Origin Story

By Shamus Posted Sunday Oct 4, 2009

Filed under: Projects 95 comments

I apologize in advance. This was a bit of an experiment. I wanted to come up with a really off-the-wall superhero origin. Starting with the assumption that you have to be a little crazy to be a superhero, I tried to create someone that fit that description without leaning on ANY of the long-standing tropes. For example: No dead parents / uncle / significant other, no mutual nemesis feud, no destiny / chosen one. Instead I wanted to build one around young-adult foolishness and dumbassery. (Okay, Spider-Man had a bit of that, but I wanted to explore that theme a bit more.

I’m trying to avoid the Mary Sue thing here as well. It’s easy to make an idealized hero. I’m not trying to make someone you’d necessarily like or admire, just someone with an interesting story. Note also that while I’m using Champions Online screenshots to illustrate it, I’m aware that it doesn’t exactly fit seamlessly into the universe we see in the game.


College. Senior year. Violet Baines decides to write her thesis paper on the effect of superheroes on society. Or maybe on how society creates superheroes. She isn’t quite sure. But she has access to a few super-types and she knows it would be a killer paper if she could study them from within. During her junior year she dated a guy who dabbled in spandex-based crimefighting, and through him she met some people who knew some people who were in a full-fledged supergroup.

Using her contacts, she joins the small-time group “Steel Defenders” under the pretense of wanting to become a hero full time. She creates the persona “Gold Angel”, a flashy white and gold hero armed with a pair of stun sticks.


Violet spends all of her weekends with the Steel Defenders, mopping up two-bit criminals and scuffling with lowlifes. She hangs back and watches at first, but eventually her confidence grows and she becomes an active combatant. She’s always been remarkably athletic despite never making any sort of effort or taking an interest in sports, and she’s surprised at how capable she is in a fight.

The Steel Defenders don’t have the clout to have police contacts and a mop-up crew, so they mostly play catch-and-release with their foes. If not for the spandex and property damage, this would be nothing more than a series of public brawls. There are many such groups in the world, always working to deter crime and hoping for a shot at catching the public spotlight with big-time heroic deeds.

She’s surprised at how young the rest of the team is. None of them are over thirty. Maybe the paper should be about the changing needs of the younger generation and their dissatisfaction with traditional means of improving society?


It’s amazing how easy it is to keep warm in the dead of winter when you’re getting this much exercise, despite the skimpy outfits everyone wears.

The other heroes are constantly in and out of relationships with each other, and often their interpersonal drama spills over into their work. The guys are often taking a lot of crazy risks and trying to out-macho each other when they’re courting a female member of the team. The girls are all very catty with each other, swinging from BFFs to spiteful adversaries on a week-by-week basis. It’s all very much teenage drama, except more intense. And they’re all well out of their teenage years.

Maybe her paper should be on the sexuality of superheroes?

Violet skips going home for the holidays and stays at school so she can keep fighting crime with the team.


She’s more and more excited about the prospects of the paper. Her plan is to out herself when the project ends, publicly announcing her identity and then giving the world a unique look into the superhero life.

She begins to fantasize about signing a book deal when it’s all over.


During one of their night patrols, the group crosses paths with Malignus, an honest-to-goodness, top-notch, A-list supervillain. Encounters like this can propel supergroups to stardom, and the Steel Defenders go at him full force. In the ensuing battle, Malignus throws a bus at them. A small two-lane bridge ends up getting destroyed. Eight civilians are killed. The defenders are forced to retreat.

Thwarted, they are nevertheless excited about the encounter, and all refer to it as “Our greatest defeat!” They vow revenge.

Violet is shaken by the civilian deaths. They were just some commuters who were in vehicles that were destroyed in the battle. (Six of them were on the thrown bus.) She doesn’t say anything to the other team members. She doesn’t want them to think she’s weak, and she doesn’t want to jeopardize her paper after so much has gone into it.


She should be writing her paper now, but the hunt is still on for Malignus. She doesn’t want to leave the group while he’s still on the loose. She doesn’t want to let the team down, and she tells herself the paper would be better if it included his death or capture.

The group is becoming increasingly aggressive. Everyone is trying to compensate for their public defeat. Their fights become more destructive and angry. They still have no way of legitimately dealing with captured villains, and they often end up fighting the same goons over and over again.

Someone in the group suggests, half-jokingly, that they should think about killing their defeated foes. Nobody argues. Violet doesn’t know what to think.


Malignus appears again. He’s in another city, about an hour away. This is well outside of the team’s usual territory, but they all deem it necessary to meet their nemesis wherever he appears. They drop what they’re doing mid-week – leaving jobs and school without explanation – to rush to the scene and face him.

Malignus is doing… something. They don’t even know what he’s up to, really. He’s causing destruction and tearing the hell out of the city for no apparent purpose. The Steel Defenders meet him in the street and challenge him head-on. It’s obvious he doesn’t remember them at all, nor does he seem to care.

The fight is short. One of the Defenders is killed, and another ends up in one of those full-body casts. Violet manages to get away unscathed.


The news reports that Malignus had shown up in an attempt to provoke a fight with A-list superhero White Sun. The two apparently have a bitter rivalry going. The news doesn’t mention the Steel Defenders at all, except to say that “an independent crime-fighter was killed and another injured”. Nobody seems to care who they are, or connect them with the previous battle with Malignus at the bridge.

Violet realizes that being a superhero is like being an actress: For every famous superstar you see on TV, there are a thousand other people languishing in obscurity. Some people are openly hostile towards “independents” (heroes without some sort of official backing or blessing) and of course there is the ever-present demand for supers to register themselves with the government. (Which leads to the hot-button debate over just how you define “super”.) Violet hates politics and has never paid attention to this side of things before, and only now is she realizing that the debate actually concerns her.

A member of the Steel Defenders quits without comment. Now down to just three members, they stop their weekend raids and begin to drift apart.

Confused, Violet goes to speak with her prof, wanting to talk about the paper she’s been “writing” (although she hasn’t actually sat down and put any words together) and her intended project. She is expecting enthusiasm, curiosity, encouragement, or or perhaps a little direction, but instead Dr. D’Angelo seems alarmed and agitated. She pours out her heart, but he doesn’t say much in response and seems to be eager to end the conversation.

He phones the police as soon as she leaves, and she’s arrested a few hours later just off campus.


Her case goes public, and it becomes apparent that her idea to publicly out herself would never have worked out the way she thought. The only people who knew the name Gold Angel were the other members of the team, and the criminals they fought. Her exploits never lead to any arrests, so instead of viewing her as a crimefighter the police see her as a confessed perpetrator of numerous destructive brawls, and a participant in a fight that destroyed a bridge and killed eight people.

Watching her story unfold on the news, she sees photographs of the people who died in their first battle with Malignus. The gravity of the thing begins to sink in.

The press talks about her youth, and about how society should “strongly discourage” young people from getting mixed up with costumed crimefighting. She’s heard this sort of thing before. Somehow she came all this way without thinking about how it might apply to her. She never thought of herself as a real superhero. She was just pretending to be one in order to study them.

Violet sees her mother once after her arrest. Their conversation is more strained than ever before, and if not for the armed guards they might have ended up in another one of their shouting matches. The only words Violet can remember are, “Four years of college. You were just about to graduate. How could you do this to yourself?”

They sort of mutually and silently agree to stay away from each other.


Motivated by guilt and not wanting to face the public, she pleads “no contest”. She decides to serve out her sentence quietly. The prosecutor wants to make an example of her, arguing that a stiff punishment now will deter other young people from following in the footsteps of Violet Baines. “Being tough on her could save the lives of countless other young people. We need more doctors, not more patients. More builders, not fighters.”

All eight deaths are placed on her head as counts of involuntary manslaughter. This is not remotely fair in a legal sense, but she’s anxious to get this over with and accepts whatever deal they give her. In the back of her mind, she feels like she deserves it.

Malignus threw that bus at them, and while she probably didn’t have what it took to catch it or stop it or save the people inside, the truth was that the thought never crossed her mind. She ducked, the thing sailed over her head, and she never gave it a second look. Seeing the photographs of the people who died was a shocking moment. She feels responsible for their deaths simply because she didn’t even think of saving them. She realizes there was never anything heroic or noble about Gold Angel, or any of the other members of the team.

The judge hands down the punishment: Eighteen years. Parole in twelve.

Since she was classified as a “super”, she ends up going to super-villain prison. She hadn’t anticipated this. Once inside she realizes that – whether the judge knew it or not – sending her here was basically a death sentence. Being a nominal hero makes it impossible for her to make friends here. Her reputation precedes her, and she’s a target from the moment the door slams shut.

She’s constantly hounded and hunted by her fellow inmates. Unlike the thugs she fought on the outside, some of these inmates have serious powers.


The (mild) local coverage of her trial and incarceration ends when White Sun is killed by Malignus, which dominates the national headlines for several weeks.

Four Years Later

The fights she faces inside are far more challenging than anything she experienced while wearing a mask. Her skills sharpen, and through countless close calls she grows just fast enough to stay alive. She accumulates a smattering of scars and a few joint injuries that nag her even after she recovers.

When she was a nominal super, she always thought villains were just people who were poor, or angry, or misunderstood. She thought you could show them that “their way doesn’t work” by defeating them in battle, and then they would go get honest jobs or something. You just had to care enough and fight hard enough. But after four years of struggle she’s absorbed a lesson that not even Malignus could teach her: Evil is real.

Her life on the inside is intense and brutal. The inmates are too dangerous for standard prison guards, and so they are basically thrown into a warren of concrete and metal bars and made to fend for themselves or die at the hands of other inmates. Even the food delivery is automated. Every day is a struggle to get enough food, water, and sleep without being killed. She ends up killing some of her adversaries. She does so without anguish or bravado. She can’t even remember the exact point when she crossed that particular line. It’s just part of staying alive. Her days of idealism and spandex seem like a thousand years ago.

She regrets the civilian deaths, although even more than that she regrets the foolishness and selfishness she demonstrated during her time as a superhero. She hates the fame-whore superhero mindset, the destructiveness, and the childish self-absorption of the superhero life. She hates Gold Angel most of all.

She’s a quarter of the way to being eligible for parole, and she has little hope of lasting long enough to see that day. She’s almost thirty now, and she figures she’ll probably be too old or slow to stay alive well before parole time comes around.

Malignus intervenes. He strikes at the prison to free some of his servants. A few sections are blown open, including hers. The confusion and the gaping hole in the wall let out a lot of inmates in addition to the ones Malignus was after. Violet slips out with the rest of the runners.

The New Life

Free again, she survives by working low-wage, low-profile jobs and by trying not to stay in any one place too long. She regrets not just the past four years, but the past eight. College seems like such a stupid waste of time in retrospect. She wasn’t even all that interested in her major. The one comfort she has is that nobody remembers her or the whole stupid Gold Angel business.

Eventually she is drawn back to crimefighting. She has a lot of reasons for this. She wants to correct her old mistakes by doing things “right” this time. She wants another shot at saving people like the ones on the bus, and this time she wants to do the right thing or die trying. Also, she knows a lot of her fellow inmates are now on the loose, and she wants to even the score with them. And finally, she becomes a hero again because she doesn’t really know what else to do with herself. After years of being hunted and sleeping with one eye open, she’s having trouble adjusting to a life without struggle.

She creates a new, darker persona. Noctis Lex – “Night Justice”. (Well, proper Latin would actually be Nox Noctis Lex, but she’s learned there’s lots of room for slop when you’re coming up with a name and a costume.) She trades in her stun sticks for swords. This time she won’t play catch-and-release, but this time she also won’t waste time running down slobs the police could handle themselves. Four years of living with real criminals have given her an insight on how to track them down and beat them in a fight.

Four years after the last time Violet last skimmed the rooftops, she returns to the job. This time she’s hunting real criminals.

So that’s what I came up with. And in case you’re wondering about powers: She’s extraordinarily strong and nimble, but beyond that I left it intentionally vague. Is she a mutant or does she just train really hard? A bit like the world of Watchmen, the line between “training” and “supernatural ability” is blurred here, simply because I wanted to write the story of a person, not their powers.

Here is her bio as it appears in Champs Online:

Violet joined a supergroup in college as part of a sociology project, and also as a way of improving the community. She fought as “Goldstar”, a minor hero. Her group eventually crossed a real supervillain and the ensuing battle killed 8 civilians. She unmasked at the end of the project and was shocked when the press, police and foes all invaded her life. She was arrested for her part in the 8 deaths. Escaped from prison, she now fights crime for its own sake as “Noctis Lex” – Night Justice.

That is the maximum space available. I think I could add two more letters to her story before it refused my input. I don’t expect the game to leave room for self-indulgent 2,500 word monsters like this post, but this is frustratingly small. Character creation is such a crucial part of this game, and they just don’t leave much room for the bio.


From The Archives:

95 thoughts on “Origin Story

  1. Scourge says:

    If Champions was more RP focused would I simply suggest to develope the story and reveal it to others over time.

    Considering that Champions looks like any other MMORPG to me, typical grind, idiots and the rest, is that not an option though.

    Which is a pity.

    The background story is quite amazing, very nice to read and good to understand.
    The short bio however.. its meh, doesn’t gives me a feeling for the character.
    It looks more like a ‘oh no, tragic background I have!’ story to me.
    The full story however is far far better and far better to read. Definitely very nice.

    Oh well, guess there won’t be any MMORPG soon where the focus will be on the RP part.

  2. Jonathan says:

    Nice! Deep & believable.

  3. Tango says:

    that is a well thought out background story, and I can only hope you find an RP-focused group of people to play with.

  4. Ludo says:

    Really interesting story. Dark, gritty, very “Iron age”.

    She could have turned “vilain” quite simply in my opinion, but she (so far) managed not to… perhaps being confronted to “normal life” again could curb her violent tendencies ? When she ages, she could feel the need to calm down.

    I’m not sure her “driving force” is really strong, so she could be redeemed from her “half-dark” ways with a bit of time and attention…

    I guess I should remove my pink-colored glasses, it could be she’s right.

    At least, her story is compelling and beg for more, which is good for an origin story :) great work.

    As for the meager text available in CO : you’re so right, it hurts. I generally keep the origin story for myself because it would need too much space to be written. I managed to scribble something in City of Heroes, but here in Champions Online, it must be (alas) very schematic.

    Let’s hope it’ll change. The team showed willingness to listen to customers, it could be they’ll alter that too if asked enough.

  5. Ben says:

    Shamus, wow. Good job. I was just gonna scan through…not really interested in Champions (or CoX, FTM), but got caught about half-way through and went back to read the whole thing.

  6. Joshua says:

    That was really creative and inspired.

    Possible typo here. In the conversation with her professer, you wrote “(although he hasn't actually sat down and put any words together)” Shouldn’t that be *she*?

    Oh, and as far as Watchmen is concerned(at least the movie), apparently being trained well and just having good reflexes allows you to catch bullets, so I guess you can justify a lot of powers for this character.

    1. Shamus says:

      Joshua: Thanks! Fixed.

  7. HeadHunter says:

    Great backstory. Though I’m surprised that everything she went through didn’t turn her into a villain – why?

  8. sineWAVE says:

    Why not cut the backstory you enter a bit and fit in the URL of this post (or a tinyurl for it)?

  9. Menegil says:

    It could be something Alan Moore wrote! It’s -that- great!

    It is senseful, deep and inspiring. I see Noctis Lex fighting side by side with Rorshach.

    On another note, I am no Latin expert, but if my Latin dictionary is to be believed, the correct word in Latin for Justice would be Iustitia, Iustum or Ius. Lex signifies law itself, and propositions of laws given to the populus by the magistrates and praetors, while Iustitia, Iustum and Ius signify conformity to the laws, the right thing to do, and so on.

  10. Brian says:

    Man, that thing was fantastic. Nice job. Oh, and you forgot the last great motivator for crime-fighting: the scientific accident.

    Since I can never post a comment without a follow-up, it seems, it reminds me of the old Eric Burns story “Interviewing Leather“, where a columnist for Rolling Stone magazine interviews a low-level supervillain. It’s a great read.

  11. Arne Skjærholt says:

    The correct Latin is Lex Noctis (Latin prefers the adjuncts to come after the head noun), literally Law of the night, or as Menegil suggests, Ius Noctis (Justice of the night). Or, if you want to get really fancy it could be Fas Noctis, Divine Justice of the night. In Latin, Ius refers to human justice, while Fas is a similar concept, but refers to right and wrong as ordained by the gods.

    Your suggestion Nox Noctis Lex doesn’t really parse too well in Latin, since Latin doesn’t allow compounding like English (and many other languages).

    1. Shamus says:

      Arne Skjà¦rholt: Thanks for the Latin lesson. I wish I could rename to Lex Noctis. I don’t know any Latin myself, but I wanted Violet to know some. I knew depending on a translation engine was fraught with peril.

  12. Gandaug says:

    Amazing work.

    After reading the full story the in-game bio makes sense. If I had read the bio first it would appear shallow and common. This is a fault of the game giving you so little room to write.

    For all your programming background, Shamus, you’re an excellent fiction author.

    1. Shamus says:

      Wow. I really am gratified by the reception you folks are giving this work. It really was unexpected. Thanks.

  13. Loved the story, Shamus.

    It would have been OK if her name had been Nox Noctis Lex.

    There’s not many (or any?) superheroes with 3 names.


  14. Renacier says:

    It’s a good story. Very much in the ‘Astro City’ style.

  15. T-Boy says:

    You know, you could spin this and make this a biography for a supervillain as well.

    I mean, there it is — she’s sentenced to essentially a death sentence among the toughest and meanest supers in existence… and that’s “justice”? She busted her ass and did the best she could… and then society throws her to the wolves?

    Yeah, if I was her I’d have come to the same conclusion as well: Evil exists… and it exists entwined in the roots and foundations of the hollow and empty society that threw her into prison and left her for dead.

  16. Jordi says:

    Great story! I would be interested in reading more about Violet’s exploits in the future.

    About the bio length limit in the game: it wouldn’t bother me too much. Your character’s motivation etc. is mostly in your head as I doubt a lot of people try to read the bio’s of every other person they encounter (a lot of people will also not bother writing one). This would get even worse if the bio’s get longer. I would sooner advocate the possibility of adding a one-line ‘summary’ that everybody could read when they see your hero (e.g. “college drop-out, ex-con fighting for justice she never received”).

  17. Cat Skyfire says:

    Absolutely amazing. I’d love to see the flip side of a villain’s backstory. Traditionally, comic villains have less of a backstory than the lamest heroes. Why work for the Joker, who has a history of offing his own men. Does he pay that fantastically, or does he know something about someone’s mother, that they work for him…or else?

    …i kind of want to see even more of Violet’s story. Perhaps with art, and a cover by Ross…

  18. Thunderbat says:

    I concur with the rest of the audience. Well done and I hope for more to come.

  19. MintSkittle says:

    That was an excellent read, and if I could give you my unused bio/description space, I would.

  20. Sydney says:

    Absolutely fantastic, Shamus. I’d read a novel about this character. You’re great at this, and it makes me wish you’d gone into fiction-writing instead of programming – out of nothing more or less than naked greed for the stories we could have gotten out of it.

  21. Riku Kanninen says:

    Don’t worry about the word order, Shamus. While the order expressed by Arne would be the most classically elegant, your order is fully grammatical. It just doesn’t follow the classical style.

    Dura lex, sed lex.

  22. Rutskarn says:

    I really do like this story–it’s not full of the cliches of either genre, of the goody-goody-radioactive-canister superhero or the grimma-ma-gritty-rapemurder vigilante. It’s almost like you can create a superhero that isn’t swarmed with cliches like a maggot infestation.

    Also: the whole short-bio thing is part of what made me not give City of Heroes a fair chance. Even if it’d been longer, this is how it felt to me:

    I slave for 20 minutes over a costume. I slave for 20 minutes over a backstory and character design. Then I step into the world, and I walk around in lockstep alongside other heroes, in complete silence, wandering along my mute beat-thug-get-reward routine with the soulless grace of a 20-year janitor. Gee, nice to know this vibrant character I’ve made is nothing but a vehicle for a combat system that’s little more than clicking something, then waiting, then clicking something else, then waiting. Real epic stuff there.

  23. Henebry says:

    I really like this also. Find an artist and produce it as an indie comic!

    I'd start in medias res, with an action scene set in the present day, then tell her backstory in a series of glimpses over the first five numbers.

  24. Awetugiw says:

    I think such a game should actually give room for a 2500 words backstory, or actually even a backstory pretty much as long as you care to write.

    There should also be an ‘abstract’ of the backstory, of course, which is basically the bio as it is used now. But allowing people to write a real backstory encourages them to think about their character, even if most people probably won’t be bothered to read it.

    The people who don’t want to spend much time thinking about what their character really is can just use the normal short bio, but giving people who care about their character more room is pretty much free, and would probably be a worthwhile addition to a game.

  25. C David Dent says:

    I like the idea of a super hero who was sort of sucked into the life over one who was made super and then decided to become a hero. But she needs a bit of a power boost. During the prison break, I’d have had Malignus offer her the option of taking his “blessing” in the form of some sort of “power infernal” which she accepts but then runs away from him at the first opportunity.

    He then becomes a nemesis to her…since he granted her powers he can take them away. If they ever encounter each other again she will have to face him without powers. She may even have to learn that to defeat him is to take all of his power into herself. The “power infernal” may have strange and corrupting influence on her.

    A de-powered Malignus may also represent a greater threat as he will tell all of those in prison the secret to defeating her powers; knowing that once they are removed from her they will return to him.

    Just some further ideas for expanding the character. I agree it could make a good comic.

    It is a good origin in that it has good characters and plot, but if your synopsis is inadequate to capture the nuances imagine how hard it will be to give someone the “bumper sticker” version.

  26. I personally really enjoy the “Supervillian doesn’t even remember you” bit – I’ve seen it a couple times, and used it once or twice, but it’s far from a cliche, and it’s a good “reality” check.

    I’m reminded of Dave Foley’s character in Sky High – he was Captain Amazing (or whatever the super super’s name was) sidekick for years, teaches “Hero Support” talking about his time with Captain Amazing, then when Captain Amazing comes by, he has no clue who the sidekick is.

    I don’t see her becoming a super villian at all, unless she just snaps. As it is, she’s come to the “bad people who do good things” bit. That’s where she should end up. She doesn’t have the moral code to *not* kill people, so why wouldn’t she?

    I’d love to see a Supers version of Oz. That would be freakin’ awesome. Violet could be the Beecher of the show….

  27. Yar Kramer says:

    Definitely an interesting read. I agree with the people who compared it to Watchmen.

    I suppose the obscene limits on bio-length is just another symptom of the “Your MMORPG Is A Joke” issue in the most recent Experienced Points.

  28. Jazmeister says:

    I was waiting for her professor to be Malignus. Trope avoided!

    Great job.

  29. Plouf says:

    Very nice. I’d read that comic. The only thing that bothers me is the way she got her initial fighting abilities, but that could be explained one way or another without breaking the originality in the “origin” part of the story (“how person with powers became a superhero” as opposed to “how regular person became a superhero” – though I guess not being aware of powers makes you a regular person)

    Reminds me a tiny bit of a Marvel character who started off as a low-level supe (Spinball or somesuch, yellow-brightcolor patterns costume) in a foolish young supes team, got a gazillion people killed in an encounter with a villain, went to prison and became a grade A emo/SM supe (dark red and black with spikes in and on his costume) (edit: name’s Penance)

  30. ALDA says:

    Shamus, that was absolutely brilliant!
    I wish you wrote more fiction, in addition to reviews, opinions and the suchlike.

  31. vede says:

    This was really good, and I agree with some earlier suggestions to turn it into a comic book.

    This would make an absurdly awesome comic series, and I’m sure you’d be able to do it, Shamus.

  32. Nick C. says:

    I found your origin story really interesting. It caught me so much that I began to read it like the prologue of a book, and I was a bit disappointed that nothing followed it.

  33. Ericc says:

    Great story. I like the way it melds believable, real-world reactions to the comic book sensibility.

  34. Traska says:

    Comment one: Shamus, that was an awesome character bio. I hate to say it, but I’d found your other characters (such as Star on Chest) to be a bit… shallow. I *knew* you had much better writing. Then I saw that Cryptic made SoC a featured story. Then I realized you were just writing to your audience. ::Sigh::

    Comment two: Leather. Oh my god. That was an awesome read as well. It inspired me to do something I haven’t done in a long time. I’m making a new gameworld, for supers. Not based on Meridian City, obvously. But inspired? Very much so, yes.

    Comment three: As a dedicated Marvel zombie, I couldn’t let this pass: Speedball got a bunch of New Warriors (and 600 civilians) killed. He was then sent to prison (where just about everyone knew who he was and that he got kids killed), and finally recruited for Norman “I’m a complete lunatic and I’m running the top law enforcement agency in the world” Osborn’s Thunderbolts as Penance (that suit’s not just fetishy… it has actual spikes inside, and pain is how his power is activated now).

    Ahem. /pedantic off.

  35. TalrogSmash says:

    I think you just fleshed out the premise for your next book/graphic novel.

  36. SolkaTruesilver says:

    Shamus, when will we get the novel or the webcomic about Lex Noctis?

    You cannot leave us hanging after such nice piece of work! Your story really drew me in!!! And it leaves me for more! :D

  37. Magichanics says:

    I’m with the others, this is a really great premise for a story. The things you come up with keep amazing and inspiring.

  38. Mathew Freeman says:

    Wanted to add another note of praise to this – taking on the challenge of writing a non-cliche Superhero backstory and pulling it off this well is great to see.

    If you could continue in this vein it’d certainly be worth reading.

  39. Lilfut says:

    Nox Lexis vs. Star On Chest. NAO.

  40. Star on Chest is awesome – he *is* shallow. It’s kinda the point. He’s Captain Amazing from Mystery Men….

  41. paercebal says:

    Impressive story, with its loss of innocence, and the price paid for it (not even mentioning how the Justice handled the case, unfairly sacrifying a young woman hoping it would make a difference).

    Someone mentioned it before, but you are a gifted storyteller.

  42. Chargone says:

    ya know, all things considered, Nox Lexis probably understands the whole superhero mentality better than most.
    got something of a handle on the super-villains too, if I’m not mistaken.

    i get the feeling she’d defeat Star On Chest just by deflating his ego to the point where he’d just run home and curl up in a sobbing little ball of emo-ness. *grins*

    now, who’d win an Actual fight is a whole other thing, of course.

    i could easily see at least part of how she wins fights being the classic [villain] trick of screwing with the opponent’s head…

    would probably end up sounding kinda like Spidey… only less mocking-funny and more soul-destroyingly-accurate.

    maybe Batman if he talked more? *grins*

  43. krellen says:

    Good story, Shamus. And while it might not fit CO’s world, it certainly would fit City of Heroes’.

    @Ergonomic Cat: His hero name was “Commander”. His wife, “Jetstream”, did remember him, though.

  44. Juni says:


    Star On Chest isn’t really introspective enough for that to work.

  45. Shamus, your story is better than the usual crap Marvel and DC tend to come up with. Specifically Marvel – there was a time they didn’t even try anymore – they just used the magical “mutant shunned from childhood turns hero/villain” formula.

    Anyways, good job! Now I want to play a superhero themed RPG game. Not an MMO though! :P

  46. Volatar says:

    Honestly I think that this is the best (Super)Hero background I have ever read/heard/seen/encountered. I really, really want to hear more of her story.

  47. Anachronist says:

    Wow. Except for myself, I have met only one other person who put so much work into a character backstory. In my D&D group, I and only one other player would enjoy reading each other’s elaborate backstories. None of the other players (including the DM) were interested in anything more than basic facts: “You can heal? Good! Then I don’t need to buy this potion.”

    After spending a solid month writing this backstory (complete with scholarly notes) in which the bard I’d been playing falls in love with my next character, a Dervish, I learned that I needed to be more terse with my backstories, at least within my gaming group. So now I write shorter things, although I enjoy getting deep into my character’s psyche.

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your story. Thanks. A story like that would take weeks for me to write.

  48. Randy Johnson says:

    Man Shamus, all these comments give me an idea you should persue. You should try and make a comic, even if its just one page, based on Lex that is serious using Champions. I think it would work well, and you could easily recruit people to make custom characters for other people in it *wink*

  49. AboveUp says:

    Wow, amazing backstory. Much better than your average superhero/villain’s story, and on a way higher level than your main “Let’s Play” character.

    Shame you they didn’t give you enough space to actually include a bit more of it in the game itself.

  50. “Wow, amazing backstory. Much better than your average superhero/villain's story, and on a way higher level than your main “Let's Play” character.”


    SoC is hilarious. I want to laugh. Lexis is sad. I don’t want to cry. SoC wins!

    Anachronist: In the last big game I played, each of us had character journals for each character. It was tons o’ fun.

    We made deadjournals. I just reread some of them. Fun times. ;)

    I always write big involved backstories for my characters. It just gives the DM more to hurt you with.

  51. AboveUp says:

    @Ergonomic Cat
    I don’t hate Star on Chest, I just find that the writing for that character is at a way higher level than Star on Chest.
    I do enjoy that series as well, and the character is perfectly made for it.

  52. Bret says:

    True. In fact, as excellent as this character is, she’d be absolutely horrible for Star On Chest’s lampooning job. You couldn’t have her point out, say, the mayor’s complete laziness, or the alien “invasion”‘s patheticness without hurting the joke, the character, the tone, or all three.

    In other words, both characters are optimized for their respective functions.

  53. Veloxyll says:

    That is an entirely awesome backstory, I wish more of our entertainment media had that sort of depth. Course, having said that I’m now tempted to try writing something myself which will have inevitably disasterous results :(

  54. Maddy says:

    Awesome. This is the kind of origin story that would make a great (GREAT) movie.

    Come to think of it, there’s enough here for a series of movies that I believe people would really enjoy.

  55. UTAlan says:

    Wow, that is great. Thanks for the read. Very creative and interesting. Makes me sad that I won’t get to hear her continuing adventures!

  56. SharpeRifle says:

    Mr. Young….please apply for a writing job with Cryptic.

    I’d love to read something vaguely interesting in CO.

    Seriously…that origin is a new level of awesome.
    I wish my origins for my characters were half as good.

    Heh yaknow…this would probably fit perfectly in Dark Champions though…if not the shiny happy Champions world.

    Maybe she should adventure in Hudson City instead…

    Maybe we can talk Cryptic into adding it.
    I did vote for dark gritty urban in the new area poll.


  57. Kronski says:

    You should make this a series thing. I mean, now I want to know what happens to her.

  58. Kordos says:

    Malignus is the name of my main on CoV, also my dark jedi Marius in a SWRPG game (set in the Old Republic) became Darth Malignus.

    Malignus is a favourite character of mine and have used him in several games

  59. Damn. Now I need to play this game. Not to “play” it mind you. I suspect that character creator unexpectedly breathes life into the entire process.

  60. Stringycustard says:

    I wish more comic authors had as much sense of reality of the fantastic and ability to create depth and emotion as you have done here Shamus. This is one of the few times when a comic-style hero has made sense. Some of the concepts are covered to a (often fairly perverse and/or humourous) degree in the comic series “The Boys” which I highly recommend you pick up.

  61. Zaxares says:

    That was a very fascinating and engaging story, Shamus. :) I’ve always been a fan for grim, noir-style superhero fiction. I’d love to see a story where you wrote about beating Champions Online through the eyes of Noctis Lex.

  62. Mayhem says:

    Although I liked the effort you put into the backstory, I have to complain about the guy who linked the superb Interviewing Leather and ruined my productivity for most of the day. Damn you man, thats almost as bad as a link to tvtropes.

  63. Otters34 says:

    Mr. Young, while I don’t personally care for the whole Murphy’s Law style of back-story for anti-heroes, it would be deeply short-sighted to ignore the quality of the writing here. I would consider it even more off the wall for an anti-hero to have had a completely normal and healthy upbringing, when they decide that the world is full of horrific monsters due to their philosophical education, rather than life experience.

    Also, I implore you not to give more money to the ghastly writing and nauseating plot of THE BOYS, Mr. Ennis has no restraints on in that series, so he is free to fall back on whatever hackneyed devices he pleases. I’d suggest Tom Strong, if you do in fact dislike ‘traditional’ superheroes.

  64. Sesoron says:

    As an actual Latin expert (no, really, the fact that I don’t have the degree yet is just a formality relating to my Minor), I can confirm that there’s nothing that makes “Nox Noctis Lex” more proper than “Noctis Lex”, and in fact it makes less sense. Were I to translate that literally (and you must imagine that I’m speaking in the voice of that Roman soldier from Life of Brian — was it Cleese?), it would be something like, “the Night of Night the Law”, or (equally likely), “the Night the Law of Night” (“the” is used here mostly to indicate that “Nox” and “Lex” have no syntactic relationship to one another and are merely held together with sheer force of will). I believe that the weak link in attempting machine translation from English to Latin is the English part, as Latin is (in most cases) fairly clear-cut in how words are related to one another, whereas in English there’s no telling what part of speech a word is fulfilling at one particular instance, and nouns freely become adjectives and verbs and, of course, vice versa.

    As a programmer, I really think you’d take to Latin, Shamus. Programming has everything to do with formal logic, and coming from a Latin background I took to formal logic (but not yet as far as programming) with ease. That kind of logical expertise would serve you in learning elementary Latin grammar much better than a lot of other languages that have become less mechanical and more colloquial over the years, English just being a particularly bad example. In my limited interactions with Latin’s offspring such as Spanish and Italian, I’ve found that they’ve moved disturbingly close to something English-like from their Latin roots.

    The logic of Latin isn’t perfect like that of programming languages is necessarily, since the Romans were people and not computers, but it’s a lot closer than the big steaming pile of exceptions we call English.

  65. Segev says:

    You do, of course, realize that a later author in Noctis Lex’s series will reveal that her mother married her father AFTER she was born, and that her “real” father will turn out to be Malignus, right? :P

    1. Shamus says:

      Segev has perfectly illustrated why comic books always devolve into BS and nonsense.

      There is no work so great that it cannot be ruined by a common idiot.

  66. PinkCoder says:

    Like so many others here, I have to say this was awesome. I, too, went in thinking, “Eh… more super-hero nonsense,” but came out with, “Wow! I want more!” I can envision this as some long-running TV series or graphic novels — season one contains the detailed interactions of the Steel Defenders, ending with a cliff-hanger of her trial; season two is the sleepless nights in prison and the sharpening of her powers, season three she turns into Noctis Lex, and so on.

    Gah… *snif*… just writing this out makes me yearn for it to be real!

  67. Deoxy says:

    English is not a “big steaming pile of exceptions”… it’s an enormous mishmash of rule bits from several languages. To have exceptions, you must have rules, and English is almost one big special case – the “rules” have been plastered on after the fact by academics, and they just plain don’t fit.

    That is not to say that it doesn’t really suck when trying to learn, understand, or predict it (IT DOES), merely that you were complaining about the wrong thing.

    Oh, and great writing, Shamus, as usual.

  68. Sesoron says:

    Deoxy (70):

    The origin of rules in English is a tricky philosophical matter. Here’s we’re getting at the old prescriptive versus descriptive debate. In some cases, rules are prescriptively tacked on by folks like Strunk and White. In other cases, the rules are actual descriptions of how native speakers use and understand the language: there has to be *some* common logic to it, or we wouldn’t understand each other. Those rules are as real as rules get in language, by which I mean that they’re liable to be changed whenever the popular consensus is that they should be, but there’s no reason not to respect them while they’re relevant.

    I suppose I can say I was generalizing a bit much by implying that the only thing wrong with English is the exceptions to rules. In many cases, the rules themselves are too wishy-washy to make for good logic. Like I mentioned in my last comment, English is rather chaotic when dealing with different parts of speech: only sometimes do you have morphological markers saying what’s what, and even then we as speakers often take liberties with how we use them. Take the sentence, “The batter flied out.” It’s “flied” instead of “flew”, because the verb “fly” here comes from the noun “fly”, which is a substantive form of the adjective “fly” from the phrase “fly ball”, from the original verb “fly” that was forced into an adjectival role.

    English has rules, as far as any language has rules, that allow all these things to happen without marking the base form of the word differently between parts of speech. At least Latin gives you the courtesy of different morphology for different parts of speech. Usually.

  69. ngthagg says:

    What?!? Don’t stop there!

    Seriously, that’s a great origin story.

  70. Oleyo says:

    Awesome! Anyone else want to read a full novel on her after that? Maybe ala Free Radical? I think you have a knack for the superheroes, and you definately have the writing gift Shamus. Keep it up!

  71. wumpus says:


    You do know that Champions was/is and tabletop RPG system too, right? Most of my favorite gaming was done in Champions with very good GMs. You look like you might be happier on the tabletop than on the screen…


  72. Glazius says:

    It’s a pretty nice origin, but it stands a better chance of working in Champions than City Of, despite the very slightly longer bio available in City Of.

    City Of actually explicitly has a legal framework within which superheroes can work, established in 1937. You see your information on a metaphorical or actual hero card. (One of my Mission Architect street-level arcs has a skeptical civilian asking to see yours.) Somebody working outside this framework is, at best, suspect — in-canon examples include Outcast (a villain group of elementally-themed mutants) vigilantes and Crey’s “Paragon Protector” security line.

    Now, this isn’t to say there wouldn’t be people who want the government to stay out of their justice system. But supers operate in a lot less of a gray area.

  73. Traska says:

    Segev has perfectly illustrated why comic books always devolve into BS and nonsense.

    There is no work so great that it cannot be ruined by a common idiot.


    Actually, Shamus, I’ve got to disagree with you.

    The problem is that every writer has a file on their computer for their favorite characters… let’s call it the “Big Event” file. So they finally get assigned to the book they want, and they put their Big Event into play. And it changes the hero radically, and somewhat believably, but most important, they change them unexpectedly. Plot twist makes for a great story, right?

    Well, here’s the problem. They rotate writers out every year or so. And EVERY writer has a Big Event file. And every one of them wants to use it. So, the first order of business? Retcon the last Big Event. Then introduce your own. A year or so later, the cycle repeats. That’s why superhero histories read like a game of mad libs. Every writer wants to leave their mark (or else, why write?), and the only way to do it is with a Big Event.

    Personally, I’d like to see less Big Events and more expanding on the last Big Event.

  74. Haviland says:


    I blame Alan Moore – since he came on the scene, everybody wants to be “The Next Alan Moore.” Although his first “retcon” was Marvel/Miracleman, it was probably the work on “Swamp Thing” that kicked the trend off. Then everybody got in on the act – Rebooted Superman, Crisis on Infinite Earths, Secret Wars. Now it’s an expected annual event that some major character will get a major reboot / retcon every year.

    Which, in a way, is lazy writing. As you say, expanding on the previous Big Event. Judge Dredd has a pretty consistent history going back 30-odd years with the Big Event (Robot Wars) being followed by a Bigger Event (Cursed Earth Saga), followed by a Stonkingly Huge Event (Block Mania / Apocalypse War) and these continue to this day.

    Everything that has happened before is history – the writers build their stories on that, rather than taking the easy way out and saying “this never happened, or if it did, it was an alternate universe.” Which did happen when Joe lost his eyes in the God Child future, but they were still lost when he returned to his time.

    Oh dear, my inner geek is showing. I’ll get my “Get Ugly” T-shirt.

  75. vede says:

    Shamus, comic books do not necessarily devolve into BS or nonsense.

    Sure, a lot of series do, but those are the extended series, that just go on forever.

    Just this summary of Violet Baines’ venture into superheroism would make for a great limited series (that is, a single author writes a certain number of comic books, then it ends) on its own. No need to go further in than it has already, except you might want to make an ending, so readers don’t read the whole thing and get left with “then she becomes a dark heroine, the end.” Something should happen that ends the interesting part (the comic book worthy part) of her life.

  76. Nils says:

    Wow, that’s quite a good origin story. If only more people out there could write with this sort of originality (pun mildly intended).

  77. Haviland: I’m finally getting around to reading Crisis on Infinite Earths (my library had it). In the foreword, there is a specific mention of “After we did this big thing, people started doing it over and over. I love what we did here, but it makes me kinda sad that people keep doing it now.”

  78. TheNovak says:

    That is an amazing origin story, man.

  79. phelan says:

    Very well put together and tied into the CO realm.

  80. Sphore says:

    It’s a really cool start… I’d love to see more written about Violet, if you’re interested.

  81. John Tomorrow says:

    Brilliant. Absolutely captivating and brilliant.

    I would love to read a book, or perhaps a graphic novel, with this story. You’ve got such a good insight into the base reality which would surround someone with superpowers.

    Please do something with this story. Even if it’s something you get to eventually – but please do something more.

  82. Sam says:

    Cool. If you write more I’ll read it.

  83. gravitybear says:

    Just wanted to say, I loved this story. That was some great writing.

  84. timmins says:

    Just started reading your site after seeing star on chest over at escapist magazine.

    Really interesting. If comic books were like this, instead of calendar man, poison ivy, and a bunch of “oh no, my sidekick took a bullet for me! will he live?”, I might actually read them. This would be REALLY interesting if made into a more substantial work.

  85. Ysabel says:

    This background story? Amazing. If you put out a comic with this character, I’d put it in my file (comic store code for “subscribe to it”, basically — I’d get every issue automatically).

  86. SatansBestBuddy says:

    … why aren’t you a professional writer again?

    I forget why.

    Did you even mention a why?

    And I mean fiction, not like the Escapist comlums or this blog, but a full on novel or even series.

  87. ccesarano says:

    Write it into a book or something, but this was a great story summary altogether. I don’t even look at this as an origin/backstory, it’s just a great story all in itself.

    It would be great to see something done with this, as I think Alan Moore wanted this sort of exploration to be done after writing Watchmen. More sociological and intelligent. Instead, comics merely became bloodier with the same old super powers (well, mainstream ones anyway. Independents vary widely).

    I’d love to see a story like this done right.

  88. Stringycustard says:

    @Otters34 Shoot, that sucks about the Boys turning lame. I only read the first 10 or so comics which were awesome (if a little over the top). Pity it turns useless. I had such high hopes…

  89. Paul says:

    Maybe Dr. D'Angelo is Malignus. What a cool way to get revenge on her for interfering with his plans which is to turn her over to the cops.

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