Throughout the years, a superhero’s origin may be retold countless times. A new origin can help to modernize a character, bringing an outdated story to the present. It may also remind readers where this character has come from, what the driving motivation is for them. Or it may simply be to reintroduce the character to new readers, those who are less familiar with the story. At any rate, retelling stories such as this can be a thrill for comic writers. It’s their chance to put their mark on the core mythology of the characters they love so dearly.
So it was with class myth. These are stories that would be told and retold countless times, being told orally and passed down through generations. Each new telling would bring subtle changes into the myth, each listener bringing variations to the tale. When the myths came to be written down so too they changed, as they inevitably would when translated into any given language. Now with an influx of myth into modern cinema, these ancient tales are once again retold. Every time a new story is presented, but one which keeps the same basic elements of the original.
These retellings help to keep stories alive. They change and adapt to the times, gaining fresh life and taking on new relevance. In both myth and comics, each writer has their own unique style that they bring to a story, attempting to share it through their vision.
Take for example one of the best-known comic origin stories, that of the Batman. Young Bruce Wayne sees his parents gunned down before him as they exit the theatre, a senseless and random act of violence laying the seed of immense psychological damage in the Wayne’s sole child. Rather than succumbing to grief, Bruce spends the rest of his life training to become the scourge of Gotham City’s superstitious and cowardly criminal underworld. This is a story instantly familiar to anyone even vaguely aware of the character. Partly due to it being ingrained in the public psyche, but there is a definite reason why this story is so well-known.
To say nothing of its repetition in the source material (first introduced in 1939’s Detective Comics #27 and fleshed out in 1948’s Batman #47), Batman’s origin is one of the most popular stories told in adaptations of the comics. Practically every feature film starring the Caped Crusader has tackled it at some point. Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989, Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins in 2005, and most recently Scott Snyder’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice in 2016. Each story in some way depicts the same elements of that classic origin, but each time telling their own unique versions.
There are times, however, when these retellings can lead to totally new stories. Take for example 2011’s Flashpoint. In this major event story, writer Geoff Johns tells a modern Greek Tragedy centering on Barry Allen, also known as the Flash. Having at a young age witnessed the aftermath of his mother’s unsolved murder, Barry Allen spent his civilian life as a forensic scientist, trying to track down her killer. As the Flash, Barry’s super-speed granted him immense power, including the ability to travel through time. His nemesis, Professor Zoom, holds this power as well, and uses it to travel back in time and kill Barry’s mother. Some time after Barry discovers Zoom’s identity as his mother’s murderer, he himself travels through time to save her, launching the events of Flashpoint.
In this story the Scarlet Speedster is cast as a tragic hero. His hamartia, his tragic flaw, is his love for his mother, propelling him to alter history to save a single life. He reaches his catastrophe when he realizes the damage he’s done to the timeline, causing the world to reach an apocalyptic state, and must stop himself from making his alteration to time. Once more, Professor Zoom kills his mother, returning the world to normal. Well, almost normal. The Flash’s reset of the timeline creates a new reality: DC’s New 52, as mentioned in my previous post.
In the New 52 everything has been granted a blank slate, allowing writers to tell new stories using these timeless characters. Once more the core elements are retained but reshaped, crafting new adventures for the modern mythic heroes, these icons of the page and screen. But to find out what makes these characters truly iconic, tune into the final post in this series, same bat-time, same bat-blog.
– Levi Raab