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Our Ancestors Are Superheroes

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"I fell 8,000 feet and landed on some jagged rocks. Of course, people were a lot tougher in those days. I was jitterbuggin' that very night!"
Grandpa Simpson, The Simpsons, "King of the Hill"

This trope refers to those plots where it is shown that an ancestor, some ancestors of a certain folk or a whole ancient culture possessed superhuman abilities. These abilities may be exaggerated beyond the point of religious belief and break the wall into the superhero genre.

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If priests are shown to sport not only rare knowledge in martial arts but also pyrokinesis or the ability to fly, if Richard the Lionhearted suddenly sports Wolverine Claws, or if Hammurabi starts smothering the forces of evil with buzzing laserbeams and the help of his water-controlling sidekick, then congratulations: Your ancestors have just become superheroes.

There are some varieties to this trope:

  • The Legend becomes more legendary: A single, famous person like a king, general or folk hero is shown with non-historical, superhuman abilities which may or may not be based on the religion at that time. It is important to notice that these superhuman abilities are not the usual wonders as in The Bible, but show a more personal and anachronistic profile.
  • Some people beyond our time had superpowers and met in secret societies or similar. However, for some reason, those went extinct or went under the radar, so that today their offspring don't know about their heritage or abilities until they realize they've got superpowers. At this point the often meet Mr. Exposition, who shows them their way of handling the powers inside and explain the goals of their ancestors which the offspring is usually intended to pursue.
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  • The other ancestors Precursors not only sported highly advanced technology but also had superpowers which we didn't inherit only because our own ancestors were too busy killing them off. Somehow. Compare Rock Beats Laser.

Compare with: Precursors and Here There Were Dragons, as well as Beethoven Was an Alien Spy, in which a historical figure is not necessarily a precursor or supernatural.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime / Manga 
  • Naruto: Modern shinobi are descendants of the Otsutsuki, an extended clan of beings from another world. The Otsutsuki were extremely powerful and possessed both physical and learned abilities that made them superhuman compared even to most modern shinobi. This is because after destroying themselves with in-fighting, the remaining Otsutsuki interbred with normal humans, which either diluted their Superpowerful Genetics throughout the generations, caused their powerful jutsus to become restricted to a few specific bloodlines, or both.
  • One of the core tenants of the Nasuverse - In the beginning of humanity's history, during the age of gods, humans were capable of incredible feats, but over time as the world's mysteries (the source of magic's power) disappeared, so too did humanities, power to the point where individual humans are the weakest that they will ever be. However eventually, should humanity survive long enough and not fall into decline, our decedents may become superheroes again, leading to Angel Notes.
  • The superhumanly powerful Headmasters from Mamoru Nagano's The Five Star Stories are the last remnants of the ancient precursor civilization known as the Farus Di Kanon, or the Super Empire.
  • In the manga Elfen Lied, the Kakuzawa family assert that they descend from the pure, original diclonii, who lived in the Japanese Middle Ages and inspired the myths of gods and demons due to humans’ fear of them. Their attempt to help humanity advance went horribly wrong and resulted only in the diclonius-powers diminishing to nothingness due to the dilution of their DNA. Humanity then hunted them to near-extinction. However, Kakuzawa has nothing to back up his claim, and considering that this origin makes very little sense, the other characters believe that the Big Bad’s ancestors were ordinary humans who just had a genetic mutation which resulted in horns, but no special powers. The elder Kakuzawa did sire a real Diclonius, but this doesn’t settle anything due to how they come into being.

    Comics 
  • In DC Comics' title The Great Ten, Thundermind is a character that resembles a kind of Bodhisattva, an enlightened Buddhist with superhuman powers (siddhis) like invisibility, bilocation, super strength, super speed, telekinesis and telepathy. He is the powerhouse of the team. However, although it absolutely contrasts with the understanding of an enlightened Buddhist, these powers can be knocked on or off. In reality, Thundermind is a high school teacher who is in love with his colleague Ms. Wu; however, love is something an enlightened Buddhist wouldn't feel, because it's a passion. He also uses a Dixie toilet to change into Thundermind à la Clark Kent by a magical incantation.
  • Age of Bronze: Two guys on opposite sides of a battle stop fighting because they're both grandsons of Herakles (who was a charismatic warlord rather than an actual divinity in this verse).
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    Fan Fic 
  • Officer Misako: The Mad Scientist's technology guarantees this after The Reset.

    Film 
  • The Curse of King Tut's Tomb (2006) shows Tutanchamun sporting golden wings, flighty abilities and some kind of energy powers while fighting against abominable demon-like creatures and a disfigured Seth.
  • Wanted: Wesley is unknowingly descended from a secret society of assassins dating back centuries with innate superhuman powers.
  • The Final Sacrifice has the ancient Xiox civilization, which the cultists are descended from (and which Rowsdower is only a halfbreed descendant of.) Before being cursed by their gods, the Xiox had the power to make floating cities and, if Sartorus is any indication, at least some of them had psychic powers as well.
  • The beginning of 300 has “We Spartans are descended from Hercules himself.” The rest of the movie is essentially the Spartans living up to that.

    Literature 
  • In one of the later My Teacher Is an Alien books, the protagonists learn that all humans were once telepaths. People eventually suppressed this ability because of the growing population - contact with so many other minds would have driven them insane otherwise. This is used to explain, in part, why Humans Are Bastards sometimes, as they evolved to coexist using a means of communication and understanding which they no longer possess.
  • In Vasiliy Golovachov's The Envoy, the protagonist accidentally becomes a new Envoy after witnessing the assassination of the last one. He occasionally gets glimpses of his ancestors via Genetic Memory, who were ancient Russian knights with nigh-superhuman abilities.
  • Played with in The Chrysalids, given that current Labrador society has only the vaguest idea of technology (they do keep a basic steam engine around just as a sort of museum curiosity, apparently either unaware of or uninterested in how it could be used). It's suggested the 'Old People' had superhuman intelligence, the power to move mountains at a whim, and could even fly. A companion rumor, first mentioned by Uncle Axel, holds that they could also communicate with each other over long distances — just like David & company.
  • Harry Potter: It's believed being Randomly Gifted comes from having a witch or wizard somewhere in their ancestry, though once the Death Eaters come to power anyone but those who have an immediate wizarding relative are considered to have "stolen" their magic (it's not explained how) and referred to as "Mudbloods".
    • Voldemort is descended from one of Hogwarts' founders (a Parselmouth, a rare ability that allowed him to speak with snakes) and believes in the purity of blood (despite the fact that most of the pureblood families are heavily inbred, and he himself is half-Muggle), while both he and Harry are descended from a family of wizards who may have created extremely potent magic items or were given them by Death itself.
    • Fleur Delacour is repeatedly described as extremely beautifulnote  and entrancing to men. It turns out her grandmother is a veela, a siren-like magical creature.

    Live Action TV 
  • Stargate Atlantis not only has Ancient Astronauts, but they also sport non-technological superpowers, like telepathy.
    • Teyla is revealed to be descended from humans who were experimented on by the Wraith, which gave them (and her, and others like her) the ability to sense the presence of Wraith.
      • This ability also allows her to tap into the Wraith psychic network and even temporarily possess a Wraith. Of course, it works both ways.
  • Sanctuary pegs Nikola Tesla as a vampire with electric, and later magnetic, powers, Doctor Watson as a super-human genius, and Jack the Ripper as a teleporting bloodthirsty maniac.
    • Also, humans used to be slaves to an ancient society of vampires before we rebelled and killed them all (Tesla is not a true vampire).
    • And there is, apparently, an entire advanced civilization living in sprawling cities deep underground. The D'ni, perhaps.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • The Book of Genesis depicts the first humans as living for anywhere from 300 to 900 years, even the ones who didn't have god-given superpowers. There is implication that humans were originally created immortal with natural abilities that could be considered superhuman, but greatly diminished after the Fall from God's grace and have been further declining over time, healthcare and technology notwithstanding.
  • The idea is not specific to any particular religion. In Dharmic religions (mainly Hinduism and Buddhism), humanity is steadily declining due to loss of virtues. The most noticable decline is the decline of lifespan— what started as hundreds of years long will eventually be as short as a couple years. On the other hand, the decline will eventually be reversed, allowing our distant descendants to be superheroes.
  • Most heroes in epic poetry: Gilgamesh, Achilles, Hercules.
  • The Odyssey: Odysseus is actually an aversion; he has no special powers beyond being a really devious and clever man (and knowing how to string a recurve bow; which, again, relies on a trick and not on brute force).

    Roleplay 
  • Ryugu Academy: The in-universe explanation as to why 'normal' students have powers is that at some point in their family tree, their ancestors did the squiggle dance with another species, making it so that even those who deem themselves humans aren't exactly 100% human.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Adeptus Astartes of Warhammer 40,000 are slowly transformed from ordinary if battle-hardened humans to the seven-foot-tall Super Soldiers by regular genetic therapy from the geneseed of the fifteen-foot tall quasi-war god Primarchs, which is why they share some of their personality traits. The Primarchs themselves were created from the genetic material of the Emperor, and a diluted version of the process creates the Grey Knights and the Adeptus Custodes, who are to Astartes what Astartes are to normal humans.

    Video Games 
  • Assassin's Creed: While Desmond Miles knows he grew up in an assassin compound, he is shocked to discover the truth about his ancestors. Both Altair and Ezio, for example, have the Eagle Vision ability, which allows them to distinguish friend from foe and even see things that are hidden. Due to the "bleeding effect" of the Animus, he gains that ability as well. The assassins were also master engineers, as they had technology centuries ahead of the rest of humanity. Not to mention the whole First Civilization plotline, which is pure Ancient Astronauts.
  • Golden Sun: Dark Dawn makes a recurring plot point out of the ancestral Adepts known as Jenei, whereas earlier games in the series pretty much hand-waved Adept-hood as the result of Psynergy Stones. How this affects the Adepts who emerged from non-Adept communities in said previous games isn't shown.
  • In Final Fantasy VII there were the Cetra, later called the Ancients. They were gifted with powerful magic and a high affinity toward the planet and the lifesteam allowing them insights such as if someone has died and rejoined the lifesteam. Sephiroth states that humans are decendants of the Cetra who forsook their migratory ways (and lost their magic powers) and hid in fear (thus surviving) when Jenova was busy wiping out the Cetra who tried to protect the planet from her/it.
  • Hyrule: Total War: Magical power was very common amongst Ancient Hylians, until The Magic Goes Away.
  • In the Diablo universe, the original humans of Sanctuary were the offspring of angels and demons, and were known as the Nephalem. The Nephalem had great power from both their angelic and demonic ancestry, and such was this power that it was feared that the Nephalem would eclipse both angels and demons alike. So the Worldstone was tuned to weaken the Nephalem's powers with each successive generation until the species became the humans we know today. Following the destruction of the Worldstone at the end of Diablo II, the Nephalem have begun to reappear, capable of doing many things normal humans would believe impossible, including bringing low both the reincarnation of Tathamet himself and the Archangel of Death.
  • In The Elder Scrolls series, this is part of the religious philosophy of the Altmer (High Elves). They believe that the other "lesser" races of Mer are the result of "degeneration" over the ages, with each generation being weaker than the last as they are one more removed from their divine Aedric/Ehlnofey ancestors. The Altmer actively try to breed themselves back into their ideal (including, according to some sources, the culling of undesirable progeny), to maintain a perceived level of "purity".
  • Warcraft:
    • All of the Titan-forged races (humans, dwarves, gnomes, and the unplayable troggs, tol'vir and mogu) were created by the Precursor Titans to help form Azeroth. They were originally powerful golems made of stone or metal, and were capable of moving mountains on their own. After the Titans left, the Old Gods afflicted the Titan-forged with the Curse of Flesh, which weakened their bodies and minds to leave them ripe for corruption.
      • In particular, humans were devolved heavily. They were originally the Vrykul, a colossal race of proud warriors. The Curse of Flesh first transformed them into brutish vikings, but further mutation resulted in their offspring becoming comparatively tiny.
    • Goblins were once a diminutive race (likely pygmies) who were forced to mine kaja'mite for their troll overlords. The exposure to kaja'mite slowly mutated the goblins, turning them into supergenius-level creatures that rivaled even the mechagnomes. Eventually though, the kaja'mite boost wore off, leaving the goblins still smart but utterly insane (and prone to exploding).

    Web Original 
  • He had a pocket full of horses/Fucked the shit out of bears/Threw a knife into heaven/And could kill with a stare/He made love like an eagle/Falling out of the sky/Killed his sensei in a duel/And he never said why!/Oh, Washington! Washington!/Twelve stories high, made of radiation/The present beware, the future beware/He's coming, he's coming, he's coming!

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