To a seasoned reader of comic books, weird superhero origins are nothing new - but there's "weird," and then there's "impossible to keep track of." It's the superheroes with altered origins that are the hardest to wrap one's head around.
The very nature of the comic book medium and its propensity for rewrites and retcons that encourage readers to “forget everything they know” means that nothing stays the same forever. Costumes, superpowers, and allegiances change constantly. Characters perish and come back as if the afterlife had a revolving door. But when it’s a hero’s origin point that is updated, it can lead to some serious continuity dissonance. After all, if you change the start of a story, doesn’t that change everything else that came after it?
The Classic Story: Tony Stark inherited a genius intellect and technological prowess - along with a massive sum of wealth - from his father, Howard. Well into adulthood, Tony was taken by terrorists and forced to build weapons for them, but instead, he constructed his first Iron Man armor “in a cave with a box of scraps,” escaped, and became a founding Avenger.
What's Changed: Iron Man’s origin story has been updated over the years, with his abduction flipping from Vietnam, to the Middle East, to any number of fictional countries. But that’s small potatoes compared to the foundational shakeup Tony experienced when he learned that he was adopted.
Way back in the day, Howard had made a deal with a sentient alien robot to have his unborn son genetically modified to be the perfect human - but when he discovered that Recorder 451 hadn’t been entirely honest about what he was putting into baby Arno, Howard backed out of the deal. As a result, Arno became terminally ill soon after birth. To keep the secret, Howard and Maria remanded Arno to a secret care facility where he could be kept alive and adopted Tony to be their “public” son. As Iron Man, Tony would go on to confront and defeat that very same alien robot.
And apparently, Howard didn’t learn his lesson from this experience, because he also made a deal with Mephisto, the devil of the Marvel Universe, to secure the wealth and power that he would eventually pass on to Tony.
- Photo: DC Comics
The Classic Story: As a proud member of the Amazons on Themyscira, Wonder Woman was the daughter of no man. Molded from enchanted clay by her mother, Queen Hippolyta, Diana soon grew to be the strongest and most honorable of all the Amazons, and then she journeyed out to man’s world to become a bonafide superhero and a founding member of the Justice League/Society/Super Friends, depending on the era.
What's Changed: The full-on, tear-down continuity reboot of the New 52 changed things up for all DC characters, but few more so than Wonder Woman. No longer was Diana the result of some asexual clay-molding. Instead, she was born from a torrid affair between her mother and Zeus - as in the literal Greek god.
In recent years, Diana discovered the existence of a twin brother, Jason, though he perished soon after. She also became recognized as a deity in her own right after defeating her paternal half-brother, Ares, and becoming the God of War. In fact, certain future-flung tales seem to indicate that, given enough time, Diana will grow to be the most powerful god in all of Olympus - and in the DC Universe as a whole.
The Classic Story: In the midst of being taken to Battleworld and embroiled in the Secret Wars at the behest of the all-powerful Beyonder, Spider-Man found himself in need of a new costume. Fortunately, the Hulk and Thor directed him to an alien costume-making machine they had found on Battleworld. Unfortunately, Spidey accidentally activated an alien-imprisoning machine and let out an amorphous symbiote, which attached itself to him and gave him a serious power boost - at the eventual cost of his sanity.
Pushed to the brink by his parasitic new duds, Peter Parker used the sonics of a church bell tower to remove the symbiote, but it quickly found a new host in Eddie Brock - and a new name in Venom.
What's Changed: After a few false starts, Marvel Comics finally revealed the full history of Venom’s symbiote race - officially known as the Klyntar - and it’s a doozy, stretching all the way back to the dawn of the Marvel Universe. In primordial times, a dark god named Knull arose from the abyss and went to battle with a god of light. To aid him, Knull created a series of shadowy weapons, one of which was the symbiote race - though the Klyntar eventually rose up against their master and imprisoned him inside a planet made of their own bodies.
The Venom symbiote itself was born on the planet Klyntar, and then was discovered by Kree explorers, whereupon it bonded with its first host, Tel-Kar. Much later, it was imprisoned by its own kind because of its aberrant benevolence, and from there, it was on to Battleworld. Since making this epiphany, Venom and Brock have come into conflict with Knull, The King in Black, on numerous occasions - and along the way, uncovered a connection to all symbiotes, all individuals who have ever worn a symbiote, and myriad new abilities.
The Classic Story: Now this is about as classic as it gets. Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider and gained the ability to do whatever a spider could - including climbing walls, lifting proportionately large objects, and sensing danger. The web-shooters, however, were purely a result of Parker’s own scientific ingenuity.
What's Changed: That iconic radioactive spider, as it turns out, was actually an embodiment of a totemic spider deity, and it specifically chose Peter to act as its spider-avatar on Earth-616. The same apparently went for all spider-heroes from across Marvel’s countless alternate timelines, connecting Peter directly to people like Miles Morales and Spider-Gwen and leading to all sorts of Spider-Verse adventures.
Of course, Spider-Man only found out about the whole totem thing when he came under threat from a race of spider-totem-eating vampires. One of them, Morlun, tracked Peter down and slayed him - only for Peter to be reborn with built-in organic web-shooters. Those went away after a deal with the devil, but Spidey remains a totemic avatar, connected to the multiversal Web of Life and Destiny.