The Mythology of the Super-Hero
Are we seeing a modern day development of a new mythology based around our costumed heroes? I believe so, and here is why.
To begin with upfront let me tell you I am a huge Super-hero fan. I grew up reading the comics and watching all the cartoons like Super Friends, Spider-Man, Iron-Man, and The Kid Super Power Hour with Shazam! In fact you can routinely hear me declare as I walk through my home, "Meanwhile at the Legion of Doom," in my best deep narrator voice. I still to this day read as many comics as I can, although now I read them more in digital form. Standouts of the Avengers line my mancave, and I eagerly search as much as possible about Super-hero movies in development or production. Recently with the relaunch last year of the New 52 by DC, and the ongoing saga currently happening in Marvel with X-men vs. the Avengers, in addition to the sheer volume of titles being written by both companies, I have begun to wonder if the comics that I have always loved have grown stale. Or maybe is there more to it than that? Has something else begun to happen entirely to the genre? Is there actually more to the characters than just what we read?
Batman - Circa 1940
Captain America - Circa 1941
Make no mistake I think that the current crop of writers and artists are some of the most talented people that have ever worked in comics. To me it is just a simple question: Are there really anymore stories to tell? If not, why do we keep reading them? People have been reading stories of Batman, Superman, and Captain America since the 1930s and 40s.
While those characters have been modernized and updated over the years as well as the huge stable of other well known heroes, is anything new really being told? I love these characters and it pains me to say it but I think many, if not all, of the stories have simply run their course as far as new ground to cover. Batman was always my favorite hero, but for 73 years we have read over and over again about his nightly adventures pulverizing the seedy underside of Gotham City. Why do I still read it, why do any of us still read it? It sounds funny to be critical of the Caped Crusader with such a huge blockbuster movie getting ready to come out, but is anything really ever a new story anymore? We know how the story will end. On the Marvel side I have seen many complaints about the story arcs of the past few years with the hero verses hero standpoint. While I standup and applaud the direction taken to try and challenge the heroes to fight their allies and friends in attempt to make them grow in new ways, those stories have even now been overdone. It leads me to wonder if the reason we enjoy being told the same story over and over is that the characters have actually grown in our collective minds to be bigger than just the pages they are written on.
Maybe the reason we enjoy being told the same stories over and over is that for fans, they have become part of who we are. In ancient Greece stories were told of the adventures of Hercules, Perseus, Jason and the Argonauts, Achilles, as well as the writings of Homer in the Illiad and the Odyssey. Why were they important? Because they taught ideals, that people could do great things and that there were heroes out there just waiting to make their mark given the opputunity. Those heroes were not perfect they had their flaws just like we all do and that made them relatable to the ordinary man. Perhaps we enjoy modern Super-heroes in much the same way. We know they are just stories designed by comic companies to make a dollar, but maybe they teach us something about ourselves as well. Like the Greek stories of old could it be that they have become the mythology of our era? It is very possible. Only time will truly be able to tell but perhaps the stories we have read and heard for the past seventy plus years have in a subtle way changed the way we view the world. At the core of comics good battles to fight off evil. The stories have shown us that it is not always easy or without loss in the battle for good. Maybe simply as humans we need to be reassured that in this crazy world we live in good can actually conquer evil.
Perhaps there is a limit to how many different angles of stories can be told in the pages of comic books. But maybe just maybe, the stories being told remain extremely popular because it fulfills a basic need that the struggle for goodness is worth fighting for. The art of storytelling is a powerful tool. Stories can teach such things as self-sacrifice, putting others ahead of yourself, doing the right thing when it would be easier to take the wrong way out, and to believe in a greater good to name just a few. The right story at the right time can push individuals to do amazing things. Perhaps in our era, the stories found in the pages of the comics that we read and the movies that we watch, teach us the most important factor of all: the ability to believe in ourselves. So maybe there aren't really any new stories to tell, that to some extent they are all just rehashed in some way. However, at the end of the day, that just might be exactly the point of why we love our costumed heroes.
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