by: Joel V. Grineau
|The Gods in Comic Books
Joseph Campbell informs us that the heroes of myth were usually pitted against the Gods in their quests. Often, the heroes were Gods or demigods themselves. Even casual readers have probably noted that the Gods can be found throughout today's comic books. Let's explore this "miracle".
Marvel and DC have made extensive use of Norse, Roman and Greek mythologies. The Avengers have included both Thor and Hercules in their membership; the result being that they have often fought Loki or the Enchantress and upset Zeus (you know, the guy with the lightning bolts and real short fuse?) The post-crisis "Wonder Woman" comic book rests on a solid foundation of Greek Mythology, and thus Ares, God of War is a major recurring villain.
A problem though, is that these established mythologies are restrictive. God X and God Y love or hate each other, live somewhere, and that's about it. Naturally, character development is somewhat truncated.
But it's not a real problem, as the comic book profession is filled with creative people who have made up new pantheons. For example, Marvel's "Eternals" and DC's "New God's", have Gods of War, Speed, Love, Death, Light, etc. But there is more latitude in what you can do with the God characters. [What you can do to a God, not what a God does with you; Now isn't that ironic, don'cha think?]
Interestingly, few of the Gods of comicdom now seek worshippers. This is odd, as, I'm sure I read somewhere (definitely not in Campbell) that the power of a God is proportionally related on the number of followers they have. Given this, shouldn't Loki be seeking some followers, so he'll gain more power, so that he can then defeat Thor? But, of course, most of the Gods have little patience for Humanity. (And in today's world, vice versa!)
There is one interesting exception to this. . .a cult found in Marvel's now defunct 2099 books known as the Thorites. While they may sound like another lame funny-foreheaded alien race from Star Trek, the Thorites were actually a group that (surprise, surprise) worshipped everybody's favourite God of Thunder, Thor. Really, they were Millenialists, hoping for the return of their Messiah, so that a new Golden Age would be ushered in. Too bad the books were cancelled before they found out.
Speaking of Gods, what about "the" God himself? Where is He? Well, the big G can be found over at DC. You see, nowadays the Spectre is so damn powerful that something had to be done to limit him. Solution - God doesn't want a lot of his stuff mucked with, so the Spectre therefore has a limited scope of events that He might become involved in.
Probably the biggest problem for Gods are storylines. Whereas Vigilantes are bottom feeders, Gods are at the top of the food chain. They have to deal with adversaries of mythic proportions. I mean, how easy is it to come up with something that can kill a God, yet be identifiable to the readership, and when it's beaten, have some way to contain it? "Ya, ya, you're a God, move it down to cell THX1138 there, Loki."
In the end we get time-share Gods. Thor splits his time between Asgard and Midgard (Earth). In Asgard he fights Giants, Trolls, Dragons, Gods and other eldritch evils. On Earth, he's fought numerous foes, including giant robots, Mr. Hyde, and agents of Hydra. Somehow, the Godly aura fails to shine so bright in these situations.
In summary, Gods, like any other super heroes come with their own sets of rules, parameters and baggage. Sadly, a poorly written God is just that. If you prick them, they bleed; trivialize them, and the readership disappears.
||Joel Grineau is a former Writer/Contributing Editor for "Chaos"
Magazine. "Iron Man" 146 (purchased in the spring of
1981) was his first comic book, and time has not worn down his
enjoyment of them. Joel holds a BA from the University of Guelph and an MA
from the University of Saskatchewan. He is currently an officer with the Canadian Forces.
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