Why Superheroes Matter

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A Look into the Popularity of Modern Comic Book Mythology

When we hear the term myth, mythos, or mythology, most people immediately think of the Greek or Roman Gods and of the Heroes from thousands of years ago (unless of course one is from a differing part of the world with a more relevant mythological background such as the Maori, Chinese, Indian, etc.). One can imagine Zeus throwing lightning bolts, or Perseus fighting Medusa, Aphrodite radiating love and beauty, or Poseidon waiting to drown a boat with all their crew members because of the lack of a good offering to the god of the sea. These are the gods who demand to be worshiped, and Heroes wanting to be admired for their bravery and sacrifice. However, we hardly think of mythology that is closer to home, one of more modern time. There are lots to choose from such as fables, fairytales, Harry Potter, Star Wars, but what of those that are closer to real-life and the events of today? Ones that reflect more of what happens in the world today. Ones who’s heroes are created, built, or born with abilities, who are deeply flawed characters, socially aware, and has wants and needs just like you?

When a someone who has no formal experience with the comic book superhero genre, they normally brush off the format citing that they are for children, that the stories are simple and not sophisticated, have no relevancy, that they are irrelevant children’s picture books for nerds and geeks and it serves no purpose in today’s society and consumes precious earth resources. I beg to differ and put forth the argument that comics and the superhero genre provide the opportunity to take part in the Hero’s Journey, that today’s Superhero matters more now to us individually and socially than ever before, and that today’s comic book provides a unique reflection on the happenings in society.

The definition of Myth
Before we can define the term ‘mythology’ it is important that we understand and look at the meaning of the word ‘myth’. The word comes from the Greek “mythos” which means “speech” or “discourse”. Over time it became to mean “fable” or “legend”.  Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines ‘myth’ as: “1. a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon; 2. a popular belief or tradition that has grown up around something or someone; especially :  one embodying the ideals and institutions of a society or segment of society; 3. a person or thing having only an imaginary or unverifiable existence”. An example use of the word myth is: Contrary to popular myth, no monster lives in this lake [Definition of MYTH]

The definition of Mythology
Mythology refers to a collection of myths that all together create the basis for a mythological system. With this definition, we can then speak of the various mythological cultures such as ‘Greek Mythology’, ‘Egyptian Mythology’,  ‘Indian Mythology’, etc. This allows us to describe a series of myths that have existed within a certain period of time within human history. It is also possible to also group the myths geographically and speak of them in the sense of ‘Oriental  Mythology’, ‘African Mythology’, etc.

Concerning Greek Mythology
As with other ancient cultures, Greek Mythology was used to describe the natural world which the Greek society lived. Humankind created myths and connected it to their polytheist religion and explained the origin of the gods, humanity, the passing of the seasons, and how to live a happy life. The myths were important in the re-telling of historical events so that people could maintain contact with their ancestors, the wars they fought, and the places they explored [Cartwright].

Myths initially were initially passed orally. Popular myths would, over each re-telling, become more and more embellished overtime to not only improve the story but most likely to increase audience attention. With the development of language and the invention of poems around c.800 – c.700 BCE, mythology was presented in writing by Homer of Greece who wrote Iliad and Odessy both which describes the Trojan War and the hero Odysseus and his voyage home from the war respectively. Hesiod, a Greek poet, wroteTheogony which for the first time gives a written account of the genealogy of the gods. The gods were described with typical human feelings and failings, but the heroes were noted to provide the connection of mankind and the gods by having one divine parent and one mortal. The next important milestone was a representation of the myths in a myriad of scenes on pottery and ceramics of varied shapes and function which allowed the myths to spread with to a wider audience. The continued popularity of the myths found public buildings being decorated with larger than life sculpture celebrating dynamic scenes from mythology; i.e., the Parthenon at Athens, the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, and the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. By the 5th century BCE, the myths began being told under the new medium of theatre. While this was all taking place, from approximately the 6th century BCE onward, pre-Socratic philosophers began to reject the basis of the myths and gods while searching for a more scientific explanation of the phenomena and events of the natural world. The first historians, Herodotus and Thucydides, in the 5th century BCE began to document as accurately as possible a less subjective view of events, thus the subject of history was born.

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