Origin stories are one of the most vital things to a superhero tale. They help us understand who they are and why they don a costume to defend those who can’t defend themselves. In some cases, they are the moment that creates a villain, or provides an outside reason for their heroic status. One of the most iconic introductions to a superhero, is the radioactive spider biting Peter Parker before Uncle Ben dies in a mugging. Even though it’s the spider that gives him the powers, it’s Uncle Ben’s death that spurs him on to wear that iconic red and blue costume (or pyjamas, as Tony Stark calls them).
Although we’ve seen plenty of live action origins, Hollywood is learning how to change them up -- Deadpool did a great job of a grittier start. Some origin accidents are gross, horrific and sometimes tragic before a hero emerge. Peter’s transformation isn’t the most disgusting of origin stories, a simple spider bite and a long sleep gives him those powers. Some heroes have been blown to smithereens, burnt alive, murdered and even sent to hell before gaining the ability to fight evil. In our list, we’ve examined 15 of the most gruesome accidents that have led to super powers.
15 IRON MAN
One of the world’s most popular superheroes, Iron Man has been immortalized onscreen thanks to Robert Downey Jr. In the comics, his origin is only slightly different to the MCU’s version. In Tales of Suspense #39 A terrorist called Wong-Chu keeps Stark captive after he activates a booby trap. The trap exploded, flinging shrapnel into Tony’s chest. In captivity, Stark would’ve been killed slowly and painfully as the shrapnel travelled closer and closer to his heart.
He built a suit of armor under the guise of creating weapons for the terrorists. The magnetic plate in the armor kept the shrapnel away from Tony’s heart and would help him escape. His escape still cost the life of his friend and fellow inventor, Ho Yinsen. So whilst both the shrapnel and the terrorists nearly killed him, an idea was sparked that turned Tony Stark into Iron Man.
Matt Murdock was a normal child until he was the victim of an unfortunate accident when he was a child. When a truck was hurtling towards an old man crossing the street, Matt ran to push the man out of the way. Unfortunately, the truck spills the cargo it was carrying, a radioactive liquid that viciously burns Matt’s eyes. The substance blinds him completely. That is until Matt realizes that all four of his other senses have been heightened to a superhuman level.
Whilst painful at first, he masters all of his senses and uses them to his advantage, even tracking down the gangsters responsible for his father’s death. Murdock uses his hearing as echolocation and can also act as a human lie detector when listening to other people’s heartbeats. He’s trained by Stick in martial arts before he becomes the devil of Hell’s Kitchen in Daredevil #1.
13 CAPTAIN MARVEL
Carol Danvers rose through the ranks of the Air Force, eventually working for NASA. She began to work with a Kree warrior, Captain Mar-Vell, even forming a relationship with him. But when a villainous Kree fighter, Yon-Rogg, kidnapped her in an attempt to bait Captain Mar-Vell into a fight she was caught in an explosive crossfire between the two during Captain Marvel #18.
When an explosion wounded Danvers and exposed her to energy from Kree technology called the Psyche-Magneton, her cells were joined with Mar-Vell’s. This made her a Kree-Human hybrid, with fantastical results. She gained the power of flight, strength and she can project photon energy -- worth the exposure to Kree explosions really. Whilst she originally went by the Ms. Marvel name, she took on the mantle of Captain Marvel when Steve Rogers persuaded her that Mar-Vell would want her to take up the name.
12 CAPTAIN ATOM
US Air Force Officer Nathaniel Adam was wrongly accused of killing a senior officer and instead of being put to death he was asked to work with a special project. What he was really being asked, was to sit inside an alien spaceship and wait for scientists to blow up an atomic bomb underneath him. The ship and Nathaniel were both instantly vaporized in Captain Atom #1.
But some years later, Nathaniel reappeared. With his superiors wiping his original identity and giving him a new one, he became Captain Atom. The alien metal from the space ship had warped itself around his body granting him the ability to control and absorb energy. Captain Atom can also see radio waves and other types of transmissions and he doesn’t need air to survive. It’s impressive, but was it worth being vaporized?
11 THE SPECTRE
The Spectre is one of the mystical heroes of the DC Universe. Jim Corrigan debuted in 1940 and had a particularly violent entry. Ironically, his first appearance was in More Fun Comics #52. The gruff cop was captured on his way to his engagement party by three criminals, as they stuffed him into a barrel of cement. Already, this doesn’t sound like "more fun". They then throw the barrel with Corrigan inside it into a river and let it sink to the bottom.
Corrigan actually dies at the bottom of the river before receiving any powers. He’s met by a voice in the darkness that asks him if he wants revenge on those who killed him, and if he wants justice for the crime committed against him. He becomes The Spectre, a being possessing the powers of a god. Try throwing him to the bottom of a river now.
Bruce Banner had a brilliant scientist's mind for the majority of his life, and dedicated his life to science. He worked with Betty Ross, another brilliant scientist who he was also in love with. When his team are testing a gamma bomb in Incredible Hulk #1, Banner spots a figure on the testing field as Rick Jones had driven onto the field and was about to be hit by the impending bomb.
Bruce heroically pushed Rick out of the way, taking the full force of the gamma blast by himself. He should’ve been horrifically burnt or even completely vaporized. Surprisingly, Bruce was unharmed. His body had completely absorbed all of the gamma radiation. Although when Bruce started transforming into the Hulk, it wasn’t long before he and Betty figured out what had happened.
9 SWAMP THING
In Swamp Thing #1 Alec Holland (like many superheroes) was a scientist. He was in the Louisiana swamps experimenting with various chemicals, looking to create a bio-restorative serum. Alec is awakened one night when two thugs plant a bomb in his lab. When it explodes, Alec is doused in the serum as he burns alive, diving into the swamp -- he disappears. Shortly after, a green human-like creature emerged from the swamp.
The serum had dispersed Alec’s memories and personality into the swamp and also raised an elemental. An elemental’s job was to protect “the Green” should it be threatened. In a sad turn of events though, it turned out that Alec Holland really did die that night, and Swamp Thing just thinks he’s Holland. It’s emotional, but he did manage to give Holland’s corpse a proper burial.
Todd McFarlane’s Spawn was one of the few titles to kick-start Image Comics, and it was an explosive start to say the least. Al Simmons worked for the CIA and frequently took part in some less then moral operations, including killing innocents. When Jason Wynn ordered Chapel to kill Simmons, he died in an explosion that quickly sent him to hell. He made a deal with the entity known as Malebolgia to send him back to Earth so he could see his wife again.
Unfortunately for Simmons this also meant losing his memories and being used as an agent of chaos for Malebolgia. He has potentially unlimited magical powers and his chains, cape and suit all aid him in fighting and killing the scum of the Earth. A hellish anti-hero, one that will be appearing on our screens once again very soon.
7 ULTIMATE IRON MAN
Tony Stark wasn’t even born when he received his heightened capabilities in Ultimate Iron Man #1. Howard Stark had married Dr. Maria Cerrera after she had joined Stark Defense Corporation, working on bio-armor and regenerative serums. During an incident where an infected monkey attacked her, she was infected with the very virus she’d been working on.
And whilst it caused her immense pain and mental instability, the way it affected Tony in the womb was astounding. The neural tissue in his brain spread across his body, meaning he had a quicker mental capacity. Calling him a "brainbox" would be an understatement. The only downside is that his entire body would be in pain, as if he had third degree burns everywhere. Luckily Howard Stark had just created some bio-armor…
6 JESSICA JONES
Her origin in the Netflix series is relatively similar to how Jessica got her powers in the comics (Alias #22-#23). When her family are given tickets to Disneyland from her father’s boss, Tony Stark, they go on vacation. But on their way home, Jessica was arguing with her brother in the backseat, distracting their father who was driving. This caused their car to be involved in a horrific accident when it crashed into a military convoy.
The rest of her family were killed in the collision. The military convoy however had been carrying radioactive materials. These chemicals covered the wreckage, and Jessica had also been doused in them. After the accident, she spent the next few months in a coma before awakening and discovering her super strength, flight and durability.
5 THE WINTER SOLDIER
James Buchanan Barnes AKA Bucky AKA The Winter Soldier. Captain America’s best friend and ally was turned against him by the Russians after World War II. The Winter Soldier debuted in Ed Brubaker’s Captain America Vol.5 #1. In the same explosion that flung Cap into ice and froze him for years, Bucky lost his arm and was also frozen. He was recovered out of the ice by a Russian submarine.
They managed to revive Barnes and fitted a robotic arm in the bloody mess where the explosion had ripped off his left arm. The cybernetic enhancement meant that he had faster reflexes and heightened strength, making him a perfect weapon. The Soviets then brainwashed Bucky into becoming an assassin for them. Oh, and when he wasn’t in cryogenic stasis, he had something of a relationship with Black Widow.
4 DOCTOR OCTOPUS
One of Spider-Man’s most famous villains was a gifted scientist with a mean streak after years of bullying and abandonment. In 1968’s The Amazing Spider-Man #3, he’d already earned the name ‘Doctor Octopus’ from his colleagues thanks to the four-armed robotic harness he had created. But during a radioactive explosion at the lab Otto worked at, the harness had fused itself to his body.
Not only were the limbs part of him, but the explosion had also changed the physiology of his brain so that he could control them at will. Not only do all four arms have pincers allowing Doctor Octopus to pick up and carry whatever he requires, but they also have extreme strength and durability, and they’re able to withstand extreme heat. He can multi-task with all of the arms, frequently fighting and moving across walls and buildings simultaneously.
Cyborg was another young mind caught in an explosion. Victor Stone was the son of scientist Silas Stone at S.T.A.R. Labs. His mother Elinore was also a scientist, and the pair of them regularly experimented on Victor before the accident, giving him a high IQ level. In his classic origin, Victor is attacked by a huge monster from another dimension after a portal experiment goes wrong. Silas rebuilds his body with metal prosthetics.
But in The New 52’s Justice League: Origin, Victor is caught in an explosion from a Motherbox at S.T.A.R. Labs. Victor survives -- even if the majority of his body has been burnt away. His father takes him to the Red Room and uses various pieces of technology to build Victor an entirely new body. This includes pieces of the Motherbox, a Promethean skin graft, and he also absorbs part of a Parademon in the ensuing fight.
When Wade Wilson was working for the Weapon X program, he killed one of his teammates on a mission, which led to his healing factor strangely failing him. This meant that his cancer began to re-emerge in his body. He was kicked down to ‘the Hospice’ for Weapon X rejects, and it was here that Ajax tortured Wade in various ways trying to unlock his mutant gene.
When Wade mercy-killed a fellow reject after being lobotomized, Ajax ripped out Wade’s heart as punishment. This actually caused the mutant gene to heal Wade and helped him escape the Hospice, but not before he violently burnt the place to the ground and killed every single one of the guards, including Ajax. He took on the name Deadpool after the rejects put bets in a ‘deadpool’ to see which one of them would live the longest.
1 DOCTOR MANHATTAN
With Watchmen being brought back into DC continuity thanks to DC Rebirth, Doctor Manhattan plays a vital role. But back in the original Watchmen story, Doctor John Osterman was a nuclear physicist. He was a humble man with a girlfriend and a stable career until he was accidentally locked in an ‘Intrinsic Field Subtractor’ and he was the victim of a horrific accident.
When the countdown hit zero, Osterman’s body was ripped apart layer by layer in a matter of seconds. Weeks later, John started to reappear; first as a nervous system, then as a skeletal body with some muscles, and then finally as the glowing blue form we all know. He was given the "Doctor Manhattan" name to resonate with the nuclear Manhattan Project from World War II.
Are these origins not gruesome enough for you? Let us know in the comments section!