Comic book characters, any fictional character with abilities that go beyond human, are modern society’s mythology. Each one of them have distinct abilities and flaws, their stories change to fit the times, but the names and their characters survive. So do their powers.
But whereas the gods of the ancient world were all born with powers through their descent from the magical earth (Gaea/Tia/Xia) who was the genesis of all creation, rationalizing why the superhero has powers has been accomplished to lesser satisfaction, if at all. Generally the “Why?” is glossed over because the fantasy reader is more interested in the story, but it is present. To take the most popular universes as example:
Marvel; eons ago a race known as the Celestials came to Earth and experimented with our ancestors, eventually creating the Eternals. As a side effect to the tinkering, an X-factor gene was added to the human genome and that is the reason for the eventual development of mutants.
DC; a metagene of unknown origin has been found in the coding of humans, explaining the random development of the human superheroes.
Dune; a byproduct of a worm that only exists on one planet in the entire universe acts as a drug to the human system granting extended life, slightly enhanced perceptions and, in certain cases and with the right training, the ability to see past events and future possibilities. Another drug, found on the Bene Gesserit homeworld, allows for a trained individual to access internal chemistries from ageing to pregnancy and disease.
Star Wars; medichlorians inhabit all living things, giving them life with their ethereal powers. An individual with a high enough count, roughly 3000, can be trained to control their power and in so doing can develop godlike powers.
To sum up, our ancestors, who believed that there was a god for everything and who would have thought a bicycle was magic, believed that godlike power came from descent through the Earth mother. Marvel would argue that aliens came to our planet milennia ago, experimented with humans to create an improved race, and left us with an extra gene that randomly mutates. DC says that we have a superpower gene that can, under the right circumstances, allow individuals to develop powers. Frank Herbert, in some ways a product of his age, had drugs expanding our sense of reality. Star Wars says that some microscopic life that we have yet to find evidence of gives beings force powers.
In the 1930s, science fiction consisted of ray guns and travel to or through a fifth dimension. We know now that these ideas are more fantasy than science, and the shows that contained them are now entertaining only as antiquated curiosities of early science fiction. The idea that we are important enough to be experimented on by some advanced race seems egocentric as well. Metagenes seem ridiculous with our knowledge of the human genome. Drugs as perception enhancers went out with the 70s. And the Force, for all its cool applications, is nothing more than an excuse to explain what is essentially an exaggerated version of the abilities possessed by a longtime and extremely talented master in the martial arts. The rationales are already starting to seem as lame as the science fiction of the first half of the twentieth century.
Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a fictional universe with powerful humans where we didn’t have to suspend disbelief to such an extent? It wouldn’t need to be much different from the one we are already familiar with. In this world there are already men with superhuman coordination, speed, and improvization. Individuals with stamina and strength beyond our comprehension live along side us, often anonymously. What if …