Mythology: The Avengers
By Martin Felipe
July 5, 2012
As we move into the summer months, television offers less programming to discuss. This isn’t to say that there is nothing going on small screen-wise, but we’ll have time to take a look at these hot weather offerings down the line. Summer is the season of the Hollywood blockbuster and, sure enough, the last couple of months of entertainment news hasn’t centered on a TV show as much as it has on a big blockbuster superhero spectacular that has risen in the box office ranks to claim the #3 spot on the all-time lists, a film known as The Avengers.
Now this Avengers success is but the first installment of what some of the lazier entertainment writers are dubbing “Superhero Summer,” followed with the recent Spider-Man reboot and the upcoming Dark Knight finale. I call the writers lazy because anyone paying attention will remember last summer’s Thor/X-Men/Green Lantern/Captain America sequence. For that matter, with the exception of a Punisher here and an Electra there, superhero movies have been dominating our big money-making blockbuster lists going all the way back to 2000’s The X-Men. In fact, one could point to the prior successes of Tim Burton’s Batman or Richard Donner’s Superman, but for the purposes of this column, I’ll stick with the Marvel superheroes.
With The Avengers showing Hollywood how it’s done, it occurred to me that I had not yet delved into superhero mythology on these virtual pages. Let me preface what is to follow with the disclaimer that I love superheroes as much as any boy, and was a comic nerd in my own right growing up, so please do not take what is to follow as an indication that I dislike costumed vigilantes.
Still, from a mythological standpoint, the superhero-verse is more of a hodgepodge than a cohesive universe. I know that pretty much all of the origin stories follow the classic Campbell Hero’s Journey, that’s not what I’m talking about. It’s that the so-called Marvel Universe began as a bunch of individual stories that quickly evolved into a collective.
The current Marvel Universe as we know it really launched in the early ‘60s with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s The Fantastic Four. The success of this foursome led to other well known heroes like Spider-Man, The X-Men, and The Hulk, as well as to second tier folks like Iron Man and Thor. Marvel even started dipping into their pre-Fantastic Four past, resurrecting older heroes like Captain America and Sub-Mariner.
Then, before long, the characters stories started intersecting, appearing in one another’s books. Over time, a bunch of separate hero mythologies evolved into one massive super universe. As a fan of these guys, I enjoyed the huge web of crossover continuity in the increasingly intersecting universe. Yet, it nagged at me a bit. There seemed little cohesion.
To make a comparison to another famous mythology, Tolkien’s Middle-Earth is a closed universe, designed to operate within its own rules and history. Compare this to C.S. Lewis’ Narnia. Tolkien himself criticized his pal Lewis for drawing a little of this and a little of that to create his through-the-wardrobe fantasy kingdom. Narnia isn’t a world governed by internal structure but rather by whatever fantastic flight of fancy Lewis wanted to toss into the mix.