The cliché has it that there are no atheists in foxholes and a similar dynamic is at work in modern culture. As the wars, the Great Recession and all of the rest of our miseries grind on, people of all persuasions are finding a place to escape among all of the rich fantasy worlds of Geek Culture. Conventions are flouting economic trends and are growing at an astounding rate. The San Diego Comic-Con now draws upwards of 150,000 people, in a building a quarter-mile long. Besides rich fantasy worlds, Geek Culture offers something else in short supply these days: gods.
As I argue in my book Our Gods Wear Spandex: The Secret History of Comic Book Heroes, superheroes are not so much like the heroes of the ancient world as they are like the gods -- the savior gods, to be precise. Ancient heroes like Ulysses and Achilles were out to achieve immortality through feats of courage and endurance; they didn't much care about anyone else. Hercules (a hero turned demigod turned savior god) is the most direct parallel to heroes like Superman. Creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster deliberately modeled Superman on figures like Hercules and his biblical counterpart Samson, with bits of back-story cribbed from Moses. In fact, gods like Horus and Mercury were explicitly used for heroes Hawkman and the Flash (as well as their many imitators).
If the gods once possessed ordinary people (think the Mysteries or Santeria), it's the other way around today...
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