The Awful New Trend With Superhero Origin Stories in Movies and TV

By  · Published on December 9th, 2014

The Awful New Trend With Superhero Origin Stories in Movies and TV

Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures Funding, LLC

I want to say I’m sorry. I am one of the many who loved the beginning of Man of Steel enough to say I’d watch a whole movie set on Krypton. Those scenes felt like a new Star Wars episode when they arrived last summer. It was a thrill. But then so did parts of Thor: The Dark World and then Guardians of the Galaxy,and now we’re seeing footage from an actual new Star Wars episode coming soon, and the Man of Steel space opera opening just isn’t as special anymore. I no longer need a feature-length Kryptonian prequel. And I certainly don’t want a television series-length Kryptonian prequel. But reportedly there’s one of the latter in development at SyFy from Man of Steel screenwriter David Goyer. Am I partly to blame for maybe somewhere writing or tweeting about wanting something like this? If so, I apologize.

Of course, the success of Gotham is likely more to do with it. That show is about Batman’s world before Batman exists. Krypton will somewhat similarly be about Superman’s world before Superman exists. Unlike with Gotham, there will not be a young Superman floating around, occasionally appearing as a reminder that it’s tangentially his origin story while also, more superficially, the start of many of his eventual nemeses. Kal-El, as he’s born on Krypton, quickly departs his planet within his first days of life. We can bet, however, that the show will still offer up some Superman bad guys in their early days, as a few are from or have ties to that world, namely Zod, Faora, Brainiac, Jax-Ur and Doomsday. The main premise of Krypton, though, focuses on Superman’s family (the House of El) and how his grandpa attempted to make Krypton a better place.

So much for our thinking that, starting with the rumored Marvel plans beginning with Doctor Strange, superhero movies would be moving away from origin stories. Perhaps that will in fact be the case with movies, including the DC franchise that seems like it will primarily have solo character installments continue off from ensemble pictures in which they’re introduced. Meaning they’ll already be established superheroes without chronologically depicted origins – maybe with their backstories coming in the form of flashbacks instead.

TV series, on the other hand, will take care of longer-form set-ups. The way Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones and The Defenders are kicking off as Netflix series and could presumably lead-in to feature films starring those characters down the line if popular enough. And the way Agent Carter is giving origins of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers in a way the movies won’t. That will also feature an appearance from Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), so it also has that Krypton sort of pre-birth proto-origin for Iron Man. It works for shows not connected to movies, too, as audiences for DC’s TV and film properties overlap, so they can see young Bruce Wayne’s parents die once again on the small screen and then hopefully finally know it enough that they never have to see it on the big screen again.

But what else is there to do with a Superman TV show? We’ve seen him as a boy, a teenager and a college student in various series already, and nobody is touching the concept of super-babies, which I’ll admit leaves me a tad surprised and disappointed. Maybe later on we’ll get an X-Babies cartoon or something, but for now Hollywood is skipping over the idea for super-genes, as in storylines involving superheroes when they’re barely a twinkle someone’s eye. What might follow Krypton with this trend of going further and further back on the origins? A romantic series about Star-Lord’s mom and dad (once we find out in the movies who he is)? More adventures of Bor, father of Odin and grandfather of Thor, like in the opening of Thor: The Dark World? How about a show featuring Richard and Mary Parker before they have Peter, similar to the beginning of The Amazing Spider-Man 2?

That last one shouldn’t sound too far off considering the recent rumor that Sony is working on a solo movie for Aunt May with a newly made up espionage backstory for the future guardian of the eventual arachnid-based hero. While TV series have the necessary running time to fully elaborate on these sorts of pre-origin origin stories, movies are already coming awfully close to going there. The next X-Men movie, Age of Apocalypse, deals with the very first mutant, and although the action is concentrated on a relatively modern setting, there is sure to be scenes of Apocalypse in ancient times, as we see in the post-credits sequence of X-Men: Days of Future Past, and that’s all the world of the X-Men long before the birth of any of the X-Men.

But let’s not mistake this as a totally new idea in the grand scheme of Hollywood prequeling. The origin of pre-birth origins can be found at least in the Star Wars prequels, which while still concentrated on the traditional villain’s early years conceit also gave us movies about events that happen before and also led to the births of the main Star Wars heroes, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia. Similarly, since then, Prometheus depicted the origin of the origin of the aliens in Alien and Oz the Great and Powerful unnecessarily involves the mother of Dorothy in a way that seems just to make it partly her proto-origin story.

To Krypton’s credit, this isn’t a totally out-of-nowhere idea devised merely to capitalize on the success of Gotham, at least in terms of how stories of the planet before Superman’s birth have been told in the comics. The series, then, is just another means of telling more stories of the character’s universe and the comics’ universe. In a way, Krypton doesn’t have to be a prequel so much as just another property, like how Batman and Superman can be their own entities, existing parallel to each other in the same universe. It all reminds me of how Marvel is heading towards an Inhumans movie and so has to set them up as these beings who were around on Earth while humans were still in caves and how millions of years ago the Inhumans originated via the Kree during the Kree-Skrull War and – all I’m saying is that these properties have timelines going way back and way forward and even way sideways. They’re rich in terms of where and when stories can be mined from. If we don’t think of them as origins of other things, it’s all good.

Unfortunately, these things don’t easily leave alone the connections. Gotham reminds its audience that this is Batman’s proto-origin, and Krypton is sure to be the same, featuring dialogue from Grandpa El like “When I have a grandson…” So, it’s not necessarily that Hollywood shouldn’t continue a trend like this but that they should let these properties have as much of their own identities as they can.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.