Superheroes: The Character of the Gods

The Legion of Super-Heroes during the 1970s. A...

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I’ve been a fan of comics and superheroes most of my life, but it wasn’t until I was an adult (or ‘adultish’) that I began to appreciate their roots are much deeper than just fueling the imaginings of geek kids. In some ways, the superhero is the reincarnation of the classical Gods – powerful yet flawed beings that populated incredible tales to show what it means to be human.

Gods as Humans

The Greek Gods were fallible beings created by the people of the time to help explain their world. They had incredible power, but also had human weakness exaggerated to the extreme. Hera was majestic but insanely jealous, Zeus was powerful but insatiably lustful, and Poseidon was both protector and tempestuous earth-shaker. They contained everything it meant to be human, yet rose above it in epic battles and tales that helped people understand their own lives and gave them an escape.

Superheroes as Gods

Comic book superheroes, with their own ability to hurl thunderbolts and shake the earth, are the modern equivalent. Batman struggles with internal rage and frustration, while Spider-Man fights his own insecurities and guilt. Their biggest difference to the Gods of old may only be their colorful costumes and masks. The best of them are more than just shallow cartoons, but have traits that embeds them deeply in our minds and resonant with parts of our own lives. You can see their connection beautifully and amusingly captured in the blog Growing Up Heroes.

I’m going to crack open some of these modern pulp heroes (and in some cases movie-stars) and look at what makes them work as characters and archetypes. What do their origin stories say about them? How have they changed over time? And what do the most enduring of these heroes say about us and our values?

My first hero-focused post in this series will cover the nearly archetypal Superman, but I plan to cross the Marvel and DC Universes to visit some of my favorite heroes and some of the ones I’ve struggled to understand. If you have a favorite, let me know and I’ll share my thoughts.

These imaginary characters have captured our imaginations for decades now, and I think they are worth stopping to pay homage.

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About Jeff Moriarty

A dabbler in many arts, from Ignite Phoenix to Improv, and from Information Security to Screenwriting. Jeff loves creating new things, and tries his hand at many forms of writing from screenplays to prose. He pontificates on his personal blog, and helps authors get their works online.

Comments

  1. Can’t wait for your take on the Superheros. The only comic books I ever read were Archie & Veronica and the girl romances. As I recall, none of those are worth revisiting.

  2. Eric Bahle says:

    Of course in the Case of The Mighty Thor: God of Thunder it should be pretty easy to draw some god/mythos parallels.

  3. How did I miss this?! Great post!

    Superheroes definitely defined my world when I was growing up. I realized this pretty early on when I covered an entire wall in my bedroom with comics (and I still have them all). I truly believe they’re what taught me my (sometimes skewed) sense of justice and desire to be good (though I end up the villain a lot, too).

    I’d love for you to read “Terminal Velocity” in the Flash Vol. 3 series. In my mind, it’s what solidified Wally West as my favorite superhero. Mark Waid is a fantastic writer, and with the words “My name is Wally West, and I’m The Flash, fastest man alive,” He put the ‘hero’ before the ‘super.’

    Here’s a great write up about it: http://www.rambles.net/waid_flashvelocity.html
    and a cover photo: http://www.dccomics.com/media/product/3/7/3752_400x600.jpg

    If you want to borrow it, let me know. I have the graphic novel. And the original comics. And a collector’s edition set that’s never been opened. 🙂

    — Joe

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