When asked about how he came up with the X-Men, Stan Lee said:
I wanted to do a new team of heroes and I said to myself, “I’ve run out of radioactivity and gamma rays and cosmic rays – what excuse can I find for these guys getting super powers?” I took the cowardly way out and said, “Wait a minute, what if they were just mutants? What if they were just born that way? Everybody knows there are mutations in real life. There are frogs that are born with five legs and so forth. I can get these guys to have any power I want. I’ll just say, “Well, they’re mutants. They were born that way.” Nobody can argue with that!
While amusing, that really does highlight the issue with superhero origins. They are so important and yet it is so difficult to come up with good ones. That is why you see so many shared universes over the years try to come up with unified origins, like how Kryptonite gave everyone powers on “Smallville” or how the particle accelerator explosion gave everyone powers on “Flash.”
So while keeping in mind that it is very difficult to come up with origins, let’s take a look at the 15 worst superhero origins of all-time.
15. Atom (Ray Palmer)
Ray Palmer is the size-changing superhero known as the Atom. He gained his superpowers the old fashioned way, by developing a device that could shrink things. How did he do this? He just happened to be working on a shrinking technology when he came upon a fragment of a white dwarf star that had fallen to Earth! The problem is that white dwarf stars: A.) Have the mass of roughly the sun, and B.) Are insanely hot, which is what makes them a “white” dwarf star (they’re white hot). So it makes no sense that Ray would just come across one in the woods… and then lift it up!
But okay, let’s say you’re buying it so far, Ray’s problem with the shrink ray he built based on the white dwarf star is that every time that it shrunk something down, the shrunken item would eventually explode. So naturally, when Ray, his girlfriend Jean and a bunch of kids in a nature club were all trapped in a cavern after a cave-in, Ray turned the device upon himself! The device he thinks makes things explode after he shrinks them and he turns it on himself! Why not on the section of the cave that he is trying to dig out of? Why is his first instinct to just shrink himself, which he thinks will lead to him exploding? It doesn’t make any sense.
14. Ultra Boy
Ultra Boy was one of the most powerful members of the Legion of Super-Heroes. He had basically all of the same powers as Superboy, but the trick was that he could only use one of the powers at a time. So if he wanted to be super strong, he would have to give up super-invulnerability and vice versa. When he first showed up, however, he only had “penetra-vision,” which was his version of Superboy’s X-Ray vision.
Ultra Boy gained his powers when, while flying around space, his speedster was swallowed whole by a giant Ultra-Energy Beast. Eventually, he was freed from the belly of the beast and discovered that the radiation from its stomach had given him superpowers. Ultra Boy’s real name was Jo-Nah. So yes, Jo-Nah got his powers after surviving being swallowed by a giant creature, just like how Jonah from the Bible survived being swallowed by a whale. It is unlikely that any other superhero has an origin that revolves so slavishly around a Biblical pun, and with good reason, as it is pretty weird.
As originally conceived by his creator, John Byrne, the Alpha Flight member known as Puck was just a little person who had molded his small body into an almost perfect physical specimen, able to lift hundreds of pounds and fight as well as someone literally twice his size. Puck clearly had many adventures before he joined up with Alpha Flight and his mysterious past was part of his charm.
However, later on it was revealed that Puck was actually much older than he seemed and was not actually born as a little person. No, Puck used to be seven feet tall and was a mercenary and adventurer who was born near the start of the 20th Century. He had been hired to steal the Black Blade of Baghdad, but when he got the sword, it unleashed an ancient magical being known as Black Raazer. Puck had to find another way to trap Black Raazer, so he sucked him into his own body, becoming immortal in the process but also losing half of his height and being trapped in the form of a little person. What a ridiculous explanation for a character that did not need to be explained.
12. Elongated Man
Ralph Dibny, the Elongated Man, is almost the poster boy for obsessive fandom, but in his case, it ended up turning him into a superhero! When he was a young boy, he saw an “India Rubber Man” at a carnival. “India Rubber Man” is basically a name for a contortionist, someone who could twist their body into all sorts of shapes. Young Ralph became consumed with learning the secrets of the contortionists, an obsession that lasted for years.
Ultimately, he discovered that all of them drank the same popular soft drink, Gingold. However, even Ralph conceded that it was just a coincidence that they all drank the same drink. This didn’t keep him from teaching himself chemistry and finding out a way to create a super-concentrated extract from the “gingo” fruit at the heart of Gingold, though. Sure enough, he could now make any part of his body stretch to absurd lengths… all thanks to soda pop.
Catwoman, Selina Kyle, was one of Batman’s earliest masked villains. Very early on, she and Batman developed a strong sexual chemistry, with Catwoman often kissing him to distract him as she escaped (in one early “Batman” issue, she even fell in love with Bruce Wayne and was prepared to give up crime for him; that is, until she felt that he wasn’t in love with her and went back to crime). She continued as a villainess for years, though, until eventually we learned her first secret origin… and boy was it a doozy!
In “Batman” #62, Catwoman is escaping from the Caped Crusader when she accidentally knocks down a piece of a building, which almost crushes Batman. She knocks him out of the way but suffers a major head injury. When she awakes, she reveals that she was a flight attendant who had suffered amnesia years ago following a plane crash. Her father had owned a pet store, so she knew a lot about cats and in her addled mental state, she became a cat-themed supervillain. That origin hasn’t been canon in decades, for very good reason.
10. The Slingers
In 1998, the “Spider-Man” titles had a crossover called “Identity Crisis.” At the heart of the story was the fact that Spider-Man was framed for murder by Norman Osborn, who then posted a $5 million award for Spider-Man’s capture (dead or alive). With that kind of money on his head, Spider-Man could not patrol New York City without being shot at by cops, crooks and heck, just ordinary citizens. So, Peter Parker had to come up with four alternative identities that he could use until he cleared his name. He used his technological know-how to build a suit of armor, which he used as Prodigy, a jet-pack that he used as Hornet, some stun dics that he used as Ricochet and a black costume he used as Dusk.
Once he cleared his name, Spidey dropped the other identities. An old Golden Age hero known as the Black Marvel then picked them up, choosing four college students and giving them the costumes to become The Slingers. So yes, a whole superhero team consisted of no more than Spider-Man hand-me-downs.
9. Doctor Droom
In a lot of ways, Doctor Droom’s origin is very similar to that of Doctor Strange, who debuted a few years after Doctor Droom did, in early 1961. Droom headed to Tibet to help cure an ancient Lama, but once he arrived, he learned that he would be paid no money for his medical services. He couldn’t let a sick man die, so he pressed on, even as he met a number of other challenges.
When he reached the Lama, he had proven himself worthy of taking over the responsibilities of the Lama as the protector of Earth from the magical forces of evil. He accepted the assignment and then… transformed into an Asian man! Yep, that was part of the deal. He couldn’t be a proper mystic if he wasn’t an Asian guy. That was something Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko came up with just months before “Fantastic Four” #1 came out… and something we’re sure they came to regret in the fullness of time.
8. Kid Flash (Wally West)
Barry Allen became the Fastest Man Alive when he was working at his police laboratory one night and a bolt of lightning struck his rack of chemicals, and then Barry himself. Somehow, the electricity mixed with the unique collection of chemicals to give Barry Allen super speed. That’s a nice, basic superhero origin. Remember, chemicals and/or radiation explained about 90% of superpowers from 1950-1970.
However, three years after the Flash debuted, Barry Allen was visited by Wally West, the nephew of Barry’s girlfriend, Iris. Wally was a big Flash fan, so Barry took him on a tour of his lab. Wouldn’t you know it, a bolt of lightning struck the very same rack of chemicals, and then Wally. The electricity mixed with the unique collection of chemicals (somehow the same ones from last time) to give Wally super speed, as well! Initially, Kid Flash’s costume was just a smaller version of Barry Allen’s Flash costume, which makes sense, since they split an origin, as well!
7. Green Arrow (Oliver Queen)
The original origin for Green Arrow tied directly in with the origin for his sidekick, Speedy. Young Roy Harper was traveling with his father and their Native-American servant, Quoag, when their plane crashed in a place called the Lost Mesa. Quoag taught Roy how to hunt using a bow and arrow and the two of them lived off of the land while they waited to be rescued. Oliver Queen, meanwhile, was the world’s largest collector of Native-American historical items. This was seemingly ruined when the museum that the items were displayed at was broken into and set on fire.
Oliver was spurned on to search for more artifacts at the Lost Mesa. The problem was that a bad guy had overheard him saying that there was a “gold mine” of artifacts there and told his compatriots that Queen was headed to an actual hidden gold mine. The crooks went to kill Queen and take his gold, but Roy and Quoag show up and fight them off. Quoag is killed along the way, but Oliver and Roy eventually take out the bad guys (who are promptly killed by a fallen idol) and are inspired to continue to fight crime together. Especially hilarious was how the people around them inspired their nicknames. Some crook noted that Roy was “speedy” and someone else called Oliver “Mr. Green Arrow” — thus two nicknames were born!
6. Genius Jones
Young Johnny Jones was on a boat with his uncle and a full crew when heavy storms tore the ship apart, killing everyone on board except for Johnny. Johnny washed up on shore along with 734 books, presumably from the ship’s library. Johnny subsequently spent the next 10 years reading and re-reading the books until he had them all memorized. When he saw a ship passing, he burned the books as a signal. He was rescued, but he discovered that by reading all of those books, he was now a genius who knew the answer to any question! All from reading 734 books!
Lacking a job once he was returned to the United States, Johnny met some actors who got him set up as an “answer man.” For a dime, he’d answer anything you wanted to know. So basically, he was the precursor to Ask Jeeves. He also ended up wearing a costume that he would use when he was out on “assignments.”
There’s a long-running Spider-Man villain who goes by the name Hydro-Man, but in this instance, we’re taking a look at e lesser-known character of the same name. Bill Everett, creator of Namor and Daredevil, also created for Eastern Color Printing a new hero in the pages of 1941’s “Reg’lar Fellers Heroic Comics” #1. The set-up was that a chemical engineer had developed a formula for a liquid that would turn human beings into water!
Annoyingly for everyone involved, when the scientist’s friend was visiting, the scientist’s assistant ended up splashing all of the liquid on the scientist’s friend. He was now a pool of water. Luckily, the scientist had an antidote and the friend was human again, but could now turn himself into water at his command! Ergo, he became the superhero known as Hydro-Man. It’s bad enough when future superheroes get their powers from accidents, but to accidentally almost kill someone else is just bad mojo!
4. Bouncing Boy
The Legion of Super-Heroes member known as Bouncing Boy owes his superpowers to just how crazily lazy and inept he is. You see, young Chuck Taine was working as a courier for a scientist, who had him deliver an experimental new instant super plastic fluid to the science council. On the way to the council, however, Chuck was distracted by a robot fight exhibition going on at the local arena. So Chuck just blew off his job and attended a robot fight match. We can’t really blame him for that to be honest.
But here’s the kicker. While at the match, Chuck was distracted and accidentally drank the instant super plastic fluid, thinking it was a soda! How out of touch with his surroundings was this guy? The fluid ended up transforming Chuck’s body into something that could expand and become, in effect, a giant human bouncing ball. Chuck’s ineptitude didn’t stop him from serving the Legion faithfully for years, though, so give him credit for… ahem… rebounding.
3. Black Condor (Richard Grey Jr.)
Young Richard Grey was the only survivor of an attack by Mongolian bandits upon his family, who were archaeologists. The young lad was taken in by a family of condors, just like how Tarzan was taken in by apes. After a while, young Richard wanted to fly like his new family, but… well, he wasn’t a bird. However, since this is comics, he ultimately studied the birds so long that he someone managed to learn how to fly. Once he was discovered by a missionary, Grey headed home to the United States, where he became the flying adventurer known as the Black Condor.
Amusingly enough, one of the reasons Condor went back to the States was to prevent the assassination of a U.S. Senator. He was too late to save the Senator, but as luck would have it, Condor was identical to said dead Senator, and simply adopted the dead politician’s identity going forward. Talk about a guy who knows how to adapt!
Bob Frank was in Africa with his father when they both came down with a deadly illness. Frank’s father, Emil, was trying desperately to find someone who could give some of their blood to help save Bob’s life. Well, not only did he not find anyone to donate blood to Bob, but Bob was then bitten by a deadly snake! Emil was surprised when he then saw a mongoose show up and fight the snake, ultimately killing it. This led to an idea by Emil — he would use a mongoose for the blood transfusion! Sure, that makes perfect sense.
Of course, since Bob would now have mongoose blood in his veins, this naturally means that he could run at super speed. Because, well, that’s just how things work. It’s science, kids. Look it up! One of the most absurd things about Whizzer’s origin is how nonchalant his father is with the fact that mongoose blood naturally gives you super speed. He delivers the information as if it was common knowledge. Later, it would be revealed that Frank had natural powers that were just jump-started by the addition of the mongoose blood.
1. Flash (Jay Garrick)
The original Flash, Jay Garrick, takes the number one spot because he merges a bunch of the earlier worst origins into a single horrible origin! Jay Garrick was a bit of a loner at his college. He was on the football team, but he barely played. One thing he was good at was science. And yet, while working on an experiment, he showed his inexperience by lighting up a cigarette while in the lab and knocked over an experiment. This releases a plume of fumes, which in turn knock Jay out. When he comes to, he learns that the fumes have given him super speed!
The problem, though, is that the experiment was in a study on “hard” water. Hard water is just mineral-enriched water. So, if it turned into vapor, it would literally just be steam. Thus, Jay Garrick got his super speed by incompetently lighting up a cigarette while chilling in a lab and then inhaling steam! The origin was later changed to make it “heavy” water instead of “hard,” which also doesn’t make a lick of sense. But hey, this is comics, after all, and Jay has since become one of the most iconic speedsters of all time… even if he did start off a little clumsy.
Which superhero origin do you think is the absolute pits? Let us know in the comments!
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