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Superheros, Greek Gods, and Save-A-Bunch Man

In America, we are surrounded by superheroes.  They inhabit our movies, television shows, advertisements, and they have also crept into sports, music, and pretty much any corner of pop culture you can imagine.  Is Save-A-Bunch Man going to save you money at the thrift mart?  His cape, tights, and big smile say “yes.”  Wrestling, a strange mix of sport and theater, long ago succumbed to superhero imagery, but now many major sports figures in other sports have also taken on superhero nicknames, complete with tattoos and jerseys.  This is just a continuation of the old practice of naming children after saints, a bid for the blessings and protection of the holy intermediary.

The origin of the superhero genre has been much discussed.  It has been described as adolescent power fantasies and a modern mythology.  Both are true, I suppose.  I favor the mythology theory, because I believe superheroes are largely allegorical in nature.

By allegorical, I mean that character’s nature is evident in their physical appearance.  Comics are a graphic form, as much as they are literary, so why not?  That unique blend of pictures and words makes it a perfect medium for allegorical characters.

It would be easy to explain all this in terms of traditional superheroes, from the Messianic, Zeus-like Superman, to the Hades-like Batman, the Loki-like John Constantine.  It’s a fun exercise in correspondences and archetypes, really.  It’s no different in the Johnny Saturn setting, where characters wear their strengths and flaws as graphic elements and they descent from mythological archetypes.

One unfortunate meme that got attached to the superhero archetype is that of muscularity.  This is nothing new, of course: All the Greek gods had bodies like, well, Greek gods!  Hercules was huge and strong, as were many other mythological heroes and gods.  Physical supremacy was included in the superhero myth from the beginning, but by the 1980’s and 1990’s the rise in the popularity of weight-lifting and body-building had transformed most superheroes into bloated grotesques.  Even Spider-Man was looking hugely beefy in the 90’s.  Overdeveloped physiques had become associated with superheroes, and live-action actors who played these parts had to wear ridiculous and insulting rubber muscle suits.  Luckily, in comics themselves, hyper-muscularity began to give way to well-developed musculature as the 90’s ended.  Some characters now look simply fit and trim, which is also a vast improvement.

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