Mythology can be described as collections of characters, monsters, and stories used by various civilizations throughout history as a means to explain the world around them, provide examples of heroism and villainy, or use as examples to teach the populous important lessons. In previous entries Dave has provided examples of a diverse sampling of mythologies originating from the distant past, which is often the case but I would argue that humanity is still creating mythoi to this day.
The best example of this is the rise of the super-hero beginning in the 1930’s with the likes of The Shadow, and Mandrake the Magician; which ultimately coalesced into the Marvel Comics and DC Comics universes that formed out of the popularity of the original Human Torch from Marvel Comics #1 and Superman from Action Comics #1 respectively. In this article I will pluck a few examples of interesting super-heroes from the Marvel Universe and explain their origins with an eye on mythical influences, I hope to follow this up with an article about three heroes from the DC Universe.
Wow that was awfully formal huh? I apologize I’m more used to writing report papers than I am blog posts, I will try to be a little more personable from here on out.
SUPER-Mythology 101: Part 1 Marvel Comics
Jim Hammond the original Human Torch:
No not Johnny Storm of the Fantastic Four, Jim Hammond is the grand-daddy of the Marvel Comics publishing empire dating all the way back to 1939 when Marvel Comics was still called Timely Comics. This character featured alongside Namor the Sub-Mariner in the first super-hero crossover in Marvel Mystery Comics #8 & #9 which is considered by many to be the origin of the shared nature of the Marvel Universe.
Jim Hammond is an android created by Dr. Phineas Horton and revealed to the public to demonstrate his new “Horton Cell” technology that allowed the creation of synthetic tissue and organs that simulated human cells perfectly. However when the android was exposed to oxygen it would spontaneously burst into flames, naturally this caused public hysteria; so in disgrace Dr. Horton sealed away his creation in a block of concrete and tried to fade into obscurity. However a crack in the concrete caused the android to ignite exploding the block giving Jim his freedom; he took advantage of this freedom by acting as a hero overseas in WWII alongside Captain America as a member of The Invaders.
The story of Jim Hammond contains a lot of elements of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, as well as an aspect of the story of Prometheus. He is a hero made by man that the very people he protects fear as a destructive force, but chooses to fight to save them anyways as it is in his nature.
In official Marvel continuity he is the man that killed Adolf Hitler by burning Hitler alive with his fire.
Danny Rand the Iron Fist, the 66th Immortal Weapon of K’un L’un:
Danny Rand first debuted in Marvel Premiere #15 in 1974, and is easily one of my favorite characters in comics, despite the ludicrously high collar and the goofy ballet slippers. Danny’s father Wendell Rand had a lifelong dream to claim the mantle of the Iron Fist even before he served as a ward to Orson Randall the previous Iron Fist in the 1930’s. After moving past that dream and becoming a successful businessman Wendell funded an expedition into the Tibetan mountains to find the mystical city of K’un L’un to finally fulfill what he saw as his destiny.
So 9 year old Danny Rand, his father Wendell, mother Heather, and his father’s business partner Howard Meachum set out on the expedition, along the way Danny slips on some ice and in his parents attempt to save him causing all three to end up dangling over the edge of a massive cliff. Meachum who was secretly in love with Heather takes this opportunity to dispose of the competition and forces Wendell to fall from the cliff, then he offers to help Heather and Danny up if she pledges her love to him; naturally she rebukes him and the two are abandoned on the cliff side. After falling from the cliff and surviving Danny and his mother try to find safety but are soon confronted by a hungry pack of wolves, Heather sacrifices herself to the wolves so Danny can escape, and that is how 9 year old Danny Rand became stranded in the frozen Tibetan mountains.
Danny carries on towards K’un L’un eventually being found by Lei Kung the Thunderer of K’un L’un, who brings him before Yu-Ti the August Personage in Jade who decides that Danny shall be allowed to stay among them provided he trains with the other boys. When he comes of age he will also have to compete in a tournament for the chance to earn the title of The Immortal Iron Fist by facing Shou-Lao the Undying a dragon that is imprisoned in a mountain cave outside of the city walls. Shou Lao is a dragon forced to forever guard its own molten heart which was cut out and cast into the cauldron kept inside the cave, the scar the dragon received still glows bright on its chest because of the chi that still flows from its heart.
At the age of 19 Danny wins the tournament thus earning the chance to face Shou-Lao; he makes his way to the cave, squares off with and defeats it by choking the life out of the by forcing his chest against the dragon’s scar severing its connection to the chi from the heart. This burns a dragon shaped mark into his chest marking him as the next Iron Fist, afterwards he approaches the cauldron and plunges his fists into the dragon’s heart. This causes him to absorb the dragon’s chi; granting him astounding abilities, in particular the ability to focus the totality of his chi into his fist turning it into a thing of iron allowing super-human strikes, enhanced agility, strength, etc.
Danny emerges from the cave and is presented with the garb of the Iron Fist and is given the opportunity to return to earth if desires; he elects to go to seek out Howard Meachum, to bring him to justice for his father’s murder. Ultimately he becomes a well-known hero in the Marvel Universe forming the Heroes for Hire with his partner Luke Cage, and eventually joining the New Avengers in the wake of the super-hero Civil War.
Over the course of his father’s expedition Danny effectively loses everything in his world, and is effectively reborn into the mystical city of K’un L’un and learns their martial arts and customs in hopes to fulfill his father’s dream. Effectively the “man forged into a weapon” concept akin to Achilles having his mortality burned away in some interpretations of his myth.
Wolverine’s arch-enemy Sabretooth first battled Iron Fist in Iron Fist #14 in 1977.
Ben Reilly & Kaine; the Mirror and the Shadow of Spider-Man:
Of course I had to talk about Spider-Man somehow, but his origin has been discussed to death so instead I’m breaking the cardinal rule of Spider-Fandom; yep we’re going to talk about The Clone Saga. This was a Spider-Man event that began in October 1994 intended to run through four Spider-Man titles over the course of the year, this story proved very profitable so it was extended past the two year mark ending in December 1996 which caused the plot became very convoluted and unwieldy. However when it started the Clone Saga showed a lot of promise as a story, mainly because it raised a lot of really interesting questions about identity and the nature heroism via the inclusion of Ben Reilly and Kaine.
Ben Reilly was created by the mad-scientist Miles “The Jackal” Warren; he was Warren’s first successful clone of Spider-Man and was unknowingly sent out to disrupt the hero’s life. Before even taking the name Ben Reilly the two Spider-Men ran into each other and battled each believing they are the real Peter Parker. During the battle they both managed to become confused, after an explosion “a” Peter escaped victorious and the “other” Peter slinked off into anonymity and took the name “Ben Reilly” as a cover identity. Five years later Ben returned to New York and again ran into Spider-Man after coming to terms with each other Ben took the name “The Scarlet Spider”, began acting as a Super-Hero in his own right, often working as an ally to Spider-Man, and ultimately sacrificed himself to save Peter from being killed by the Green Goblin.
Kaine however is another story altogether, he was The Jackal’s first attempt at cloning Spider-Man, which proved unsuccessful as the mutations causing Spider-Man’s powers were very hard to duplicate, because of this defect his powers, appearance, and mindset were dramatically warped. On top of that Kaine was experiencing greatly accelerated cellular degeneration, so because of these defects The Jackal did not bother to implant Peter’s memories into Kaine and effectively discarded him as a failed experiment. Kaine eventually learned of Ben Reilly’s existence and spent his life following his clone “brother” tormenting him while pursued a life as a mercenary an assassin until he too was brought to New York by the intervention of The Jackal looking to force another confrontation between the three Spider-Men. During this battle Kaine comes to learn that Peter and Ben are not to blame for his existence but rather The Jackal and he sets out to hunt down his creator; this results in Kaine being mortally wounded and reprogrammed by The Jackal. Eventually Kaine does escape from The Jackal’s control, later becoming a reluctant ally of Spider-Man’s, and most recently he has relocated to Austin Texas where he has taken on Ben Reilly’s legacy as the Super-Hero known as The Scarlet Spider.
When a hero is presented with a carbon copy of himself it often raises the question of the path not taken, Ben Reilly represents this question in the Spider-Man mythos. When a hero looks back at a path they could have taken without regret it is a massive testament to their resolve, whether Spider-Man has this resolve is debatable but raising the question is very interesting. Testing a hero’s resolve is a major component to mythological stories especially when said challenges is reflect the heroes own nature, I can think of no better interpretation of this than a confrontation with a perfect clone.
Kaine on the other hand, is the idea of the opposite from common origins, heck it’s even in his name; he is a clear allegory for the biblical Cain. In this story and that of Cain and Abel we are presented with a pair of brothers: The elder the darker and more spiteful, while the younger is seen as the favored by god. Another parallel to Cain and Abel is the fact that Kaine outlived Ben and grew to regret it. The favored brother vs. the spiteful brother is a common theme in mythological pantheon’s (Thor & Loki, Zeus & Hades, etc.) because it established rivalries based on something real people can relate to, and Kaine & Ben follow this model very closely.
The original plan for The Clone Saga was to actually have Ben Reilly replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man permanently, but the editors pulled the plug fearing that fans wouldn’t accept it.
Through the lens of Marvel’s super-heroes we are presented with tales and lessons very reminiscent to those of mythological heroes from the distant past, stay tuned for part two where I will examine a few DC heroes as they represent the mythical gods.
Thomas Pierce is a Game Design Student at VFS