Have Superheroes Outgrown Origin Stories?

Most iconic superheroes have origin stories, and those were usually revealed in their first appearances.

Marvel's #JessicaJones is out, trending on most social media channels, and getting extremely positive reviews. But on the quiet, there's one aspect of the show that's pretty revolutionary.

Most iconic superheroes have origin stories, and those were usually revealed in their first appearances. Think of #Superman; you can't get a much more iconic origin story than that! As for #SpiderMan, Amazing Fantasy #15 - the webhead's first appearance - kicked off with that now legendary tale of a certain radioactive spider... The tradition is that a superhero's first outing is their origin.

Hollywood have followed this pattern with care. Iron Man? No surprise, it told the story of how the wealthy and arrogant Tony Stark fashioned a suit of armour. Fantastic Four rewrote the origins of the titular team (and made a mess while doing so). Whole TV series have been focused in on the idea of origin stories - think Smallville (Clark Kent before he was Superman!), or Gotham (how the city fared before Batman, with a good dose of Bruce Wayne's teenage psychology for good measure). Marvel's first Netflix outing, Daredevil, followed the same pattern. Sure, Matt Murdock already had powers, but the story focused on how he became the superhero, and it pretty quickly delved into his backstory.

Ironically enough, the best comic book writers have long been frustrated with the need for an origin story. Stan Lee created the idea behind the X-Men - of mutants simply 'born' with superhuman gifts - as a way of avoiding origin stories. How did Cyclops get optic blasts? He hit puberty. What's the story behind Magneto's powers? He was born with them. Later writers like Roy Thomas and the legendary Chris Claremont added layers of meaning to these genetic quirks, but the idea of mutants basically started out as shorthand for 'can't be bothered thinking of another origin story right now'.

Still, Hollywood generally don't seem fazed by this; Marvel Studios are only skipping the origin of Spider-Man because it's already been at the centre of two major movies since 2000, while the only superheroes Warner Bros. seem confident enough to skip an origin for are Batman and Superman.

For the superhero film-and-tv world, Jessica Jones is different. The team behind Jessica Jones have realised that the powers don't make the superhero - the character does. Three episodes in, we're given a throwaway explanation that Jessica got her powers in an unspecified "accident". Sure, comic book fans know all the details, but the origin story isn't relevant; and far from digging into the backstory of her origin, the show is much more interested in the past interaction between Jessica and the Purple Man. We don't need the origin story - we just need the story.

This is where Jessica Jones turns the superhero tropes upside-down - finally someone's done something very, very different, and produced a popular show while avoiding the origin story bullet. Well done to them.

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Have Superheroes Outgrown Origin Stories?