I’ve had this idea in my head for quite some time… since junior high, actually. I was in the heights of my comic book collecting at that time, and I sat down and made a list of possible origins for superheroes as I saw them presented in their four-color glory. Here’s my list that may help someone come up with a better (or more solid) background for their supers characters in M&M, GURPS Supers, Champions/Hero, Marvel Super Heroes or DC Heroes.
This is a case of a human born with some sort of abnormality that causes them to be superhuman. Wolverine has his super hearing and senses. Professor X has his mental capabilities. Iceman can control water and make it colder to the point of being useful. There are many cases of mutants being used in comics, and I’m not going to list them all off here.
Alien Life Form
Alien life forms are typically done in a manner where they are human-like, but not always. In every case, they have some power or ability that makes them more potent than the average human. The best example of an alien life form is Superman. In another case, an alien life form can alter a human to augment their abilities. Venom, from the Spiderman comics, comes to mind in this case.
Experiment Gone Wrong/Right
There are times when a person tries to enhance themselves experimentally and things just don’t go quite as planned. This usually turns a person in a supervillain instead of a superhero, but it can go both ways. The first example of an experiment creating a superhuman is the Green Goblin from the Spiderman comic series.
Ah, the proverbial accident creating something new and intriguing. The case where Daredevil is stricken blind by a chemical spill is the first thing that jumps into my mind. One of the first Champions characters that I ever made on my own was a oil rig worker who was caught in explosion and had a drill bit fused to his right arm. He discovered that the oil tycoons were to blame for the death of his friends and his disfigurement and broke out into the world as a hero named, you guessed it, Drillbit, to bring down corrupt corporations and restore justice to the world. Another accidental superhero creation is the well-known story of Spiderman where he’s bitten by a radioactive spider in a science lab. This could feasibly be classified under an experiment gone wrong, but the intent was not to create a spider to bite someone and turn them into a superhero, so I’m throwing Spiderman under the accident column.
There are times when a normal human can push themselves to new heights and become superhuman. This can come through exotic training, strange rituals or extreme force of will to become the best at something. Again, I’ll mention Daredevil because of his acrobatics training. Batman and Robin fall under this category as well along with Elektra, Kato and many others.
Some superheroes gain their ability to fly, swing from rooftops or hurl stunning rays at their enemies through the use of an object or focus. The classic example is Batman, but don’t forget the Spiderman’s web-slinging ability comes from a gadget as well (unless you watch the movie and not read the comics.) Many others make use of objects to enhance their superheroness as well. Think about the Silver Surfer’s surfboard. Without it, he can’t fly.
This is a relatively new advancement in comics, and I stopped reading them long ago. I can’t think of any examples off the top of my head, but this would be where a normal human has their base DNA modified to allow them to become more than their normal selves.
By using surgery to add armor plating, claws, unbreakable bones and more to a person, they can become a superhero. Wolverine’s adamantium skeleton is probably top on my list of surgical enhancements. Of course, without his mutant healing powers, he would have never survived the surgery.
Sometimes a person is just blatantly given super powers. This is true in the case of the Silver Surfer. He was a normal fella (for his world) until Galactus came along and spared his planet in exchange for the Silver Surfer working for the world eater. Silver Surfer was granted the powers of surviving in space, his surf board and his energy blasts. These are all gifts.
This is rarely used in comic books, but invoking ancient, other-worldly or extra-dimensional powers can be used to grant someone superhero status.
Exposure to a Strange Force/Chemical
The traditional comic book exposure was to radiation or “space rays” or something similar. This is how the Fantastic Four came into being. They were perfectly normal astronauts until strange radiation from the sun altered their basic DNA or chemical structure and turned them into who they became.
So, there’s my list of possible origins of super powers. Did I miss any? I’m sure that I did, so sound off in the comments and let me know where my post lacked. I’ll be happy to hear what other people have to say.