The best superhero origin stories are so well known at this point that fans gripe when they learn that yet another blockbuster is going to retread the same tired tale. Parents get shot in an alley, with great power comes great responsibility; yeah yeah, we’ve heard it. That familiarity, though, helped inspire artist Stephen Downer to retell these origin stories using another iconic, simple medium: Ikea instruction manuals.
The mashups, which Downer shared on Friday, are perfect imitations of the familiar (and sometimes frustrating) Ikea guides. It’s a fitting combination — the best superhero origins are, by design, basic. They’re memorable, concrete starting points for all sorts of crazy, confusing plots. Ikea manuals, similarly, appear very straightforward and understandable, but anyone who has realized that they just built three drawers backward can tell you there’s plenty of room for insanity on that front as well.
Downer tells Inverse that the illustrations arose as part of a project he’d given himself to draw superhero comic book covers for his portfolio. The idea to add the Swedish furniture giant into the mix “came out of nowhere,” but he says it really helped him focus the project.
“To start with, I looked at a pile of Ikea manuals to understand their communication style as clearly as I could,” he says. “There’s not a wasted line or element in those — it’s brilliantly designed.”
“I started with Batman, who’s got one of the most iconic origins out there already, which helped,” Downer says, explaining that he had four early drafts of the instructions that had too many details about Batman’s origin. “I had to strip out more and more to get something that fit the simplicity of the Ikea style.”
“With the Spider-Man piece, the biggest challenge was figuring out how to represent that decision between using his powers selfishly or responsibly,” Downers says.
Downers says he plans on making a couple more Ikea-style superhero origins. “Thor and Iron Man are the ones I keep seeing requests for so I’ll probably go with those,” he says.
It’s not the first time that Ikea and pop culture have met this way. In 2015, another illustrator, Ed Harrington, used the Ikea instruction manual template to show step-by-step origin stories for famous movie monsters.
Check out more of Downer’s work at his website.