5 Comic Book Origins You Thought You Knew. But Really, You Didn't (Part I)
Some of our favorite characters have been utilized so heavily that their abilities, and origins, have become obscured or adjusted over time to adapt to changing markets. Read on to discover the 5 origins of these popular and often misunderstood characters.
You're reading this and thinking to yourself, "Is this guy serious? I know my comic book heroes!" Snorting with derision as to the audacity of my article, you yell out at your screen, "I've watched the movies, I've seen the animated films & series! I know my comics." You may be (possibly) wondering which comic characters I might be listing, and are waiting patiently to quickly jump in and learn about them, or your chance to debunk every item I list. However, I'm curious about the mainstream audience, the people who are now, recently, starting, or have enjoyed comic book heroes, on a casual basis. Even if you are completely new to comics because of all the fanfare they've been given in a mainstream limelight in the last decade.
Hardcore fans of comics should know the listing below, yet i'm always surprised, in my travels, how many self-proclaimed "hardcore fans" actually don't know some of their comic history. This topic came up recently at a convention, and I was asked in a panel about one particular heroine. The question was about Wonder Woman, "Why does, or did she have a Jet? An Invisible at that, isn't she a greek?" I found it to be a very valid question. Wonder Womans a character with this particular vehicle that doesn't (really) make any sense, yet it was in the comics a year after her first appearances, it's been utilized, and rationalized (nicely) throughout the years. Yet, for the most part we don't really see this vehicle very much in other modern canon for the character. Even if it has had a few "nods" in recent animated features. "Why Camacho, Why!?" I was asked.
This prompted me to go and take a deeper look at other comic book mainstream media. To research where the origins of some of our favorite characters still hold true (to the first appearances and versions), and see where some origins are so mixed up, over the years, that even some of the geekiest of comic book fans are lost in the mix, or even in translation.
Wonder Woman's Invisible Jet
This is the topic that sparked my interest to write this article. In terms of a modern (present and mainstream) audience, many of you may have seen Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (2010). This film displays how our Justice League Unlimited Wonder Woman (evidently) gains, or steals if you prefer, a jet with cloaking technology. A jet which ends up damaged, leaving it permanently cloaked, from a character named Owlman; who is actually Thomas Wayne Jr. in the comics. Owlman is Bruce Wayne's brother in this universe, and is touted as "Batman" of this alternate universe, which isn't completely accurate, Batman here is Thomas Wayne Sr..
If you happen to have been born in the 60's or 70's (even the early 80's), you might have been old enough to (normally) watch and enjoy the Super Friends cartoon, which in the late 70's changed to Challenge of the Super Friends. If you happened to watch this as a kid, sitting with your bowl of cereal during those early mornings, or watching the recaps on Sunday morning; bowl of cereal possibly still in hand, you've been exposed to some of the earliest animated versions of characters that will be further down this list, and (seemingly) closest to their origins. But I digress with reminiscence, let's focus on Wonder Woman for a moment.
During the Super Friends, Wonder Woman had her "Invisible Jet", and we as kids, or older comic book fans, just accepted the jet, without question. Probably because it was pretty freaking cool! During that time, the live action Wonder Woman series was also airing, starring the wodnerfully amazing Lynda Carter, the jet made its appearances here as well, however it was mostly shown in a WWII era fighter plane, and later shown as a 70's style jet before being completely removed, due to obsolescence, as Diana was now capable of flight and super speed. This 70's style jet is the one most of us have come to know or remember. But in truth, what is the real origin of this aspect of the Wonder Woman Comics?
If you happened to watch the Wonder Woman (2009) animated feature, you would have seen a very different take on the origin of the Invisible Jet, which is a bastardization of the original story. As it goes, the Jet, arrived via Air Force pilot, Steve Trevor, who accidentally crash lands on Themyscira's, Paradise Island. The jet itself was nothing special and was, reconfigured into more of a stealth fighter by the Amazons; made to be invisible for Diana to escort Trevor back to the US. Later on in the film we see the jet being used to protect Themyscira, piloted by Trevor, himself, and in a moment of confusion, he can't seem to fire the jets missiles? Eventually, realizing they were also invisible (after they destroyed their intended target). A nice touch, a nod if you will, to the original concept of the invisible jet.
In truth, I've been typing "Invisible Jet" but really it's "Invisible Plane" as the original in the golden age comic had a propeller (despite it being able to travel just over mach 2, about 2000 mph), its first appearance was in Sensation Comics #1 (1942). Most folks refer to all of this as "Pre-Crisis Era", because most of our heroes origins, purpose, and powers were re-written after the events of the Crisis Era. Back then, Wonder Woman was simple not able to fly, and needed the plane for her travels to the outside world, and similarly setup, as in the Wonder Woman animated feature, an enchantment was given so that it would be undetected. It became an obsolete concept that was slowly phased out.
The Justice League
The Justice League (JLA)...Known to so many of us in a variety of formats and story-lines. Heralded in multiple animated films and series, soon to grace the silver screen in a wide theater release by Warner Bros. A Topic that sets most of us in the geek community ablaze in terms of what will happen? Who will play who? What will be the origins of our heroes; these questions asked ad infinitum. For the most part, we accept that we know the individual components and their own origins. We know Superman came from Krypton, we generally know Batman lost his parents as a child, eventually donning the cape to protect the innocent, we know about Wonder Woman, The Flash (in this case Barry Allen), Aquaman...
We know where the heroes came from, and in some cases, don't, hence the topic of this article. But as far as the creation of many-a-comic-book-fans favorite super powered team-up, how did they get together? For most people the debate of Superman needing a team of heroes has always been an interesting one. For the most part, Superman is a being (in a variety of interpretations), be it writers creative license, or producers in their attempt to make all elements work; has been watered down to exist with all of these amazing heroes. In other cases, Superman is pretty much near-godlike in his abilities. So why create a team if he pretty much can do the work alone?
The good thing here is i'm not going to give you my retrospect opinion as to why he made that decision, because in the end it could simply be interpreted based on justifications writers set in place to help you (the reader) accept the need to form a team, not the how they were formed.
It is widely accepted that the Justice League was formed out of necessity by it's three principle leaders, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. Even so, that is actually not the case, well that's a trick piece of commentary (we'll come back to this).
Looking at recent entries for the Justice League, as a group, we can see various aspects in the animated films about how they actually came together as a team. One of my favorite re-interpreted entries from the animated films comes from Green Lantern: First Flight. The film essentially retells an origin story for Hal Jordan, then compiles it together with a need for a team of heroes to come together, in the end of the film, to protect our world from the enormous threat that is now perceived by Hal Jordan gaining his powers; Now able to see what was out there lurking in the Universe. I found this amazingly interesting because it was definitely a different take on the concept.
Going back to my earlier example of the Super Friends, rather Challenge of the Super Friends, The earliest roster also included Robin, and Aquaman. Later to include creations by the studio that were not part of the comics. Those missing, early on, were Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), Hawkman, The Flash (Barry Allen), Green Arrow, and Plastic Man. Challenge, corrected this roster (to a degree) and focused more on the creation of the Legion of Doom. Yet we still got some odd characters that older fans of the material will recognize, like the Wonder Twins.
The original comic team-up of the Justice League occurred with The Brave and the Bold #28 in 1960, however this was a circumstance that was born from Gardner Fox being given the task of reintroducing the first ever comic book super-team, The Justice Society of America. which had been gracing comic pages since 1940 in All Star Comics #3. The main lineup consisted predominantly of The original Flash (Jay Garrick), The Original Green Lantern (Alan Scott), The Spectre, Dr. Fate (Kent Nelson), Hawkman, The Atom (Al Pratt), Hourman (not the 1985 Todd Mcfarlane recreation), Johnny Thunderbolt & Sandman. Superman and Batman had their own respective comics and were not full members of the group as most had believed, only making minor appearances. Lantern and Flash as well weren't always in the group, but were among it's founding members. They would depart more often, especially after their individual comics started to be pushed into the mainstream market (mainstream for the golden age).
Eventually, after Gardners recreation of the Justice League, and its popularity soaring, DC reinvigorated some of the characters from JSA into this new League. However most of the JSA storylines that were reintroduced were stated to be part of an alternate universe, referred to as Earth-Two, while the league existed in our universe, Earth-One. Leading to future multi-dimensional crossovers, and the fantastically setup storylines we've gained for the Crisis-Era, and so on. At one point, DC setup a storyline for JSA that placed them predominantly as a WWII Era incarnation of the League, as its predecessors. Some of this storyline was used to work in JSA characters into the Smallville TV series. To a degree you can say the Justice League Unlimited series was intended to combine much of what was the JSA and JLA together under one roof with alterations to continuity (meaning ignoring continuities) to make the series a minor animation masterpiece.
Wolverine has always been among my all time favorite characters, while growing up. The films available to us (now) since the first X-films have only touched on a minute amount of Wolverines origin, they've focused more time on his Adamantium origins then anything else. However, the question always asked stems from his age, "When was he born?", "Who were his parents?", etc. We have been given glimpses and various interpretations, but for the most part, the first three X-Men films; while I can say I like watching them, and enjoy them as general pieces of cinema. I can also say from the inner recesses of my elitist-comic-book-nerds-heart, I hate them, and the subsequent X-Men: Origins Wolverine. Because they, apparently, took to much creative license to alter what was seemingly a perfect origins live action film, and added their own spin without the need for it. It already appealed to a broad mainstream audience. Now I know I am being intentionally vicious, and those films are (relatively) decent in general, as long as we turn off our inner-comic-nerds.
Origins is one of those films I'll watch for the opening montage, and sometimes up until Wolverine walks away from Team X (If I'm feeling punchy). These films take so much "Screw it...put it in!" mentality with the material, the bulk of it is completely inaccurately pieced from an accurate concept (does that make sense?). Because of this, when talking about Wolverine I have to restrain myself from an all out tirade of nerd-raging. So let's look at the source material. The Comics. Their Creators, the institution that is, John Romita Sr., and Len Wein.
Wolverine first appeared at the very end, of The Incredible Hulk #180, and then in a full edition of The Incredible Hulk #181, and in a small part of the finale to this storyline in #182. Wolverine was originally a partial throw away character that was created (as many others were) to toss him into-the-pit with the Hulk. His origin didn't state anything beyond being Canadian, small, and that his claws were not able to retract. The only reason they retract now, as we know them, John Romita Sr. applied common sense to the character stating, "...How can he scratch his nose, or tie his shoes?"
Wolverine wouldn't appear into comics for another year, until X-Men #94. If you have ever watched some of the 1990's animated X-Men series, to a degree, it takes a lot of what was in these early bronze age comics and attempted to remain true to the stories the X-men and Wolverine shared (by the time this series aired Logan had already gained popularity as a fan favorite). Especially, his longing for Jean Grey, which consequently is the strongest aspect of the Bryan Singer & Brett Ratner X-films, continuing (still) the sentiments into the most recent Wolverine film.
Logan was almost dropped from the X-Men comics in the 70's until a Canadian comic writer and artist, John Byrne, pushed forward to keep him in the storylines. He began creating back story and material for a clearer origin of the character. Using storylines from a team he created called Alpha Flight, which is also a Canadian based super team, citing arguments that the Canadian government spent a lot of money on Logans' training.
Wolverine didn't get his own self-titled comic book until 1988. Technically, he had a couple of comics, each standalone, four and six, part mini-series; one worked on by fan favorite Frank Miller. One particular argument is that Wolverine was an animal that mutated...This is not true, and his creator specifically has argued, nearly ranted, that this is not true (emphatically). Fans went crazy with this notion because of a particular character in the comics Logan has dealt with named, Wolverine #41. The cover states "...A secret revealed!" Sabretooth expresses to Logan that he is his "...dear old daddy!" in a very Star Wars Empire-esque manner of denial, Logan obviously losses it. This is later to be revealed as a load of bullshit, a set of mind-games perpetrated by Sabretooth. Logan got Trolled! O_o Well crap, so did we. While the concept of Sabretooth being Logan's father was an idea that was on the table, it was never officially used to explain his origin.
Instead we go back to the not well loved by hardcore fans, but still successful X-Men Origins: Wolverine film. like I have said before, I loved the opening sequence and the initial concept of the film, because they were relatively on point, there were just a lot of random changes that were unnecessary. However, the film did capture the general facts from the origins comic. Logan was really James Howlett, born in 1880. Unfortunately the father he grew up loving, John Howlett, was not his biological father. He was actually conceived by Thomas Logan, who had another son named Dog and was having an ongoing affair with Logans' mother. Thomas killed john for kicking him off the property. In retaliation, Logan (James) traumatically reacts to his fathers killer by attacking him, revealing Logan's bone claws for the first time, in his first use of his abilities. Resulting in the death of Thomas, that revealed being his father. For this act, Logans' Mother kicks him out, prompting our young Wolverine to leave with his childhood mate Rose, who had been his fried throughout his youth as a sickly boy unable to leave his home. The rest essentially we know from other comics, his entrance into WWI (including WWII), Alpha Flight, the Adamantium process...
What helps bring Wolverines prior stories into full circle with his Origins? The story rectifies his past with his accidental killing of Rose (who is, incidentally, very similar in appearance to Jean Grey). In so doing, he leaves and eventually ends up in the Yukon territories and lives among wolves, for a time, away from anyone he can hurt. He adopts the name Logan, and eventually returns to society and lives among a native american tribe, the Blackfoot, where he meets, falls in love with, and subsequently loses Silver Fox, who is eventually killed by Sabretooth, setting the underlying tone for the rest of Logan's life, and his utter hatred of Victor Creed. This story was crystallized in the Wolverine Origins Comics of 2001-2002.
Brainiac, now here is a villain, similarly to Doomsday, has been written into a literary wall, in a quest to improve him and make him more appealing (mostly starting in the 1983 Action Comics #544). The concept of how this villain actually got his start has become more and more obscure as new incarnations in animated films, series, and comics continue to evolve. Brainiac has recently been showcased in another DCAU film, Superman Unbound, which was quite interesting and entertaining, however this version of Brainiac has become more of a Thanos-meets-Krona type of entity - If you can permit the comparisons (Yes I know that's wildly stretching, and possibly inflammatory, but I think most of you get my allusions).
However, even so, with that interpretation, Superman Unbound does attempt to point out a close concept for Brainiacs original appearance in the comics. Brainiac first terrorized comic book pages in Action Comics #242 (1958). He appeared as a Bald, Green skinned, humanoid (even though the cover showed his signature and familiar diodes on his head). His intent was to steal cities, which we've seen him do, in various incarnations. We've seen him shrink, and encase these cities in domed snowglobe-like structures. Most famous among these was Kandor, the Kyrptonian capital city. The purpose, to help restore the planet he ruled, named Bryak.
Appearing again in Action Comics #275 in 1961 which introduced a 30th century descendant of Brainiac, Brainiac 5, or Querl Dox. This character ended up falling in love with Supergirl, and it wasn't quite clear which planet he came from, because two locations were used in the comics, Yod and Colu (even though we know essentially Brainiac is from Colu). Only in 1964, three years later is another appearance given where a variation on his story is used to explain that he was created as a robotic entity to spy on other worlds by the peoples of Colu. The stories are a bit haphazard as they continue from here, he eventually meets Lex Luthor who attempts to control him. Throughout the comics after his appearance in Superman #167 the story tries to explain Brainiacs red diodes on his forehead.
It wasn't until the early 80's when Brainiac was redefined to a closer appearance of what we know and recognize as the Brainiac of today. Eventually gaining his skeletal body with his giant skull shaped ship, floating tentacles and all, that we've become accustom to associating with his appearance.
Originally, Superman III was to include Brainiac as the main antagonist. (Uses best announcer voice) "Meanwhile, Somewhere...in the bowels of DC and Warner Bros studios, a conversation was had!" that decidedly eliminated Brainiac from the final cut of the film. Instead the studio converted the material they already worked on to give us the strange super omputer slash cyborg villainess we ended up with. Kevin Smith was working on the script for Superman Reborn that was to include the original green skinned city shrinking conqueror, before all of his efforts were squashed by an insane giant-spider-craving Jon Peters, and Tim Burton's takeover as director, who without much thought to the work done, and a self-proclaimed non-reader of comics, fired Smith for his own writers.
Eventually none of the films that were written or pitched were created and we got Superman Returns many years later...Go figure. Among one of the more popular incarnations of Brainiac is the Super-Intelligent global computer system that monitored all of Krypton and was used to confirm the extinction level event that Krypton was undergoing. Later to be revealed that Brainiac itself was the cause of the planets impending destruction, having triggered the chain of events. This version was instead forever seeking all knowledge in the universe and would essentially attempt to absorb all of said knowledge, until there was nothing left but itself.
A variation on the same knowledge-crazy Brainiac melded with the cybernetic skeletal version, that could survive being destroyed if just 1 molecule remained, allowing it to regenerate. We see this version in the Superman: Brainiac Attacks, and in incarnations in the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited series. What I've always found interesting to do at conventions, when doing animation and comic panels, is showing clips of Brainiac in the Legion of Doom, in a far less menacing capacity, which stems from his original concepts in the 1964 comics. Where Brainiac is pretty much a lesser baddy under the thumb of Lex Luthor. Much to the glee and awe of my convention audiences, that had no idea.
The comics eventually rectify this relationship with Lex as a ruse Brainiac perpetrated. However, there are so many incarnations that most people swear he's a cyborg...No wait, a nano-tech infused intelligence. No, he's definitely a giant kryptonian super-computer, that's it! Wait, maybe he's a floating skull that uses nano-tech androids to infect other objects, including entire planet; like a computer virus on a macroscopic scale?
Nope...Sorry, no, he was simply a traveling alien conqueror, green in skin, not that dissimilar from Kang the Conqueror in some ways, but that's a bit of a stretch without proper justification. We'll leave that argument for another article (hint hint, look at Brainiac 5).
Holy leaping lizards Camacho, Batman, really? You must be thinking back to my original statement on this article and now wondering "is this guy effing crazy...We know Batman's origins!" Ah yes! Know it indeed we all do, in fact any of us can (probably) say the name Batman in the middle of a random and remote location in Africa and people would still recognize the name, know the character, and possibly even think that Kevin Conroy is the definitive voice for the animated role. That last sentence is akin to reductio ad absurdum, stay with me now, i'm a satirical bastard.
We all know the story, Bruce and his parents in a theater, they leave (why they leave has been altered throughout the years), his parents get mugged and killed (who killed them has also been altered a few times), leaving Bruce an Orphan, yada yada yada; He grows up with a deep hatred and grudge towards criminals, just not enough to kill. He travels throughout the world to gain a variety of skills, some gained among criminal elements. He returns and dawns the Cape and Cowl we love so much and blamo, Batman. In this case i'm not referring so much to his origins as our beloved batsy, i'm referring more to the current arguments and nerd raging we are seeing online over a variety of scenarios from the films, the animated series, and the recent Dark Knight Returns Part I-II animated films. Where he kills the Joker. If that spoiled it for you, damn! You call yourself a comic book fan? Stop reading now and go get your hands on that Blu-Ray, better yet, go buy the Frank Miller graphic novel - then come back and finish the rest of this article (I won't wait for you, but the article will be here when you get back :P <-- consider that a punctuation.
The original Batman appeared in Detective Comics #27, and while the cover said "The Batman", he was referred to as "The Bat-Man" at first. I'm one of the fortunate few to have one in a sealed glass encasement which I will likely be buried with. What's interesting about this? After being introduced, you could see him in the comics chasing down villains using guns, shotguns, and rifles, and a variety of grenades. Not only using them to "Strike Fear into their hearts..." but shooting those filthy bums dead. Yes! Batman was pretty much an early inspiration for Marvels Punisher, which Stan Lee himself has talked about during interviews (Stan created the Punisher name). I'm pretty certain the scenes we observe in The Dark Knight with the fake "Batmen" using an M1A rifle and a standard Benelli Shotgun, were minor nods to the original "The Batman" comics (both were used in the comic). Nicely done Nolan, i'm not sure that was intentional, if it wasn't than it's a happy coincidence.
What most "mainstream" comic book fans might not know is the separation between the terms "Batman" and "The Batman" - "Batman" usually refers to the Batman most of us know and recognize. An incorruptible genius detective that is among the greatest, if not greatest, martial artists and minds in the world (if you discount Lady Shiva). "The" added to his name on the comics is more specific to a much darker, vicious, and brooding type of Dark knight from the original 1939 comics (and onward). Audiences recently may have watched a few of the Batman-only entries out of the DCAU animated films like, Batman: Year One, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns: Part I, and the aforementioned Batman: the Dark Knight Returns Part II, all three are excellent films (with some minor quirks, sorry I can't help it, especially the weird emaciated Superman scene in part II). However the main issue with Year One is very simple. It is not at all what Batman 1939 is like...As I said above, the dude would simply kill his way through villains without any "Ruth"...O_o can I say it like that, screw it, he was Ruthless.
Those origins were changed later on to make him a different kind of character, making him more interesting, because it seemed stupid to DC that a detective with a gun would run around in a costume. That concept eventually inspired The Question, which later inspired Alan Moore's Rorschach from the Watchmen series. Batman as most of us know him functions from a wide variety of skills, abilities, and personally tortured psychological demons that make him absolutely awesome gothic comic-noir splendor. Notable to his earliest incarnations are the fact that the Batmobile did not come first, the Batplane did in Detective Comics #31 2 years prior to the first official batmobile, he originally didn't have a utility belt either, that was introduced later on, as well was his Batarang. This is how DC made him interesting over time, no killing, no guns, just brains, ingenuity, and a lot of scaling of buildings.
Detective Comics #35 if you break down the character, we can always blame the bi-polar variation of "Kill" or "No Kill" to the writers that pen his adventures. But here is another example that helps polarize him in the focused direction that DC/WB wanted to keep him in, that no longer shadow his origins.
If you go back to the first episode in Batman Beyond, you will see an aging Bruce Wayne still struggling to fight crime, now in his newest high tech "Beyond" suit. when he gets overpowered by a thug, he scrambles to gain said thugs gun and trembles as he points it toward him. Having no alternative but to simply kill him, or die himself. The look on Waynes' face and the subsequent retirement from the cape and cowl (possibly a second or third retirement if we follow earlier works and thread it into this story), pretty much screams to the audience he can't do this anymore without killing. This is the origin that DC has completely run away from. Their hero that was born in blood (did I just steal that from Dexter...oops!) and eventually began to deliver a whole lot of death of his own, was neutered.
So many variations exist on individual pieces of his origin, so little time to talk about them all (I've written a lot of the various wiki's so go do some exploring). So I'll leave you with this much, god bless Tim Burton (if you believe in the "blessing" sort of thing, if not, the more politically correct - Hail almighty flying spaghetti monster!) for giving us the 1989 Batmobile. Regardless of where Burton got his consultation on the Batman origin (which was actually mostly Frank Miller), I will always love that interpretation and that car!
I hope you all enjoyed the read, this is part I of nearly 25 characters I will be writing about. Hopefully you learned something new about some of your favorite characters, if you knew it all, great!. Now go teach it to your friends that are new to our world. What other character origins do you think are completely obscured by popular and current media?
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