Comics are weird. Although they follow a general timeline and we expect past events to be reflected in future issues, there are always going to be revisions to everyone’s history. In Superman, it used to be that everyone on Krypton could jump amazing distances and see through walls. This changed to Kal-El getting these abilities thanks to Earth’s yellow sun a lower gravity. But there are also times when writers will just insert new facts in the middle of an issue, not thinking that this will radically impact the way readers will think of the character. In fact, these changes may become that character’s defining characteristics or how they use their powers.
There are numerous characters that have had their histories revised but none like the five I’m going to mention below…
The Flash and his connection to the Speed Force
Before Crisis, The Flash was just the Fastest Man Alive in DC Comics. There wasn’t a need to give a deep explanation to why he was. His origin just depicts Barry Allen standing next to a bunch of chemicals that were struck by lightning and, before you know it, he was able to move at super speeds.
But in the ’90s, this wasn’t enough as this didn’t explain why there are other speedsters all with different origins. It turns out that, when the lightning bolt struck those chemicals and gave Barry Allen super speed, it also created the Speed Force, which just so happens to give all speedsters their powers.
Nowadays, the Speed Force is kind of a “catch-all” explanation to The Flash’s speed and abilities. It also explains why he and all speedsters always have an aura of yellow and red lightning bolts around them when they use their speed; it’s the physical manifestation of the Speed Force leaking into our dimension.
Deadpool and his fourth wall breaking antics
Marvel’s Deadpool, as initially intended, was meant to be a badass villain. Rob Liefeld, the character’s creator, generally lifted the look and mannerisms of DC’s Deathstroke when he first drew up Deadpool. His real name, Wade Wilson, is even a play on Deathstroke’s civilian identity, Slade Wilson.
He was already a relatively popular hero, thanks to Rob Liefeld’s cool costume design. But it wasn’t until writer Joe Kelly started writing the Deadpool comic series that he stumbled upon what would make the Merc with a Mouth the breakout star he was: the character’s ability to break the fourth wall.
The story goes that, when Joe Kelly and Ed McGuinness got control of the Deadpool comics, the series was always under threat of being cancelled. So, they did what any fledging comic book writer and artist would do: throw caution to the wind and do whatever they wanted! It started off slowly, with Deadpool just talking to himself to entertain himself. It then slowly morphed to the point where he was talking directly to the narrator and the reader because he knew he was a comic book character. Now, fourth wall breaking is a staple of Deadpool comics and movies and it was all thanks to lagging sales of his comic book series. Go figure.
Swamp Thing is a living plant
DC’s Swamp Thing has never been the most popular superheroes created. His original origin story was incredibly generic. While there have been several characters who have taken the moniker, we’re going to focus on the “main” Swamp Thing, Alec Holland.
Originally, Alec Holland was a scientist searching for a way to make plants grow in harsh environments. He conducted his experiments in his home in Louisiana with his wife, Linda. One night, terrorists attacked his home and laboratory and plant a bomb there. Alec wakes up just as the bomb explodes and dives into the swamp to save himself. The reaction of the chemicals seemingly changed his form into a humanoid plant creature and, now known as Swamp Thing, attempts to find the terrorists who did this to him and killed his wife.
However, when Alan Moore took the reins of the Swamp Thing character, he totally revised the story. It turns out that Swamp Thing wasn’t a transformed Alec Holland. In reality, the creature was a living plant that thinks
Swamp Thing’s story gets even weirder when it turns out that he’s the latest in the line of protectors of The Green, the dimension that links all plants to each other. But this change wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for Alan Moore turning Swamp Thing’s plain ol’ origin into something surreal.
Mr. Freeze and his cryogenically frozen wife
Batman seems to have the best rogues gallery but, during the ’50s and ’60s, you would say they were incredibly silly. You had The Riddler, who “superpower” is to give riddles to his next crime. The Penguin was a little, fat man with a shining to parasols. Two-Face would only steal stuff when the number “2” was involved. And Mr. Freeze was the guy who would freeze things.
Things eventually changed as comics became less silly and more adult. The Riddler became a pathological liar, eager to prove he was smarter than anyone else. The Penguin became a tortured soul who was mocked as a child and now more of a kingpin than a petty crook. Two-Face morals were dictated by the flip of a coin and doesn’t hesitate to kill. The biggest change came with Mr. Freeze, because now he was committing crimes to find a cure for his wife.
When Bruce Timm and Paul Dini was working on Batman: The Animated Series, they were given some control on which characters to use and if they could revamp their origins in some way. One of those characters was Mr. Freeze. In the show, they reimagined Mr. Freeze to be a scientist trying to find a cure for Nora, his dying wife. He was then caught in an accident that caused his body to only be able to survive in sub-zero temperatures.
In the process, the duo made one of the most “cookie-cutter” of Batman’s villains into one of the more sympathetic characters in comic history. This also gave the character something he lacked before: motivation. Thanks to this change, Mr. Freeze stopped committing “cold” themed crimes but crimes with a purpose.
Daredevil’s ninja training and Catholicism
There was a time when Daredevil was simply known as the “Poor Man’s Spider-Man.” Sure, he had a cool costume and the idea of a blind man who had all of his other senses heightened to a degree that he could do acrobatic feats that an ordinary man couldn’t is inventive. But you already have Spider-Man, so there wasn’t that much left over for Daredevil. These days, the character’s popularity has skyrocketed, thanks to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the character getting his own series on Netflix. But even before that, a lot of what made Daredevil a hit to comic fans was Frank Miller’s run on the series and the updates he gave the Man Without Fear.
Originally, Matt Murdock was a kid who got his superpowers after saving an old man from a runaway truck. The truck just so happened to be toxic chemicals and these chemicals got into his eyes, causing his blindness. However, these same chemicals also enhanced his other senses to superhuman levels. He trained in secret in his father’s boxing gym until his father was killed by mobsters for refusing to throw a fight. Matt Murdock then donned the Daredevil costume to bring his father’s killers to justice.
When Frank Miller was given control of the Marvel hero, he generally left his origin intact but added new elements that would forever be part of Daredevil’s persona. For one, Miller introduced Stick, a blind ninja master who trained Matt at a young age at various martial arts to face off against The Hand, a deadly cabal of ninja assassins. This explains his acrobatic fighting styles, which is so unlike a boxer’s style of fighting.
But another thing that most people failed to acknowledge but adds so much depth to Daredevil is him being a Catholic. This was added because Miller thought this was the only way for Matt to balance out him being a crime fighting vigilante by night and a lawyer by day.
These two elements breathed a lot of life to Daredevil. He was a more three-dimensional hero and a lot of his future stories actually revolve around Matt Murdock and his faith. The Netflix show even features this prominently throughout the series, making his Catholicism a now indelible part of the character.
BONUS: The Joker always changing origin
Among Batman’s villains, heck, among all comic book villains in general, there is no one more memorable than The Joker. Besides him homicidal tendencies, The Joker is unforgettable because of how enigmatic a character he is. His origin has never been told. But, for a good, solid number of decades, this wasn’t the case.
Originally, it was revealed that The Joker was a mastermind criminal called the Red Hood. Batman never managed to stop him but, during the last Red Hood crime, the Caped Crusader chased him into a vat of chemicals, which the villain purposefully dove into. The Red Hood emerged from the sewers but with his skin and hair discolored from the chemicals. The criminal then uses the name The Joker to accommodate the new visage he now sports.
However, Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke turns that on its head. While he probably was the man under the Red Hood, he was just a patsy that other criminals could point to if they got caught. But then again, even The Joker himself is unsure if this is true or not. After all, if he’s going to have a past, he prefers it to be multiple choice.
Alan Moore’s instruction of giving no concrete origin for The Joker made him one of the most memorable characters as he’s essentially a villain that writers can do anything with. Want him to be a murderous psychopath with no motives? That’s fine. Want him to be a criminal mastermind who’s simply faking his insanity so he can get away with his crimes? Go for it!
What other comic book characters have had their origins revised? Let me know in the comments section below!