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Superheroes as a Form of Modern Mythology: Critical Essay

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Mythology is defined as a collection of myths or stories about a particular culture or group with shared beliefs. Since the olden days, mankind has utilized storytelling as an attempt to expound on the intricacies of the world as it is. During the Stone Age, the Vikings used tales of Norse mythology, gods, and fabled monsters to explain the world. Similarly, modern man replicates this in the form of ‘godly’ heroes fighting against monstrous and villainous characters with unparalleled strength and intellect. From this viewpoint, superheroes are depicted as a form of mythology in modern times, through the illustrious backdrop of the dreamlike and fantastical. This concept is very astutely exemplified by the likes of two major superheroes: Superman and Wonder Woman. Although their powers are obtained through different means, they are similar to olden mythological lore, whereby these characters regularly tackle major philosophical and cultural concepts and narratives in their respective eras. In this case, the issues that the superheroes address are akin to socioeconomic and political issues in our world today. Beyond a reflection of social phenomena, modern superhero stories encompass the complexities of life, and many times the humanly flawed characters are manifestations of our inherent human nature. We are able to see ourselves in the character, and in this regard, it draws us even closer to the superheroes.

Superman was the ‘first’ superhero in common media, as well as the most publicized character in the entire pantheon of superheroes and supervillains. His backstory is rather tragic; sent to Earth on a one-man spaceship by his parents from the planet Krypton while the planet was disintegrating around them, Kal-El was then adopted and raised by kindly farmers in the state of Iowa. Blessed with strength and abilities far beyond the imagination of mortal men, Kal-El soon grows to become one of the greatest forces in championing truth and justice, that the world has not yet seen.

Like many superheroes, Superman possesses many attributes that make him far beyond the scope and reach of humanity. To man, he is the savior sent from the heavens, a place far beyond the stars, and much more advanced than anything conceivable in our world. In many ways, we are able to draw many parallels between Superman and mythical gods such as Zeus and Poseidon. While these characters are mysterious beings and will not hesitate to sacrifice everything for the sake of mankind, therein lies a stark difference. Superman is more human and perfectly human. Although originally from Krypton, he was raised by human parents, therefore embodying the very human experiences, morals, and perspectives that we are all too familiar with.

In this regard, Superman struggles on an emotional note, mainly with the constant need of protecting Earth, as its protector. In some issues, Superman’s opponents are much stronger and more intelligent than him. This was exemplified glaringly in the issue where Superman’s tragic death and return were discussed. Throughout the issue, Superman struggles with saving the world, while also at the same time battling Doomsday, mainly enduring hits from the behemoth of a powerhouse. Even though Superman never gave up, he made the ultimate sacrifice with his life to prevent any further destruction. In death, however, Superman stood steadfast to his values and never surrendered to his untimely fate. Eventually, through some alien technological intervention, he can return as humanity’s champion. It is not Superman’s feats that inspire people, but rather his spirit.

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In many ways, Superman embodies man’s visions and ideals. While being a grand force far beyond the reaches of humanity, he is however still very human and grounded in other aspects. Superman has always embodied values pertinent to what the current age/demographic admires. For example, during the Great Depression, Superman was a powerful crusader fighting for social justice, seeking justice for the poor and downtrodden. In 1979, during the Watergate Crisis and the Vietnam War, Superman was illustrated as an honest and true person, symbolizing the values of truth and justice. This is a stark contrast to his previous image, in which he was much more rash and violent while fighting for justice.

Another prominent example of superheroes in modern mythology is Wonder Woman. With a backstory heavily laden with the likeliness of ancient mythology, Amazon Princess Diana of Themyscira was formed from a lump of magical clay and bestowed the power of the gods. Perhaps alluding to her mythical origins, most of Wonder Woman’s iconic moments were deeply infused with mythical lore and characters befitting of that concept. Wonder Woman has many connections to classical mythology, she is not just an adaptation and amalgamation of mythical concepts, she is unique and independent in her own right, a myth in our modern age.

What makes Wonder Woman a modern myth is likely attributed to the issues that her character regularly deals with. Wonder Woman was modeled with the idea that women could not only stand on equal footing with men but instead stand higher than most of them. Although Wonder Woman was made to be remotely masculine to display her feats of strength, she has been, for the most part, a deeply feminine character. Despite her aggressive and war-like persona, she has constantly displayed compassion and love on many counts. Femininity also extended to different aspects of her character, such as Wonder Woman’s arsenal of weapons, containing weaponized jewelry such as a tiara and unbreakable bracelets. Simply put, Wonder Woman exists as the symbol of the inherent strength in womanhood.

In conclusion, superheroes are essentially a depiction of humanity’s struggles on many counts. However, it also encapsulates the very essence of hope, fear, and dreams that we are all too familiar with. Superheroes also examine their own humanity, such as Wonder Woman in her reflection on the innate strength of womanhood, and Superman on the ultimate human ideal. Superhero stories also impart moral values, incorporating important life lessons that illustrate the proper way of living our lives, whilst also emphasizing the importance of having order in society. Granted that superheroes may not necessarily possess the omnipotence and omniscience that their counterparts in Greek mythologies depict, the very existence of superheroes in our modern day and age provides us with the same reverence and hope that mythologies gave the people of that time. Hence, it can be said that superheroes are indeed a part of modern myth in our time.

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Superheroes as a Form of Modern Mythology: Critical Essay. (2023, November 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 4, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/superheroes-as-a-form-of-modern-mythology-critical-essay/
“Superheroes as a Form of Modern Mythology: Critical Essay.” Edubirdie, 15 Nov. 2023, edubirdie.com/examples/superheroes-as-a-form-of-modern-mythology-critical-essay/
Superheroes as a Form of Modern Mythology: Critical Essay. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/superheroes-as-a-form-of-modern-mythology-critical-essay/> [Accessed 4 Mar. 2024].
Superheroes as a Form of Modern Mythology: Critical Essay [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Nov 15 [cited 2024 Mar 4]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/superheroes-as-a-form-of-modern-mythology-critical-essay/
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