Superheroes are now very popular in modern culture, with many movies and TV series being based upon their stories, backstories, villains, etc. Of course, most of these superheroes had their beginnings in comic book series, winning the hearts of fans all over the United States and beyond.
However, these comic books also have their roots in a completely different category. The creators of modern comic series take a lot of inspiration from Greek mythology, both for the characters and the powers given to them. The creators also look at some exciting ideas in the realm of Greek mythology and work upon it with their own touch.
There is also a definite impact of Greek mythology on Western culture. Some of these is probably from the comic book heroes, so let’s have a look at the top examples in this connection:
The Parallels Between Greek Heroes and Modern Superheroes
At times, the changes in the heroes are not even noticeable. Many people are not very well-versed in Greek mythology, so he probably won’t be able to recognize its aspects in any case. If we really delve into the connections, though, the parallels can be quite interesting.
Just a few instances of these parallels include:
Captain America and Heracles
Captain America might easily be viewed as a very patriotic version of Heracles. The latter was a divine hero in Greek mythology, perhaps better known to the modern public as Hercules.
Hercules was known for many things, including his strength and his shield with depictions of Olympic events. Captain America is also often shown with a shield, which has symbols representing the country he protects.
The hero Heracles or Hercules was also the only human in Greek mythology that managed to gain the status of god. He had to go through several difficult and even demeaning tasks that gave him a lot of pain in order to achieve his end goal. Captain America also went through similar obstacles, though his struggles were a bit more modernized in the comic books. Before he was a superhero, he started out as a weak human who was shorter than average and even bullied at times. He was beaten up, embarrassed, and made fun of before he gained superhero abilities through the injection of a formula. The injection itself gave him a lot of pain, though it was only for a second. Even so, it was similar to the pain that Hercules went through in order to gain that final ascension.
Iron Man, Ant Man, and Daedalus
The Iron Man and Ant-Man movies may be massive hits now, but comic book geeks are probably more interested in the comic books they started from. Both these characters have several aspects that are probably inspired from the Daedalus.
Daedalus is a well-known character in Greek mythology, While he may not have superhuman powers, he was a skilled craftsman and architect. He is often held up as a symbol of power, knowledge, and wisdom. When Daedalus and his son Icarus had to escape Crete, Daedalus made wings from feathers and tar. The wings did work, but he warned his son not to fly too high or the tar/wax might melt from the sun’s heat. He also gave the warning not to fly too low, or the spray from the sea might wet the feathers and weigh him down. However, Icarus didn’t heed the warning and flew too high, so that the wings came apart and the boy was killed. Daedalus is also known for creating the Labyrinth for King Minos’ Minotaur, as well as a lifelike hollow cow for Pasiphae, the queen of Crete and a goddess of sorcery.
From this story, the characters of Iron Man and Ant Man might be a mixture of qualities from both the father and son in Greek mythology. Both these superheroes were a type of mad scientists, with at least Tony Stark (Iron Man) having a lot of power. In place of the wings, Stark created an iron suit that gave him flying abilities along with many others. The suit, like Daedalus’ creations, was both wonderful and horrified at the same time.
In the same way, Hank Pym created Ultron, the super-powerful AI. This was a machine with human-like thoughts, but was a monstrosity much like the Minotaur itself. Daedalus was also partly responsible for the birth of the Minotaur. Ultron also made Vision, who was a superhero with both machine and flesh parts.
The Focus of Marvel and DC
Marvel Comics usually focuses on the heroes in Greek mythology along with other less powerful characters. It is to be noted that these characters aren’t usually the gods themselves, such as Hades or Zeus when it comes to Marvel.
However, DC is really known for modeling its heroes after the Greek gods of mythology. The Justice League, for instance, is more or less the Pantheon itself, which is the name of the groups consisting of the 12 main Greek gods. These gods are said to live on Mount Olympus, removed from the humans. The Justice League is also removed from the common man, as they live in the Watchtower in space.
Like Zeus is the king of the Greek gods, Superman leads the Justice League. Apollo and the Green Lantern are both associated with light, though the former is linked to the sun and the latter to an actual green lantern.
Superman is not just a Zeus parallel, but also has similarities to Achilles. Achilles was a very strong warrior who was also a half-god. His strength and valor in battle makes him very similar to Superman. Plus, the two characters have just one weakness that could be their downfall. Superman’s weakness is kryptonite, while Achilles was vulnerable in his ankle. Both ‘kryptonite’ and ‘Achilles’ heel’ are also a part of everyday language now as idioms for weak spots. Other than these weaknesses, both Achilles and Superman are meant to be invincible heroes for their receptive times/dimensions.
Superman’s parallel with Zeus lies not only in their both ruling their council or league. Zeus’s position is not a totally stable one; he is imperfect and constantly in fear of being overtaken or overthrown by the more junior gods. Superman’s position is also like this; he isn’t a leader that has the final say at all times. His decisions are questioned and sometimes contested. In many of the comics, the heroes have a lot of tension between themselves and Superman as well.
This tension is most apparent between Superman and Batman, who is probably inspired in part by Hades. While Hades might seem to be a villainous god and Batman fights for good, the parallel lies in many other aspects of both these characters. Hades is the Greek god of death and the underworld, while Batman has been familiar with death from a very young age. He lost his parents, a lot of his friends died, and many of the villains in history are addicted to killing sprees more than gaining world domination. Of course, we also can’t ignore the fact that Batman lives in his own version of the underworld. His surroundings are pretty grim, like Hades’ are. The Batcave is underground, while Hades lives underground as well. Plus, both Batman and Hades are loners; they’re usually portrayed as being by themselves and operating on their own.
The rivalry of Batman and Superman is probably what makes them the most like Hades and Zeus respectively. Whenever the gods or heroes have any doubts about Zeus’ decisions or are not happy with what he says, they go to Hades for advice or help. The same goes for the Justice League; they go to Batman if Superman’s decisions are not suitable for them. Many times, both gods and heroes will go to the underworld leader for counsel in search of a better solution or a way out of punishment. It’s not that the heroes and gods like Batman or Hades for their personality. However, the fact remains that these two dark characters get the job done when the leaders may not act so fast. At the end of the day, though, Hades and Zeus or Batman and Superman do work together for the greater good. Some of the top movies based on Greek mythology may also shed light on the relationships between the gods.
The main examples of Greek mythology’s impact on modern comic books are detailed above. Here are just a few more interesting examples:
- Flash, who is probably inspired by Hermes, the speedy messenger of the gods–the lightning bolt on his suit is similar to the wings Hermes has on his sandals
- Aquaman, inspired by Poseidon, the god of the sea or water in general. Both characters are in control of the sea, have tridents, and are relatively friendlier to their league/pantheon’s leader than the others
- Artemis, who is probably inspired by the goddess Artemis, who is the goddess of hunting and the moon. Both characters are skilled in archery.
Wonder Woman as the Daughter of Hippolyta
The case of Wonder Woman is different from all other superheroes when it comes to connections with Greek mythology. She has the usual superhero powers; flying, super strength, and high intelligence to boot. At a glance, some may link her to Zeus’s wife, Hera. She is also the strongest female in the Justice League and can sometimes say Superman’s decisions or opinions in a similar way that Hera does with Zeus (for better or for worse).
However, what sets Wonder Woman apart is that her backstory is actually intertwined with Greek mythology itself. Superman might be an alien, while Batman is a human with a lot of money. Spiderman was bitten by a spider, Captain America was injected with a magic formula, and the Flash inhaled some vapors to get his powers. However, Wonder Woman (also Princess Diana of the Amazons) was just born with all her powers. This is because she was born to Hippolyta, the queen of the Amazons. Hippolyta was the daughter of Otrera and Ares, the Greek god of war.
From the information, we know that Wonder Woman, the Warrior Princess Diana of Themyscira, is a part of Greek mythology herself. Instead of just being inspired by Hera or having a perceived link to the Greek gods, she was born to one of them. Hera actually released Princess Diana to the human realm and named the champion of the Amazons. Ares actually had a problem with this, as he didn’t like the Amazons as a rule. The deal he finally made was that if Wonder Woman even fell while in battle, this would mean the destruction of the Amazons. As a result, he actually became one of the main enemies of Wonder Woman, making obstacles and monsters to thwart her. However, the other gods were on her side, with Athena and Hera giving advice and Hephaestus making her a lasso and enchanted bracelets.
Wonder Woman is the result of the DC writers wanting to continue the story of the Amazons. Most of her comic story arcs are linked to her mythological backstory, with Hippolyta, Ares, Hera, and other gods frequently making an appearance. With Wonder Woman existing, Ares was an assured enemy of the Justice League and all its members.
Other than Ares, the link of Wonder Woman provides regular chances for the Justice League to interact with the Greek heroes and gods. There is even a story arc where the heroes were pitted against their Greek counterparts; Zeus vs. Superman, Apollo vs. Green Lantern, and so on.
The links between Greek mythology and modern comic books are apparent. Even these links have been meshed together, since the heroes and gods interact with each other at time. With so many twists and turns, it’s no wonder that the world of superheroes is becoming so popular now.