a blank slate and nebulous powers can sometimes work out well. Valkyrie. Vision. Machine Man. Even Nexus. Almost as good a gimmick as the "wanted man" premise.

So few "great" origins over the decades. Many I love because I know them so well they are almost a personal mantra or religion. But few transcend their own childish medium and hurried, deadline-driven creation. Even when fans and "serious" writers started coming into the field, superhero origins rarely became more complex, well-thought-out, sustainable stories. Not too much thought given to "how are we going to make this work for 100 issues or more?" Kudos to all the modern-day retconners and reimaginers, from Thomas through Moore and Morrison et al (who are really only doing what Gardniner Fox et al did in the SA with their revamps), but it's hard to make the childish medium of superheroes something that all ages can suspend their disbelief over, no matter how many "problems" and leather jumpsuits, grim, and grit we slather on top.


Longbox Graveyard said...

As origin issues go, it's hard to beat Amazing Fantasy #15 ... but some days I think Daredevil #1 does just that. Some days.

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