What Part of a Character's Origin Story Really Matters?

Illustration for article titled What Part of a Character's Origin Story Really Matters?

Greetings, denizens of the pre-apocalypse! My apologies that your mail is a little late today, but rest assured it’s just as non-existent as ever. This week: The new Who, if trailers can be spoiled, and what part of an origin story is completely essential.

Rewriting the Past

Justin M.:

Dear Probably Shirtless and Slightly Robotic Postman:

So I’m worried Marvel Studios is about to pull a Maximoff on Carol Danvers. By that I mean giving her a completely new backstory than the one from the comics.

For the most part characters in the MCU have had a similar but simplified origin compared to their comic inspirations, except for the Maximoff twins who’s origin was drastically rewritten due to real world issues. I’m worried when we finally get Captain Marvel on screen we’re going to get a much different origin just because it’s easier.

There won’t be a psyche-magnetron and a Kree warrior named Mar-Vel hiding in NASA. Instead Carol will bump her head on an infinity stone and suddenly have super powers (I think half the MCU got their powers that way right?). I’m just not sure that if you strip away the Mar-Vel inspiration and the ties to the Kree if what you have is the same character or just someone in the same costume. How important is a character’s backstory to who they are?


We are almost certainly going to get a different version of Carol Danvers’ origin, so you probably should try to make your peace with it.

Let me answer your last first: A character’s backstory is important, but not every element of it is equally important. Peter Parker being bitten by a radioactive spider is iconic, but would it really change his character that much if he accidentally drank some experimental Oscorp potion instead? On the other hand, I can’t imagine a Spider-Man who didn’t lose his Uncle Ben, thus learning “with great power comes great responsibility”—that’s absolutely fundamental to his character. Does Tony Stark absolutely need to have that shrapnel near his heart? It improves his reason for building his first armor, but it’s him changing his mind about his weapon manufacturing and the death destruction he’s facilitated, and then trying to make up for it as Iron Man, which is the important part.

Batman is a little trickier, because so many aspects of him have become iconic over the years, so they seem essential. But really, you could take away Bruce Wayne’s wealth and gadgets, and he would still be Batman. The death of his parents is essential, because it’s what puts him on his quest, and something bat-oriented needs to happen to him because that’s the integral part of his identity. The specific bat event doesn’t matter—it could fly in through his window one night, he could fall into a cave full of ‘em as a kid, or something else entirely.

So by that token, does it really matter to Carol’s character if Mar-Vell the Kree is around when the alien device explodes? Or if the device belongs to a difference alien species? Or if she gets her powers from an Infinity Stone like Wanda and Pietro? I don’t think it does... although the latter origin would be annoying since Marvel has already gone done that route several times before.


And Carol Danvers’ raison d’etre is much simpler—she’s an Air Force officer, already devoted to doing good, who gets powers and decides to be a superhero. The details of how she gets her superpowers are pretty inconsequential when compared to getting her character right.

Illustration for article titled What Part of a Character's Origin Story Really Matters?

Hyperdrive Me Crazy

Harrison S.:

How long did it take the Millennium Falcon to get from Hoth to Cloud City? The hyperdrive wasn’t working. So how long did it take?

Either Hoth and Cloud City are in the same solar system, or it took them over a year of traveling at sublight speeds (assuming that Hoth and Cloud City are super close to each other, like Earth and Proxima Centauri).


As usual, the new canon hasn’t explained this yet, but there is an answer in the Expanded Universe, courtesy of the official Star Wars Millennium Falcon Owner’s Workshop Manual (which I found thanks to Stackexchange). It states that YT-1300 light cruisers like that Falcon actually have two hyperdrives: a Class 2.0 Hyperdrive and a Backup Class 12 Hyperdrive. The lower-numbered drive is what gets you across the galaxy, the higher-numbered one allows ships to travel to nearby star systems in a reasonable time, as in from Hoth to Bespin. It may be weird to you that Han would only refer to the 2.0 as the hyperdrive and not the 12, but the 12 is barely a hyperdrive. Likely most pilots consider it more as a basic feature than the real deal.

Without knowing exactly how fast the 12 can go—although this is surely in a book somewhere—it’s impossible to say for sure exactly how long it took, but I think a safe bet is around three to four days. I say that because I think they also spend a few days on Bespin—long enough for Leia to get suspicious and to notice C-3PO was missing, although what the Imperials were doing all that time is beyond me. (Remember, Lando said they landed just before the Falcon did. Maybe they were waiting to see if Luke would join them on his own? And then Vader got bored and threw a dinner party?)


This timeframe also has the benefit that it gives Luke Skywalker about a week of training on Dagobah, which seems to be the very minimum necessary for Luke to hold his own in a lightsaber duel with Darth Vader for more than 30 seconds.

Illustration for article titled What Part of a Character's Origin Story Really Matters?

Who What Why

Cara G.:

Assuming the BBC finally decides to not cast a white man, who should be the next Doctor Who?


I have gone on record as stating Hayley Atwell should be the next Doctor, and I have not wavered in that belief.

The BBC is in a little bit of a bind here, because people want a female doctor and a non-Caucasian doctor, and people are going to mutter either way when it picks one instead of the other. Of course, the BBC could actually cast a non-Caucasian woman as the Doctor, but I feel like that idea gives BBC executives the vapors.


I also worry they’re just going to cast another white dude. For some reason, I’m having a hard time being optimistic about progress nowadays.


Dead and Barry

Quinn C.:

Hi Mr. Postman, hope the future finds you well! While I was slightly annoyed with the Flash in season 2 for having the main villain be another speedster, I have become fully tired with it this season. If I hear “I need to be faster” one more time... well I’m going to keep watching the show but I’ll be annoyed.

My question is, who do you see as a possible main non-speedster villain for season 4? This is made more difficult because the show has already used what I would consider the usual alternatives (Gorilla Grodd, a fully bad ass Rogues) as villain of the week episodes.


I would love to see the Rogues actually get together and be the bad guys for a full season, but that’s a lot of actors to pay, and I’m not exactly sure what they’d do for a full season arc. They basically just rob shit, which is admittedly kind of lackluster after the insane stakes of the previous seasons.

However, there’s no real reason to suspect The Flash is going to quit having speedster villains as the main season villain, other than we’d really like it to. The Black Racer—a.k.a. Hunter Zolomon after he was zombified by Time Wraiths, last seen stalking Eobard Thawne—is still around, punishing speedsters who mess with the timeline, which Barry hasn’t done for a couple of weeks so you know he’s due. There’s Inertia, there’s the Reverse-Flash from the New 52 (Iris West’s brother in the comics, which is not impossible for the show to pull off), Speed Demon, Johnny Quick from Earth-3’s Crime Syndicate, a Lady Savitar (???), and someone called “Godspeed,” which I find deeply hilarious.


Personally, I’m going to guess the show adapts the pretty recent comics, and have the new villain be… Barry Allen himself, from the future, who comes back to kill himself for unknown reasons. He also wears blue, and you know The Flash loves its color-coded speedsters.

Spoilers of War

Sean S.:

Dear Postman,

First I was glad to learn you had not become supper to the giant lizard pig men who patrol the roads between old Montana and New New New Albuquerque.

This [past] weekend [was] Super Bowl Sunday which usually begins the Summer Movie Trailer Season. I love this time of year when hopes are high for these movies and they all have the potential to be great. The reality of summer is, of course, far different, but the excitement from the trailers is fun.

Usually for movies that I am excited about I will post the trailer on my social media feeds. Last year I did this for Civil War with the trailer that featured our first glimpse of Spider-Man less than an hour after it hit the web. When I posted it, the screenshot of the video was of our friendly neighborhood wall crawler. I was immediately hit with accusations of spoiling his reveal. So my question is, are there spoiler rules for trailers It would seem that if this accusation of spoiling the movie were true than we should never share trailers which would kill the word of mouth buzz these trailers create. Am I right and my friend was being too sensitive, or should I hold off on posting links to trailers?


I am… receptive to people’s concerns about spoilers, but we have to draw a line somewhere. I have posted trailers and been accused of spoilers myself, but trailer are commercials. It’s what the companies want you to see (even if the director disagrees). They aren’t their own experiences that need to be preserved, they are promotions to make you want to experience the actual movie.

I understand it’s cool to be surprised by the Spider-Man reveal in that Civil War trailer, but once that trailer hit, the news that the new Spider-Man was part of it was everywhere on the internet in a matter of minutes. In fact, the most important part of the trailer is the fact that Spider-Man shows up. All the headlines for all the articles showing the trailer mentioned Spider-Man, because that was the biggest thing in it. It wasn’t a spoiler, it was news.


If I hadn’t mentioned Spider-Man in the headline for the article we posted, that’s actually crappy reporting. That’s an omission of a major detail that (most) people want to know. Also? If the headline was “New Civil War trailer” people would click on the article, but “New Civil War trailer features the new Spider-Man” is a lot more exciting. And accurate. And valuable, because the people know the trailer is definitely going to show them something cool and new.

(I think I’m projecting some here.)

Anyway, I think you can sleep soundly at night knowing you have done nothing wrong. However, if you want to be kind and acclimate these people, you could look specifically for the official trailers from the official account, and post those instead of fan copies. They usually keep their screenshots surprise-free. And if they don’t, it’s their fault, not yours.


Illustration for article titled What Part of a Character's Origin Story Really Matters?

Stop the Repress


Do Vulcans have different personalities if they don’t really feel emotion? I know there may be some outliers or extreme cases, but are your average, everyday Vulcans all relatively the same?


I asked this question of Katharine, io9’s resident Trekspert, who told me something I didn’t know: Vulcans are actually a very emotional people. But they’re also a very repressed people.

Back in the past, Vulcans were more emotional and dumb as humans, and were warring on each other consistently and brutally. A Vulcan named Surak essentially put forth cold, emotionless logic as a philosophy. He had his own disciples and followers, who spread Surak’s message throughout the planet, eventually winning them over, and essentially creating the cornerstone of Vulcan society. (More proof: The Romulans were original Vulcans who left because they thought Surak’s “no emotion” philosophy was dumb, and they’re still emotional.)


So while all Vulcans may seem at first to be cold and imperturbable, rest assured there are still emotions swirling under there, influencing each Vulcan in his or her own unique ways. Also, Surak’s teachings are interpreted differently by some Vulcan, which gives them even more variability.

Illustration for article titled What Part of a Character's Origin Story Really Matters?

Cap and Frown

Mike F.:

Not referring to 19th-century American history. I understand that for Captain America: Civil War to happen, there had to be some philosophy at dispute where both sides are defensible. Capt America didn’t want to report to a potentially corrupted political body, which I get post-Hydra. Tony Stark, however, was supposed to be motivated by the death of Alfre Woodard’s son and indirectly by Baron Zemo to think that some sort of governmental approval would be required before the Avengers intervened in anything.

What I don’t get is, how can someone reasonably hold him responsible for the deaths of so many people while he was trying to SAVE THE WORLD in the midst of Manhattan being destroyed and Sokovia about to be dropped on the planet??? Is there a bigger point I am missing or is this the writers expanding something (perhaps in the name of showing Tony Stark’s personal growth) more than it should reasonably have been expanded to generate character motivation? Every time I watch Civil War now I can’t ignore what seems like this huge flaw underpinning the movie.


This one is easy—Tony Stark created Ultron. He effectively is the reason the second Avengers movie happened. He is ultimately responsible for every death Ultron caused. He felt badly enough about Ultron that he basically quit the Avengers at the end of that movie.

So between Alfre Woodward putting a face on the people he unfortunately got killed and the Avengers accidentally killing a few more people while trying to catch Crossbones at the beginning of Civil War, it’s easy to see why he would want someone overseeing other superheroes, including himself. This way, even if something went wrong, it wouldn’t be his call—he’d be following orders. Meanwhile, Steve just spent an entire movie discovering that the people overseeing him and SHIELD were like 90 percent secret Hydra agents, so of course he’d be bullish about authority figures.


As for blaming the Avengers for the battle of New York, yeah, it’s incorrect—Loki was going to invade with an alien army no matter what; same with Hydra in The Winter Soldier. It’s bad logic, but even William Hurt points out it’s the public perception of “Avengers = destruction” that’s the problem. To be fair, some sort of recognized authority would probably mitigate that.

Illustration for article titled What Part of a Character's Origin Story Really Matters?

Counting the Parsecs


We gotta get a goddamn Last Jedi trailer soon right?

Yep. I figure it’s either going to be attached to the next big Disney movie, which is Beauty and the Beast on March 17, or this year’s Star Wars Celebration, which runs April 13-16. My movie-specialist minion Germain thinks Celebration is the obvious choice, because Rogue One’s first trailer dropped last year on April 7.


And if you’re worried that the lateness of the trailer means something might be wrong with the film, don’t be—Disney has just been waiting for the previous Star Wars movie to actually come out, so their promotions don’t complete with each other.

Have a nerdy question? Need advice? Want a mystery or argument solved? Send them to postman@io9.com, please! As always, no question too difficult or dumb! Probably! 



Rob Bricken was the Editor of io9 from 2016-18, the creator of the poorly named but fan-favorite news site Topless Robot, and now writes nerd stuff for many places, because it's all he's good at.

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I think as far as Carol Danvers is concerned, she is arguably - and her origin is definitely - not iconic.

For comics readers of certain ages, the most iconic thing about Ms. Marvel is that her powers were stolen by Rogue. It doesn’t really matter how she got her powers. A thing happened one time and now she’s Captain Marvel.