Superhero Stories

One thing you notice with superheroes is that we have a tendency to retell their stories. The Amazing Spider-Man comes out this summer and it’s a reboot of that franchise but when you look at the various television series, graphic novels, and even Sunday comics what’s really amazing is how many versions there are of this character. It’s no different with the X-Men, Superman, Batman, really any superhero who actually has some popularity will be reinvented at some point. A part of us would like one definitive story but the truth is there can’t be a definitive story. Mythic stories can’t be contained for they are larger than the telling. Batman for example is far bigger than any movie or even trilogy of movies. It’s not his story that’s bigger but what he represents, because we’re not even sure what he represents. Now superheroes are mythic and while the modern troupes of superheroes may have only been around since the 1930s the genre goes back to ancient times for is not Hercules or Gilgamesh as much a superhero as Green Lantern?

Think about this – there were probably even more versions of Hercules then there are of Spider-Man it’s just most of the versions have been lost. We know the Twelve Labors of Hercules but there probably was an Ultimate Hercules with Fifteen Labors or maybe a crossover series with Achilles as they battle Amazons together before the Trojan War. Yes, sex sold as well in ancient times as it does today. Heck, I’m sure there were storytellers who went all out with Hercules, he might have been a woman in one telling or maybe got bit by Arachnia and picked up the power to create webs and climb walls. This is one of the reasons that when you study Greek myths there is confusion, wiggle room, and the like as even thousands of years later only a few different versions of these stories survived but no doubt the storytelling and theater market was bloated with remakes and reboots. I can guarantee this was the norm across the world. Sure when religion was involved the stories got a little more scripted and tightened but you always have someone willing to make a change even in the holy stories in order to tell a ‘better’ story. I’m sure there’ve been plenty of versions of the Ramayana where Ram not only defeats Ravenna but doesn’t forsake Sita in the end – at least there should be.

Of course, a story about a superhero has to be true to the core concepts of that superhero. So with Spider-Man he has to encounter some mutated spider, make a bad decision that motivates him to be a hero, have a girlfriend who gets in trouble due to his heroics, and he has to be sarcastic and quippy. You can change some of those things but you can’t get too far from them or then it’s not a Spider-Man story but really within that context is many stories one can tell. Now in a thousand years, there might only survive one version of his story, you know the Thirteen Supervillains of Spider-Man but today the only real limitation is IP law. Though of course those old classic superheroes in the public domain like Hercules or Merlin can be reinvented and rebooted countless ways so that they’ve become alive again. Good stories aren’t fixed they’re mutable because there’s so much to explore within them. It’s one reason we recycle so many stories. It’s not laziness but a realization that there is still truth and enjoyment to be mined in the classics.

So yes I wasn’t personally a fan of the recent Star Trek reboot and don’t really have any desire to see The Amazing Spider-Man but I see no flaw in their right to make a new version of these classic stories. These are our myths and if they are really worth as much as we think they are then they need to be retold. They need to be approached from new angles to explore different aspects of the truth and drama they contain. We live in a lucky time because we have access to all the modern versions of these stories. If you don’t like the remake then you can go back and watch the originals or be patient and wait for the remake of the remake. Back in ancient times stories were lost; think of all the awesome versions of classic myths retold by the Spielbergs of their time that we’ve lost. Yet the characters and the core of their stories survived till one day they would be retold and brought alive again. That’s a very nifty thing.

-K

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