Oct 09 2008

“Yet Another Comics Blog” argues against origin stories

Yet Another Comics Blog argues that origin stories are mostly a distraction from the real action.

The origin is not the interesting story; it’s background information. If the information in the origin is important to the story you’re telling, then you can go back later and fill in for the reader. But don’t start with an issues-long origin…

Think of all the good genre movies you’ve ever seen. How many begin with a long origin sequence? Did Raiders of the Lost Ark start with 45 minutes of young Indiana Jones getting his PhD in archaeology? Did Star Wars begin with the origin of Darth Vader?

I disagree.  A character is usually the most human and relatable during his origin story.  Additionally, for most superheroes they also provide an irreplaceable opportunity to introduce the audience to the character.  For example, an author couldn’t explain who Spiderman is without showing why his uncle died.

Also, Star Wars did not begin with the origin of Darth Vader, but it did explain Luke’s origin at length.  Over the course of three movies we saw a farmboy grow into the savior of the universe.  It worked quite effectively.  I’d also venture that the first Matrix movie benefitted from Neo’s origin story.  If it had started with Neo after he had been released from the Matrix, it would have been horribly confusing.

The author praises Batman but criticizes Spiderman and Superman for spending too much time on origin.  But these are exceptional cases.  Usually, the audience is completely new to the backstory.  If so, then explaining the character’s origin is probably essential to introducing the audience to the world and/or the character.

12 responses so far

12 Responses to ““Yet Another Comics Blog” argues against origin stories”

  1. blah blah blahon 18 Nov 2010 at 12:36 pm

    And Batman Begins is an orgin story.

    i do agree that the orgin should come after storytelling, but the author should make an apropriate orgin later to show the reveal.

  2. Matton 15 May 2011 at 9:59 pm

    Origins are exceedingly unimportant and it has become a cliche that you must begin by explaining how a super hero got started. There’s no reason on earth that the origin can’t be revealed in full at a later time, or given in bits and pieces or hints and suggestions if one is clever enough to write that way.

    The most important thing is NOT TO DRAG IT OUT. An origin isn’t a story, it’s background and should stay background. Get it out and done with, then GET TO THE STORY.

    And “Batman Begins” sucked eggs.

  3. Tomon 16 May 2011 at 2:07 am

    This is totally dependant on the story you are trying to tell. With the Spider-man example, the story of the first film concentrated on Peter Parker become comfortable in the role of Spider-man. To do this it was important to show him before and after he gained his powers. Tim Burton’s Batman didn’t require this for the main character, and actually worked better with Batman being an established figure in Gotham. I think the problem is that with a lot of the characters, people are genuinely interested in their origins. Still using the example of movies, take the upcoming Green Lantern Movie. Sure you could jump straight in, have Hal Jordan as an established Green Lantern, but his origin story is actually very interesting.

  4. Annaon 15 Aug 2011 at 11:46 pm

    That article confuses me with its examples. When I look at Spiderman swinging from some kind of white elastic material that seemingly comes from his wrists, I really want to know why. What is he? How did that happen? Where the hell is that stuff coming from? But when I look at Indiana Jones and see him teaching a room full of students, I don’t wonder how he got to be a teacher. Because its obvious.

    The origin story is a crucial part of the super hero genre. Because if they’re super, then they are different from everybody else and there has to be a reason why. It can often have a large effect on their personalities, beliefs, morals, everyday lives.

    When this comes in the story depends entirely on the style of the narrative, the plot, the length of the story, etc. But I feel it’s necessary.

  5. B. Macon 16 Aug 2011 at 12:41 am

    “When I look at Spiderman swinging from some kind of white elastic material that seemingly comes from his wrists, I really want to know why. What is he? How did that happen?… But when I look at Indiana Jones and see him teaching a room full of students, I don’t wonder how he got to be a teacher. Because its obvious.” Yeah, I think that it’s important to spend more time describing unusual choices than usual ones. Becoming a superhero is a much more unusual choice than becoming a detective or soldier (or teacher), so I think it probably warrants more explanation.

  6. hillcreatureon 24 Mar 2012 at 8:01 pm

    I despise having to write origin stories, I usually prefer getting to the main plot and then filling in the gaps where needed, or in the case of the fanfic I’m writing atm the hero doesn’t even know his origins, none of the characters currently in the mix do.

  7. Sean Kingon 25 May 2012 at 12:33 pm

    Honestly, I think origin stories play a key role in defining a hero’s “call to adventure”, especially these days. Gone are the days when you could print a couple one shot stories with a masked man and hastily splash his origin on the first page (see Batman #3 pre-new 52). Stories start with arcs now. We’ve seen in the last decade more arc driven stories now that the genre has fleshed itself out completely. I think if you jump hastily into the action and make attempt to explain how or atleast why your character is ripping doors off of planes and swinging from rooftops, you’re gonna to confuse a lot of people.

  8. B. McKenzieon 25 May 2012 at 1:01 pm

    I think the “call to adventure” is really helpful (although probably not necessary*). The origin of the characters’ superpowers MIGHT play into the “call to adventure.” For example, Peter Parker’s superpowers put him on a path which quickly leads to the death of his uncle and his decision to become a superhero.

    On the other hand, the origin of the superpowers might not be that important. In The Taxman Must Die, I spend ~10 pages covering the attempted assassination which causes one main character (an unpowered IRS agent) to get partnered up with the other (a paramilitary mutant alligator), but I only spent a single line covering the alligator’s origin (a joke about a chemical spill). I think their investigation into the assassination plot does a better job advancing the main plot and developing their motivations, personalities and distinguishing traits.

    *Case in point: The Incredibles. We never really learn anything about where the parents’ superpowers came from or why they originally became superheroes. In the context of that story, I think that’s perfectly acceptable.

  9. YellowJujuon 25 May 2012 at 5:02 pm

    I think that the origin is the easiest part to write. My plot is not developed very much at all.

  10. Ilikecocoaon 01 Jul 2014 at 9:19 pm

    I am a playwright in the beginning stages of writing a play. It is a musical comedy about someone who has the ability to have people suddenly break into musical number. He uses the ability in the beginning to get himself out of awkward situations and uses it for distraction. It doesn’t take a superhero stance things at all. Would an origin story on how he gained his ‘powers’ be necessary or even help the story?

  11. B. McKenzieon 02 Jul 2014 at 10:02 am

    Cocoa, my impression is that the origin story is not necessary unless a lot of viewers would be confused about how he can make people burst into song. My guess is that it’d be something you could cover (preferably briefly), but it’s not necessary.



  12. Ilikecocoaon 02 Jul 2014 at 10:35 am

    Thank you, the song made me laugh

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