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March 13, 2008


Timothy Burke

You know, seriously, you're making me realize something: not that many superheroic origins are tied to fundamentally adult experiences of trauma. There's the classic puberty trope for mutants (often also applying to accidents like being bit by a radioactive spider). There's the childhood experience/being born that way kind of origin.

But not too many, "I'm having a mid-life crisis and it gave me SUPERPOWERS" or "My child was killed and it gave me SUPERPOWERS" or "My husband cheated, divorced me, and left me poor and struggling and it gave me SUPERPOWERS".

Given the demographic of comic-book readers nowadays, there strikes me as being some potential to this.


Iron Man might fit TB's model- "I'm having heart problems, so I had to build a super suit". If I recall the heart trouble had to do w/ a piece of shrapnel in his chest or something and not just too many pork-chops and sodas, but still, it's something a middle-aged guy can get next to.

Timothy Burke

I thought of another one when I sat down to blog on this, in fact, the prototypical example: Dr. Strange. Lives fast, drifts from youthful idealism, can't make an emotional connection to anybody, and then cracks up his car one night (in most versions, after drinking). Injured, but the injury always struck me as also being about life catching up with him. Ends up homeless and drifting until he finds his inner SUPERPOWER.

The Modesto Kid

What about the Hulk?


I see the potential. But what was amazing about her eyes was the absence of white hot rage. It was a sorrow and weariness but this knowing kind of sorrow and weariness. This is why she fascinates people right now.

That's a superpower right there.


Oracle or whoever the woman in the wheelchair is? IIRC she got injured Fighting Crime rather than as a child, ie she hasn't been in that wheelchair all her life.

The Punisher? His wife and child got killed. Or is he not a superhero because he doesn't have super powers? (Actually I think Oracle may not be one either technically; but then neither is Iron Man.)

Most mad scientist supervillains are well into mid-life crisis territory when they turn into supervillains. Doc Octopus and the original Green Goblin, to name but two.

The Six Million Dollar Man?

Timothy Burke

Later development of the Hulk has it that he was abused as a child and that's why getting zapped with gamma rays turns him into a giant raging but oddly child-like monster. Works for me, but takes away from the adult-trauma angle.

The Punisher is an example, I suppose. Ajay is right though that adult trauma or disappointment is often a supervillain trope rather than a superhero one.


Ozma's right that Silda Wall Spitzer mostly just seemed sad in public. As do most political wives in these circumstances. I think that's why we always talk about them: we want to know why they aren't angry, or whether they're angry behind closed doors.

ben wolfson

Ok, he's just a sidekick, but didn't Arthur get into the sidekicking game as a result of something like a midlife crisis regarding his former job?

belle waring

it's true, she did look like someone just killed her puppy.


There was an interview with the New Jersey governor's wife about what it was like being in that position (I can't remember where I saw it), and she said that she was working off shock, she hadn't gotten to anger yet. Something complicatedly awful is happening, and your kids' father is asking you for help; you stand up there with him before you do the emotional work to figure out that what you really need to do in this situation is rip his liver out and feed it to him. (Not her words.)


Tim -- Martian Manhunter's superhero career (albeit not his powers as such) is certainly the result of a trauma in his adulthood, no?

Jacob T. Levy

IIRC Wild Cards has more cases of adult-onset origins, often with some kind of powers-personality or powers-life history link and sometimes with associated trauma.

Brain Trust gained a kind of telepathy as an adult-- and her first panicked response to the new power was to reach out to her Congressman husband, and thereby discover that he was a corrupt, adulterous, self-centered creep. Not quite Belle's story-- the powers led to the knowledge of adultery led to the trauma-- but not so far off, either.

and Roulette's creep of a husband divorced her after she gave birth to a stillborn joker-mutant baby-- and she gained the power to kill during sex with internally-generated poison. (I think the trauma was supposed to be the baby-- "her womb could keep generating death," that sort of thing-- but with an undertone that "the men you have sex with are scum, so you might as well be able to make them suffer for it."


The hero of Ex Machina gains his powers from an accident in (if memory serves) his 30s. He goes on to become mayor of New York. I smell cross-over potential.


Oracle or whoever the woman in the wheelchair is? IIRC she got injured Fighting Crime rather than as a child

Oracle was Batgirl until the Joker shot her in the spine.

Stephen Frug

I would *SO* read this comic.

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