It has been my experience that in regards to the big 2 of comics (Marvel & DC) the split in regard to origins has often been concept vs execution.
Superman for example has a conceptually perfect origin that in one series was broken down into 8 words. But this origin has been re-done so many times just in the pages of the comics. Some basic things stay, but other stuff gets changed. Batman is the same, the origin’s core concept stays, whilst a lot of the details get reshuffled. It keeps their stories flexible and to a degree timeless. It’s allowed these modern myths to be retold again and again.
Marvel on the other hand, generally keep the stories themselves the same. The themes and the details stay. Some stuff has to move, with the impetus for the fateful flight which led to the Fantastic Four can’t really be pre-moon landing cold war fear and Iron Man can’t really still have come from the Vietnam War. But apart from the moving of the times (thank you the Marvel Sliding Timescale) their origins and basic themes have stayed pretty stable with very few things about them being changed. The clearest example of this is Amazing Fantasy 15 and the origin of Spider-Man.
Beyond the pop-culture touchstones, very little dates this story. The universality of the teenage experience and the struggle to find your place in a world that feels you are already in the right box adds pathos and a degree of realism to a story about a superhero in long underwear climbing walls.
It’s almost a perfect super-hero origin and what came from it is the almost quintessential super-hero story. The young person who is not popular living a regular life, falls ass-backwards into super-powers and then lives a double/triple life: student, family member and masked adventurer. It was a great concept and you can tell that just by how many times they tried again. This isn’t the teen-hero trope like Robin or Kid Flash or even Invincible and it isn’t a hero from humble origins destined for greatness. It’s more the everyman angle. This is the hero who might be you, or someone to whom you can relate. Not many could relate to a rich Howard Hughes type with an artificial heart, or a man who slept whilst the world moved on. But who can’t relate to money troubles, trying to land a date, or even be everywhere you need to be and stuff getting in the way. A lot of the comic reading populace could relate to that, as could most other people.
So like clockwork, every decade or so we get an young everyman hero, trying his best to make it in a world to weird and dangerous to make that easy. Here are 5 of the more successful of that breed.
Richard Rider: The Man called Nova
First appearing in the Man called Nova #1 in 1976, Richard Rider differed from Peter Parker (apart from a letter of the alphabet) in that wasn’t some unappreciated genius. He was average. Average height, average athletic skill, average intelligence and part of an average nuclear family. He was right in the middle and as a result overlooked by his smarter/more sporty classmates and his certified genius younger brother. He was given powers by a dying alien, part of a group called the Nova Corps of the alien world of Xandar. It does sound like Spider-Man and Green Lantern’s origins had a baby, but it set the scene for a hero who was eternally out of his depth. He battled aliens, villains, Thor at one point, ageless beings like the Sphinx and at the end of his series the entire Skrull army. He is also unique in one other way, he quit. He gave up his powers to help Xandar after the war against the Skrulls he was drafted into and went home, a powerless high-school drop out. He was brought back for the 90’s series New Warriors and he keeps doing that, he keeps coming back. Being dead and in the wrong universe didn’t stop this guy from making yet another come-back. He’s a local guy made good on a cosmic scale.
Ronnie Raymond/Dr. Martin Stein: Firestorm – the Nuclear Man
Almost a contemporary of Nova, Firestorm also debuted in 1976, but low sales and other factors kept him out of the limelight until a stint in the Justice League raised his profile enough to earn him a second shot. This was a little closer to the Spider-Man formula, it added the scientist element as well as the hero deal wreaking havoc on the personal life, but this time the hero was a mix of 2 people. Ronnie Raymond was the body with the subconscious of Martin Stein being an advisor. The flipside of it was that since it was Martin’s subconscious that worked in the Firestorm identity, when split he had no memory of being Firestorm. This was the way of making the hero stuff a problem for the regular life. It was a Marvel style character for DC and he always comes back.
Chris Powell: Darkhawk
First appearing in March 1991 as one of a group of new titles, such as Sleepwalker, Guardians of the Galaxy and New Warriors it was a basic by the numbers hero book that followed Chris who is learning to be a hero after the loss of his father who was revealed to be a corrupt cop, adding a secret burden to the title’s star. It hasn’t aged well, depending on 90’s edginess, but lacked the pathos of earlier and later versions of this idea. When revisited, this lacking of originality and star quality was made much more a part of his story. Ironically the thing that made him forgettable was the hook that future writers used to make him worth reading about. I include him mostly because he fit the remit.
Kyle Rayner: Green Lantern
Ou first, but not only legacy character. He first appeared in 1994’s Green Lantern #48 before getting his own full costumed appearance 2 issues later at the end of #50. Up until then, Green Lanterns were greeted with their name and the phrase “you have the ability to overcome great fear, welcome to the Green Lantern Corps.”
Kyle got ” You will have to do. ” which is a very different thing. Rather than being honest and fearless, Kyle was a struggling artist who was quite aware of how out of his depth he was. Early in his career he lost his girlfriend, the helped restart the universe. That is a steep learning curve. But with an apprenticeship with the New Titans and an invite to the JLA, he was someone who learned and could stand alongside any Green Lantern. He was a DC Spider-Man, but definitely one done in a DC way. He was my Green Lantern as he got me back into DC comics and watching him grow into a hero was a great journey.
Kampala Khan: Ms Marvel
This 3rd iteration of Ms Marvel first appeared in her eponymous #1 in 2014. She followed in the wake of the introduction of several Inhuman characters being introduced as a way of created mutant-ish characters that could be used in a multi -media capacity without other license holders havin rights to them. Since all that was needed was some nebulous gene, different nationalities and backgrounds could be considered. Desperate for some diverse representation, Marvel opted to make this character a muslim. Kamala is a teenaged Pakistani -American super hero fan. Her favourite hero is Carol Danvers and when terrigenesis gives her shapeshifting powers, that’s who she looks like. Soon gets the hang of it and is able to use her powers to do all sorts of things and becomes the hero of New Jersey, a member of the Champions as well as negotiate high school life, family issues and being A POC in modern America.
Kamala is of this 5 the one who is closest to the New version of Spider-Man that we see her, but is also the one doing her own thing the most. Giving a new perspective and more inclusive mileu, she expands the number of people who can identify with this type of hero. When the readership expands, the more diverse the characters are, the more people the hero who could be you could be.
So that’s my 5. There have been others, but these are the ones that stuck out to me. Who did I miss?
Take care Internet people.