Superheroes as Modern Myth

A guest post by Chris Mole

 

What does Hermes, fleet-footed messenger of the gods, have in common with the Flash, the Scarlet Speedster of DC Comics and a member of the Justice League? Not a lot, you may think – one first emerged in ancient Greece over 2000 years ago, the possible Greek version of a Mesopotamian snake-god, while the other was created by writer Gardner Fox and artist Harry Lampert in 1939. And yet, the first appearance of the Flash (and his alter-ego, Jay Garrick) depicted him in a winged metal helmet and winged boots that deliberately evoked Hermes, while the accompanying text proclaimed him to be “the Flash, reincarnation of the winged Mercury!”

The Flash is the most obvious example of a superhero inspired by a god, but he – along with Superman, Batman, Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman, all introduced prior to 1941 – has become much more than that through decades of comic books, TV shows and movies. In reimagining what a hero could be, the creators of these household names were (unwittingly or not) tapping into a rich seam of mythology, creating archetypal characters who would thrive and survive throughout the tumultuous 20th century and be as relevant as ever in the 21st.

In an increasingly jaded and cynical world riven by injustice and seemingly entrenched hatred, superhero stories may be the closest thing we have to modern myth – epic tales of heroes and heroines with godlike power, who battle against evil and protect humanity. Since human beings were able to describe our surroundings, we’ve ascribed characteristics and personalities to them – in shinto, local kami are personifications of rocks, rivers and other features of the landscape. Since we conceived of gods, we’ve felt the urge to tell stories about them, imagining divine societies and hierarchies that mirror our own and creating liminal spaces where our realm overlaps with the divine – sacred groves, hellmouths, even churches in the Christian faith.

We imagine worlds in which those with divine powers walk amongst us, disguised as normal human beings, and we take lessons from them – the heart of every good Superman story is not the power which Superman wields, it’s the compassion with which he treats the people around him. A Superman who knows when not to punch, but instead to simply talk – and listen.

With Brigantia (issue #2 funding now on Kickstarter!), I wanted to draw an explicit connection between pagan myth and the modern mythology of superheroes. Brigantia was conceived as a kind of ‘British Wonder Woman’ – a superhero whose powers come from a divine source, but who is based on a goddess much closer to home for me than the Greek myth that Diana, Princess of Themyscira is based on. However, our challenge was that while we know a lot about the Greek pantheon and their stories (due to their written traditions and the writings of poets such as Homer), we know a lot less about Celtic deities – Brigantia arose from a society that had a strictly oral tradition, and stories that weren’t passed down were lost.

We wanted to take what we do know about the goddess and attempt to bring her to life – to show her as a fully-realised being whose personality drew from the tribesmen and women who kept her name alive. That humanity is key to the power and longevity of our myths – we look to the gods for guidance when we face struggle in our own lives, so being able to draw strength from their challenges helps us to persevere. We see Batman struggle every day with the enormity of his Herculean task to stamp out crime, and we see him rise up again and again and keep fighting towards that goal. With Brigantia, we wanted to show her struggling with defeat and failure – a goddess previously undefeated in battle, known for her power and bravery, being soundly beaten by a monstrous foe. Failure is an essential part of any mythological story, because all of us have known failure in our lives – we can draw inspiration from how our gods and heroes battle through that failure and emerge victorious.

Above all, with Brigantia, we want those who worship the goddess to feel like this is a story that they can relate to – it might not be an old story, or one handed down through the mists of time, but the awen strikes just as strongly now as it did back then. As modern superhero stories draw on the structures and patterns of stories from the ancient past, hopefully our reinterpretation of Brigantia can be the latest in a long line of regional tales about her – not the only true story, but one of many, and maybe even help evoke the goddess’ presence for our readers. After all, myths have to come from somewhere…

 

Brigantia issue #2 is now funding on Kickstarter, with a story by Chris Mole, art by Harriet Moulton and Melissa Trender and lettering by Aditya Bidikar. Check out the campaign here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/chrismole/brigantia-issue-2-the-comic

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

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