While researching and reading about my next JLA/JSA entry and scanning through some of the Commander's excellent articles and Fig's Doom Patrol recollections, I thought I would feature those characters whose origins made sense or were cool and those whose were just silly. I'm going to start off with a DC hero but will get to Marvel as well. I plan on focusing on super-heroes but if anyone wants to include super-villains, it's fine by me.

I'm not going to comment on the origins of the Flash, the Fantastic Four or Spider-Man as they are so iconic, even their flaws are untouchable!

Lightning Lad: He first appeared in Adventure Comics #247 (Ap'58) with the rest of the Legion. However he was unique in that he actually had an origin. Most of the non-Terran Legionnaires came from planets where everyone had some degree of the same power. No fuss, no muss like Marvel's mutants! Even the Earth-born Legionnaires (Colossal Boy, Invisible Kid and Bouncing Boy) had real simple origins. But Garth Ranzz's grew and evolved, giving him an almost biblical backstory.

It was in Superman #147 (Au'61) where we learn that Garth and Mekt Ranzz, two brothers from the planet Winath, crash on the Lightning World of Korbal when their (borrowed, *ahem*) space cruiser's batteries run out of power. They try to lure the native Lightning Monsters to charge them when they get charged instead! Garth becomes the heroic Lightning Lad while Mekt becomes the evil Lightning Lord!

So we had feuding brothers just like Thor, Aquaman, Ka-Zar, Hercules and Nick Fury. Did Mekt drag his brother for a joy-ride? Did his new found powers affect his mind?

This origin was mentioned in Superman Annual #4 (1961) though I don't know if it came out before or after #147. It was also brought up in Adventure #300 (S'62).

In Adventure #308 (My'63), the origin is expanded on as Garth's sister, Ayla, was there too, gaining the powers of Lightning Lass! The strange thing was that Mekt wasn't shown, Garth was already in his Lightning Lad outfit and wanted to join the Legion that did not exist yet!

Later, with Garth and Ayla described as twins, it was stated that all Winathians were born twins, but Mekt was not and that contributed to his turn to evil! Even his hair turning from red to white was a story!

Lightning Lad's origins had enough depth and subtext that you would think that he was going to get his own book but he had the worst luck of any Legionnaire or the best, depending on your point-of-view! He died but got better, lost an arm, had to wear a robot one but had his arm grown back! And had a solid, long-lasting and fulfilling relationship with a girl who could read his mind!

I'll add to this as I go along!

Comments? Opinions? 

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As much as I love the character, I always thought Bouncing Boy had one of the stupidest non-tongue-in-cheek origins.  Really, drinking an experimental potion rather than a soda at a sporting event?  Really?  Really?


Yeah, not a good one.


I did find it interesting how much Lightning Lad's origin was layered upon as his family was expanded.  And I have to say, it worked out pretty well, IMO.


At least in the Silver Age, the Legionnaires that had actual origins had good ones for the most part (excluding Chuck Taine).  Several were experimented upon, a couple of believable accidents, one less than believable accident...

Of course, by your description, Superman doesn't really have an origin (at least, regarding his powers.)  Any Kryptonian on Earth would get the abilities.  Naturally, it's the back story that makes the origin interesting... or else, Batman isn't very intriguing (he's an orphan, but he's rich.  He works out and studies hard, and he fights crime.)


It's been said - correctly, IMNSHO - that any character (origin included) is interesting if the right story is told.  And any character is dull if the story is mis-told (remember that Batman was approaching cancellation in the 60s.)


And you are dead right that Lightning Lad had the worst luck of any Legionnaire... it was even acknowledged in the series.  Shucks, there was a whole issue devoted to the Luck Lords noting how the gods of luck frowned (mostly) on Lightning Lad.  Even with a wife as hot as Saturn Girl... do you really want to be married to a woman who can read your thoughts?  (ANSWER FOR THOSE WHO ARE NOT MARRIED:  HECK NO!!!)



Actually, Garth's luck might be worse than you think. If the Five Years Later LSH stuff comes back in continuity, when Garth died and came back, it wasn't Garth resurrected, it was PROTY in Garth's body.

Philip Portelli wrote:

In Adventure #308 (My'63), the origin is expanded on as Garth's sister, Ayla, was there too, gaining the powers of Lightning Lass! The strange thing was that Mekt wasn't shown, Garth was already in his Lightning Lad outfit and wanted to join the Legion that did not exist yet!

Hmm, I wonder if Booster Gold isn't the only hero who has time travelled and replaced himself. Its just that poor Garth didn't get the costume right maybe it was trying to set time right by making sure his origin was in place to make sure the Legion would exist. HEY! That would make a great untold tale of the LSH! Take that, Jim Shooter. LMAO! 

The first one that popped into my mind that doesn't work is the origin of the Whizzer (a transfusion of mongoose blood), but that's from the Golden Age. I'll give it some thought and get back to you.
The thing I really enjoyed with the SA and GA is that there WERE origins. Now everyone is a mutant or has a metagene. I liked the back story no matter how hokey it was. You had guys splashed with electrified chemicals or given a super-soldier serum or left near an exploding nuclear reactor or bitten by a radioactive spider. Now, oh, he's a mutant, moving on. DC isn't quite as bad with the metagene thing though, at least they have the metagene having to be activated. With mutants it is, "Well he's growing pubic hair AND HE HAS OPTIC BLASTS!" After a while, I just found genetic mutations a bit of a lazy writing tool, like "How do I get the origin story out of the way".

A- a mutant's activation story can be as interesting as any powers-origin story- Kitty's nightmares that had her falling through the floor, Rogue's traumatic first kiss, etc.


B- borrowing from Eric's comment, a mutant can still have an interesting back-story even if they don't have an origin-story- Nightcrawler grew up in a circus, Gambit was part of the Thieves' Guild, etc.


C- most origin stories are actually pretty boring; it's one of my complaints about Golden Age reprints- I'd much rather get past the origin story and on to the adventures

Most origins are pretty much McGuffins, the Hitchcockian term for whatever it is that moves the plot--but isn't really important to anyone but the characters chasing it.

Whether Barry Allen, for instance, got struck my lightning or drank a potion or inhaled hard water or was injected with mongoose blood or had a magic wand waved over him really doesn't matter, and it doesn't affect him much once it was done. 

As a result, the origins that really do affect a person are the best: Spider-Man/Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Deadman, Captain America, Thor, Iron Man. How they got their powers informs a lot of how they act and what they run into. There aren't very many of those.

As a result, a lot of super-hero origin stories are pretty boring--but they seem to be making movies of the ones that DO have a good origin. Coincidence?

-- MSA

The Whizzer's origin is Steinbeck compared to the Black Condor's! Taught himself to fly, indeed!

Jeff of Earth-J said:
The first one that popped into my mind that doesn't work is the origin of the Whizzer (a transfusion of mongoose blood), but that's from the Golden Age. I'll give it some thought and get back to you.

Next, The Hulk: Before there was the multiple-personality disorder, the abusive childhood and the insane father, there was The Incredible Hulk #1 (My'62). The Bruce Banner we meet is considered in General "Thuderbolt" Ross' opinion, a milksop! He is a brillant, secretive man with a habit of being in control. He is surrounded by "men of action" and he is a man of thought. But he is deemed weak, afraid and replaceable. Banner has created the Gamma-Bomb but he will not share his plans with anyone. He does have one friendly face, Betty Ross, the general's daughter who has confidence that Banner will succeed.

Unfortunately as he prepares to test his bomb, out in the range drives local teenager, Rick Jones who is trying to win a bet! Banner races to get the boy out of harm's way, while telling his secretly Soviet assistant to stop the bomb. Igor doesn't! But why does Banner go himself? There were guards for that. Then he could delay the bomb. End of story!

Was Banner trying to be a hero? A man of action? To prove himself to Ross? To impress Betty? He flings Rick into a protective trench, which doesn't seem that protective to me. But before he can dive in, the bomb explodes, immersing him in gamma radiation!

The world seems to stand still, trembling on the brink of infinity as his ear-splitting scream fills the air....

And he is still screaming hours later!

In this early phase, Banner was transformed when night fell, making him worse off than the Wolf Man. He had an instinctual fear of Bruce Banner, seemingly realizing that he cannot exist at the same time as Banner. He is brutal, cunning and is exhilarated in his power and the fear "puny humans" have in him! Rick is the only one that knows the Hulk's secret and the Hulk's not happy about it but Rick stays loyal to Banner AND the Hulk, despite the threats!

The Hulk controls the chaos, men of action crumble before him and no one is mocking him now!


At work, I tell people that the Hulk was not a success in his initial run but most can't believe it. That's how much of a household name he is. His origin does work because it can absorb all the retcons, changes, additions and colorization. Banner is still being abused, still repressing his anger, still being made to feel small but as the Hulk, he is free from that! He is strong, he can unleash his fury and the world is small to him!

I reread this from my Essential Hulk Volume 1 and though my mind knows that the Hulk is gray, I still imagine him green!

BTW, Incredible Hulk #2 features Jack Kirby pencils with Steve Dikto inks. The Hulk never looked so menacing and dangerous as he does here!

More to follow!


The Hulk's origin is the gold!  You describe it all well.  There's a lot going on with the Hulk, even leaving out the abused child stuff.


Men of action/military men work by just letting a little of the uncompromising self-vindicating creature out as needed.  The Hulk illustrates the dillemma of where you draw the line.


What if you want to tap into a little of that alpha-male-ism to get things done, (and be admired by the guys) and instead you unless the full non-socialised, self-centred, violence-prone beast?


I also like the subtext that possibly even the creators didn't realise was there, in that all this is as a result of WEAPONS testing.  The cerebral, repressed, "non-violent" milksop had found a way to unleash his unmentionable destructive urges long before he got caught out on the testing ground.


(As for the abused child stuff, there's no doubt it never occured to the creators, but a modern reader unfamiliar with the story would be more prone to wonder what in Bruce's background made him the a cringing victim who's chosen a career where he has to debase himself before authority at the start of this story.)

Banner was both in control (by withholding the Gamma bomb designs) and helpless (being harangued by General Ross). If this was a standard sci-fi story/comic/movie, Banner is not the lead! He's the one who gives or denies information to the hero. And deep down, Banner wants to be the hero or at least not be ignored! He has a false sense of confidence, a narcissistic bent (notice the picture of himself in his quarters), a desire for Betty's attention and a need for secrecy with his distrust of the army and of Ross in particular! Banner dreads his transformation but will soon come to depend on it and thrill to it, though he will never admit to that!

I also want to add about the ironic fates of the three supporting cast members introduced here (General Ross, Betty Ross and Rick Jones) now in the current Hulk continuity! Glass houses, people!

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