Origin Stories

The only advice a superhero can give someone is that powers are overrated. I know that sounds stupid, especially coming from someone who has powers himself, but they are.
(For the Stan Lee Tribute Comp - where the hero loses)

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Author's note

This one has an easter egg to my first ever story I Am, to the first anime I ever watched called Fruits Basket and to one of the many Spider-Man villains. RIP Stan Lee, this one is for you, excelsior.

1. Losing


The only advice a superhero can give someone is that powers are overrated. I know that sounds stupid, especially coming from someone who has powers himself, but they are. The universe questions both those with powers and those without, you question yourself whether you have powers or not, and there will always be a villain whether you have powers or not.

Those who have nothing have the greatest strength I have ever witnessed - including myself if I have to brag about something. And those who have everything don’t know what they have to lose, generating powers to protect everything they own.

Everyone, powerless or not, has an origin story. You’ll want to know mine, won’t you?

It starts off pretty simply; a college kid with the hope of being a marine biologist despite knowing that the money was never in that job. I used to love octopuses, and I even want to see the animals in the wild and not just in aquariums and reference photos. I'm an Aquarius in star sign, that would tell you that I have an empathy streak a mile wide and stubbornness is my Achilles heel. But then, like all cliché and story tropes, I found one of my fellow scientists experimenting on animals, hoping to mutate them into the fabled aliens we all know and love. We as a human species are obsessed with things greater than ourselves, including aliens.

Did you know that octopuses are the animal closest to an alien that we know of, besides all of the mysterious animals in the Midnight Zone and beyond? It’s because they do so much unexplained shit that we immediately whack the alien label onto them. I’m getting distracted, back to the origin story.

I didn’t want to interfere, not at first, I knew that it was far beyond my capabilities. But then zoos started to experience severely aggressive animals, deaths and injuries slowly crept up and my college got kicked out of the partnership with zoos and aquariums alike. 

So I got involved because of sheer spite. Spite is an excellent motivator.

In between classes I taught myself stealth skills, they didn’t really go well, but I taught myself and my stubbornness to learn helped. I thought myself a shadow, my empathy towards animals pathing my way forward.

Being a superhero in that moment had nothing to do with powers, it had to do with the fact that I wanted to help improve the universe. And you know prevent bastards from doing evil.

I got the chance to sneak into the laboratory of Doctor Steven Black. I saw the animals in cages; chickens, lambs and sea creatures alike; the rambling formulae written in removable ink on the walls; the vials full of bubbling and shifting liquids; and all I felt was a great rage. I wanted to set them free, I was very tempted too. But there was no way I could sneak out a dozen animals conspicuously, I wasn’t even near that stealthy. It wouldn’t stop Black from getting more and continuing his work.

So I took a hundred photos on my phone, I was going to sell them to a journalist or anyone really to prove what Black was doing. Then I heard a noise and I panicked. In my haste to escape from the laboratory, I guess my arm slapped into some of the formulae written next to one of the vials and liquid splashed onto my coat.

I didn’t think more of it until I got back to my dorm and found a circular hole in my coat sleeve. It sounds implausible doesn’t it, that a chemical could seep through clothing and through the skin directly into the bloodstream? It sounds so implausible I didn’t even consider it when I got the flu over the next couple of days.

But as I felt well enough to go back to class, a pair of sunglasses blocking the sunlight from my very sore and tired eyes, I heard something.

Why can’t these goddamn humans have more plants, all I need is a plant? I’m not cut out for 16-hour shifts anymore.

I put it down to some construction worker and moved on.

We were experimenting on maggots at college, demonstrating their preferred conditions with choice chambers and it was just a cacophony of noise.

Food, food, food, water, water, water, dark, dark, dark.

No human is that neurotic to repeat words like that - like a broken record.

It took me a few days to figure out, but once I did I learned how to control the noise and act as if it was a dial. I could understand and speak with animals. That was cool. Not the superpower I would choose for myself but not everyone has a choice in it.

At first, I used it to my own gain, too hopped up on the fact that I had a superpower to do anything else, I tested it and boosted my studies. Every essay was easy when I could find the animal and discuss things with it.

(I’ll tell you something, cats deviate between short bouts of affection and long, near everlasting bouts of being assholes.)

I spurred through brain power quickly so I ate more and slept a bit more. But it wasn’t too bad. What was bad was forcing myself to eat better and go to the gym to make sure my body and mind were fit enough for the powers. That’s one thing they don’t tell you; being a superhero is a lot of work, a lot of exhausting work.

Then I got my head and released those photos. I relished in the backlash for a while but it didn't stick. Dr Black had an excuse for everything, like all the cliche's go.

And when the time came for the newsreel that talked about genetically altered gorillas and sharks, I knew that my time had come. Of course, I didn’t think it through properly and when my identity leaked to the press, I knew that I was in trouble.

It didn’t take long for Dr Black to find me and honestly, I don’t like to recall that first encounter. I remember being chained to a metal table, the noises of animals in pain rattling through my brain, as he switched between drugging me and slicing me to test what they did. I don’t know how I got out, something to do with broken glass and the universe being in my limited favour.

But I stumbled into an alleyway and waited to die. Spoiler alert; I did not die, but I did grow ox horns on my head when I woke fully healed.

I was understandably freaked out and it didn’t take long for me to quit class and become a hermit. I changed between moods of depression and study, trying to work out exactly what had happened to me.

The ox was the second of the Chinese Zodiac to make its way to the Jade Emperor. Its characteristics presented it as a ying and yang, moods of aggressiveness and a cool nature switching interchangeably.

I could still talk to animals but now there was increased strength, my agility and speed off the charts for what a human was capable of.

I started off small, fighting petty crime in dark alleyways, hiding my face with a black mask. There was no hiding the horns but people just thought they were a gimmick at first. Then the media got wind of my vigilantism and let me tell you the media is not a superheroes best friend.

They called me the Ox-man, for lack of originality, and crime surged for a little. People were scared, especially when Dr Black emerged with octopus ink spurting from his fingers and the ability to control animals with his will.

He ruined octopuses for me, goddammit. 

There were many fights that blur over in my mind, a lot of things that I learned about myself and Dr Black.

The important one was the last.

It hurts, please kind sir, it hurts.

A lion bit through Dr Black’s compulsion and it took everything I had not to break concentration. New York City was broken around us, screaming people and animals with blood on their muzzles, and buildings crumbling over the government's weapons and the forced movements of the animals. In the end, it hurt me but I turned the compulsion around on him, bent the animal's wills in my fingers like they were sand and twisted with all my might. It nearly worked.

But he still got me, I was spent and he was not, and he had been at this a lot longer than I had. Time was simply against me. He struck a bargain in the broken land of New York to never harm the world again if he could take me hostage. They didn’t put up a fight, not for a vigilante that they were going to hunt down anyway.

Humanity saves itself.

In the end, when he dragged me away all I heard was the sound of the dying lion, a bullet wound in its side.

I’m sorry I hurt you like that, I said.

I’m sorry it wasn’t enough. It says back.

I heard it die before unconsciousness swept me and that was the most painful part. I could never handle things dying.

That brings me back to the present, me writing my origin story on the walls of my prison cell, a maze designed to test my capabilities because my tongue doesn’t work anymore. Dr Black got sick of my sarcasm and screams.

Sometimes powers aren’t enough. Sometimes not every battle can be won.

But that is not the point, not in this particular story. This is where I put the chalk down.

I kneel there with my dog, Apollo the rather fat corgi, by my knees and I can hear his prayers. At least Dr Black permitted me a dog, otherwise, I would have gone mad with hearing animals but not being able to talk back to them. At least my villain was kind in that instance.

They’re a part of you, don’t lose hope.

If I don’t do it then he’ll do it anyway.

He hasn’t been around in two weeks, you can have them for longer than usual.

I’ve turned to cutting off my horns to save the part of me that is human and not animal. Dr Black has taught me that the animal part can be used and I don’t want to be used, the scars and the nightmares are my signs of being used.

“Listen to your corgi, mister,” a voice says and it is not Dr Black. I look up to the small window at the top of my cell and there is a girl kneeling there. Apollo immediately goes to jump at the wall in an attempt to get to her, but he does not bark. He has a good sense of nature. Perhaps she does not mean us harm.

Girl, girl, good, girl,  he says.

I put down the shears.

You can hear him, and me? I think, going closer to the window.

She nods and taps her temple, smiling. It’s the first time someone has actually been able to hear me!

You’re not the only one with powers.

She makes a chittering noise and through the darkness hands grapple to shove themselves into the gap.

We all have powers.

There must be loads of them there, the noise rising up from the small gap. I can't stop myself from smiling.

The possibilities are endless but for now, my mind circles on one thing. I am not alone. I am not alone anymore.

The time for losing ends now, and we are going to get you out.

So let me tell you some advice, and my advice goes to those with powers and those without. Losing doesn’t have to be the end or a negative thing. I lost and it allowed Dr Black to create more people with powers. Now that seems like a bad thing yes, but if he had not then I wouldn’t have freedom between my fingers for the first time in years. If he hadn’t there wouldn’t be the inspiration for comics and fiction and media stories.

To those with powers I say embrace who you are, keep questioning yourself and the universe and hunting out the villains. Know that every battle is a test and not every test can be passed with flying colours. Failure is not the worst thing that can happen to you.

To those without powers, I say that you have a place in the world with us, you accept us and uplift your own powers of generosity and strength and intelligence. You lift cars with your adrenaline and go back into burning buildings and your sense of just one more day, just one more is enough.

Superheroes aren’t just those in comic books, they are all of us. And if I hadn’t of lost it all I wouldn’t have won it all either. Rock bottom is the biggest teacher of them all and I am grateful for it, even if it hurt. 

Because god did it hurt.

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