Badass Superheroes and Their Shameful Origins
Every once in a while (it usually works out to around once a month) I
pander shamelessly to the popular culture just relax and have a bit of fun with the blog. Today is one of those days. If you’re here for advice that will change your writing career, come back Friday, because today is
BADASS SUPERHEROES AND THEIR SHAMEFUL ORIGINS
The modern superhero tradition started with the Phantom, who set the bar pretty goddamn high. He was a Dread Pirate Roberts sort of guy with a long line of predecessors who passed on the mantle of the Phantom, which mostly consisted of wearing tights and punching people very hard. Times haven’t actually changed much for superheroes since.
Since the Phantom, superheroes have come from every source imaginable: outer space, cybernetic enhancement, naturally-occurring mutations, and of course Nature’s little helper, radiation, which is apparently not as bad for you as we all thought. But for some reason, the true badasses of the comics world — the butt-kickin’ household names of vaguely-justified violence — invariably get the absolute worst origins. One can only assume they look awkward and change the subject when someone asks them how they became Captain BadAssMotherFucker, or, in these cases…
Badass Cred: Blade is a half-vampire slayer of whole-vampires. His big foe as far as I can tell is the goddamn Count Dracula, along with a legion of lesser vampires that presumably abandoned Sunnydale, CA looking for better neighbors. Instead they got Blade, who’s so intense he wears sunglasses at night.
Humiliating Origin: Apparently Blade’s mother, a prostitute, was killed by a vampire while she was delivering l’il Blade, leaving him only partially vampirified. We’re not sure why baby-Blade wasn’t sucked up via the umbilical cord to bounce off the vamp’s nose or something, but that’s just how it went.
But “yo momma” jokes aside, the real agony doesn’t start for Blade until nine years later, when he is initiated as a vampire hunter…by a jazz trumpeter.
The embarrassment of learning his craft from a man whose idea of a good time was noodling out “Stardust” was apparently so painful that Blade later felt compelled to kill him, on the flimsy pretext that the old guy had become a vampire. But we know what it was really about.
THE SILVER SURFER
Badass Cred: He is completely indestructible, basically omnipotent, and so soulless a killing machine that overt sociopathy was used as a sign of positive character development in the early comics. It was like “look, he’s learning to hate things; he’s come such a long way!”
Humiliating Origin: The Silver Surfer was born on a planet that had advanced to a utopian society, meaning there wasn’t a lot left to do. When a world-destroying entity shows up to eat the entire planet, the Surfer (in his pre-silver form) is so bored he signs up to find other planets for munchies, just so he has something to do. He eventually rebels…but he gets his start volunteering for whatever the next level of “heinous” up from genocide is because he’s bored.
Badass Cred: Leotard-clad femme fatale. Alternating enemy/ally of Batman. Killed off a dozen times, apparently to no effect. Movie version played by Uma “UmaUmaUma” Thurman.
Humiliating Origin: Once you start bitching about laboratory accidents creating superheroes you ain’t never going to stop, but Poison Ivy pushes it to fresh levels of absurdity. Pamela Isley, depending on which version you take as canon, is various degrees of poisoned by various bosses who, despite their Ph.D.s in botany and biochemistry, mixed up the “Kill People” poison with the “Turn People Into Indestructible Plant Life” serum while planning the murder of their colleague. Why was that shit even in the same building?
So while no one can deny her badass career of crime, it’s hard to get away from the fact that Poison Ivy exists because people with advanced degrees are basically retarded.
Badass Cred: Daredevil is “The Man Without Fear,” which gives you a pretty good clue of how intense this guy is. He’s barely even super-powered, since his heightened senses mostly just compensate for being freakin’ blind while he punches out every criminal in North America.
Humiliating Origin: To be clear, I don’t have anything against radioactivity as a super-origin. Had Chernobyl melted down anywhere but “the middle of a godforsaken tundra,” teenagers would have been sneaking into the disaster area every night to get bitten by whatever animals they could find. And that’s perfectly fine.
But Matt Murdock doesn’t become Daredevil when an experiment goes wrong, or his wartime heroism puts him in the way of a radioactive blast, or whatever. He gets blinded, and simultaneously acquires his powers, when some radioactive waste falls off a truck. Not like a super-truck — just a truck, going from Point A to Point B by way of Point Some Guy Crossing The Street. And thus a superhero was born…
Badass Cred: His head is a flaming skull and he rides a flaming motorcycle. If you missed the important part here, his head is a flaming skull and he rides a flaming motorcycle.
Humiliating Origin: Ghost Rider has been through several incarnations, and it should tell you something that the Nicholas Cage version wasn’t the most embarrassing. The Spirit of Vengeance apparently possesses people and turns them into the undeniably badass Ghost Rider; in the 1990 reboot of the franchise it possesses a teenager who finds a magical motorcycle in a dump. Presumably it fell of a truck there? My understanding is that the teenager in question was running away from some kind of gangster-ninjas at the time, making his serendipity even more embarrassingly wussy than Daredevil’s.
Badass Cred: You’re kidding, right?
Humiliating Origin: Wolverine is the product of Weapon X, a Cold War research project gone rogue. He was built from the ground up to be the government’s private killing machine. And that’s just about as badass as it gets.
So yeah, he’s a Canadian super-solider. The single most iconic comic book badass of the 20th century is pretty much Dudley Do-Right with claws. And he would have vanished from the Marvel universe entirely (replaced by a more heavily-developed Nightcrawler) if artist John Byrne, native of guess which unpleasantly cold country, hadn’t stuck up for the character. Ouch.
So okay, overcoming the disadvantages of your past is part of becoming a hero. But what did these poor guys ever do, that their creators couldn’t have settled for just gunning their parents down in front of their eyes? I will say in closing, it’s a male-heavy list because most badass female superheroes tend to have genuinely awesome origin stories. They’re goddesses or ninjas or whatever, rather than street-crossing lawyers whose powers fell off the back of a truck. Someone had to be macho, with all those men running around in tights…
Come back Friday and maybe things will be back on topic…until then, your superhero-origin-story-related questions and comments!