Comic Books, Superheroes, and the Greek gods

Superheroes aren’t just made. Well, I mean in comics they are. Actually, not even. Even in comics they have backstories, reasons as to why they become heroes. Anyway, my point is that superheroes don’t just happen. Their creators have to have some kind of inspiration, some base to work off of or some already existing idea that they can put their own spin on. They change their heroes enough so that it’s not noticeable, but if you really think about it the parallels become obvious. Captain America could be regarded as a super patriotic Heracles. As Heracles had his shield that embodied events of the Olympics, Captain America has a shield that embodies the country he fights for. Heracles is the only human that became god, and had to go through many demeaning tasks and suffer a great deal of pain before becoming a god. The same goes for Captain America, in a more modernized sense. Before becoming a superhero, he was a weakling that was often made fun of. He was shorter than the average male, a lot weaker than average, he got picked on and beat up by bullies, he was generally embarrassed and demeaned as Heracles was. And then when he was injected with the formula that gave him superhuman capabilities, he was put through an immense amount of pain. While it was for a split second, it still stands that he suffered pain during his final ascension, just as Heracles did.


Superheroes Iron Man (Tony Stark) and Ant-Man (Hank Pym) seem to embody Daedalus. They were mad scientists of a sort, inventors that gave birth to creations of both wonder and horror. Whereas Daedalus gave Icarus wings, Tony Stark created his iron suit that allowed him to fly. Whereas Daedalus gave birth to the monstrosity known as the Minotaur, Hank Pym gave birth to the ultra powerful AI known as Ultron. Ultron was a machine that thought like a human, a humanoid monstrosity much like the Minotaur. If that’s not enough, they also created the Vision, a superhero that’s both flesh and machine. (Ultron is depicted on the left, the Vision is on the right)



Marvel mainly focuses on Greek heroes and less ultra powerful figures in mythology to model their heroes after. There isn’t any hero that really embodies Zeus or Hades or any of the gods. DC, however, seems to have a mentality that’s exactly the opposite of Marvel. Almost all of DC’s heroes are modeled after Greek gods. I mean, seriously. The Justice League is pretty much the pantheon. The Greek gods live on the top of Mount Olympus, separated from all of the humans. The Justice League lives in the Watchtower. In space. Completely isolated from humans. Zeus is the leader of the gods, Superman is the leader of the league. Apollo is the god of light, the Green Lantern is the hero of light. For god sakes, part of his oath is “Beware my power, green lantern’s light!” Those are only similarities on the surface too. Delving into the details, there’s a lot more unseen commonalities.

Superman is the obvious parallel to Zeus. While he does have a bit of Achilles in him (only one weakness; kryptonite), he mainly resembles the king of gods. In many ways too, not just in the fact that they both rule their council. Zeus’ position is not totally cemented. There’s the constant fear of being usurped by a new ruler or being overthrown by the other gods. Superman isn’t an all peaceful leader that’s never contested. A lot of his decisions are often questioned, and there’s a lot of tension between him and the heroes. Especially Hades. I mean, Batman. Yes, Batman is a parallel of Hades. Batman is consistently surrounded by death; his parents died, his friends die often, most of the villains he fights are homicidal maniacs that go on killing sprees rather than trying to dominate the world…his world is pretty grim. On top of that, he’s almost constantly secluded in his Batcave which is conveniently located underground. Hades is the king of the underworld. He’s always surrounded by death, he lives underground, and he’s almost always by himself. (Batcave on the left, Underworld on the right)



What most solidifies Batman and Superman as their godly counterparts, though, is their rivalry. While Superman is the main leader of the league, Batman is often gone to for council. Whenever there’s even a hint of doubt, the other heroes decide to consult Batman. Even when there isn’t doubt, sometimes they’ll go to him for a better opinion or solution than whatever Superman has offered. However, they don’t go to Batman for his council because of his personality or character. They simply go to him because they respect him; as much as Superman, if not more. Most heroes don’t necessarily like Batman. Even through their tension, though, they still cooperate to complete tasks and get things done. If this isn’t a reflection of the relationship that Zeus and Hades share, then I don’t know what is. Hades and Zeus often have a fair bit of conflict, being complete opposites after all. While the other gods don’t necessarily hate Hades, they don’t really enjoy him either, yet they still respect him. And no matter their differences, Hades and Zeus still work together.

Besides these few examples, there are many many more heroes that embody the gods. There’s the Flash, who embodies Hermes. His ability is being ultra fast and he even wears something on his suit akin to the feathers on the winged sandals. There’s Aquaman, who’s very clearly a reference to Poseidon. Both rule over the sea, both wield tridents, and both are more benevolent towards their leader than their brother (well in Aquaman’s case, colleague). There’s even a hero named Artemis! She has exceptional skill with the bow and arrow and is even nicknamed the huntress. Perhaps the most interesting of all the parallels, though, would be Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman, or Princess Diana, is the princess of the Amazons. She boasts super strength, she can fly, and she is extremely intelligent. Many view her akin to Hera in reference to the justice league, as she seems to be the strongest female and holds the most sway over Superman’s opinions and decisions. Things get weird with Wonder Woman though, and here’s how. All the other heroes have pretty unique/original origin stories. Superman is an alien, Batman is an orphan with a vengeance (and a large amount of money), the Flash inhaled some super crazy water vapors. Wonder woman, however, was simply born. Why does this make her special? Well, because her mother is Hippolyta. Yes, the one and only Hippolyta. Wonder Woman is directly related and intertwined with Greek mythology, whereas all the other superheroes only have perceived links to the Greek gods. But Wonder Woman is directly intertwined with Greek mythology. Born from Hippolyta as Warrior Princess Diana of Themyscira, she was released to the realm of humans by Hera as champion of the Amazons. This was a cause of an argument between Persephone and Ares regarding the Amazons. Ares disliked their existence as a whole, and a deal was made that pretty much incites that if Wonder Woman is to ever fall in battle, the Amazons will be destroyed. This sets Ares as one of her permanent enemies, often creating monsters and obstacles to challenge and attempt to kill her. However, she has the other gods of the pantheon on her side, Hera and Athena often offer her counsel, Hephaestus fashioned her lasso out of Gaea’s girdle, and even made her enchanted bracelets out of Zeus’ destroyed aegis.  The things that makes Wonder Woman so interesting, though, is the fact that she’s not really an adaptation of any myth, but rather an attempted continuation. The writers at DC wanted to take the existence and legacy of the Amazons and write a continuation of it, and they did so by create Wonder Woman. Most, if not all, of Wonder Woman’s story arcs are heavily intertwined with her mythological origin, constantly involving Hera, Hippolyta, Ares, and a number of other gods in human and DC affairs. Wonder Woman’s existence allows Ares to be a continual enemy of the entire Justice League, and even provides for interaction between the other heroes and the gods. Zeus has encountered the Justice League a number of times, and many of the heroes have fought Ares. There’s even a Justice League story arc that pits the gods against their superhero counterparts; Zeus against Superman, Hermes against the Flash, Apollo against the Green Lantern, Hades against Batman, and Poseidon against Aquaman. The heroes all had perceived links to the gods, but Wonder Woman’s existence banishes those links by introducing the actual gods into the comics, allowing for an interesting marriage of comic book culture and today’s interpretation of the Greek Gods. 2211405-picture_51271527-queen_hippolyta


Above: Wonder Woman vs. Ares and Queen Hippolyta


Anthology of Classical Myth Edited and Translated by Stephen M. Tzraskoma, R. Scott Smith, and Stephen Brunet

26 thoughts on “Comic Books, Superheroes, and the Greek gods

  1. irchem

    Wow, this modern adaptation sounds really complicated! Haha, I’m pretty sure I don’t quite understand it. I think it’s interesting that the adaptation stick to the original format of having a trilogy–that speaks to the dedication of the playwright and his understanding of Ancient Greek Theatre. I thought it was really helpful to include those clips at the end… this certainly sounds like one messy story.

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  9. elizabeth

    There are many superheros and bad people but can they have all the same powers or use the same powers or be better then a others ? Can a ancient be a superhero ? They fight and save their people so that means they are superheros

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  12. Andrew Estrada Taylor

    This blog post immediately caught my attention because my post is also concerned with a comic book character. Also, very much like how Wonder Woman has a direct connection to the Greek gods, Hercules is also in direct relation to the gods. Your focus being in the DC universe is also something I am greatly interested because mine is in the rival Marvel realm. Wonder Woman, as well as countless others, being a production of Greek mythology reinforces my belief that comics are very much like the tales of ancient Greece, for why else would comics consistently draw upon myth for inspiration. I definitely want to see where you go with your ideas and wouldn’t be against talking about the interaction between comics and myth together.

  13. maghant

    This is so interesting to see how comparative comic book super heroes are to the Greek gods we’ve been reading about in class. I’ve never realized how similar the Justice League is to the Pantheon! What I really enjoyed about your post is the ending paragraph on Wonder Woman. I had never heard that she was the daughter of Hyppolta, and her direct lineage to Greek myth was surprising.

    I think the importance of the powerful and intelligent Greek goddesses is necessary to be discussed in way of the overbearing guise of male gods. Both Hera and Athena are present in the play I analyzed, Argonautika, and they certainly hold their own in a cast otherwise dominated by men. For more on the play check out my post!

  14. crpellegrino

    I really liked your comparison of Daedalus with Tony Stark and Hank Pym. I focused more on Icarus in my post, but it was interesting to see the way Daedalus has been adapted into modern culture, too. The archetype of the mad inventor definitely still seems to be relevant today, as you mentioned with Stark’s Iron Man suit and Pym’s Ultron. Just like Daedalus, these characters always seem to cause their own suffering; Daedalus was punished for creating the Minotaur and his son died from his invention, just like how Stark and Pym have caused so many problems from their crazy inventions. I wonder who Icarus would be in the comic book universe.

  15. haknabe

    Your blog post was very interesting and I liked your point how superheroes “don’t just happen,” but rather are created via inspiration from gods and Greek mythology. It makes me wonder about how the stories about the gods were originally created. For instance, where did the authors of the myths get their inspiration from if there were no previous stories?

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