Superhero origins - another damned "freak accident"?

I had a conceptual breakthrough today. So exciting was it that I tried to put it into a tweet, but while the immediacy of twitter lends itself to insta-gushing, 140 characters isn't enough to convey it.

Quick, what do these have in common?

  • Accidental exposure to gamma rays
  • Lightning striking the rack of chemicals next to you
  • A bite from a radioactive spider
  • Your parents being murdered in front of you
  • Test subject of a secret government project
  • You're the only survivor of a dead alien world
  • An alien/ancient magician/scientist gives you something
Superhero origins, obviously, but the commonality is that the individual in question survived and gained great power from the experience. The Hulk, the Flash, Spider-Man, Batman, Wolverine/Captain America, Superman/Silver Surfer, Green Lantern/Dr. Strange/Iron Man/etc./etc. ... each of them were in it alone and came out of it alone.

OK, I'll concede that Tony Stark saw Dr. Yinsen get shot and Peter Parker's Uncle Ben got killed. I'll also note that the Fantastic Four were exposed to cosmic rays together, not alone. However, the transformative experience is one they all survived.

The conceptual breakthrough I had was about the origin of the Grammarian, the superhero who is the main character of my WIP. His backstory had the usual freak-accident-in-a-secret-government-lab, a tired bit of creation myth which I was unhappy with. If something happened in a lab that gave somebody superpowers, the government would latch onto it and work for the next 200 years to replicate it. They've been working on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter for practically forever, and it doesn't even run on antimatter.

Question: How is it that one guy can get super abilities in a freak accident, walk away from the lab and take up a life of crimefighting?

Answer: it wasn't one guy, he didn't just walk away and he didn't become a superhero, at least not right away. The key here is to make the origin much darker, much bloodier and with a much higher body count. A sole survivor is too implausible, too much like The Chosen One. So, I'll make him lucky and talented, but not miraculously so.

Question: If it was such a promising research program, why would the government voluntarily shut it down?

Answer: the program wasn't promising and the shut down wasn't voluntary. Again, the key here is to go dark. This program wasn't just viewed as a pork barrel boondoggle from the outset, superseded by advancing technology in another area. It faced the deadliest weapon ever ranged against a government program: shifting budgetary priorities when the supporting Senator lost his election.

I'm excited about this.

===== Feel free to comment on this or any other post.


  1. Tony,

    I like the dark beginning. Especially if the survival rate ended up being in a thousand or more :-)

    All the best,

  2. Dark is good.

    Sidenote: Wolverine was born with his mutant powers. His adamantium skeleton is a nice addition, but not an ability.

  3. @ D. Paul: The body count is going to be around 40 killed outright, another 40 or 50 who suffered maiming & lingering deaths, with our hero one of the few who survived and was able to recover from injuries.

    @ Red: True. I guess I was thinking of his Weapon X status in the Alpha Flight program as his turning point from being a mutant loonie chasing deer in the Northwestern Territories to becoming an actual superhero.


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