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  1. #1
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    This week, TIm concludes his in-depth look at comic book archetypes as author Steven Withrow returns to discuss the superhero pantheon, looking at the essence of characters like Captain America, Batman and even Blue Beetle.


    Full article here.

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    Ah, the first reply. I feel like a newly married man carving the first Thanksgiving turkey to be eaten under his own roof! Here we go...

    I thought the observation of current heroes as nothing more than a modern envisioning of an eternal concept (the 'ur-God') as highly astute. There are all kinds of things that go into this idea. On that paradigm, you could discuss the similarities between how the 'new gods' of Marvel supplanted the 'golden age gods' of DC and the way the Olympians cast the Titans off the Earth. But I think we owe it to the greater good of comics culture to avoid boresighting on "the big two". Instead, I consider the hard climb comics in general faced in making it onto the main stage of pop culture. How many Bible-thumpers told kids comics were sacrilege? And you know what? They were right! By Steve's (correct) paradigm, that's what comics (or Star Wars, or Harry Potter) are. They are entire universal constructs full of gods that in some way challenge a pre-existing pantheon's assertions about the order of our existence.

    When it comes to teams, I see things perhaps a bit differently, or maybe I'm just saying the same thing as Steve in a different way. I never really considered things like the Avengers or Justice League as anyting resembling Olympus. There are several reasons for this. First off, I've never heard a story of two or three characters teaming up after the fall of the Titans. In this, the Olympians made their first exhibition of humanity-- the only thing that could bring them together was an enemy. But after that, no story of the Olympians features more than three or four characters at one time, and even then they're usually at odds with each other. In the Greek pantheon, Darkseid (hobo or otherwise) never comes back. World peace ensues, leaving them to infighting.

    I look at our teams of today to be more like Robin Hood's merry men or the Knights of Camelot. Probably the 300 Spartans take the concept to the extreme. If your "spear carrier" gods grow to resemble each other too much, then they're indistinguishable. At that point, Superman or Leonidas step to the fore as representative figure heads for the collective body. It makes for an epic leader, but at the expense of a bland team. I think that's why "dysfunctional teams" like the Thunderbolts or the New Warriors before that were more interesting. There were significant internal conflicts, the gods weren't invincible, and their powers were diverse enough that the leader wasn't entirely convincing in his authority. It was more like Olympus. I think that was one of the biggest driving factors in the direction the Avengers have taken over the last three years. It can't just be all for Captain America and Captain America for all. Zeus needs to come down a peg or two now and then.

    As for the necessity of Bruce Wayne's return I agree with Tim, and that's the tragedy of it. What was the point of killing the character when we knew he'd be coming back? There's no drama in it. This has all happened before, and it will all happen again. Instead, what if we'd simply wounded Batman in such a way that he's incapacitated? Yes, I know, just like Bane. But in that story-arc we didn't take the concept of the 'dark legacy' of Batman as far as the Battle for the Cowl has. What's a god to do or even think when he's faced with dozens of wannabes doing more damage than good? If the Batman is supposed to make the world a better place, but all it's done is give vigilanted psychopaths a business model should there even <i>be</i> a Batman? Certainly, the grand corporate narrative maintains dominance and answers the question for the writers, but it's still a much more interesting exploration of what the character means than a bunch of kooks eulogizing him over and over again. All due respect to Mister Gaiman, it was a great story, but it should have been done over the course of 18 issues, not crammed into two.

    Overall, a great discussion. It deserves an epilogue. Looking forward to seeing it!

    Jim Gourley
    http://swordandscript.com
    Last edited by Jim Gourley; 01-19-2010 at 04:44 PM.

  3. #3

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    great 2-part conversation/interview. i put together my top characters and what 'gods' they represent. i may have not thought out all the choices throughly enough, but this is my first impression with the characters:


    SUPERMAN = sun god, science god
    BATMAN = underworld god; analysis god
    WONDER WOMAN = warrior god; peace god
    FLASH = trickster god; analysis god; science god
    GREEN LANTERN = magic god; light god; soldier god
    AQUAMAN = warrior god; water god
    GREEN ARROW = hunter god; light god
    HAWKMAN = hunter god; sun god; warrior god


    CAPAIN AMERICA = soldier god; peace god
    IRON MAN = tech god; analysis god
    THOR = magic god; sun god; warrior god
    FANTASTIC FOUR = science gods
    MR. FANTASTIC = analysis god
    THE INVISIBLE WOMAN = peace god
    THE HUMAN TORCH = trickster god; light god
    THE THING = underworld god; warrior god
    SPIDER-MAN = trickster god
    HULK = underworld god; science god; warrior god
    DAREDEVIL = underworld god, trickster god
    DOCTOR STRANGE = magic god; underworld god
    X-MEN = science gods; underworld gods
    CYCLOPS = soldier god
    JEAN GRAY = underworld god
    WOLVERINE = warrior god; hunter god
    STORM = magic god; trickster god; light god; warrior god
    BEAST = analysis god; underworld god
    EMMA FROST = underworld god
    COLOSSUS = peace god
    NIGHTCRAWLER = trickster god
    ICEMAN = trickster god
    ANGEL = trickster god; hunter god
    ROGUE = underworld god; soldier god
    KITTY PRYDE = trickster god; peace god




    - or, put another way:

    Sun Gods - Superman, Hawkman, Thor
    Science Gods - Superman, Flash, Fantastic Four, Hulk, X-Men
    Underworld Gods - Batman, Thing, Hulk, Daredevil, Doctor Strange, X-Men, Jean Gray, Beast, Emma Frost, Rogue
    Analysis Gods - Batman, Flash, Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, Beast
    Warrior Gods - Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Hawkman, Thor, Thing, Hulk, Wolverine, Storm
    Peace Gods - Wonder Woman, Captain America, Invisible Woman, Colossus, Kitty Pryde
    Trickster Gods - Flash, Human Torch, Spider-Man, Daredevil, Nightcrawler, Iceman, Angel, Kitty Pryde
    Magic Gods - Green Lantern, Thor, Doctor Strange, Storm
    Light Gods - Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Human Torch, Storm
    Soldier Gods - Green Lantern, Captain America, Cyclops, Rogue
    Water God - Aquaman
    Hunter Gods - Green Arrow, Hawkman, Wolverine, Angel
    Tech God - Iron Man

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Gourley View Post
    When it comes to teams, I see things perhaps a bit differently, or maybe I'm just saying the same thing as Steve in a different way. I never really considered things like the Avengers or Justice League as anyting resembling Olympus. There are several reasons for this. First off, I've never heard a story of two or three characters teaming up after the fall of the Titans. In this, the Olympians made their first exhibition of humanity-- the only thing that could bring them together was an enemy. But after that, no story of the Olympians features more than three or four characters at one time, and even then they're usually at odds with each other. In the Greek pantheon, Darkseid (hobo or otherwise) never comes back. World peace ensues, leaving them to infighting.
    Good points, Jim. I want to stress that the idea of a pantheon is not a one-to-one comparison or a simple equation, as in superheroes = gods. It's merely an analogy or a suggestion of likeness.

    We create a cast of characters to play out our deepest needs and desires as a society, and we sometimes worship them as deities. The story patterns vary, but the personification of abstract concepts, framed as human interaction, remains.
    Last edited by Steven Withrow; 01-20-2010 at 07:22 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by alanganthett View Post
    Sun Gods - Superman, Hawkman, Thor
    Science Gods - Superman, Flash, Fantastic Four, Hulk, X-Men
    Underworld Gods - Batman, Thing, Hulk, Daredevil, Doctor Strange, X-Men, Jean Gray, Beast, Emma Frost, Rogue
    Analysis Gods - Batman, Flash, Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, Beast
    Warrior Gods - Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Hawkman, Thor, Thing, Hulk, Wolverine, Storm
    Peace Gods - Wonder Woman, Captain America, Invisible Woman, Colossus, Kitty Pryde
    Trickster Gods - Flash, Human Torch, Spider-Man, Daredevil, Nightcrawler, Iceman, Angel, Kitty Pryde
    Magic Gods - Green Lantern, Thor, Doctor Strange, Storm
    Light Gods - Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Human Torch, Storm
    Soldier Gods - Green Lantern, Captain America, Cyclops, Rogue
    Water God - Aquaman
    Hunter Gods - Green Arrow, Hawkman, Wolverine, Angel
    Tech God - Iron Man
    Wow -- that's quite a list. I like the idea of an "analysis god" -- very 21st century!

    It's interesting to me how once a basic pantheon is established, subsequent writers seem obliged to evolve it into a complex arcana. From something as simple as a trinity emerges a full Tarot card deck of characters.

    This happened with the multitude angels and demons of Judeo-Christian myth, the Catholic saints -- we can't help but keep adding and remixing and refining the group, as a group, separate of whatever tale we tell about them. It's the living history of myth -- the delightful game of story -- in action. Who can resist?
    Last edited by Steven Withrow; 01-20-2010 at 08:27 AM.

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    It is an interesting topic and one definitely worth exploring, and of course also something very subjective and open to varied interpretations. Here are some more esoteric view-points on the mythological correspondences of some major comic book figures. Wolverine/Bacchus, Spider-Man/Ariadne (via The Naked Lunch).

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    Quote Originally Posted by Reep Daggle View Post
    It is an interesting topic and one definitely worth exploring, and of course also something very subjective and open to varied interpretations. Here are some more esoteric view-points on the mythological correspondences of some major comic book figures. Wolverine/Bacchus, Spider-Man/Ariadne (via The Naked Lunch).
    Thanks for reading, and for the excellent links!

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    For those of you who were participating in or following our discussion on tragedy in the comments to last week's post, I urge you to read or take a closer look at Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris's Ex Machina (Wildstorm). It's a book I wasn't sure I would like when I first picked it up, but I've become enthralled with the story (I just finished the seventh trade collection).

    This is a genuinely tragic book about the rise and fall of a modern king, and though fateful circumstance has a hand to play, it's driven by Mitchell Hundred's outward decisions and inmost desires.

    I think it's a pretty exceptional series. Do you agree?

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    Hi Steven!

    Are you familiar at all with "The Infinite Horizon", a 6-issue modernization of The Odyssey?
    http://www.the-infinite-horizon.com/site/preview.html

    Good stuff....if they can ever get it completed.

    "He who knows best knows how little he knows" -Thomas Jefferson

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    Quote Originally Posted by rev sully View Post
    Hi Steven!

    Are you familiar at all with "The Infinite Horizon", a 6-issue modernization of The Odyssey?
    http://www.the-infinite-horizon.com/site/preview.html

    Good stuff....if they can ever get it completed.
    Thanks for recommending this. Can't wait to read it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Gourley View Post
    If the Batman is supposed to make the world a better place, but all it's done is give vigilanted psychopaths a business model should there even <i>be</i> a Batman?
    In other words, and to paraphrase Elliott S! Maggin, "Must there be a Batman?" How does Bruce Wayne deal with the essential failure of his quest to avenge his parents' deaths and make it a world where there will be no other little Bruce Waynes? Bruce fights the battles, but cannot win the war. Is winning a battle enough for his psyche?

    But back to the column itself, I don't see Captain America as an "icon" no matter how much Marvel tries to push him. I don't think Steve Rogers has had a very successful publishing history - and I always considered him a second tier Marvel book. It's been interrupted many many times. When playing up his military strategic genius, his "super powers" were ignored. When his "super powers" were played up, the strategist was gone. But, moreover, why is Steve Rogers still around, when all the other flag decorated super soldiers fell by the wayside. Recent knockoffs have also failed. Is it just Marvel's sales position and that it highlights Rogers in the "icon" position that lifts Rogers up? If Rogers were published by ACG in the 70s, and The Shield or Fighting American were published by Marvel, would those be in the purported "icon" position?
    I will caveat that I haven't really read Captain American in many years. I found him interesting in the 1970s when Englehart had him struggling with exactly what did "Captain America" mean, but then that trailed off, and I wandered away. Whenever I peeked in, he was just a muscle bound beat 'em up guy in a corny costume. THere was nothing special - and I didn't get the "icon" vibe from him. So, my views may be woefully out of date.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ggersten View Post
    Is it just Marvel's sales position and that it highlights Rogers in the "icon" position that lifts Rogers up? If Rogers were published by ACG in the 70s, and The Shield or Fighting American were published by Marvel, would those be in the purported "icon" position?
    Popularity in a specific medium isn't the best measure of iconic status. Captain America is an icon -- in both senses of the word I describe in the column -- because his name and visual identity instantly communicate certain definable ideas to a large number of people in different contexts. He's even a useful metaphor for something greater than himself: a whole nation and world view.

    Show most any group of people around the world the image of Captain America, and even if they've never seen or heard of him before, a good number will probably say "America" and think of some form of combat. They may not think of him as a hero, but because he wears the American flag and strikes a soldier's figure with his muscles, uniform, and shield, he communicates "American soldier" to a great majority of people.

    The Shield and The Fighting American are also icons in a similar way, but their designs are, for some reason, not as effective.

    Captain America has the dual advantage that his "story" in a dramatic context is also quite engaging and successful, but you don't need to know his origin or backstory, or know that's he comic-book hero, to understand what is most essential about him.
    Last edited by Steven Withrow; 01-23-2010 at 05:50 PM.

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