Origin stories weren’t always a big part of superhero comics, but the Silver Age of comics irrevocably changed the genre for the better.

Everybody loves a good superhero origin story from Marvel Comics and Dc comics. Heroes like Spider-Man, Ms. Marvel, Shazam, and The Flash all have beginnings as ordinary people who walked through extraordinary circumstances. With the success of recent film adaptations such as jester, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse), and PoisonIt is difficult for many fans to imagine a world where origin stories did not impact the identity of a comic book character. But a closer inspection of the history of superhero comics reveals a surprising sea change that occurred during the Silver Age of American Comics, one that has shaped the course of superhero comics today.

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Origin stories have become a shortened way of understanding the motivations of a particular character and how they fit into the world of the story. When explaining a character like Spider-Man to someone who knows nothing about superheroes, it might make more sense to say, “a nerdy teenager developed superpowers after being bitten by a radioactive spider” rather than “a man fights crime on the street. New York City”. shooting cobwebs from their wrists. “While audiences and readers are more receptive to fantasy stories than ever, origin stories build a matrix of credibility that has helped the superhero genre to thrive.

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And while origin stories largely operate within this framework today, it wasn’t always that way in American comics. Many superheroes from the Golden Age (1938-1956) such as Superman, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman were born with their superpowers, and most comics from that time were stories about extraordinary heroes performing incredible feats. But with the Silver Age (1956-1970) came a flood of new heroes whose dramatic origin stories marked a major break with the superheroes of the past. Rather than being born with divine powers, these new heroes, by and large, were normal people thrown into terrifying situations.

Amazing Fantasy 15 header

It was the Silver Age of comics that laid the foundation for today’s origin story, introducing a new set of priorities for superhero comics as an art form. Rather than offering readers shows of physical prowess, the heroes of the Silver Age were more identifiable figures that readers could easily imagine. As a result, the relationship between the reader and the superhero changed during this period, with the latter becoming an avatar for readers to mediate their own personal struggles. Due to the rise of the origin story, a new figure emerged in superhero comics: the common man.

Barry Allen’s debut when The Flash started a new brand of hero.

The Flash (Barry Allen) in Showcase # 4.

In 1956, Barry Allen debuted as the new Flash in Showcase # 4, and its origin story contains several hallmarks of this new age of heroes (written by Bob Kanigher and John Broome, pencils by Carmine Infantino, inks by Joe Kubert). First of all, Barry was a scientist, setting the precedent for the scientist-turned-superhero archetype in superhero comics that continued with the Fantastic Four, Hulk, and Ant-Man in Marvel Comics. Like the first Flash, Jay Garrick, Barry gained his superspeed after a freak accident in his lab, except his story is more dramatic than that of the original Flash. Barry was struck by lightning and sprayed with laboratory chemicals.

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At the time of his transformation, Barry was well aware of the previous Flash, even reading some of his comics up until the time of his accident. This reinforced how the emerging new generation of superheroes were the first common people to live in the shadow of the Golden Age heroes. By making Barry Allen a fan of Jack Garrick’s Flash as much as any regular comic book reader, DC Comics He wisely represented his new Flash in a world like his target audience.

Spider-Man’s origin story makes him the archetypal hero of the Silver Age.

Peter Parker (Spider-Man) being bitten by a spider in Amazing Fantasy # 15.

The transformation of Peter Parker into Spider-Man in Amazing fantasy The n. 15 is one of the best known Silver Age origin stories (written by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko inks, Stan Goldberg colors, Art Simek letters). Like other origin stories from this era, it featured a strange accident that happened to a normal person – in this case, a high school student on a field trip. As the Spider-Man origin story indicates, superpowers weren’t something one needed to be born with, but could be achieved in the strangest of coincidences.

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What Amazing fantasy # 15, a person like Peter Parker never intended to be a superhero. Weak, nerdy, and harried, he was so far removed from the divine heroes that comic book readers were familiar with. This makes his transformation into Spider-Man even more satisfying, as he proved that even wallflowers can become superheroes.

Spider-Man Ditko

With the dawn of the Silver Age came a new era for the superhero-fan relationship. While there are notable exceptions to the divine superheroes of the Golden Age (namely Captain America), the overwhelming change that occurred during the Silver Age paved the way for the importance of the origin story in superhero myths. Today, it’s hard to imagine a superhero story without a detailed origin narrative behind it, and that’s partly due to the efforts the Silver Age creators took to make their new heroes credible to their readers. .

The spread of the origin story in superhero comics has been a major force in democratizing the genre, making it more inclusive today than in the past. An important component of today’s superheroes is their origin stories, or the series of events that not only gave them their powers, but also their principles. This reflects the view of Silver Age superheroism as not necessarily an innate quality, but an acquired one. As the popularity of characters like Barry Allen’s Flash and Peter Parker’s Spider-Man demonstrates, fans have continued to place great importance on characters with compelling origin stories. And if there is one thing that Dc comics and Marvel Comics honed over the decades, it’s crafting meaningful stories about how ordinary people never stop standing up for what they believe in.

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