This post was originally published on my now defunct site, New to Comics.
When it comes to comic-book fans, there are certain things that many seem to have a shared interest in. The most prominent, obviously, is serialised fiction and anything superhero themed.
On top of that, there is usually an interest in science-fiction as a whole. Stories that explore the uncanny, the unexplainable and the endless possibilities of the future.
A third potential interest, in my opinion, is mythology. This is highlighted by the fact that many superheroes have ties to myth. Marvel Comics Thor is a God adapted from Norse Mythology, and many of his supporting characters are themselves Gods (some authentic, such as Odin and Loki, others original such as Fandral, Hogun and Volstagg, more commonly known as the Warriors Three). On the DC side is Wonder Woman, a character who originated as a member of the Amazons, who are adapted from Greek mythology. Similarly, the character of Captain Marvel/Shazam is transformed by a wizard into ‘Earth’s Mightiest Mortal’, invoking various attributes of Greek mythological figures (the strength of Hercules, the wisdom of Solomon, etc.).
More enduring religions, such as Christianity, also hold sway in modern comic-book story-telling, with concepts like Heaven and Hell frequently appearing in stories featuring characters like Ghost Rider, who, as a ‘Spirit of Vengeance’ is, depending on the continuity, either an agent of Heaven or Hell.
But even ignoring the superheroes who are actual Gods, comic books relate to mythology on another level.
Figures like Superman are often given Messianic undertones, with Superman’s origin mirroring the story of Christ in some ways. Furthermore, his role as a saviour and hero of mankind also makes him not unlike a God (depending on your religion, of course – a lot of Greek mythological figures are not known for being benevolent figures).
This is also prevalent on an contextual level. Old myths and holy books written long ago featured fantastical tales that sought to explain things – such as the relationship between Persephone and Hades giving reasoning to the stark contrast between the seasons summer and winter. Other stories wanted to impart messages on how readers should treat their fellow man. Super-hero comics also do these things (although, admittedly, to varying degrees). To quote Man of Steel (which, in turn, is paraphrasing All-Star Superman):
“You will give the people an ideal to strive towards. They will rise behind you. They will stumble, they will fall… But in time, they will join you in the sun. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders”
We see that there is a purpose to these characters, perhaps more important than their role as saviours. And that is their role as inspirations. Superman tells us to ‘be better’. Batman tells us that ‘nothing is impossible’. Heck, even Harley Quinn can preach lessons of female empowerment and discarding abusive other halves.
While, admittedly, a lot of super-hero comics are just playful, explosive stories, a lot do contain messages that people should take heed of. In recent years, the Captain America comic Secret Empire, although very controversial, stuck true to an underlying message that we shouldn’t give in to fascism.
Through these flamboyant and powerful characters, comic-book writers impart teachings, explore possibilities and give us ideals to strive towards. Although not held as sacred text, comic-books fulfill the same roles as older mythological stories (I am more talking Greek myth than, say, Christianity, before people get offended) in a way that is appealing not only to comic-book fans who already have a vested interest in such subjects, but also general audiences, who are now being drawn in by the movies. They’re being given new heroes. New ideals. New beliefs.
Wednesday’s New Comic Book Day is the equivalent of Sunday Mass.
The Comic-Book store (/cinema) is a comic-fan’s church.
The super-hero is a new type of God for the 21st century.