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Comic Book / Secret Origins

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Secret Origins is a DC Comics Anthology Comic series that retells the origins of superheroes.

The original series ran for 7 issues in the 1970s and was all reprints. In the 1980s, following the rebooting of the DC Universe into the Post-Crisis continuity, the title was revived to tell new versions of the characters' origin stories for the new universe, and ran for 50 issues. In the late 1990s, with the launch of the new JLA title by Grant Morrison, the series was relaunched as Secret Files and Origins. Between 1997 and 2010, over 60 one-shots would be published. In the 2010s, DC rebooted the universe again, and the Secret Origins title was revived for a further 11 issues to tell the new origins of the heroes in the New 52.

Notable issues of Secret Origins include:

  • Series 2, issue #10 (1986) featured The Phantom Stranger, which was a tie-in to Legends. To preserve his air of mystery, the issue presented four different and irreconcilable origin stories by four different authors and declined to say which if any of them was the truth.
  • Secret Origins Special #1 (1989) featured stories about several of Batman's villains, with a frame story about a television crew making a documentary.
  • Series 2, issues #33-35 (1989) is a three-part "Secret Origins of Justice League International" special. Part one focused on Mister Miracle, the Green Flame, and Ice Maiden; part two featured Captain Atom, Rocket Red, and G'nort; and part three revolved around Booster Gold, the Martian Manhunter, and Max Lord.

Stories from Secret Origins contain examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: The Secret Origin of Golden Age Batman expands on his history before being Batman, and his relationship with Julie Madison.
  • Always Second Best: Wesley Dodds to his college buddy Lee Travis. He's not particularly resentful about it, just resigned.
  • Appropriated Appellation: Jay Garrick initially didn't call himself anything until some time into his mystery man career, when one of his enemies made a remark about "a flash". Since he was getting Joan Williams's dad to safety at the time, and the man asked what his name was, Jay just said he was "The Flash".
  • Ascended Meme: Arm-Fall-Off Boy had been a joke in forums and comic book stores for over a decade before he made an actual appearance in "The Little Clubhouse That Could" (v2 #46, 1989).
  • Attempted Rape: In the Golden Age Fury's origin story (v2 #12, 1987), the Nazi soldiers that Helena Kosmatos encounters as Fury grab her and attempt to rape her when her superhuman strength kicks in and her being possessed by the spirit of Tisiphone the Blood Avenger puts an end to her assailants.
  • The Atoner: In "Tarry Till I Come Again", one of the conflicting Phantom Stranger origins in v2 #10 (1986), the Stranger is said to be the Wandering Jew, cursed to walk the Earth as atonement for his misdeeds.
  • Author Appeal: Roy Thomas really liked the Golden Age superheroes, and wrote several origins for them through the series.
  • Avengers Assemble: The secret origin of the Justice Society, natch.
  • Barred from the Afterlife: In "And Men Shall Call Him Stranger", the person who would become the Phantom Stranger commits suicide after his family has been destroyed along with much of the city in a judgment from God, but is prevented from entering the afterlife, forced to live the rest of his life as a stranger helping people.
  • Brutal Honesty: Jay Garrick asks Joan Williams why she won't go to the Victory Dance with him, and she explains that it's because he's wasting his time trying to be a footballer (and not even a very good one) when he could be so much more. Hey, he asked.
  • Captain Patriotic: Star-Spangled Kid (Stripsey, not so much - that's just his regular shirt). He was inspired to go out crime fighting when he heard some German-Americans speaking out in favour of the Nazis and decided to do something about it.
  • Covers Always Lie: Some issues that contain origin stories for multiple characters have cover illustrations that combine them even though the stories are separate. For instance v2 #36 (1989) has a cover showing Poison Ivy attempting to seduce Green Lantern; it contains a Green Lantern story and a Poison Ivy story and at no point do the two meet. Another issue has Doctor Light hook the Legion of Substitute Heroes up to a new version of his infamous "Lethal Lightbulbs," the "Three-Way Bulbs of Death."
  • Cross Through: A few of vol 2's issues tie-in with other concurrently published titles, such as Infinity Inc. or All-Star Squadron.
  • Demonic Possession: In Power Girl's 1986 Post-Crisis origin story (v2 #11, 1987), Kara as an infant was being threatened with possession by the spirit of her granduncle Garn Daanuth, who attempted to reenter the realm of the living through her. Her grandfather Arion prevented this from happening by placing Kara in a magic crystal and sending her through time and space to the present-day world, selecting Superman as the one who she would be connected to upon her arrival.
  • Did You Just Flip Off Cthulhu?: The Spectre gets into an argument with the Presence, God in-all-but-name, and even tries attacking Him. This goes about as well as you'd expect, given the Presence is... y'know, God.
  • Dramatic Irony: Robert Crane witnesses Sandman defeating a robot at the World's Fair, and vows to himself that one day he'll built a better robot, and show the whole world what he can do. He certainly did... and then got his brain stuck in it.
  • Dramatic Unmask: Wesley Dodds has quite the surprise when he takes off the Crimson Avenger's mask to find it's his buddy Lee Travis.
  • Dynamic Entry: Charles McNider meets his sidekick Hooty when the little guy smashes through his office window. Tough bird.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: The first few issues of vol 2 are single-story issues. After a few issues, the title became a two-story-per-issue deal, and generally remained that way until the end of its run.
  • Eye Scream: The origin of Doctor Mid-Nite. Charles McNider was blinded by getting shards of glass in his eyes when attending to a man trying to confess about mob dealings. Still, he did better than everyone else in the room, which included the witness, the witness's wife and a policeman.
  • Flying Dutchman: Two of the conflicting Phantom Stranger origins in v2 #10 (1986) are variants of the Wandering Jew legend. "Tarry Till I Come Again" by Mike W. Barr is pretty much a straight version of the legend, with him crossing Jesus and being sentenced to walk the Earth until the second coming. "And Men Shall Call Him Stranger" by Paul Levitz is a Jewish reconstruction of the legend which leaves out Jesus and the New Testament stuff and features the old God who used to rain fire on sinful cities.
  • Futureshadowing:
    • Sandman's origin issue shows several Golden Age heroes watching or listening to him and the Crimson Avenger fight at the World's Fair, occasionally cutting in to mention the year they debuted in real life.
    • Fighting the Fearsome Foursome brings Jay Garrick to Keystone City, which he immediately takes a shine to.
  • Giving Someone the Pointer Finger: In "Daughter of the House of El" (v3 #1, 2014), Kara pokes Superman's chest with her forefinger and tells him that she wants to do the right thing, even if she has to live with the consequences.
  • Godzilla Threshold: In the origins of the Justice Society, Doctor Fate uses his magic to summon six heroes, and sends out a call to number seven, the Spectre. He notes there's no guarantee the Spectre will even answer, but the situation is so dire. Unlike the others, it's not even a summons, it's a polite request, since the Spectre scares Nabu that much.
  • Handwave: Jay Garrick uses super-speed to vibrate his face fast enough most people can't recognize him.
  • Henpecked Husband: Not husband yet, but Hawkman figures dealing with a Nazi war-fleet and a set of nigh-unstoppable Valkyries would be better than going home to Shiera and telling her he's not going to make her a flight-harness so she can fight crime with him.
  • Heroic RRoD: Side-effects of miracle pills including the mother of all come-downs once the hour is up. Rick's first time has him experience excruciating back pain and headaches. And then there's the addiction...
  • Horrifying Hero: The future JSA witness the Spectre annihilate a Nazi fleet singlehanded, and the Atom has to ask that he is on their side. Spectre answers that he's on "life"'s side, but also, yes.
  • I Just Want to Be Badass: Mild-manner scientist Rick Tyler develops a chemical formula that gives a person (or animal) enhanced strength and agility for an entire hour, but has no idea what to do with it until he sees newspaper articles about the Flash and the Sandman. Then it clicks.
  • Immune to Bullets: Part of the problem with the Phantom of the Fair. Even when the police try shooting him, it doesn't work.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: The Atom saves Mary Jane, a girl he's got a crush on, from some kidnappers. Later on as he's talking to her, he mentions the kidnapping... except she never told anyone about it.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Lee Travis inherited a newspaper from his incredibly right-wing (even by 30s standards) uncle, and turn it toward left-wing journalism. He's also the Crimson Avenger in his spare time.
  • It Amused Me: Lee Travis puts out a bounty on the Crimson Avenger, even though he is the Crimson Avenger. Why? He thought it was funny (also, to boost sales of his newspaper).
  • It Will Never Catch On: Rich playboy Ted Knight watches the World's Fair on his fancy new television, and laments that it's so expensive most people will probably never want one, and it'll be decades before the masses can afford them.
  • Karma Houdini: The Phantom of the Fair gets away from Sandman and the Crimson Avenger.
  • The Klutz: How Jay Garrick got his super-speed. One night, senior year student Jason Garrick was working at a science lab, and decided to light up a cigarette (it was the 1930s). In doing so, he managed to knock off some vials, and in trying to catch them, knocked over several more in the process. End result, big cloud of strange vapors which very nearly kills Jay. On the plus side, he A: gets super-speed, and B: Never touches a cigarette again.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: In "When Is a Door" (Secret Origins Special #1, 1989), the Riddler is interviewed about his career, looking nostalgically back at the early days when he used to do tricks involving giant props and the "camp" period (corresponding to the 1960s TV show) and bemoaning how Darker and Edgier things have gotten lately.
  • Lemony Narrator: Johnny Thunder's origin story is recounted by the Thunderbolt, who is appropriately snarky throughout.
  • Mean Boss: Mr. Bannerman, Rick Tyler's boss as Bannerman Chemicals, who bullies him because he thinks Rick's a "milquetoast", even feeling he punches his timecard "like a weakling". His daughter's not too impressed with this attitude, and calls him on it.
  • Multiple-Choice Past: Happens with several issues featuring characters who have previously had multiple conflicting origin stories.
    • "When Is a Door" (Secret Origins Special #1, 1989) has The Riddler noting that he could be Eddie Nashton, or Edward Nygma, and several other identities. He also notes that for some odd reason, the old Batman villains (referencing the TV show) suddenly became violent, including The Joker. During his interview, he keeps swapping his various outfits, from the original TV show costume through to later versions.
    • In "Pavane" (v2 #36, 1989), a psychologist is sent to interview Poison Ivy, and tries to sort out the different origin stories in the files and newspaper reports on her. Ivy bursts out laughing and says that sometimes she just makes stuff up for a joke, and she's surprised people took her seriously.
    • In "Secret Origin of John Constantine" (v3 #11, 2015), the Framing Story is that a bunch of magic-happy idiots summon a creature to tell them Constantine's history. The creature simultaneously tells them three entirely contradictory stories, with the only points of similarity being that, whatever John's childhood was like, he attracted the attention of a powerful blindfolded figure (probably Tannarak?) who taught him enough magic to (accidentally?) kill his family, and of course the Newcastle Incident (and even then, there are three possibilities of how John got involved in the Incident and what happened to him as a result — and they could easily be mixed-and-matched). In the end, John turns up to rescue the acolytes from their summoning, which has been feeding on them the more involved they become in the stories, and points out there's no reason to believe any of it.
  • Neutrality Backlash: In "Footsteps", one of the conflicting Phantom Stranger origins in v2 #10 (1986), the Stranger was an angel who refused to take a side when Lucifer rebelled; once the ensuing war was over, he found himself unwelcome in both Heaven and Hell.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Green Lantern and the Flash going to Berlin spooks Adolph Hitler into unleashing a swarm of Valkyries to kill Roosevelt with the Spear of Destiny, very nearly resulting in the man dying a few years early.
  • One-Man Army: The origin of the JSA has the Spectre sink an entire Nazi fleet with the wave of his hands.
  • Origins Episode: Well... yes. Though sometimes the title often tells a revised origin, such as the one for the JSA after the Crisis removed the original versions of Superman and Batman from existence.
  • Police Are Useless: The NYPD's finest aren't much good against a man who's bullet-proof.
  • Really 700 Years Old: All the conflicting Phantom Stranger origins in v2 #10 (1986) agree that he's well over seven hundred years old. Depending on which you go with, he might be as young as two thousand years old, or slightly older than the universe itself.
  • Refusing Paradise: In "Tarry Till I Come Again", one of the conflicting Phantom Stranger origins in v2 #10 (1986), the Stranger is said to be the Wandering Jew, cursed to walk the Earth as atonement for his misdeeds. At the end of the story, God tells him he's earned time off for good behavior and can go to heaven now, and he asks to stick around on Earth and keep helping people.
  • Secret-Keeper: Joan Williams keeps Jay Garrick's identity as the Flash a secret from her father.
  • The Slow Path: In "Revelations", one of the conflicting Phantom Stranger origins in v2 #10 (1986), the Stranger is a man from the distant future who is traveling home the only way he can, one second at a time.
  • Stable Time Loop:
    • "Revelations", one of the conflicting Phantom Stranger origins in v2 #10 (1986), is set in the far future and has the Stranger intervening in a time travel experiment that might potentially destroy the universe. One of the men working on the project ends up being transported back to the beginning of time and becoming the Phantom Stranger.
    • Secret Origins Annual #2 (1988) reveals that the lightning bolt that gave Barry Allen his powers was really Barry himself, having been turned into energy and traveling backwards in time after defeating the Anti-Monitor.
  • Sudden Name Change: The untitled Two-Face story in Secret Origins Special #1 (1989) gives Harvey Dent's wife's name as Grace. In previous and subsequent appearances, her name is Gilda.
  • Take That!: "The Secret Origin of Guardian and the Newsboy Legion" (v2 #19, 1987) recounts how the Guardian got his trademark shield from a costume shop. While in the shop, he sees a replica of Captain America's triangular shield, and decides to see which one is tougher by banging both shields together. Cap's shield is easily wrecked, while the Guardian's remains pristine and undamaged.
  • Taking the Bullet: Golden Age Atom leaps in front of a Valkyrie looking to kill Teddy Roosevelt. Sadly, it doesn't stop her, or slow her, but fortunately Al doesn't die.
  • Waking Up at the Morgue: In the origin story of the Challengers of the Unknown (v2 #12, 1987), Rocky, one of the team's members, was seemingly killed during a wrestling match where he was crushed to death by his opponent with a very strong bear hug, only to wake up when the doctors were ready to do an autopsy on his body.
  • Working the Same Case:
    • Sandman and the Crimson Avenger are both trying to thwart the Phantom of the Fair.
    • Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy were both investigating Nazi saboteurs, and keep running into one another in the process. They eventually (and very reluctantly) decide to team up.