The Philosophy of Comics: Mythology

The Philosophy of Comics Presents…

Comic Books vs. Ancient Mythology

By: Michael Nunneley

I love mythology. I have since I was old enough to read good. The first books I read, besides Dr. Suess, were tales of old Greek and Norse mythology. I really liked the tales of Thor and Loki, particularly Thrymskvitha, where Thor, the manliest guy in the universe, has to dress up as Freyja and present himself to the giant, Thrym as his bride in order to get his hammer back. That’s right, Thor put on a bridal gown and veil! It is hilarious. In fact it was seeing a Mighty Thor comic book that got me into comics. I mean, who doesn’t love stories about supernaturally powered gods, demigods and mortals fighting through insurmountable odds in order that their names might not be forgotten to history. Giving their all, even their lives, so that freedom and goodness might triumph over slavery and evil. Stories that tell of courage and terror, life and death, love and hate, the price of freedom, the value of loyalty and the bitter sting of betrayal. Hera shows us the fury of a woman scorned as her husband Zeus’ infidelity is seen again and again. Icarus shows us the dangers of hubris as he flew too high and melted his wings. But these tales inspired real life legends like King Leonidas of Sparta (300), General Alexander “the Great” of Macedonia, Julius Caesar and many following emperors of Rome or the Kings of Egypt.

But here is what I submit to you: there is no difference between ancient mythology of any culture and comic books – save that no one ever worshipped Superman or Spider-Man (not in this universe anyway). In comics there are heroes like Batman, anti-heroes like Punisher, villains like Dr. Octopus and anti-villains like the Rogues. These comic book characters face tough choices, they have strong friendships and dreadful enemies. There are men and women that stand up, defending the weak and refusing to let villainy have ground to stand on. They are often outnumbered, outgunned and fighting their own personal demons. All of these elements have their roots in the first stories, in mythology. I learn just as much from modern mythology (comic books) as I do from classical literature.

If you think about it comics have taught you too. Heroes like Spider-Man and The Flash have shown us the ups and downs of love, the value of friendship and the virtue of courage and self sacrifice. Characters like Captain America and Superman have shown us the characteristics of good and true leaders, and the treasure that is an immovable moral and ethical center. The adventures and struggles of these mortals, metas, demigods and deities inspire and explain life. They show us the answer to the oldest question on Earth, “Why are we here?”

The Flash said, “Life does not give us purpose. We give life purpose.” Think about that for a moment. We ARE the purpose of life. We need to be the best people we can be to and for ourselves and others. Beta Ray Bill said, “If there is nothing but what we make in this world, brothers…let us make it good.” Franklin Richards said a rather inspiring quote, “The door is more than it appears. It separates who you are and who you can be. You do not have to walk through it…you can run.” Superheroes inspire us to make a difference in the world. But what difference can one person actually make? Ask Gotham how things have gone when Batman isn’t there. Or ask Hell’s Kitchen how bad things would be without Daredevil. Commissioner Jim Gordon said a good one, “You’re going to make a difference. A lot of times it won’t be huge, it won’t be visible even. But it will matter just the same.”

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