The visual narrative of the comic book is the basis of modern mythology in America; just as Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon came to us through the Greek culture, Superman, Captain America, and the X-Men represent the American culture from which they came. These are our modern-day Gods, Heroes, our mythos, our commentary on our society.
During the Golden Age of Comics, American idealism can be clearly be seen through the written word, how rugged and fearless each hero was, but more importantly, how invulnerable they were. The heroes went to war, took on day-to-day crime, and all the while helping the average person around town. The early heroes were designed to be the perfect heroes.
Over the years, Superheroes have changed with the times. They became socially aware, sometimes cynical and sarcastic. The heroes started to come with flaws and aware of the issues that awaited us in the real world such as the Cold War, the War on Drugs, and most recently, the current War on Terrorism. In other words, comics and their hero counterparts reflect the attitude and feeling of the society to which they belong. This is our living mythology. Just as the Greeks, our mythology has been created and evolving year after year, decade after decade.
But what if our society became obsolete? If our society was to fall to ashes. Would these stories survive? And if they did, what would it say about us?
What does this say about us?
For the most part, one of the reasons why we like hero stories, singular or multiple, is that we can see that hero as an extension of ourselves. We see the story from that heroes perspective, learns things as they learn them. We can identify with them. Not that we want to be truly heroic, but because we can relate on an emotional level and that in turn draws us deeper into what is perceived as a shared cause. When our hero feels happy, so do we; when our hero feels loss, we are right beside them feeling the pain they do. This is the journey of the Monomyth—the Hero’s Journey. It’s not about getting from A to B, but rather the changes that occur to the hero along the way.
The hero identification takes place in part in how we tell stories. How the hero relates to their environment and grows their identity over time. As a reader, we get to watch their struggles, walk in the hero’s shoes, and identify with overcoming the challenges that is set in front of them. We want to experience the Hero’s Journey ourselves and experience the personal growth that it brings. What comics allows us to do is look at our hero and see if they have already struggled enough if they have evolved, and shows us what we would like to be; a yearning desire to be the best version of ourselves that we can be. One that can rise to the challenge, set aside fear, and do what is right when needed. We all aspire to see the potential for change, both within ourselves, and in the world.
Myth, when used in the context of speech, discourse, fable, or even legend, it’s not hard to imagine the stories of old, of the Gods and the Heroes which they are based on, no matter what part of the world one comes from. Myths, and their collection, detailing a Mythology, can be easily be remembered as stories of the past. However, those stories of the past were once stories of the present. There were based at one time on trying to make sense of the world where people lived. They told these stories verbally to begin with until they had the means to write prose for a permanent written record. From there as technology increased, they put their stories on pottery, buildings, and eventually performed theatre, retelling the stories over and over. The Greeks did this to make sense of their world. They told their myths because they had no other means to describe the world which they lived, and it helped them make sense of their past, remember their ancestors, and the places they visited.
We today are no different than the Greeks of old. Only today we have a variety of methods that help us make sense of the real world such as science, history, psychology, philosophy, and many more. We also have our stories. Our modern gods. Our Superheroes. It is through the pages of the comic book and graphic novel that we can learn lots about ourselves and our place in the universe through the varied stories and heroes that have been told since its invention. We must not forget our roots as a society of people who use language and imagination to help describe the world we live in and reflect upon it.