Skip to main content

Superheroes are NOT Mythology

While originally planned as an article for this Comixpedia issue, I've taken a departure from my usual theoretical musings to argue that "Superheroes are NOT Mythology" in an a short piece posted at my blog. Given that I'm blasting a common thread amongst comics analysis, I'd love to hear people's thoughts.

One of the reasons

Bryant Paul Johnson's picture

One of the reasons super-hero comics fall well short of mythology is that their creation is too transparent. Minus the very young or the excruciatingly naive, most comic readers are well aware that they're consuming a product manufactured for entertainment.

Even when we can pin-point the author of a particular mythology (Hesiod's Works and Days; Homer's Illiad and Odyssey; The Poetic and Elder Edda's viking sagas) they were codifying the oral traditions of a culture, and claimed no authorship thereof.

It's pretty hard to put too much faith (either literally, or alegorically) into something that you know was created by committee.

If future generations try to reconstruct our civilisation based upon old Marvel and DC comics (presumably their mylar prophylactics will give future archaeologists the impression that they're more important than they really were), they may reinterpret super-hero comics as mythology, in the absence of evidence to contradict this hypothesis. We, however have plenty of evidence.

-
teaching baby paranoia

No problem.

Gordon McAlpin's picture

No problem.

I suppose you could say it that way, but me, I'm not comfortable with labeling stories that amount to (in my opinion) folk tales as belief systems. It's the word "belief" that I take issue with. Perhaps I'm inferring some things from it that I shouldn't be, but while I agree that people's exteriors do not always match their interiors, I don't "believe" anything about Beauty and the Beast, you know?

Anyway, as always, thought-provoking stuff, Neil.

Multiplex is a twice weekly humor comic about the staff of the Multiplex 10 Cinemas and the movies that play there.

Yup yup

Neil Cohn's picture

And that's why Beauty and the Beast wouldn't be considered a myth to us (though it is literature). Part of what I was trying to show I guess is that what are "folk tales" to some of us might be/have been an integral part of a people's cultural understandings.

This is what I wrote in another discussion of this:

The same story can/has serve(d) either/both functions within a given cultural setting. For example, some people view the world through the lens of their relationship with Christ — it shapes and filters the way they see the world. Other people don't get such an immersive perspective, though they can still appreciate the lessons taught by Christian doctrine.

Even if we're a part of the side that doesn't see it as a filter for the world, we can still see that it acts that way for some people, and can thereby see it as mythological. I can't see superheroes doing this at all.

Anyhow, glad you enjoyed the read!

---------------------
Studying the Visual Language of "Comics" - www.emaki.net

------- Studying the Visual Language of "Comics" - http://www.emaki.net

Not the same

Neil Cohn's picture

Thanks for the comments Gordon.

While I'm not nessecarily wanting to speak for every culture who has ever had myths, I don't think that having a belief system has to equate to believing it as literally true. One can still recognize something as being a myth outside the literal, while still comprising a practical belief system, can't they?

---------------------
Studying the Visual Language of "Comics" - www.emaki.net

------- Studying the Visual Language of "Comics" - http://www.emaki.net

The only things I would

Gordon McAlpin's picture

The only things I would quibble with is an apparent presumption that myths are necessarily belief systems, and that myths serve a practical purpose (I guess these are kind of the same point, but not really). I would argue that this is not always the case: that most myths, at their inceptions, were NOT thought of as literally true.

I think the "superheroes are not myth" hypothesis has merit, though, but I think a more solid argument might be found in how the nature of stories has fundamentally changed since the written word, and particularly since radio & television.

On the other hand, Chris Ware and others have borrowed Superman, altering him to suit their stories' needs. This lends the character (in their story) a mythic element -- though I would also stop short of calling it myth.

Multiplex is a twice weekly humor comic about the staff of the Multiplex 10 Cinemas and the movies that play there.