How Superhero Characters Are Based On Mythological Archetypes

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Quoting folklorist Alan Dundes, mythology refers to “a story that serves to define the fundamental worldview of a culture by explaining aspects of the natural world and delineating the psychological and social practices and ideals of a society”. As new myths continue to form over different time periods and existing ones are being reworked, modern mythology is eventually shaped. To tell more on the world, humanity used stories of godlike heroes and monstrous villains to do so through the imagination. One of such entertaining (yet delivering similar connotations) way is over the stories of superhero characters through various mediums including comic books, radio and the big silver screen. Ever since they were first created in the 1930s, these fictional stories that impart a reflection of the natural world and humanity serve as an oxymoron. Considering that there are prominent exemplifications, and their stories have adhered to various frameworks, superhero characters are indeed a form of modern mythology. Besides that, there might be other forms that they developed over their form in modern mythology which shall be discussed in this essay. 

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Zooming into Campbell’s framework of “separation-initiation-return” to illustrate the mythological adventure of a hero, parallels can be drawn between the characteristics of archaic and superhero characters. The former like Odysseus, who is well-known for his courage, intelligence and leadership has proven himself to be one of the great heroes of Greek mythology. Having gone through many dreadful trials and tribulations, the patterns of his adventures are very much aligned to Campbell’s framework. Likewise, the well-known superhero Batman has illustrated his actions of following such typical heroic sequence similar to Odysseus. The tragic story of his parents’ death that made young Batman an orphan have spurred him on the journey for justice as he trains fighting crime. His constant protection of Gotham City as an ever-present responsibility can be commonly seen through the fights against his adversaries such as Ra’s al Ghul and Bane. Eventually, Batman came to realize the essence of justice and attained a transformed self. With that, the different stages of Campbell’s framework can be reflected through the tales of Batman as well. Hence, it is evident that there is an alignment between superhero characters (with Batman as an overall representation) and Campbell’s framework, passing them as a form of modern mythology. 

Coupled with the analysis of their creation, the stories of superhero characters can be seen as metaphors of the needs and fears of real-life individuals which are molded into the cultural consciousness. This fits with Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces where he finds that myths are used by society to transform fears and concerns into an impersonal reflection which become a different and reassuring perspective to individuals. The creation of Batman is a reflection of how immense an individual can rise from the depths of tragedy and misery. Unlike usual superheroes who possess or inherited superpowers, Batman is a mere powerless mortal who could face death in the midst of his adventures. With just a library of various gadgets and fighting styles, he is yet still able to survive through the odds even fighting against villains of extraordinary abilities that are not within mortal men’s possession. With that, his creation near the tail-end of the Great Depression has exemplified the fears of the people after which have given hope to alleviate the woes of humanity. Considering the Great Depression to be the “monstrous villain” in the 1930s (where crime rate was high and the people were poor, both of which are expressed in Batman’s tales), he served as a reflection and reminder for those suffering from the downturn to take upon actions and pull themselves out from it. The severity of effects after the downturn as mentioned has been highlighted many times in his tales, bringing up the worldview even till now, for those who have not gone through the plunge. Thus, Batman has served as a myth of inspiration, a representative of all that humanity could attain and overcome. 

Meanwhile, the creation of Wonder Woman is not just a rework of mythic Greek ideas but has her unique modern myth. In a world full of gender discrimination, Wonder Woman was created to show a step forward for feminism. As she embodies a sense of peace, rightfulness and emotional intelligence, she was quite a revolutionary as women are portrayed to stand above men yet able to show empathy. Her femininity is further delineated through her jewellery-liked weapons such as the Bracelets of Submission and tiara. A combination of force and beauty, Wonder Woman exists above all as a figure of innate strength of womanhood. 

Both of their stories have indeed made them a quintessentially ever-lasting myth that resonates with humanity, recognizing superhero characters as a form of modern mythology. A possible continuation of their form as modern mythology, superhero characters are arguably a form of industrial art and consumerism as well. The rights to these characters and their storylines belong to corporations, where all artistic choices are relatively insignificant to the drive for sales and profits. This creates in the storylines to be ever-changing to resonate with the developing worldview, ensuring them to be a contemporary form of mythology. Due to their influence in the lives of their audiences and how they see things, superhero characters are being utilized for commercial and monetary purposes through various mediums including their comic books, films and merchandises. Even way back in WWII, DC’s superhero characters such as Superman and Batman appeared on comic books’ covers to sell the war by promoting war bonds and stamps. These two other forms of superhero characters thus further support the idea of these characters being a form of modern mythology spurred them on. 

In conclusion, the archetypes that superhero characters are based upon are definitely part of the overall mythology. As they formed intuitive assimilation of all the myths through the ages, this thus makes them a form of modern mythology. 

16 August 2021

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