Why do comics always use the same old mythologies?

Full non-Postman disclosure: Because of a delayed flight, a three-hour midnight drive across my home state, a hotel room fire alarm choosing 4:00 am to start warning of its low battery and the subsequent 20-minute disappearance of the front desk staff, I'm running on three hours of sleep. If I sound incoherent or dumb today, that's why. Yes, obviously I mean more so than usual.

Awesome Anubis art by Genzoman. Check out the full pic here, and his other art here.


Cultural Imperialism Comix

Brian G.:

Hey,

After reading on your opinion on Greek superheroes, I've been thinking. In the DC/Marvel mainstream, you have Thor representing the Norse pantheon, and Hercules and Wonder Woman representing the Greek aspect of superheroes, but in the realm of Ancient Egypt, we have Dr. Faust, a magic-based super-VILLIAN, and Black Adam, Shazam's arch-nemesis. And before you tell me otherwise, there is a comic on Isis, though she is one of the more esoteric superheroines that most people, except for comic book uber-nerds, who actually read indie publishers (Isis came from Blue Water Comics).

From that standpoint, it's somehow kosher to say that the only super-export that Egypt brings to the world is constant evil. If it wasn't for the fact that people live in Egypt, I wouldn't doubt that the Justice League would use their superpowers to wipe Egypt from the face of the planet, for the safety of humanity. So why's there no love for Ancient Egypt in the Marvel and DC comicverses? There must be an Ancient Egyptian superhero in the Marvel and DC comics somewhere? Am I missing something?

Answer to your first question: White people.

Answer to your second question: Hawkman and Hawkgirl, who were reincarnations of Egyptian royalty (among many other things). Moon Knight, who is an avatar of the Egyptian god Konshu. Dr. Fate, who wears the magic mask of the ancient Egyptian wizard Nabu. All of whom are currently white people.

There are a few things going on here. One is that most of these characters were created way back when White People Ruled the Earth. Hell, it took forever to get Asian or black characters into comics, and they were America's two predominant minorities (the 1940 census didn't even bother to include Hispanic as an option) — there was no chance someone as exotic as an Indian or Egyptian would show up as anything other than some exotic, probably depraved villain. Still, there were some interesting parts of these foreign cultures, so they were appropriated for white people.

As to why comics seem to primarily feature Greco-Roman mythologies, it's because they're the best-known in western culture, because of the proliferation of their religion through writing, which allowed their works to survive through the years. Trade and travel spread these written works and their entwined mythologies further through Europe, where the British empire got a hold of them and considered themselves to be the successors of the Greco-Roman tradition, since they were in charge of what they deemed the civilized world. England totally had a crush on ancient Greece and Rome and added all these works and their attendant mythologies to their education system, which was brought over and became America's education system, so in the '40s when a bunch of white guys were being paid to write comics, they remembered a term paper or something and said, "Yeah, the Greek myths will totally work here." And thus William Moulton Marston used Greek mythology as the setting of Wonder Woman, and Zeus made his first appearance in a Marvel comic.

Oh: Norse myths managed to stick around because they wrote enough shit down, like the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda. The Norse weren't civilized enough to be idolized by the British empire and become as culturally well-known as Greco-Roman myth, but it hung on — enough so that when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were brainstorming new superhero characters in 1962, possibly after watching a Hercules movie or two, they said, "Hey, let's do something a little different."


Why do comics always use the same old mythologies?Widow Maker

Jonah B.:

So I was watching the avengers for like the eighth time yesterday, and as usual, I noticed that my two favorite scenes in the entire movie involve black widow. The first scene is her opening scene with the Russian mobster guy. The second scene is her scene with Loki. In both scenes she is the smartest person in the room, and one of them (the Russian mobster scene) has the best physical fight in the whole movie. (In my opinion of course) without her, I think the avengers wouldn't have been nearly as good, yet she still hasn't gotten her own movie. It seems like a no-brainier for marvel. It would be low-cost since you could make it as more of a spy movie an less of a superhero movie, and she's already established and popular. Stick her on a mission in Eastern Europe somewhere without an exit strategy and rake in the money. Now that she's pregnant, I guess it will be even longer, but still, why gamble on Captain Marvel as your first female superhero movie when you have a known quantity in Black Widow?

There are lots of reasons why Marvel might make a Captain Marvel movie before giving Black Widow her own movie — although there are plenty of rumblings that a Black Widow movie may be in the pipeline. The first reason is practical, and you mentioned it: Scarlett Johansson is pregnant, and Marvel could theoretically start pre-production on Captain Marvel tomorrow.

There's also the fact that Black Widow, for all she hangs out with Thor and Hulk, is a spy more than a superhero. I mean you can call her a superhero, and it's not incorrect, but in a movie by herself, she's going be shooting guns and kicking people in the face, not punching them through walls. Captain is, as dubbed by Marvel themselves, Earth's Mightiest Hero, and she can take punches from Hulk and Thor, and punch them back. I don't know if Marvel cares about this — certainly the Marvel cinematic universe can contain a spy flick, and if audiences accept GotG a spy movie will be no problem — but only Captain Marvel would have the epic, comic book-level bombast of a Thor or Captain America.

Marvel could want to quickly introduce a superheroine that matches the top-tier power level of the Avengers so that the only female character isn't, comparatively to the other Avengers, powerless. They may want to make the Avengers seem less like a sausage fest. They may see the incredible franchise potential in having a top-tier female superhero that girls can obsess with just like boys do with Hulk, Cap and Thor. Marvel may care deeply about representative gender equality in their products and want to take drastic steps to correct this injustice. Probably not, though.


Why do comics always use the same old mythologies?

National Population Statistics... of the Dead

Jon S.:

Hey Postman,

With all the Zombie movies and games out there, it got me thinking about one of the major problems with these massive hordes of infected.. Critical Mass.

And thinking about how Zombi-ism spreads, shouldn't there be a point at which no more zombies are created? If we're talking about the "eating-flesh-to-live" kind of zombie, then a typical attack would go something like this:

1. Zombie attacks person.

2. Zombie starts to eats person.

3. Zombie gets full or Person Turns.. (Do zombies even get full?)

Now you've got 2 zombies and the cycle starts again, expanding exponentially.. but this all breaks down once you get away from the 1-on-1 encounters. If you've got 2 or 3 zombies attacking 1 person, they are each going to be able consume more of the person's body before he/she gets a chance to turn. So now this new zombie has a lot more bits missing than the first zombie and as more Zombies are made, the new ones are going to have less and less body left.

So at what point do the number of attacking zombies tip the scales and simply devour the person so there's nothing left to reanimate? Shouldn't the majority of zombies encountered show a lot more damage from how they were turned? Wouldn't it be more likely to see a smaller group of zombies wandering around than a massive horde? Even if 2 groups joined up, there would be a bunch of them that wouldn't be able to get any "meat" from the next victim and either die or peel off to start a new group, right?

You're forgetting that zombies don't devour all their kills. All it takes is a scratch or a bite. No matter the number of zombies in the world, there's going to be people who can survive an attack with just a scratch — but that scratch will be enough, and then you have a zombie in mint condition. Going to happen all the time, everywhere.

As for the point where zombies essentially go through their food supply and fall to pieces or rot away before finding new victims, save that shit for Max Brooks novel. You know how many zombies out there? More than enough, that's how much.


Why do comics always use the same old mythologies?Smoak & Simmons for Hire

Joseph L.:

Postman Rob,

Would you watch a procedural with Emily Bett Rickards and Elizabeth Henstridge?

P.S. I tweeted at Rickards and Henstridge this morning, saying they'd be my choice for Season 2 of True Detective (yeah, I'm late to the #TrueDetectiveSeason2 party) and Henstridge just favorited my tweet! *swoons*

I would watch the holy hell out of that show. Hell, they're both so awesome/adorable I might be willing to accept fan fic at this point. Make it happen, internet. Oh, I'm joking; we already know you've made it happen, and you made it filthy, too, you bastards.


Mo' Money, Mo' Problems

Alex S.:

Hello Postman,

Since I have grown into some adult shaped man-boy I have had to go the cinema by myself and have been going for a few years now. I go by myself mostly because I'm awesome company but because I know I probably wont enjoy the film I am about to see. I have only gone to see the big-budget sci-fi/fantasy films, the ones designed to make all their money back at the box-office. But I don't really enjoy the films. I go because I love films, I may have some respect for the directors, but it is mostly out of curiosity, something to argue with myself about.

Am I alone in this? Have sci-fi/fantasy films always been so terrible? There are a few exceptions per decade, but not the dozen or so that come out every year.

P.S. Why do the mega budget films that somehow require a budget over $200,000,000 never end up being great films? Can these films be great, or just mindless entertainment?

Anything is possible. Just like a low budget doesn't guarantee an indie darling, a big budget not guarantee mindless entertainment. It's really hard, for a bunch of reasons: 1) because if you need a $200+ million budget in the first place, you're making a spectacle, and those by their nature tend to be more about visceral thrills than thoughtful meditations on the human condition. 2) Once you have $200 million, you have a lot of investors who want to make a profit — this makes the people in charge nervous, which makes them overcautious, which tends to stifle creativity, originality, and things that don't appeal to the lowest common denominator.

Some day all the pieces will line-up and we'll have a giant blockbuster that ranks alongside Casablanca or something, even if it's only because of inflation. For the record, Wall-E — which I would argue is a great movie, albeit a great movie primarily targeted to kids — cost $170 million to make. One more year in development and I might had had a better answer for you.


More Like Networthless, Amirite?

Ben:

I've been recording Agents of Shield and True Detective to watch when I have free time, which isn't often, so I have most of those seasons saved on my DVR. At least I did until this weekend when it got filled and deleted two episodes of AoS. No big deal I can just watch them onDemand right? Nope. There's only 4 episodes onDemand and only two of them in order. Ok I'll check it out online. Again nope, there's five episodes and one expires tomorrow. Now if my DVR had deleted True Detective instead I'd be able to watch it onDemand or online.

My question is when does network tv stop this BS? If I don't watch their show when they want me to watch it then I can't watch it until it comes out on DVD or pirate it online. Both options aren't appealing to me and I'm probably just going to delete the rest of Agents of Shield and forget about it.

TV networks, like many major corporations, refuse to accept the truth of how technology is the way we consume their product, and rather than actually adapting to these new opportunities and challenges they're scrambling futilely to stop progress in order to retain their lavish profits from the previous stranglehold on the medium. Also, they're kind of assholes. They'll draw this shit out as long as they can. Maybe at some point in the next decade they'll figure out giving people shitty service will force them to look elsewhere, but based on the last 30 years of cable TV service, I'm not hopeful.

For now, you can usually watch all that shit on Hulu.com, though. The internet, better at TV than TV? Who knew?!


Why do comics always use the same old mythologies?Ring Bearers

Jangles Prime:

Postman:

So I had a random thought in my head at work today. if the GL corps existed in other fictional universes who would be good candidates to get a ring?

Malcolm Reynolds was the first name that came to my mind. He is an obvious choice, though with good reason.

I'd almost go with one version or another of Sherlock Holmes but something rubs wrong there I think.

So any thoughts? Game heros, books, TV? Hell, any real life candidates?

Well, the main thing it takes to be a Green Lantern is the emotion of willpower (note: which is totally not an emotion), and I'd say that's a pretty normal characteristic of most superheroes, especially the DC ones. Honestly, Hal Jordan didn't have the willpower to repress Parallax and ended up being a serial Green Lantern killer for a while there, so by my math, most superheroes would be much better Green Lanterns than Hal.

But say we go outside comic-verses. Well, then it gets awesome. Snake Eyes. He-Man. She-Ra. Kirk would actually be a pretty solid Green Lantern — he had the willpower to beat the Kobayahi Maru. Optimus Prime. Holy shit, can you imagine a Green Lantern Optimus Prime? That would be awesome.

Now I eagerly await mail asking me which heroes would not be accepted by the Green Lantern Corps and why. (Seriously, I hope some askes me so I can answer it next week. This is one of my subtle hints, people.)


Do you have questions about anything scifi, fantasy, superhero, or nerd-related? Email the postman@io9.com! No question too difficult, no question too dumb! Obviously!