SUPER-Mythology 101 Part 2: DC Comics
In my last article I discussed the mythological structure of the Marvel Universe via the origins of The Human Torch, Iron Fist, Ben Reilly, and Kaine. This time I would like to look at the flip side of that coin and post about three heroes from DC Comics because this notion is equally as prevalent in the DC Universe as it is in the Marvel Universe, if not more so. Also in part one, I chose three somewhat obscure entries, this was a side-effect of my more in depth experience with Marvel Comics, in this entry I am selecting three of the heavier hitters from the DC Comics catalog.
As a disclaimer I should point out that by and large I am more of a Marvel Comics fan; mostly because of personal taste and what I grew up reading and watching. But I have always kept an eye on what DC Comics is doing and wound up with a decent amount of knowledge on their lore. Additionally I will be speaking about characters as they existed before the recent “New 52” universe reset, mostly to avoid confusion, for the most part everything should be basically the same except in a few instances there will be some key differences.
Clark Kent (Superman): Defender of Truth, Justice, and the American Way
In the early 1930′s Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster created the original “Super-Hero” with the concept of Superman. Superman went through a number of iterations before finally being published in Action Comics #1; the prototype Supermen included aspects of telepathy, villainy, heroism, and even time travel. The Superman we know today came from pulp fiction inspirations and a desire to combine the appearance of a circus strongman with the legendary heroism of Samson or Hercules, these influences are very evident in Superman’s appearance with the contrasting shorts over tights and muscular build. Adding nobility and a sense of patriotism to this hero cemented Superman as the American ideal in The Great Depression and World War II, which served as inspiration for the nation’s youth in such turbulent times. Today Superman is a pop icon, that has been in continuous publication during his entire 80 year history, and is a cornerstone of the comic book industry.
I’m pretty sure everyone knows this story, it’s Superman for crying out loud, but I will go through it for anyone who may have grown up on Mars; Superman was born as Kal-El on the planet Krypton just before the catastrophic destruction of his home-world due to its unstable core. Superman’s father Jor-El was a brilliant scientist on Krypton that saw that the explosion was imminent, so he seized the last opportunity to send his newborn son off into space towards Earth before the planetary explosion.
Upon reaching Earth, Kal-El crashed in a field near Smallville, Kansas where he was recovered by Jonathan and Martha Kent who raised him as their adoptive son, Clark Kent, while keeping his origins hidden. When he came of age Clark became aware of his origins and powers and eventually moved to nearby Metropolis where he protected the city and the world as Superman and cultivated his secret identity as a reporter for the Daily Planet.
Mythological Take Away:
Originally Superman took heavy influence from mythical heroes like Samson, Thor, and Hercules, especially given his primary power being super-strength, which played into his circus strongman like costume. Later as the character developed, after being handed from writer to writer, he changed in many ways mostly with the addition of flight to his super-powers. However a number of writers began to portray Superman as a messiah type figure where a lot of Christ symbolism began to come to the forefront, as Kal-El was sent to earth by his father to protect the people of Earth, it is rather on the nose. They took the symbolism to it’s logical end point in 1992 with the story The Death of Superman, where Superman sacrificed himself trying to protect the people of Metropolis from the menacing Doomsday. Finally another important aspect of Superman is that he is basically the “Sky-Father” figure in the pantheon of DC Super-Heroes and is the de-facto leader of The Justice League because of this, making him somewhat analogous to beings like Zeus and Odin.
The original concept for Superman by Seigel and Shuster in 1933 portrayed the character as a bald villain with the power of telepathy and a desire to conquer the world, this concept was later reworked into the very first super-villain Ultra-Humanite. Also, Joe Shuster was born in Toronto, Canada… who knew?
The Lantern Corps: Beyond Hal Jordan
Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern, debuted in the 1940′s and was portrayed as a Batman analogue with a somewhat mystical spin. The concept was redefined in 1959 as a Sci-Fi based Green Lantern Corps., who acted as guardians fueled by the green energy of willpower throughout the universe, with Hal Jordan as the Green Lantern assigned to Earth. Hal developed into a very integral character in the DC universe earning a prominent role in The Justice League, and spin-off Green Lanterns like John Stewart and Guy Gardner. However in the mid nineties, Hal Jordan’s popularity began to wain so DC had him become possessed by the cosmic entity Parallax turning him into a villain, ultimately leading to his death in the story Emerald Twilight. His replacement, Kyle Rayner, became the most prominent Green Lantern at DC. Some years later, writer Geoff Johns wrote Green Lantern: Rebirth which brought Hal back to life and led up to the reveal of a rival Lantern Corps called the Sinestro Corps which were powered by the yellow energy of fear. Sinestro Corps were led by Hal’s former mentor Sinestro, further Lantern Corps followed, filling the color spectrum of light with nine factions that all contributed towards the fulfillment of a prophecy called “The War of Light”.
Instead of speaking about the formations of each individual Lantern Corps that harness the various emotional energies associated with their respective colours, I would like to speak about the energies themselves, because they have been tied into the very creation of the DC universe in a rather interesting way. When the main DC universe was created, there was nothing but darkness, because of this the black energy force that powers the zombie like Black Lanterns was content; that was until the angelic white energy life form known as The Entity entered the universe filling it with the white energy of life. The black energy force fought back against the white light and ultimately failed but it managed to split up the white energy into the seven energy forces that correspond with the colours we know today.
The effects of the splitting of the white light were many; The Entity was placed in a hibernation of sorts, and the black energy took the form of Nekron, the grim reaper like being, so it could squash out the remaining colours. Matter began to coalesce in the universe leading to the formation of earth as a large cocoon of sorts around The Entity. Because of The Entity’s hibernation within the earth, organisms began to spring up and eventually spread throughout the universe, seven early organisms showed great potential and became empowered by the coloured energy forces that sprang from the white energy:
- The first organism to move under it’s own willpower became empowered by the green energy force of willpower and turned into the whale like entity known as Ion
- The first organism to fear it’s own destruction became empowered by the yellow energy force of fear and turned into the insect like entity known as Parallax
- The first organism to become spurned by love became empowered by the violet energy force of love and turned into the alien like entity known as Predator
- The first organism to consume more food than it needed due to greed became empowered by the orange energy force of greed and turned into the snake like entity known as Ophidian
- The first organism to feel the rage of loss due to the first murder became empowered by the red energy force of rage and turned into the bull like entity known as Butcher
- The first organism to experience compassion for the plight of another became empowered by the indigo energy force of compassion and turned into the octopus like known as Proselyte
- The first organism to hope for its own survival during a fierce storm became empowered by the blue energy force of hope and turned into the bird like known as Adara
These seven entities dispersed throughout the universe being the sole users of their respective energy forces until various factions like the guardians of Oa began to harness the energies through technological means forming the various lantern corps to fulfill various ends. The colored energies are harnessed via a large central power battery that is used to fill smaller power batteries which are channeled into the power rings of deputized citizens of the universe as lanterns. Those who become lanterns are charged with dispensing each energy forces respective kind of justice via lust for vengeance, theft, intimidation, enforcement of laws, prayer, affection, or assistance but not all the respective lantern corps pursuit justice nobly. Finally in times of great strife, the various entities have been known to possess someone that is exhibiting their respective emotion, this creates hyper powerful variations of the typical lantern’s that only exist for periods of time until the entity is stripped from them or it leaves of it’s own accord; this often occurs to lanterns but it has been known to happen to normal citizens as well.
Mythological Take Away:
The development of this Lantern Corps based creation myth for the DC universe takes on a lot of fascinating facets; firstly with the light versus darkness dichotomy being used to explain everything from colors to matter to life itself. The creation myth is also used to explain why an overwhelming amount of events in the DC universe occur on earth because it is the origin point of life in the universe. Similarly the personification of emotions through abstract animal like deities, and the selection of those that are worthy to act as their champions takes from both Asian and Greco-Roman mythologies to create a very interesting hybrid of the two concepts. Meanwhile the origins of the various entities themselves pull from some Judeo-Christian concepts, Butcher is implied to be a by-product of the murder of Abel by his brother Cain, Ophidian takes clear inspiration from the snake that seduced Eve into eating the forbidden fruit, etc. This all filters down into the various lanterns that employ the powers of the emotional spectrum and act like soldiers in servitude to nations that worship certain deities like those of ancient Greece.
There have been a number of strange Lantern’s in DC history including: a house cat, a squirrel, puff balls, viruses, a sentient math equation, and even Mogo the sentient planet.
Diana Prince (Wonder Woman): Protector of the Amazons of Themyscira
In many ways Wonder Woman is the female counterpart to Superman, immensely popular through her 70 year history, earning the title of most popular female Super-Hero and a place in DC’s ‘Trinity” alongside Batman and Superman. Even though her powers and abilities are similar to Superman, she’s is not a direct analogue to him like Supergirl, Wonder Woman exhibits a lot of important traits to set her apart primarily due to her ties to Greek Mythology which instilled a warrior spirit in the character. Created in 1942 by psychologist William Marston who originally called the character Suprema, he set out to create a character that was a female counterpoint to the rise of the muscle bound male Super-Heroes of the 1930′s. The main inspiration behind Wonder Woman was Marston wanting to create a character with a warriors spirit, but was driven by compassion and love, someone who sought to protect the innocent and restrain her opponents instead of just defeating them.
Wonder Woman comes from the isle of Themyscira, a paradise hidden from the world of men, that is populated by beautiful warrior women called the Amazons. The ruler of Themyscira is Queen Hippolyta who, like all Amazons, was once a mortal woman that was brutally killed by a man. Amazons were created by the patron gods of Themyscira by sending their souls into the crust of the Aegean sea, where they are reborn. Hippolyta was pregnant at the time of her death, so Aphrodite took pity on her and crowned her, because she could not bring her child back to life. The loss of the unborn child caused a deep desire in Hippolyta to have another, but she could not, because Themyscira is a female only society, so she frequently prayed to the Greek gods to let her have a child. Eventually the gods heard her plea and told her to go to the beach and sculpt a child out of clay. She did this, and the gods appeared before her and blessed the clay to bring it to life, which granted it special abilities greater than normal Amazons. Overjoyed Hippolyta brought the child before the women of Themyscira and proclaimed her Princess Diana, the future champion of the Amazons, and began raising her new child as best she could, even having her tutored personally by the various members of the Greek pantheon.
One day when Diana had grown, American pilot Steve Trevor crash landed on Themyscira, where he was rescued and nursed back to health by Diana. This was against the Amazonian code that men could not set foot on the island, eventually Diana was found out and the two were brought before her mother. Hippolyta bound to enforce the laws of Themyscira, but not wanting to hurt her daughter, declared that Steve would be escorted home by an Amazon. The Amazon would be be determined by winning a tournament that Diana was forbidden to enter. As one would expect Diana managed to enter and win the tournament by wearing a mask, when she was asked to reveal herself she complied and shocked her mother. Despite this act of defiance Hippolyta respected Diana’s tenacity and allowed her to enter the world of man. After returning Steve Trevor to New York, Diana came to realize she was falling for him, so she elected to stay there under the name Diana Prince. When needed she would become the Super-Heroine Wonder Woman, which led to her becoming the foremost Super-Heroine in comics.
Mythological Take Away:
With her roots deeply entrenched in Greco-Roman mythology, a lot of inspirations from figures like Athena, Artemis, Atalanta, and the mythological Amazons should be quite evident, but there are some aspects to the character taken from myths that are not immediately apparent. Foremost among that is the relationship between Wonder Woman and her mother Hippolyta, which is very similar to that of Thor and Odin, just with a gender switch. Hippolyta like Odin is a powerful leader that enforces the rules of her society to a very strict degree, while her daughter and champion Wonder Woman, much like Thor, is a somewhat headstrong heir that is willing to be very defiant should the situation call for it. Another aspect can be seen from the story of Perseus, a bastard son of Zeus, who went on a quest acting as a champion of the gods blessed with a number of enchanted weapons. Wonder Woman’s journey to the world of man follows a similar pattern, right down to the enchanted weapons, with her receiving her Lasso of Truth, Bracelets of Victory, Royal Tiara, and the rarely seen Magic Sword.
Wonder woman’s creator William Marston was also the inventor the lie detecting polygraph machine in 1915, Wonder Woman’s golden lasso of truth took heavy inspiration from his machine.
Thomas Pierce is a student at VFS Game Design