Born this Way or Created: Do You Care About Where your Superheroes Come From?

I’ve mentioned before that when I was a boy I used to collect comics trading cards. I also used to collect old comic books and I was very fascinated with superhero origin stories which–given what I have become–makes a lot of sense in retrospect. It’s true: I really liked to find out secret identities, but also specifically how these heroes became heroes.

It was always really interesting: from radioactive spider-bites, to solar rays, to cosmic radiation, gamma radiation all the way to specific–and often traumatic–incidents in their lives. They could have been accidentally irradiated like the Fantastic Four and the Hulk, sent away from an alien world like Superman, endowed with power like the Green Lantern and the Silver Surfer, self-made like Batman and Iron Man, or purposefully engineered to be strong like Captain America and his super-soldier serum. And there are so many other examples. I was really intrigued by these heroes and beings that “just are”–that had always had their powers or embodied them such as Eternals or what-not–did not really do it for me. I would call the above kind of superhero an accelerated, endowed or a created being.

These are examples of what I really liked in my childhood. Then along with these I was introduced to superheroes that were actually born with their powers and abilities. To be honest, I didn’t really take to them as much. At the time, the only thing that fascinated me about the X-Men was the fact that they all had different abilities and a story forming between their encounters. Mutants didn’t really have the origin stories with regards to their powers that I’d been so intrigued by and it wasn’t until I was reaching the latter stages of prepubescence that my views began to change with regards to those who were born as mutants or with power.

At this stage in my life, particularly with regards to the X-Men, I saw people born with power who basically were ostracized from mainstream society and lumped together into something of a “race” or group. So at first, I really sympathized with them being discriminated against: especially Rogue and Jean Grey who I had something of a crush on, and their stats on my cards were fascinating. But it wasn’t until I aged a little more that I saw they had their own origin stories and while they hadn’t been endowed with power, they had been forced to live with the consequences of having it–with some of their mutations being such as they can’t afford to even have secret identities because they are their identities–and they also learned how to hone and use their abilities in unconventional ways. In the latter case, I really underestimated what Wolverine was and I have since then realized the scope of a being that ages slowly and regenerates from most damage over time.

After a while I leaned towards the mutants because I felt like an outcast a lot of the time. On the other hand I have also considered this: even though some mutants have had difficult times growing up being different, you have to figure one other fact. Remember, a lot of the endowed or created heroes had “ordinary lives” before they were changed. A lot of these heroes can also be considered to be “freaks” and “outcasts” because of what they can do. Does it really matter whether they were born with a mutant/alien gene or if their genes were changed by outside forces? And where do you draw the line? One can argue that a mutation–whether given at birth or endowed later in life–is an element of fate either way. And we can go into whether fate exists or not, but really–when it comes down to it–just how different are these two classes of heroes?

Do they have different experiences? Yes, and even though X-Men is in many ways a social commentary on group-labeling and racism and rejecting “the Other,” both they and other heroes fight for the status quo. Yet while some other heroes fight on the fringes and others become accepted as part of the status quo, others like the X-Men seek to peaceably change it from within due to acceptance. It seems in that way Superman has it easier in Metropolis than the X-Men have in the rest of the world. But then perhaps these differences are less about the different groups of heroes and more to do with their differences as individuals.

So, while I do tend to still lean towards mutants nowadays, I think that a good story and background can make any superhero–whether born or made–a bad ass. And really, in the end aren’t all superheroes–no matter where they come from–self-made?

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