Everyone's abuzz with the recently released Joker image. The next incarnation of the notorious villain will be realised by actor Jared Leto, in the hotly anticipated Suicide Squad movie.
Looking at Leto's twisted portrayal of the Joker, or reading about any other imagery of the many disturbing comic book villains, one question springs to mind: what led to this madness?
The Joker, like many comic book characters, has several origin stories depending on his iteration. The most popular among these has the villain as a chemical engineer turned stand-up comic, who joins a crime gang to support his pregnant wife after his comedy dream flops.
The gang of thugs cruelly murder his wife and unborn child and then force him to help rob a chemical plant. It all goes terribly wrong when security shows up, killing the entire gang, except the Joker. When Batman arrives on the scene, the character escapes the hero by jumping into a vat filled with chemicals.
He emerges from the toxic tank mutilated, forever marked with his iconic white skin, green hair, and freakish smeared red lips. Traumatized by the loss of his wife and unborn child, and physically scarred by the botched robbery, the Joker has a complete psychotic break down; becoming hell bent on focussing all of his revenge on Batman.
Of course, lots of comic book origin stories are well known; Spiderman having powers from being bitten by a radioactive spider, for example, or Superman having powers because of his arrival on earth from the destroyed super-planet of Krypton in a galaxy far, far away.
At their best, origin stories are pure genius and can be the key to making a hero, well, super. These origin stories often share the same dramatic elements of moral dilemmas, conflicts, character growth, and resolution as any figure in a classic Greek tragedy.
Other origin stories are just plain stupid. It can't be easy for the writers constantly trying to come up with brilliant, new back-stories for characters. As the possibilities for the reasons behind a hero or villain's powers in the comic book universes are endless, imaginations can sometimes run a little too wild. Such was the case in these, the ten most bizarre comic book origin stories in the history of the artform.
10 Captain Marvel
A member of the Justice League and leader of the Marvel family, Captain Marvel of DC Comics, was originally radio news reporter Billy Batson.
One day, he was lured into a cave behind a subway tunnel by a powerful magician named Shazam, who had chosen Billy to be a champion of good.
After this mysterious fateful meeting, whenever Billy speaks the name "Shazam" a lightning bolt strikes him and turns him into the giant wizard persona, with the powers of the gods themselves. The code is as follows; S-for the wisdom of Solomon, H- for the strength of Hercules, A- for the stamina of Atlas, Z- for the power of Zeus, A- for the courage of Achilles, and M- for the speed of Mercury.
Who was the mysterious wizard who lured Billy? Why did he choose Billy? Beats the hell out of the writers of this origin story, who left it as vague and lame as it gets.
9 The Flash
The Flash of DC Comics is known for his lightning speed, but that's as good as the story gets; because the story about how he got his speed is a total dud.
There are, of course, a couple of origin stories for the Flash, but each one is as yawn-worthy as the other. The first of them sees character Jay Garrick get his super powers by falling asleep on the job at a lab, and accidentally inhaling the vapours of "Hard Water." That pesky water can cause mineral buildup on fixtures and interfere with the performance of detergents. But cause lightning speed? Apparently.
Writers then inexplicably replaced Jay Garrick with "Barry Allen" as the Flash character. Maybe they started re-thinking that lemon of a hard water origin story. Unfortunately, Barry's beginnings as Flash were just as uninventive.
One evening, the police forensic scientist is leaving his lab when a lightning bolt shoots in through the window, hitting a cabinet full of chemicals that fall all over Barry as he saunters past. And that's the supposed explanation for his lighting fast speed and matching reflexes.
He decides from then on to fight crime wearing a red leotard emblazoned with a lightning bolt, and to call himself "Flash" after his childhood comic book hero, Jay Garrick.
8 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
As if the name of these crime-fighting cartoon turtles wasn't irritating enough, the backstory induces even more head shaking. This comic strip has Splinter, the rat of a disgraced Samurai, making friends with four baby turtles in the sewer they all call home.
When the whole gang gets covered in radioactive slime that's made its way into the sewer, an instantaneous evolution occurs, turning the turtles into the muscled, teenaged, anthropomorphic turtle warriors. Splinter mutates too, and the rather cultured rat names the turtles after four Renaissance artists; Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Raphael. Then, the rat sensei trains the turtles in the art of ninjutsu so that they can fight criminals when they're not hiding in their sewer.
Creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird admit the "dumb" concept seemed to come out of nowhere. One night out of the blue, Laird reportedly sketched a masked turtle and wrote the words "ninja turtle," which Eastman added "teenage mutant", much to the amusement of both.
As the night went on, the artists competed with each other, each trying to sketch the coolest turtle, with Eastman finally drawing four of the turtles standing united. Eastman recalls, "we were just pissing our pants that night, to be honest."
Of course, the two quickly realized they were onto something, and the offbeat comic became a runaway success for Mirage Studios, first as a cartoon strip, then as a huge film franchise attached to mega-merchandising.
7 Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman was created by William Moulton Marston, the psychologist who invented the polygraph test. Marston was reportedly recruited by comic book pioneer Maxwell Charles Gaines to create a strong, positive female character for the comics, which were getting a bad rap at the war-ravaged time for celebrating all kinds of violence.
Even sexual violence seemed to be glamorized, prompting the editor of the Chicago Daily News, in 1940, to call for teachers and parents to put a ban on comics altogether.
Gaines was falling under scrutiny, and needed help to regain his reputation, and to save the future of comics. Marston came to the rescue, in an effort to psychoanalyze the masses and introduce the perfect female comic character to change attitudes between the sexes. No easy task.
Marston's Wonder Woman began as warrior Princess Diana of the Amazons, in a mythical Ancient Greece where women were once chained up by their men. When they finally broke free and escaped, they were discovered to have great mental power and strength. Wonder Woman, in particular, ends up with superhuman strength and superior battle skills. With this vision, Marston said he wanted to create a comic that would show "a great movement now underway - the growth in the power of women." Not bad stuff at all so far.
But Marston portrayed Wonder Woman in her 1941 debut comic in an overtly kinky outfit for the time, with the now famous golden tiara, red knee-high leather boots, blue underpants, and red bustier. The comic received immediate complaints by the National Organization for Decent Literature, who said Wonder Woman wasn't decently dressed.
Making matters worse, Wonder Woman was regularly placed in torture situations, being chained, bound, and gagged. This was supposed to help improve the image of women in the comics?
It seemed Marston may have been harbouring a fetish of his own. When questioned about the rampant use of bondage, he said "the secret of woman's allure is that women enjoy submission - being bound." In one strip Wonder Woman even shows she's had enough, as she cries out, "Great girdle of Aphrodite! Am I tired of being tied up!"
In the end, Gaines had to hire a female psychiatrist to come on board and rescue the mission that was being sabotaged by an overly "masculine" point of view in Marston, even though his intentions were on the right track. He said, "Frankly, Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who, I believe, should rule the world.”
Mission accomplished, with Wonder Woman finally becoming a true feminist icon as the world's most successful comic book heroine fighting for peace, justice, and gender equality.
6 Black Condor
Stories of abandoned kids getting raised by a pack of wild animals have been recycled, in stories like The Jungle Book and Tarzan. But a boy being raised by a group of super-intelligent condors? That's a new take on the mythos.
That's the back story the reader is supposed to buy about Black Condor of DC Comics, who's left alone in the middle of the Mongolian wilderness as a newborn baby after his parents' caravan is attacked by bandits.
Luckily a group of kindly condors discover the newborn, and the empathetic birds decide to raise the baby as one of their own; even teaching him to fly once he's grown.
Yes, real life reports of kids raised by wolves describe them having taken on attributes of their canine parents; walking around on all fours, and howling for example. But a human kid raised by birds suddenly being able to fly, just because he's been studying them all that time they raised him?
Get ready; this story gets even sillier.
Discovered by a hermit monk who convinces the flying human to use his unique ability for good, the Condor decides to move to America. There, he is stunned to learn he has an exact double, who happens to be a recently murdered Senator. Condor takes over the Senator's identity - and his fiancee Wendy - and becomes the costumed Black Condor, to fly around fighting evil.
5 Bouncing Boy
Is he a hero? Is he a giant bouncy ball? Or is he just an absurdity? Let's face it, he's all of the above. The writers at DC Comics must have been smoking something and giggling themselves silly when they came up with this one.
Bouncing Boy was originally courier Chuck Taine, whose first job was to deliver an open flask of experimental elastic serum. Naughty Chuck decides to take a break along the way to check out a game, and buys himself a soda at the stadium. You can guess what happens next, when he puts his soda beside the open flask of elastic serum. One swig from the wrong bottle, and we have Bouncing Boy!
Chuck discovers he can inflate himself at will, and bounce and ricochet without coming to any harm. Jolly old Chuck decides he must immediately put his powers to use by joining the Legion of Superheroes. But even the heroes think he sucks, and Bouncing Boy fails his first two tryouts for the gang of crime-fighters.
Finally, after defeating an electrical villain thanks to his bounciness preventing him from being grounded, the Superheroes decide the bouncy guy just might have his uses after all. Besides, he sure has a jolly disposition, and becomes known as the "Morale Officer" of the Legion.
4 The Green Arrow
A billionaire with no powers decides he wants to put on a costume and fight crime. Wait a minute, isn't that...? Nope, it's not who you're thinking.
This might sound an awful lot like the story of Batman, but it actually belongs to the Green Arrow of DC Comics, who is really billionaire Oliver Queen in his downtime. Just like Bruce Wayne, Oliver Queen has no actual powers; he's just super, filthy wealth.
One day, just being a playboy, he falls off a cruise ship (occupational hazard) and swims to nearby Starfish Island. Alone, he must learn to survive by dressing up in green camouflage and making his own bow and arrows to hunt for food. As time goes on, he becomes an increasingly skilled bowman, and masters the art of making trick arrows.
He's eventually rescued by a passing freighter that immediately gets overrun by pirates. This is Queen's golden opportunity to put his newfound skills to some really fun use. After putting on a mask, and handily doing away with all the pirates, Queen realizes he wants to go home to his mansion and use his awesome skills and obscene wealth to fight crime.
But instead of spending his mega-bucks on every manner of cool from supercars, to computerized caves, to jets and helicopters like his Bat colleague, Oliver spends all his cash on new and interesting arrows to fight criminals.
Oh, and he dresses up like Robin Hood.
3 The Wrecking Crew
This villainous gang sure spends a lot of time causing problems for the heroes of Marvel Comics. So just where did these pains-in-Thor's-ass spring up from?
It all started with violent burglar Dirk Garthwaite. He's been asked by evil scientist Dr. Franklin to break into a hotel room to get hold of a gamma bomb he's invented. The evil scientist wants to use the bomb to hold the city of New York ransom to the tune of millions.
Always up for a good B&E, Dirk heads to the hotel, wielding his faithful crowbar, which he uses to demolish crime scenes; plus, he likes the crowbar because it reminds him of the object his construction worker Daddy used to beat him with when he was a kid.
It's already a little weird, but now it gets a lot weirder. For some reason, Dirk stumbles upon the god Loki in the hotel room, who's waiting around for a Norn Queen to show up and grant him enchantment powers to fight Thor. Dirk and Loki get into a tussle, when the Norn Queen finally shows up and accidentally casts her spell - on Dirk and his trusty crowbar, instead of Loki.
Dirk and the mad scientist get nabbed by the police and tossed into jail; but luckily Dirk manages to get his enchanted crowbar behind bars.
Dirk and Franklin convince two other inmates to grasp the crowbar along with them during a lightning storm, and as the crowbar is suddenly struck with a bolt, all four inmates are all instantaneously turned into super villains; namely, Bulldozer, Piledriver, Thunderball, and the Wrecker - originally Dirk the bumbling burglar!
The gang smashes out of prison and starts its eternal mission - to screw with the goody two shoes Marvel Superheroes. Whoever wrote this needs a heavy dose of therapy, and to learn the art of coherent storytelling.
The super villain here was supposed to be one of Hitler's top scientists, Fritz von Meyer, specializing in the field of toxins. After the war, the despicable criminal flees to South America to go into hiding from the Nazi hunters.
Looking for something to do with his evil while hanging out in the jungle, the Nazi finds a hive of super intelligent, chilled out killer bees. They happen to be beside some meteor, which Meyer thinks might have mutated them into super bees.
Meyer builds a gizmo in the hopes of controlling the swarm so they can help him get some of his evil back on. But the once laid back killer bees suddenly get very aggressive and turn on their master, stinging him until he dies.
Luckily, his consciousness somehow enters the bee swarm, and he mutates into some kind of bee-swarmed zombie. Interpol eventually tracks him down, and takes away the Queen bee in a briefcase to the good old USA. The villain follows, kills the Interpol agent, gets into a battle with the Marvel Champions good boys, and finally has time to get hold of his Queen bee so that he can mutate her into a new and improved, huge bee who will do his evil bidding.
Then, the bee swarm spits out Meyer's skeleton and chase after their new leader to conquer the world. Later versions of the comic have the super villain pitted against the legendary Spider-Man.
1 The Atom
Physicist Ray Palmer one day discovers a chunk of white dwarf star lying on the ground. So what do you do when you see a bit of white dwarf star? Most people wouldn't know what the hell a white dwarf star is, so they'd probably keep going along their merry old way.
But Ray knows exactly what he's looking at, and decides to pick it up. In reality, this star matter would be impossible to pick up, as in theory it would weigh tons upon tons. Still, our hero Ray picks it up and proceeds to make it into a lens that he can use to shrink stuff, as he happens to specialize in matter compression.
When he finds himself stuck in a cave with some of his students, he shrinks himself using the lens so he can escape through a small opening, and learns that he can also return himself back to normal size.
Palmer makes a special costume, of course, and from then on his superpower is to shrink himself down to the size of - you guessed it - an atom, using his diminutive size to fight evil.