Happy Saturday! Perhaps you, too, were one of those kids who faithfully traipsed into the living room in your pajamas every Saturday morning to watch your comic book superheroes come to life in the form of Saturday morning cartoons. Today we feature 2014 high school graduate Anthony Carrasco’s winning essay looking at superheroes through the lens of mythology. Congratulations, Anthony!
by Anthony Carrasco
The silver screen is red with blood. The human soul is splattered on the cinematic canvas; desires, feelings, and ideas are placed vulnerably in front of the viewer, with hands open for judgment. Within our society, one of the most craved film genres are superhero films. Why do the multitudes, from many age ranges, flock to the midnight premiers of these blockbuster behemoths? Perhaps it is more than just the cool special effects that hook us; perhaps the line that has us snagged is an eternal craving for mythology.
My hankering for a better understanding of why heroes are so popular occurred when I caught some scenes from The Incredible Hulk, 2008. The main antagonist in the film was named Abomination, which struck my interest. The word abomination is very connotative and fit the character’s outer and inner qualities. Perhaps this title was not given to him solely on account of his grotesque nature but also on account of being symbolic of a greater force. In comic books, ambiguous and provocative names are often given to super heroes and super villains alike. Heavily loaded names, such as Doctor Doom, The Dark Knight, Iron Man, Nightcrawler, and Darkside, feed the case that these heroes are themselves symbolic of larger ideas, institutions, and myths.
Mythology might be the deep attractive force that pulls so many in to Marvel megahits. When watching The Incredible Hulk, I couldn’t help but draw connections between Bruce Banner and Hercules. Still, there are many differences between comic book heroes and the heroes of ancient myths. One of the richest is the origin of their powers. The Greek heroes, such as Hercules gained their powers from the gods, but our modem-day heroes gain their powers from science.
Perhaps this in itself says something. In the past divinity bestowed power, but now in a society that has replaced god with science, technology bestows power. A radioactive spider bite makes Spider-Man, the Iron Man suit technology creates Iron Man, gamma rays produce the Hulk, and the super solider serum gives rise to Captain America. Thor, previously the Norse god of thunder, is now portrayed as a dimensional traveler. The only outlier is Superman; however, the whole concept of coming from space feeds the space-technology genre.
Superheroes have a lot of similarities to Greek myths. Iron Man, a flying metallic force that hurls bolt-like beams, resembles Zeus; Aqua Man has a semblance to Poseidon; the human torch and Hawkeye have many similarities to Apollo. Just like the Greeks admired the heroes and wanted to emulate their character traits, we admire our heroes and wish to emulate their character traits. In Hindu religion the heroes were the gods in human form and the paragons of ideal citizens. Today we wish to share in the superheroes’ traits of honor, bravery, and altruism. Perhaps superheroes are symbolic of ideal citizens and the manifestation of the classic good versus evil dichotomy within the world and our own hearts.
What if our superhero film fascination is an eternal craving for the mythic-hero epic modernized? Perhaps the big craze says more about our time and culture than we think. Perhaps we are approaching an age of science that will change what is to be human and transcend to superhuman. As the actor Tom Hiddleston, the actor who played Loki in The Avengers, said, “In our increasingly secular society, with so many disparate gods and different faiths, superhero films present a unique canvas upon which our shared hopes, dreams, and apocalyptic nightmares can be projected and played out.”