Origin story

This article is about the back-stories of fictional characters. For myths about origins of world phenomena, see Origin myth. For other uses of "origin", see Origin (disambiguation).

In comic book terminology, an origin story is an account or back-story revealing how a character or team gained their superpowers and/or the circumstances under which they became superheroes or supervillains.

In order to keep their characters current, comic book companies, as well as cartoon companies, game companies, children's show companies, and toy companies, frequently rewrite the origins of their oldest characters. This goes from adding details that do not contradict earlier facts to a totally new origin which make it seem that it is an altogether different character.

"Origin story" or pourquoi story is also a term used in the study of myths. It can refer to narratives of how the world began, how creatures and plants came into existence, and why certain things in the cosmos have certain qualities.

Critical explorations of the origin story

In The Superhero Reader (nominated for a 2014 Eisner Award for Best Scholarly/Academic Work), edited by Charles Hatfield (Professor at University of Connecticut), Jeet Heer (Toronto-based journalist), and Dr. Kent Worcester (Professor of Political Science at Marymount Manhattan College), the editors write in "Section One: Historical Considerations": "Almost all superheroes have an origin story: a bedrock account of the transformative events that set the protagonist apart from ordinary humanity. If not a prerequisite for the superhero genre, the origin... is certainly a prominent and popular trope that recurs so frequently as to offer clues to the nature of this narrative tradition. To read stories about destroyed worlds, murdered parents, genetic mutations, and mysterious power-giving wizards is to realize the degree to which the superhero genre is about transformation, about identity, about difference, and about the tension between psychological rigidity and a flexible and fluid sense of human nature. ... When surveying the superhero genre, preliminary questions often turn to the problem of roots." The book has a wealth of pertinent bibliographies.[1]

English professors Dr. Alex Romagnoli and Dr. Gian S. Pagnucci, of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, discuss in their book Enter the Superheroes: American Values, Culture, and the Canon of Superhero Literature "the nature of superhero origin stories and how the writing of these origin stories helps make superhero narratives a unique literary genre."[2] For example, they write, "Superheroes get very complicated when it comes to their histories, but one part of their stories remains forever constant and important. Even more than 'death' stories, crossovers, event stories, and attire changes, origin stories are the core of superheroes' existences. Origins not only reflect the sociohistorical contexts in which heroes were created, but they also reflect a culture's understanding of what makes superheroes storytelling unique vehicles."[3] Thereafter, Romagnoli and Pagnucci go on to explain why the origin story is as important to the audience as to the generations of writers who continue heroic tales.

Dr. Randy Duncan (Comics Scholar and Professor of Communication, Henderson State University, Arkadelphia, Arkansas) and Dr. Matthew J. Smith (Department of Communication, Wittenberg University, Springfield, Ohio) use the origin story of Spider-Man as an example of how a character can be created by the persistence of a writer who has definite preferences in creating a character's personality, even if the publisher resists. "It is difficult to discern which is more often told: Spider-Man's origin or the tales told around that origin. All reveal fascinating aspects of a teenage loner fatefully 'bitten by a radioactive spider' to find himself with 'the proportionate strength and agility of an arachnid'." Duncan and Smith explain how Stan Lee butted heads with publisher Martin Goodman, who worried about an "ick factor," but Lee prevailed. "The entire Spider-Man concept resonates with the primary attributes of many genres and traditions," the authors say. "Like a heady puree of [Mary] Shelley's Frankenstein, Bob Kane's Batman, and Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis, Spider-Man's origin invokes gothic and crime fiction motifs like the ostracized genius, doomed loved ones, the misuse or misfiring of science, the gritty noir city, the driven vigilante, and the fateful 'return of the repressed'."[4] The authors proceed to investigate these various issues of the origin story.

Notable examples


In the Mr Woo Land series reboot, as the events of Mr Woo Land 3 never happened, Mr Woo and Madame Wong instead learned their abilities during this game.


Comic book depictions

See also


  1. Hatfield, Charles; et al. (2013). The Superhero Reader. Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi. p. 3. ISBN 9781617038068.
  2. Romagnoli, Alex S.; Pagnucci, Gian S. (2013). "Introduction". Enter the Superheroes: American Values, Culture, and the Canon of Superhero Literature. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Books. p. 3. ISBN 0-810-89171-9.
  3. Romagnoli, Alex S.; Pagnucci, Gian S. (2013). "6. Superhero Storytelling". Enter the Superheroes: American Values, Culture, and the Canon of Superhero Literature. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Books. p. 109. ISBN 0-810-89171-9.
  4. Duncan, Randy; Smith, Matthew J. (2013). Icons of the American Comic Book: From Captain America to Wonder Woman. (Series: Greenwood icons). Vol. 1. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood Press. p. 684. ISBN 9780313399237.
  5. O'Neil, Dennis (2012). "Introduction". In Travis Langley. Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. p. 2. ISBN 978-1-118-16765-6. He evolved. The essence of what his creators, Bill Finger and Bob Kane, brought to the party in 1939 hadn't changed much: the nocturnal vigilante endlessly and symbolically avenging his parents' murders; an origin tale stark and simple and primal and, I submit, perfect. But virtually everything else did change over the decades: costumes and supporting cast and crime-fighting gadgetry and the kinds of crimes fought and the kinds of villains... The range of stories appearing under the Batman logo went from farcical to macabre, while always being a Batman. Not the Batman - there is no the Batman - but a Batman, one appropriate to whatever was contemporary.
  6. Langley, Travis (2012). "1. Beneath the Cowl: Who is Batman?". Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. p. 6. ISBN 978-1-118-16765-6. His origin is tragic and brutally believable. It taps the most primal of our childhood fears: A family outing twists into tragedy when a mugger guns his parents down before his eyes.
  7. Uslan, Michael (2012). "3. The Trauma". In Travis Langley. Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. p. 35. ISBN 978-1-118-16765-6. This is such a primal origin story. A kid watches his parents murdered in front of his eyes on a concrete altar of blood and at that moment sacrifices his childhood and makes a commitment, a commitment that he intends to honor even if he has to walk through hell for the rest of his life to get the guy who did this, to get all the bad guys... it all starts with the origin.
  8. Porter, Alan J. (2013). "The Dubious Origins of the Batman: Who Did What - And Does it Really Matter?". In Dennis O'Neil. Batman Unauthorized: Vigilantes, Jokers, and Heroes in Gotham City. (Smart Pop series). Dallas, Texas: BenBella Books, Inc. p. 86. ISBN 978-1-933-77130-4. The origin story of the Batman is an essential part of his mythos. The small details may vary with each interpretation, but the underlying theme of loss and vengeance is as integral to the legend as the cape and the cowl. From comics to books, radio, television, and the movies, almost every time the Batman story is told[,] this single event is referenced.
  9. Tallon, Philip (2012). "6. With Great Power Comes Great Culpability: How Blameworthy is Spider-Man for Uncle Ben's Death?". In Jonathan J. Sanford. Spider-Man and Philosophy: The Web of Inquiry. (Blackwell philosophy and pop culture series). Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. pp. 86, 99. ISBN 978-0-470-57560-4. Ben's death is not only an important event in the life of Peter Parker, it may also be the most famous fatality in all of comics - not to mention one of the only final fatalities. ... [T]he death of Peter Parker's uncle powerfully shapes his hero ethos and his desire to fight crime. ... [Footnote 1] There are three notable differences between the film and the comic versions of the Spider-Man origin. The first is that in the comic, Peter Parker was not provoked in any way to allow the thief to escape (as he was in the film by the rude behavior of the promoter). The second is that in Amazing Fantasy #15, Uncle Ben never utters the line "With great power comes great responsibility." Rather, this line is stated in the final narration. The third is that in the film, Uncle Ben is killed while waiting for Peter in the car, but in the comic, he's killed in a home invasion. Notably, in more recent issues of the comic, Uncle Ben's murder and the origin of the "great responsibility" line have been retroactively changed ("retconned") to fit with the movie version.
  10. Duncan, Randy; Smith, Matthew J. (2013). Icons of the American Comic Book: From Captain America to Wonder Woman. (Series: Greenwood icons). 1. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood Press. p. 684. ISBN 9780313399237. In the final panel of his origin story, a devastated Spider-Man turns away from readers: 'a lean and silent figure' fades 'into the gathering darkness, aware at last that in this world, with great power must also come - great responsibility!' (Amazing Fantasy #15, 1962).
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