Earlier this week, Tom King dramatically altered the foundations of Batman’s origin story in “Batman” #12. However, while the revelation was a dramatic one, it did not alter the basic gist of Batman’s origin, it just added a new layer to things. This, though, got us thinking about how often superhero origins are dramatically altered.
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Superhero origins change so frequently that they can be hard to keep track of all of the changes. Since they happen so often, it’s hard to really be shocked by a change to an origin. Especially when so many of them change some of the specifics, but keep the general origin intact (like how Iron Man’s origin went from happening during the Vietnam War to happening in Southeast Asia in general, to happening in the Middle East). Or when changes are made, they’re not particularly dramatic, like Green Arrow‘s origin going from “trapped on an archaeological dig and forced to fight criminals with bow and arrow” to “trapped on an island and forced to fight criminals with bow and arrows.” Here, then, are some of the more dramatic changes to superhero origins we have seen over the years.
NOTE: For the record, we discounted origin changes that came from a reboot of the property, as obviously those almost always come with dramatically different origins. This is why Alan Moore’s “Marvelman” reboot is omitted from the list. If Moore had taken over “Marvelman” while the series was still going and then introduced his brilliant new origin for Marvelman, then we’d have counted it for sure. It’d likely be #1 or #2 on the list.
15. Daredevil Was Trained as a Ninja?
In the original version of Daredevil‘s origin, Matt Murdock trained himself to become Daredevil after he gained his radar sense following the accident that blinded him with radioactive material. “Daredevil” #1 suggested that the radiation gave him the ability to be stronger, faster and more agile, as well. Just as a natural reaction.
When Frank Miller began writing “Daredevil,” however, he revealed that Matt was actually trained to become Daredevil by a mysterious blind ninja known only as “Stick.” It was Stick who trained Matt in the ninja arts, which gave Matt the increased strength and agility that he uses in his everyday life as Daredevil. This changed Daredevil dramatically as, now that he was a ninja, it opened the series up to all sorts of stories related to the ways of the ninja, including the addition of the Hand as a villain and the addition of Elektra and her crazy past.
14. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver Aren’t Mutants?!
For a number of years, the true heritage of Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver was a matter of great mystery. Eventually, Roy Thomas revealed that they were the children of the Golden Age heroes Miss America and the Whizzer. However, that origin was not appealing to other writers, especially once Magneto‘s face was revealed by Neal Adams for the first time and we saw that Magneto and Quicksilver looked a lot alike. So eventually, their origin was that they were Magneto’s children, and he unknowingly recruited them into his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (before they left him to become superheroes).
Years later during the “Axis” crossover, an inverted Scarlet Witch (a powerful spell had made it so Marvel’s villains became heroes and the heroes became villains) attacked Quicksilver and Magneto and she cast a spell to hurt “her blood.” It hurt Quicksilver, but not Magneto, revealing they were not his kids! They learned that the High Evolutionary had taken them from their parents when they were babies and experimented on them, giving them powers. When they weren’t good enough for him, he returned them and pretended that that they were just simple mutants.
13. Ice Was From a Family of Con Men?
For years, Ice was a beacon of love, hope and sweetness in “Justice League International.” Martian Manhunter once even said that her real superpower was being the heart and soul of the team. For years, Ice had been known as a Scandanavian ice gooddess. She was even involved in the epic “War of the Gods” storyline due to her heritage.
Well, that changed in “Justice League: Generation Lost,” a maxi-series starring Ice and her Justice League International teammates tracking down their former boss, Maxwell Lord. In that series, she recovered the memories that she was really part of a family of con men who tried to exploit her powers. She broke free from the extended family, but in the process, she accidentally murdered the one person who truly cared for her, her father. She cut a deal with the government when she became a Global Guardian. They would put her sister and mother into witness protection and they would fabricate an origin for her as an ice goddess so no one would know her past.
12. Hal Jordan Cannot Feel Fear?
When Hal Jordan debuted in “Showcase” #22, we saw his origin unfold in front of us. The Green Lantern named Abin Sur crash landed on Earth and knew that he was soon going to die. So he sent his ring out to find a replacement from all of the people on Earth. The ring searched for someone “without fear.” That person was Hal Jordan and he became the new Green Lantern, soon to become the greatest Green Lantern of them all.
For years, though, the whole “without fear” thing was just sort of accepted, like how Daredevil is “The Man Without Fear.” In his run on “Action Comics Weekly,” though (where Green Lantern was a featured character), Peter David had people express confusion when Hal mentioned that he was without fear. Finally, in “Action Comics Weekly” #614 (by Peter David and Tod Smith), we discovered that Hal’s ring had literally erased his ability to feel fear so that he could fit into Abin Sur’s stated requirement. So Hal got his ability to feel fear back and it was difficult for him at first, but he eventually got used to it. No one else ever referenced the origin change again, though.
11. Captain America’s Brother Died at Pearl Harbor?
Something that was interesting about Captain America‘s origin is that beyond the basic (awesome) story of a guy too scrawny to be accepted into the military and instead volunteering for an experimental serum that turned him into a super-soldier, we really did not know anything else about Steve Rogers’ life. In the late 1970s, Roy Thomas introduced the concept that perhaps there was something blocking Captain America from remembering his past and finally, in “Captain America” #225 (by Steve Gerber, Sal Buscema, Mike Esposito and John Tartaglione), we learned what Cap’s past was like.
Steve Rogers lived in Delaware with his mother, Elizabeth, his father, Walter, and his older brother, Mike. Steve and Walter did not get along, as Walter felt that Steve was too wimpy and not tough like his older brother. Mike became a Naval officer and went to Pearl Harber. Steve was still a pacifist, so he left home due to his father being so ashamed of him. Then the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and Steve called home, but his father was not interested in talking. Steve then decided to enlist, was rejected and, well, you all know the rest. This was quickly retconned as a false memory, as it really did not work, since Steve was Captain America before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
10. Was Aquaman Taught to Breathe Underwater?
This one is a bit tricky, as this is one of those situations where the changed origin is the one that we’re all familiar with, but at the same time, it’s still a dramatic change. When Aquaman debuted in “More Fun Comics” #73 (by Mort Weisinger and Paul Norris), he quickly detailed his origin and it was a doozy! You see, his father was an undersea explorer and when he discovered the ruins of Atlantis, he built himself a waterproof home there. He then used the science that he discovered from what was left behind to teach his son how to breathe underwater, hence him becoming Aquaman.
That origin stood for over 20 years, but by “stood,” we just mean no one came up with an alternate one, as it was not like Aquaman’s origin was ever referenced (heck, we didn’t even learn his real name for 20 years). It was not until “Adventure Comics” #260 (by Robert Bernstein and Ramona Fradon) that we learned the story of the lighthouse keeper falling in love with the woman from under the seas and them having a son, Arthur Curry, who had a foot in both worlds and the ability to breathe underwater.
9. The Gods Gave Wonder Woman her Powers?
People naturally reacted to the dramatic change to Wonder Woman‘s origin during the first year of her New 52 series, where it was revealed (and which has since been retconned) that her father was the god Zeus…
However, while that was certainly a dramatic change, as it turned out, there was an even more dramatic change to Wonder Woman’s origin in the past! In “Wonder Woman” #105 (by Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru and Mike Esposito), it was revealed that Wonder Woman and her family lived a normal life, including with an unnamed father!! When she was a baby, though, she was visited by a series of gods who gave her various attributes, like Aphrodite brought her beauty, Athena brought her wisdom, Mercury brought her speed but get this, Hercules came by, the same guy who imprisoned the Amazons in other tellings of the story, and he gave Diana her strength! Then, when the men all died in the wars, the remaining women decided to leave their home and Diana found them Paradise Island.
8. Is That Thor’s Hammer or Are YOU Thor?
This is another one where the dramatic change to the origin is the one that is more familiar to us. When Thor debuted in “Journey Into Mystery” #83, it was a case where Dr. Donald Blake found a stick that turned out to be a mystical hammer. That hammer transformed Blake into Thor with all of the powers of the Asgardian thunder god. However, it was clear that it was a guy named Donald Blake who was just given the body and powers of Thor. As time went by, though, Jack Kirby was obviously more interested in the mythology of Thor than anything else (hence their very popular back-up series, “Tales of Asgard”), so they soon began writing Thor as the actual god, Thor.
This led to “Thor” #159 (by Jack Kirby, Stan Lee and Vince Colletta), where Odin revealed that “Donald Blake” was really just Thor, who had been banished to Earth to teach him some humility. It is a central part of Thor’s origin nowadays, but it took a few years for it to show up in the actual “Thor” comics.
7. Did the Devil Make the Punisher do it?
The Punisher‘s origin has always been a simple one: a retired military man (later determined to be a Marine), Frank Castle was on a picnic with his beautiful wife and children when they stumbled into a gang execution. The mobsters shot and killed Frank’s family, but he survived. He then decided to declare war on criminals, starting with the mobsters who ordered the hit that led to his family’s death. That was the case for decades.
However, in the late 1990s’ “Punisher” mini-series, “Purgatory,” when the Punisher killed himself and was resurrected as an avenging angel, he learned that his family’s death was all a plot by a demon in the human form of a mobster, who intentionally killed Castle’s family so that Frank, in getting revenge, would become a killer under the demon’s name. In doing so, the demon would have control over all the souls of the evil people that the Punisher killed over the years.
6. Was There Another All-New, All-Different X-Men Team?
When the All-New, All-Different X-Men debuted in “Giant Size X-Men” #1, they were an international group of mutants who Professor X and Cyclops put together to help save the the other original X-Men teammates from an evil mutant island. However, did it ever occur to you why Professor X turned to international mutants for such a time-sensitive issue?
As it turned out, the first time around, Professor X did recruit American mutants, but when they got to the island, they were all murdered in front of Cyclops’ face! To make matters worse, one of those mutants had just recently been discovered to be the long-lost brother of Cyclops and Havok! Cyclops was naturally distraught, so Professor X decided to wipe the events from his memory and then go out and recruit a second team of X-Men despite having just watched the first team get slaughtered!
In the mini-series, “X-Men: Deadly Genesis,” it turned out that Cyclops’ brother somehow did survive in a sort of cocoon-like state until revived by a burst of mutant energy released by the end of “House of M” (when Scarlet Witch eliminated a huge chunk of the world’s mutant population). He let everyone know about Xavier’s deceit.
5. So What Gave Spider-Man the Powers? The Radiation or the Spider?
Everyone knows that Peter Parker was attending a science experiment when a spider was hit by a radioactive beam and, right before it died, it bit young Peter. The bite ended up giving Peter superpowers and he became the hero known as Spider-Man. But what if the radiation didn’t result in the powers at all? What if it was the spider that gave Peter the powers, and the radiation just caused the spider to transfer its powers before it died?
That was the mystery at the heart of J. Michael Straczynski’s first arc on “Amazing Spider-Man,” where he introduced a new character named Ezekiel who also had spider-powers. Ezekiel explained the notion of the magical Spider-Totem that connected all the spider-powered heroes. Eventually, during the crossover titled “The Other,” Peter embraced his unique spider-heritage by transforming into a new version of himself, complete with extra powers and talons that jutted out of his arms. These new powers have been ignored for years now.
4. Did Mopee Give the Flash His Powers?
Barry Allen has one of the more memorable superhero origins of the Silver Age, in part because it’s the exact same origin of his sidekick, Wally West! Barry Allen was at work one day at his crime laboratory when a bolt of lighting burst in through a window and hit a rack of chemicals. The electrically charged chemicals all splashed on Barry and gave him super-speed, so he became the Flash. A few years later, the same exact thing happened to Wally when he was visiting Barry and he became Kid Flash.
Well, in “Flash” #167, the sheer unlikely nature of Flash’s origin was explained by the existence of an other-dimensional imp named Mopee (he also called himself a “Heavenly Help-Mate,” who was the real reason Barry got his powers. However, it turned out that Mopee didn’t realize that Barry was, in effect, getting the benefit of the chemicals without Mopee paying for them, so Mopee had to take away Barry’s powers until Barry could raise the money to pay for the chemicals used in his origin (and he had to earn the money as the Flash for some unexplained reason). Yes, it is as crazy as it sounds. Barry raised the cash, Mopee returned his powers and was never seen again.
3. Were the Skrulls Behind the Hulk’s Origin?
In the original version of the Hulk‘s origin, Bruce Banner was developing a Gamma bomb and was ready to test it when a reckless teenager named Rick Jones wandered onto the test site. Banner halted the detonation to go rescue Jones, but Banner didn’t realize that his assistant, Igor, was secretly a Soviet spy! Igor restarted the countdown and the bomb went off after Banner got Jones to safety, but not before he could get to safety himself. The explosion transformed Banner into the monstrous being known as the Hulk.
In “Hulk Annual ’99,” John Byrne and Lee Weeks re-did the origin. Now the device is a gamma laser, and Rick was tricked into going onto the site by Skrulls, who wanted the laser for themselves. It turned out that Igor was a Skrull! When Banner survived, they managed to defeat the Skrull plot (it all tied into a then-upcoming mini-series by John Byrne and Roger Stern that would show what happened in the Marvel Universe in the years between World War II and the creation of the Fantastic Four). This origin was quickly ignored.
2. Did the Government Put Captain America on Ice?
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby brought Captain America into the Marvel Age in “Avengers” #4, where they revealed that Captain America and Bucky were trying to destroy an aerial bomb when it exploded in mid-air over the Atlantic. Bucky was presumed killed (he later turned out to have survived the explosion) while Captain America landed in frozen waters and entered suspended animation for decades before Namor the Sub-Mariner saw Cap in ice being worshiped by an Inuit tribe. Namor threw their “idol” into the water, where it melted, so Cap was later found by the Avengers, thawed out and returned to action!
During the “Captain America” series that re-launched soon after 9/11, there was a recurring subplot that involved Captain America being lied to by the government. Things came to a head in the storyline, “Ice,” which was written by Chuck Austen (based on an idea by the previous writer, John Ney Reiber). In it, Captain America discovered that the United States government faked his accident. Instead, he had been in suspended animation for decades in a secret office that Namor came across one day and tore apart. The government feared that Cap would object to the use of nuclear weapons on Japan, so they decided to eliminate him as a threat. This bizarre change to his origin was promptly ignored by the next “Captain America” ongoing series.
1. Who…or What is the Swamp Thing?
The king of the “everything you thought you knew was a lie!” origin change has to be “The Anatomy Lesson.” When Swamp Thing was first introduced by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, he was a scientist named Alec Holland who was transformed into a swamp creature known as the Swamp Thing. He went on a number of adventures over the years.
In the early 1980s, to tie in with a motion picture based on “Swamp Thing,” DC released a new series. Alan Moore took over with the 20th issue, at which time Swamp Thing had seemingly been shot in the head and killed. in The classic “Saga of the Swamp Thing” #21 (drawn by Stephen Bissette and John Totleben), Moore revealed that Swamp Thing wasn’t dead. How could he survive being shot in the head? As it turned out, Swamp Thing was not a transformed Alec Holland, who bonded with the swamp to form a new creature. Instead, Swamp Thing was part of the swamp that was animated into thinking that it was Alec Holland! It wasn’t human at all! This was the centerpiece of Moore’s acclaimed run on the character.
What is your favorite change to a superhero’s origin? Let us know in the comments section!
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