I don’t care about origins. For some characters, origins are important, but for many, they aren’t.
One of the reasons I’m not interested in the new Superman movie is that I couldn’t give a damn about Krypton. I don’t need to spend much time there, and I actually prefer not doing so. I like Krypton unvisited. If you think about it, there’s really no reason to spend time Krypton. Superman grew up on Earth. He looks human. He’s immersed in Earth culture. He is pretty much a human being with incredible power. Krypton is just an excuse for how he can fly and have heat vision. Krypton’s destruction is just an excuse to avoid having a thousand Supermen running around the universe.
Apparently, I’m alone in this regard because nearly ever writer wants to write about Krypton, and every reader wants to read about it. It’s a strange paradox that Superman himself really has far more in common with Earth but we still can’t escape the notion that where he came from defines him.
A few posts ago, I mentioned the recurring theme in my books of Identity versus Origin, and Superman is probably the best mainstream example of that struggle. I don’t care that, technically, Clark Kent is an alien. It is almost irrelevant to who he is, aside from giving him superpowers. His personality stems from being raised by salt of the earth Ma and Pa Kent, who instilled in him an incredible sense of responsibility and compassion. Jor-El is just some guy who threw his son in a rocket, launched him into space, and hoped for the best.
Superman isn’t Batman. Batman is defined by the loss of his parents to crime. But young Bruce Wayne was old enough to experience that loss, and it defines his motivations. Superman’s motivations aren’t defined by Krypton, but by the human culture he is a part of. Basically, if you removed Krypton from the equation, you could still end up with Superman. If there was just a boy on Earth born with incredible powers without explanation, he still could become Superman if raised by the Kents. Bruce Wayne doesn’t become Batman unless his parents are killed.
That’s a big difference, and one that is too often lost when comparing the characters. They are technically both orphans, but Superman’s orphan ranking is a bit softer than Batman’s. And that’s okay. That’s part of what makes them different, and why should all characters be the same?
This goes back to a problem I often have with fiction and origin stories, prequels in general. There is no aspect of a character that ends up being unimportant. Instead, every little thing about them is packed with profound meaning to the point that everyone wants to tell stories about Krypton when the entire planet is a one panel throwaway meant to justify having a guy who can punch robots into the sun.
It’s why Professor X must have been paralyzed by a stray bullet deflected by Magneto. It can’t just be a case of falling down some stairs or a rock climbing accident.
It’s why even Norman Bates gets a prequel TV series now because the idea that there’s a guy who is unstable and violent requires more of an explanation than maybe he was just insane for no clear reason.
When origin defines a character’s motivations and methods, it makes perfect sense to explore it. But just as often, it’s just something the character has at the start of a story. So often, if a character is unique in some way, the assumption is that explanation is necessary. But I rather like not knowing everything about a character, just as in real life I don’t know everything about my friends and family. I don’t need that explanation.
This is probably why I tend to be viewed as a shallow writer by many, and hey, that’s cool. But I feel like not giving every little detail makes the story seem more realistic, the characters richer. Rather than viewing characters as a puzzle that needs to be explained, I view them as larger than the story they’re living in. Their lives didn’t start at the beginning of the tale, and they aren’t going to stop after it’s over.
You can see his in a lot of my stories. Mack Megaton (The Automatic Detective) is a killer robot, and his struggle is finding a function in a world that doesn’t know what to do with him. Robot characters almost always have some “How they were made” origin story, and Mack has a small reference to when he was first activated. But it isn’t defining to who he is, and it is only a small part of his true origin. Yes, Mack has a “secret origin” that only I know, but I’ve just never shared that because it is irrelevant. It might come up sometime in the future, but, for now, it just isn’t important to the story he takes part in.
In Helen and Troy’s Epic Road Quest (dropping this July, Action Force), minotaurism runs in Helen’s family. She doesn’t know why. Nor do her parents or grandparents. It’s just something they carry with them. At one point, I considered revealing that Helen was descended from demi-gods, but I decided against this. It’s expected that if Helen is a minotaur that it must be a major plot point. Otherwise, why not just make her a regular person? So I left the question unanswered. Heck, it’s not even asked. And that makes a lot of sense to me because if she was short or tall or Korean, there really wouldn’t be a need to come up with some explanation in story for those character choices. So just because she’s a seven foot tall minotaur (in a world where such things are rare but possible), I saw no reason to make it more important than it already was.
To be sure, Helen’s minotaurism is an important part of the story, but it’s important in terms of what it allows her to do and how the world (and even Helen) sees herself. It’s not a secret waiting to be revealed at the most dramatic moment. It doesn’t have some super special meaning, and, aside from giving Helen a talent for grappling with a cyclops or punching dragons, it isn’t anything that the plot hinges on.
I like that about her. It says that being different isn’t automatically a story to be told. It says that normality, how ever you define it, is just a matter of degrees and not everything a character carries with them has to carry earth-shattering consequences. It feels to me like being part of a larger world, not a smaller one. And so many prequels and origins only seem to shrink their universe rather than grow it.
I get that I’m mostly alone in that, and for most people, yet another Superman story where he fights evil Kryptonians makes sense and is satisfying in a way I’ll never understand. Probably because I view Krypton as so unimportant to Superman’s character. Also because I never care for the evil doppelganger bad guy that always seem so obvious. But, hey, I’m mostly alone on that too.
Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,