15 Superhero Origin Stories So Complicated Even They Can’t Keep Them Straight

We’ve all read comics that totally changed everything about our favorite characters. Remember when Captain America said, “Hail Hyrda,” and all hell broke loose? That was wild. The examples below aren’t necessarily on the same earth-shattering level as that, but for any fans of Iron Man or Supergirl, the retcons we’re talking about definitely left a massive impression. I’m still trying to get over that ancient spider god that chose Peter Parker to be Spider-Man.

1. Tony Stark’s ‘Dad’ Wasn’t Really His Dad And Made Deals With Aliens And The Devil

The Classic Story: Tony Stark inherited a genius intellect and technological prowess – along with a massive sum of wealth – from his father, Howard. Well into adulthood, Tony was taken by terrorists and forced to build weapons for them, but instead, he constructed his first Iron Man armor “in a cave with a box of scraps,” escaped, and became a founding Avenger.

What’s Changed: Iron Man’s origin story has been updated over the years, with his abduction flipping from Vietnam, to the Middle East, to any number of fictional countries. But that’s small potatoes compared to the foundational shakeup Tony experienced when he learned that he was adopted. 

Way back in the day, Howard had made a deal with a sentient alien robot to have his unborn son genetically modified to be the perfect human – but when he discovered that Recorder 451 hadn’t been entirely honest about what he was putting into baby Arno, Howard backed out of the deal. As a result, Arno became terminally ill soon after birth. To keep the secret, Howard and Maria remanded Arno to a secret care facility where he could be kept alive and adopted Tony to be their “public” son. As Iron Man, Tony would go on to confront and defeat that very same alien robot.

And apparently, Howard didn’t learn his lesson from this experience, because he also made a deal with Mephisto, the devil of the Marvel Universe, to secure the wealth and power that he would eventually pass on to Tony. 

2. Wonder Woman Is Basically On The Path To Becoming A God Because Her Dad Is Zeus

The Classic Story: As a proud member of the Amazons on Themyscira, Wonder Woman was the daughter of no man. Molded from enchanted clay by her mother, Queen Hippolyta, Diana soon grew to be the strongest and most honorable of all the Amazons, and then she journeyed out to man’s world to become a bonafide superhero and a founding member of the Justice League/Society/Super Friends, depending on the era.

What’s Changed: The full-on, tear-down continuity reboot of the New 52 changed things up for all DC characters, but few more so than Wonder Woman. No longer was Diana the result of some asexual clay-molding. Instead, she was born from a torrid affair between her mother and Zeus – as in the literal Greek god. 

In recent years, Diana discovered the existence of a twin brother, Jason, though he perished soon after. She also became recognized as a deity in her own right after defeating her paternal half-brother, Ares, and becoming the God of War. In fact, certain future-flung tales seem to indicate that, given enough time, Diana will grow to be the most powerful god in all of Olympus – and in the DC Universe as a whole. 

3. Venom’s Origins Are Super Complicated And Go All The Way Back To The Beginning Of The Marvel Universe

The Classic Story: In the midst of being taken to Battleworld and embroiled in the Secret Wars at the behest of the all-powerful Beyonder, Spider-Man found himself in need of a new costume. Fortunately, the Hulk and Thor directed him to an alien costume-making machine they had found on Battleworld. Unfortunately, Spidey accidentally activated an alien-imprisoning machine and let out an amorphous symbiote, which attached itself to him and gave him a serious power boost – at the eventual cost of his sanity.

Pushed to the brink by his parasitic new duds, Peter Parker used the sonics of a church bell tower to remove the symbiote, but it quickly found a new host in Eddie Brock – and a new name in Venom.

What’s Changed: After a few false starts, Marvel Comics finally revealed the full history of Venom’s symbiote race – officially known as the Klyntar – and it’s a doozy, stretching all the way back to the dawn of the Marvel Universe. In primordial times, a dark god named Knull arose from the abyss and went to battle with a god of light. To aid him, Knull created a series of shadowy weapons, one of which was the symbiote race – though the Klyntar eventually rose up against their master and imprisoned him inside a planet made of their own bodies.

The Venom symbiote itself was born on the planet Klyntar, and then was discovered by Kree explorers, whereupon it bonded with its first host, Tel-Kar. Much later, it was imprisoned by its own kind because of its aberrant benevolence, and from there, it was on to Battleworld. Since making this epiphany, Venom and Brock have come into conflict with Knull, The King in Black, on numerous occasions – and along the way, uncovered a connection to all symbiotes, all individuals who have ever worn a symbiote, and myriad new abilities.

4. You May Have Forgotten About The Totemic Spider God That Specifically Chose Peter Parker For Earth-616

The Classic Story: Now this is about as classic as it gets. Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider and gained the ability to do whatever a spider could – including climbing walls, lifting proportionately large objects, and sensing danger. The web-shooters, however, were purely a result of Parker’s own scientific ingenuity. 

What’s Changed: That iconic radioactive spider, as it turns out, was actually an embodiment of a totemic spider deity, and it specifically chose Peter to act as its spider-avatar on Earth-616. The same apparently went for all spider-heroes from across Marvel’s countless alternate timelines, connecting Peter directly to people like Miles Morales and Spider-Gwen and leading to all sorts of Spider-Verse adventures. 

Of course, Spider-Man only found out about the whole totem thing when he came under threat from a race of spider-totem-eating vampires. One of them, Morlun, tracked Peter down and slayed him – only for Peter to be reborn with built-in organic web-shooters. Those went away after a deal with the devil, but Spidey remains a totemic avatar, connected to the multiversal Web of Life and Destiny.

5. The Gamma Radiation That Created The Incredible Hulk Also Makes Him Immortal

The Classic Story: Bruce Banner was an atomic scientist working on a gamma bomb when he noticed a hapless teenager out on the test range. Heroically, Banner raced out to retrieve the teen and hurled him into a trench just in time, but Banner himself was caught in the explosion. As a result, his body was bombarded with gamma rays, and it wasn’t long before Banner was regularly transforming into the Incredible Hulk, at first by night, and then whenever he got angry.

What’s Changed: Through doing the work with his Hulk-powered therapist, Leonard Samson, Banner eventually learned that the gamma radiation had simply given his split personalities form. Over the years, this would lead to a wide array of different Hulk personas – including Savage Hulk, Devil Hulk, Worldbreaker Hulk, and Joe Fix-It. But that was only the beginning.

Despite being the “strongest there is,” the Hulk ended up perishing a suspicious number of times, and yet he kept coming back to life. At first, this was chalked up as a result of his unparalleled healing factor, but a title change made it clear that he was, in fact, The Immortal Hulk. And, to complicate matters further, this immortality and all Banner’s other powers were revealed to be born from a connection to the Below-Place, the source of all gamma radiation and the deepest layer of Marvel reality, deeper even than hell. 

By passing from the Below-Place and its Green Door back into reality, the Hulk can now resurrect himself to his heart’s content – and, as it turns out, the same is also true of all gamma-empowered individuals – like She-Hulk, the Leader, and even good ol’ Doc Samson himself.

6. Quicksilver Was Never A Mutant In The First Place And Found Out In The Most Quicksilver Way Possible

The Classic Story: Super speedster Pietro Maximoff, along with his twin sister Wanda, was an early member of Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants before breaking good and signing up with the Avengers. Like most mutants, Quicksilver’s powers were believed to be a result of his X-Gene activating at puberty – an X-Gene he inherited from Magneto, who was eventually revealed to be his – and Wanda’s – father.

What’s Changed: Pietro convinced Wanda to alter all of reality to avoid the consequences of their actions and, long story short, she ended up depowering 98% of Earth’s mutants, including Pietro. To compensate, he manipulated his half-Inhuman daughter and broke into the sacred well of Terrigen Mist to jumpstart his abilities, resulting in a bastardized version of super speed that was more akin to time travel. 

Eventually, those Inhuman powers faded and – after lying about being replaced by a Skrull to, again, avoid consequences for his actions – Quicksilver regained his classic super speed and became a hero again. Then, however, came an even greater revelation: Pietro and Wanda were not actually the children of Magneto, nor mutants at all. Instead, they were born to a witch, adopted by her brother, and then handed over to the High Evolutionary, who bioengineered them to mimic mutant powers.

7. The Scarlet Witch Has Been A Mutant, A Witch, And A Mutant Witch At Various Times

The Classic Story: Alongside twin brother Pietro, Wanda Maximoff joined the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants with their eventually revealed father Magneto before bailing to join the Avengers. Along the way, her ill-defined mutant powers kept changing and growing with each new writer. At first, she could only fire ambiguous “hex bolts,” which were later explained as altering probability – but she certainly didn’t stop there.

What’s Changed: Upon meeting Agatha Harkness, the Scarlet Witch learned that she was, in fact, an actual witch, albeit a mutant one. At the time, it was believed that Wanda’s mutant abilities granted her access to Chaos Magic, and thus, a whole host of reality-altering possibilities, which she eventually used to rewrite the Marvel Universe for a hot minute.

Then, a series of world-shattering revelations. First, Wanda learned that Magneto was not her father, nor was she a mutant. Instead, she and Pietro had been taken in by the High Evolutionary as children and bioengineered to merely resemble mutants. Then, Wanda learned that her witchy abilities were actually something passed down to her by her mother, a powerful sorceress who previously went by “the Scarlet Witch.” 

8. Falcon Has Suffered So Much Brainwashing

The Classic Story: When Captain America landed on a Caribbean island occupied by the Red Skull and his cronies, he encountered another man who had crashed there named Sam Wilson. Amazingly, Wilson had developed the ability to telepathically communicate with birds while on the island, and it wasn’t long before the former social worker had become Steve Rogers’s new sidekick and one of his closest friends.

What’s Changed: At one point, Sam was suspected of being a mutant, but that turned out to be the result of a malfunctioning Sentinel. Then, after Cap had grown to rely on the Falcon, the Red Skull swooped in to turn their friendship upside down. Red Skull revealed that he had actually encountered Sam on that island first, and then used the Cosmic Cube to convert Sam – actually a dangerous crook nicknamed “Snap” Wilson – into the perfect partner, unwittingly poised to betray Cap when the time was right.

Eventually, however, it was revealed that this supposed brainwashing was actually a brainwashing on top of another brainwashing. Red Skull had rewritten Wilson’s history with the Cosmic Cube and granted him his powers, but he had also inserted the false “Snap” Wilson story into the mix as a means to later manipulate the Falcon. In reality, Sam had always been a good person, and never a crook, so he and Steve went right back to working together. 

9. Carol Danvers Was Actually Half-Kree All Along

The Classic Story: Carol Danvers was a supporting character of the original, alien Captain Mar-Vell when she was blasted by the energies of a Kree Psyche-Magnitron. Somehow imbued with enhanced, Kree-like abilities, Danvers became Ms. Marvel – and then Binary, and then Warbird – before finally taking up the mantle of Captain Marvel decades after the demise of Mar-Vell.

What’s Changed: Carol’s nicknames and power set may have been altered and expanded greatly over the years, but her origin remained consistent – until one day, a Kree militia showed up at her mom’s house and demanded she turn herself over as a traitor to the empire. Carol’s mother, as it turned out, was not an ordinary human woman, but the Kree warrior Mari-Ell, hiding out on Earth for decades to escape a life of martial culture. 

Thus, when Carol was blasted by the Psyche-Magnitron, it didn’t empower her so much as activate her half-Kree heritage. And while Mari-Ell perished shortly after the revelation, Captain Marvel has since discovered the existence of a full-Kree sister, Lauri-Ell, and the two have become fast allies.

10. Franklin Richards Could Have Been The Universe’s Most Powerful Mutant, Except That He Was Faking It

The Classic Story: Franklin Richards was always going to be a special child. Born to Reed Richards and Susan Storm, better known as Mister Fantastic and the Invisible Woman, Franklin was soon identified as a mutant, possibly on account of the cosmic rays his parents had been bombarded with on their fateful trip to space. In time, his nanny Agatha Harkness discovered that Franklin had a legitimate claim as the most powerful mutant – and maybe being – in existence. His ability to warp reality was unparalleled, and he used it to save the Marvel Universe on more than one occasion.

What’s Changed: It eventually became apparent that Franklin’s vast powers could be burned out and, after rebuilding the multiverse alongside his family, that soon came to pass. But then Professor Charles Xavier showed up to inform Franklin that, on top of losing his powers, he’d never actually been a mutant in the first place. Whatever the source of his reality-altering abilities, they responded to his desire to be unique at a young age and rewrote his genetic structure to make it appear as if he possessed the X-Gene – but now that those powers were gone, the jig was up.

Worst of all, Franklin had at that point been a regular visitor to the mutant nation of Krakoa, and Professor X now had to inform him that he was no longer welcome there. 

11. Donna Troy Has Been Through A Lot Over The Years

The Classic Story: As Wonder Girl, Donna Troy made her first appearances in a series of “Impossible Tales,” in which she was portrayed as a younger version of Wonder Woman who somehow still hung out with the adult Diana. Then came the Teen Titans, of whom Donna was a founding member. Here, she was depicted as Wonder Woman’s younger sister.

What’s Changed: For Donna Troy, the retcons came fast and furious. First, she was denied a blood relation to Wonder Woman when it was revealed that she was actually an orphan rescued from a burning building by Diana and brought back to Themyscira to be raised by Hippolyta. Then, she was given an all-new origin after Crisis on Infinite Earths that involved her being adopted by the actual Titans of Greek mythology.

Eventually, Donna’s backstory was rewritten once again, this time to make her an artificial duplicate of Wonder Woman created to be a playmate, only to be taken and placed in suspended animation by a villain when she was mistaken for Diana herself. Then, with the New 52 continuity reboot, Donna was changed again to a magical golem created by a sorceress to destroy Wonder Woman and take over leadership of the Amazons. 

Obviously, Donna chose differently, but “magic golem” is still her official origin as of the present moment.

12. Supergirl Was Briefly An Assassin Sent To Earth To Kill Superman

The Classic Story: At first blush, Supergirl’s origin wasn’t just simple – it was a shot-for-shot remake of Superman’s. Like her cousin Kal-El, Kara Zor-El was sent to Earth in a rocket, but she differed in having been launched from a domed city that had survived the destruction of Krypton – only to later be wiped out itself – and in having been sent as a teenager. Other than that, she was just a feminine version of the Man of Steel, which was, of course, the whole point at the time. 

What’s Changed: Though the mantle of “Supergirl” has been worn by countless Kryptonian and non-Kryptonian individuals through countless DC continuity shifts – including earthlings and a sentient protoplasm – Kara Zor-El’s story has remained largely consistent. Over time, it was simplified to that of a teen launched from Krypton at the same time as Kal-El, only to end up stuck in suspended animation on a Kryptonian asteroid until she appeared younger than her kid cousin she had been sent to “babysit.” But then, as is often the case in comics, even that streamlined origin was flipped on its head.

A post-Crisis on Infinite Earths retcon made the claim that Supergirl was conditioned by her father and sent to Earth with the express purpose of assassinating Kal-El, who was thought to possess a dangerous connection to the Phantom Zone. This revelation led to predictable conflict between her and Superman, but was later re-revealed to be the result of radiation poisoning from that Kryptonian asteroid she’d been stuck on.

Under the continuity of the New 52 and DC Rebirth, she’s just gone back to being Superman’s cousin who just so happened to arrive on Earth later than him, though this time it’s because her father simply programmed her rocket to orbit the planet for two decades before landing. 

13. Swamp Thing Is The Living Embodiment Of All Plant Life In The Universe

The Classic Story: Alec Holland was a scientist working on a secretive bio-restorative formula when thugs broke in and bombed the place. Aflame and covered in his own formula, Holland ran to a nearby swamp and leaped in. The bio-restorative formula interacted with the plant-life in the swamp, said plant-life formed a large, protective body around Holland’s mangled frame, and Swamp Thing was born, complete with the powers of plant communication and manipulation.

What’s Changed: Swamp Thing is a unique character in that his revamped origin story is far more famous than his first, and is perhaps the single biggest reason why he’s still a relevant comic book character today. As the landmark Anatomy Lesson storyline revealed, Holland had perished in that swamp, and the bio-restorative formula had merely transferred aspects of his consciousness onto the local plant life, resulting in a mass of marsh that merely believed it had once been a human being.

Swamp Thing later learned that he had been created by an entity known as the Green, a living force that connected all plant life in the universe and had chosen Swamp Thing as its avatar. In time, this meant that Swamp Thing gained control over literally every plant in existence, all in the name of protecting the Green – and that status quo has remained even through multiple continuity reboots. 

14. The Flash Was Chosen By The Speed Force, One Of The Seven Forces Of The DC Universe

The Classic Story: The original origin of the fastest man alive is simple, if improbable. Barry Allen was standing next to a rack of chemicals in a forensics lab when it was struck by lightning, dousing him in who knows what. As a result, Allen became the Flash. Years later, his nephew Wally West was visiting the crime lab and, would you believe it, the exact same thing happened, transforming him into Kid Flash.

What’s Changed: One freak lightning-chemical accident is a long shot, but two – never mind two in the same location and happening to two related individuals – is statistically impossible. This strangeness wasn’t resolved until Wally had taken over for the temporarily deceased Barry as the Flash and discovered that both of them had been “chosen” by the lightning – or, more accurately, chosen by the Speed Force, one of the Seven Forces of the Universe. In DC Comics canon, the Speed Force is the source of all super speed, but only a select few are actually chosen to champion the concept of velocity, with Barry and Wally being the two most prominent. And as such, they can now do a whole lot more than run fast – traveling through time, space, and even reality itself. 

15. Star-Lord’s Story In The Comics Was Totally Changed To Be Closer To The Marvel Cinematic Universe

The Classic Story: In his earliest appearances, Peter Quill was an ordinary earthling who witnessed his mother’s demise by aliens and decided to become an astronaut so he could seek revenge. While on a NASA space station, Quill was visited by a mysterious entity known as the Master of the Sun and given the ambiguous position of “Star-Lord,” learning that his father was an alien emperor. 

Then he dropped off the radar for a few decades, popping back up as a crusty old veteran of countless space wars in the Annihilation crossover, leading directly to his founding of the Guardians of the Galaxy.

What’s Changed: When Star-Lord’s revamped Guardians became the improbable stars of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s latest blockbuster, Quill’s whole backstory was slowly but surely altered to more closely resemble Chris Pratt’s onscreen portrayal. First came a serious reduction in age, then came a retcon in which young Peter escaped Earth in an ill-gotten alien ship and ended up being taken in by Yondu and the Ravagers. 

After almost a decade as the all-new Star-Lord, however, Peter finally revisited the whole “Master of the Sun” thing. Following some recurring visions and a near-death experience, Quill awoke in an alternate universe, where he remained for nearly two centuries, gained wondrous new powers, and became the new Master of the Sun. Then he returned to his own time and place and rejoined the Guardians of the Galaxy with a whole host of tricks up his elemental sleeve.