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)
The trauma of his parents’ murder serves as the origin story for the popular fictional character Batman
In entertainment, an origin story is an account or backstory revealing how a character or group of people become a protagonist or antagonist, and it adds to the overall interest and complexity of a narrative, often giving reasons for their intentions.
In American comic books, it also refers to how characters 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 makes it seem that it is an
altogether different character.
A pourquoi story, also dubbed an “origin story”, is also used in mythology,
referring to narratives of how a world began, how creatures and plants
came into existence, and why certain things in the cosmos have certain
yet distinct qualities.
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.
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.”
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.”
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’.” The authors proceed to investigate these various issues of the origin story.