Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Deities & Demigods

After watching Young Justice, I felt like I'd reached a critical point in terms of superheroes.  A number of things had come together to bring this about.  I've always loved superheroes, of course, but Young Justice added a new character, Wonder Girl to the mix.  She wasn't necessarily an important component of the cast, but I'd long been a fan of some Wonder Woman material in particular because of her connections to the DC Universe version of Greek mythology.  Marvel, too, has often had a long history of reinterpreting mythology as super-heroes, with Thor being one of the very early Silver Age characters and a founding member of the Avengers.  Hercules and Ares of Greek mythology were also Avengers for a time, and I still have the issues of a story-arc in which the Avengers must go to Olympus because Zeus is ticked off at injuries Hercules suffered in his capacity as a superhero.  Marvel also had the Chaos War in which all kinds of pantheons contributed to the story; and in the run-up to Thor #400, back in the 80s, Set, the Serpent God from Egyptian mythology invaded Asgard.  And Snowbird, a character with strong relations to Inuit mythology, plays heavily in Alpha Flight.  Although both comic book companies are not at all immune to concepts that are rooted in magic and mysticism, by and large, the mythological elements are often coated in a superficial technobabble of pseudo-scientific stuff.

This angle was later more explicitly explored by Jack Kirby first in the New Gods series for DC, which was cancelled after a short time, then in The Eternals for Marvel which explored many of the same themes.  In both cases, the New Gods and the Eternals were meant to be stand-alone stories, unaffiliated with the greater continuity, but in both cases, they were eventually brought on board, and some characters, such as Darkseid, becoming recurring characters in the continuity.  This was somewhat confusing, as it was the explicit conceit of at least the Eternals, that they were the source of legends about gods, but now they existed alongside the actual gods that they were kinda sorta based on themselves.  DC also retconned some history of the universe with the invention of the Godwave, a power called The Source that swept through the universe creating gods, then bounced off the edge and created superheroes on it's way back, and which now was bouncing back outwards yet a third time.

Other sources besides comic books have had mythology and modern times intersect, including Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, in which Odin and a few other Norse mythological creatures and whatnot make appearances (and its rumored that the next volume, coming out at the end of the year, may focus heavily on Greek mythological themes.)  My kids have been big fans of Rick Riordan's work, which includes two 5-book series on modern day demigods--New York teenages who are the counterparts of Theseus or Perseus.  He also has an unrelated series that has ties to Egyptian mythology, and it's rumored that he's also working on an all new series with ties to Norse mythology.  In fact, there's a new Percy Jackson movie due out this weekend, which no doubt we'll see, because the kids are all interested (and frankly, so am I.)  There's other ones out there that I've seen here and there, but haven't quite managed to get into yet, too.

Frankly, I kind of like the more pseudo-science interpretations, with Von Danniken-esque interpretations of where "gods" came from.  This just "feels" really comic-bookish to me.  I also like the notion of mythological characters are more like superheroes than anything else.  In the Supreme Power stories, for example, Power Princess (Princess Zarda) has (apparently) both an extraterrestrial origin, and a history as some kind of ancient Greek goddess.  This ambiguity between science fiction and "typical" mythology is desireable, in my opinion.  It's also important to not allow the super-powers to get carried away into craziness (a problem that most typically belongs to Superman rather than to the mythological characters, but y'know... you still have to watch it.)

Anyway, I'm going to continue to explore this concept for a few more posts, using the tags MYTHOLOGY and SUPERHEROES simultaneously.  The "world-building" itch has struck again, and rather than being focused on my normal DARK•HERITAGE topics, it's wandering a bit further afield. 

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