Questionable Friday: Origins of the Specious

This week's question comes from my favoritest person, Isabel, which is why the pun in the title is so bad. She asks "What's your favorite origin story?", a query that proves sometimes the simplest questions can be the hardest to answer.

Steeped as I am in comic book lore, it may be a problem related to an embarrassment of riches. My brain doesn't even want to go to some other medium where origin stories would necessarily be less epic. But which superhero origin do I pick? Examined with a "favorite" criterion, they all seem somehow lacking!

Superman's origin might as well be Moses'! Having your family killed was only ever fine the first time it happened, but then Batman's origin dovetails into a silly bat flying through the window. Wonder Woman mixes Greek myth and gun rituals and most unhealthy manner. Green Lantern... nobody thought it was strange for a flight simulator to take off? Flash's is entirely too convenient. Who let Firestorm's constituents walk into a nuclear reactor?! Oh and Marvel heroes? 80% of the ones not "born with them" (BORING!) are exposed to, or shot up with, radiation. So do I go for crazier, more convoluted, more obscure origins? Super stunt-suits melded to one's body by eldritch energies, that kind of thing?

You know what kind of origin I actually love? Heroes inspired by other heroes. All the 2nd/3rd generation guys from DC's post-Crisis era. I love that. I can relate to having a mentor and being a mentor, and it shows how a hero can have a major positive impact on another life. But that's not a very sexy answer, nor does it narrow things down enough for me to pick only one "legacy hero".

So here's my answer instead: Jonah Hex.

Ok, on the surface of it, it boils down to the dude getting hit in the face with a heated tomahawk and surviving with the "Mark of the Demon". Leaving aside the fact that THIS IS CLEARLY AWESOME, what I really love is the tendency Hex once had to invent all sorts of glib answers for people who dared ask about it. This trick was poached by Heath Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight, but Jonah was there first! Here are a series of potential origins for Hex's scar from the Joe Lansdale Vertigo comics starring the character. Let me know which is your favorite.
 
 
 
 
 
 And of course, I have to end by asking YOU what your favorite origin story is. Have at it!

21 comments:

LiamKav said...

I suppose it depends on whether you're talking about the specifics or the details. Yeah, you could argue that a bat flying through the windows is a little silly (although somehow Miller's "Yes father. I shall become a bat" is awesome and I've no idea how), but that's not the important part. It's the boy having his parents killed by crime, resulting in him vowing to end all crime forever. AND THEN HE ACTUALLY DOES IT (almost).

And Spider-Man's origin works as a lovely balance to Batman's. Bruce Wayne the happy child with the ideal childhood, having his family snatched away from him in a way that he could do nothing about. Whereas for Peter, it is ALL his fault. Batman is motivated by a desire to make sure what happened to him doesn't happen to anyone else. Peter is motivated by guilt.

And I also love how Peter is the first "modern" superhero. Dude gets superpowers, so what does he do? Fight crime? Help the downtrodden? No, he becomes a pro wrestler.

My least favourites are the "chemical accidents" like Barry Allen's. And I love Wally West for the same reasons you said (legacy heroes), but his origin is equally silly, unless you add in some of the later retcons.

Anonymous said...

"Who let Firestorm's constituents walk into a nuclear reactor?!"

I can answer that! Professor Martin Stein was allowed in because he was the chief scientist in charge of the plant, he designed the thing. If anyone was allowed in, it was Marty. As for Ronnie Raymond, though, he was a new kid at his high school trying to fit in, so he chose the path so many kids do: he joined a radical nuclear protest group that broke in and planted a bomb. Of course Ronnie objected when he discovered his new buddies were using violent means, so they knocked him (and Marty) unconscious. You can see where this is going. Also, this is what happens when DC tries to be Marvel.

Jayunderscorezero said...

Favourite origin? Wonder Girl: continuity error!

Siskoid said...

Liam: I won't argue with the results, but I'll be facetious about the origin stories themselves ;-).

Anon: Yes, I know it well. My problem isn't them walking into the building, but into the reactor itself. I haven't looked at the comic in a while, maybe it's ok (give or take some lax security).

Siskoid said...

Jay: I do love meta-textual origins. Animal Man's retcon, for example.

Anonymous said...

The bomb sort of removes the distinction between "building" and "reactor".

snell said...

Of course, Siegel & Shuster did divert fairly significantly from the Moses analogy. Moses, remember, rejected his adopted culture, led an uprising against them, and went back to his roots. Superman embraced his adopted culture. The true Moses allegory would be when Kal-El became the Eradicator...

Siskoid said...

Anon: Fair enough.

Snell: Well, in the allegory, the criminals are the Egyptians, and everyone else is the Jews.

SallyP said...

For some reason the "Cut myself shaving" one is my favorite Jonah Hex explanation.

God, I love Jonah Hex.

As for origins, I think that Guy Gardner's is one of my favorites, because it sets the tone so well for things to come. He's perfectly happy, until Hal waltzes in, and hands him his ring,without so much as an explanation, while Hal flies off to Oa, to find out why the darn thing is malfunctioning. Naturally, it is the battery which promptly blows up, blasting Guy into the clutches of the Phantom Zone, and then into Sinestro's clutches, whose torture of Guy puts him into that famous coma and all of his brain-dead shenanigans that follow.

Poor Guy. And all because of Hal.

Craig Oxbrow said...

There's something admirable about building your own superhero origin in a cave with a box of scraps!

Calamity Jon said...

Pretty much any golden age origin which incorporates magic in any way, they tend to capture that agoraphobic, occult sensation of folklore - the statue of Nabu awakening over the corpse of Kent Nelson's father, the green lantern burning once for life - once for death - and once for power, Billy Batson entering a subway station and finding himself in a wizard's tomb, Corrigan standing at the portal to Heaven pleading his case before words a mile high. Just tremendous, ominously mythical stuff...

Siskoid said...

You guys (here and on Twitter) are naming a lot of origins that might very well have been my favorites if I'd put enough thought into it.

But that's why Fridays are so Questionable...

Roger Nowhere said...

You remind me whenever the Question meet someone who said: "hey, you have no face". HE had lots of hilarious answers: "yeah, I shaved it too much", "my granny's soap", "at last somebodys notes it".
Roger

Siskoid said...

Is this in the O'Neil series which I (criminally) still haven't read?

Bill said...

Beta Ray Bill is my favorite origin story. It is completely epic and insane and takes about 20 minutes to explain to the uninitiated, and it involves him beating up Thor twice!

Anonymous said...

I can't belive the lack of love for my favorite origin. You simply can't top the secret origin of the Phantom Steanger (S.O. v2 #10) 4 of the most mind bending origins, mystical, religious, and science fiction, all wrapped up together and all of them the 'real origin'. 16 year old me's mind was compleatly blown and I still love how it captured the spirt of the Phantom Stranger.

Siskoid said...

I love that issue of Secret Origins and actually considered making the post about it.

The Phantom Stranger's current DEFINITIVE origin a complete bollocks though.

Anonymous said...

Ambush Bug: "We made him up!"

- Mike Loughlin

Jeremy Patrick said...

I think I have to go with Batman. Not only has seeing his parents gunned down become iconic, but I think it resonates with society's fears about violent crime. And more, the origin doesn't stop there or with a graveside vow or even with the bat crashing through the window. When I was a kid, I loved the single-minded dedication that Wayne showed in becoming the Batman--those "montage" scenes where he travelled the world learning to become a martial artist from the greatest living masters, learning to become a detective, learning the arts of disguise and stealth, etc. The origin of Batman isn't a scene, it's an epic adventure by itself!

Or, Booster Gold: got in trouble gambling, stole a time machine. Happens to all of us . . .

Martin Gray said...

Bouncing Boy - drank a bottle of future Gingold or something and I can relate to that as when I was a kind I drank a glass of turps and white paint thinking it was milk.

Which seems a bit weird, in retrospect ...

Siskoid said...

What lame powers did you get?

 

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