Fantasy and the Mainstream Super Hero2012-Feb-20 -> from the 29-days-of-fantasy department
Few things get a geek going more than comics and comic book super heroes. But few people recognise how fantasy and comic books are connected. Today's post is brought to us by Kevin Paul Shaw Broden, who has a unique story about how comic books touched his life, and how comic books relate to fantasy.
When I was young, very young, I had trouble reading. I struggled through school and was even placed in extra courses called "The Reading Game" to help me with my reading. Yes, they made a game out of reading, but it wasn't a very easy game for me to play and I continued to struggle.
Then one day I was handed a couple of comic books, illustrated stories about brightly colored super heroes, and my life would never be the same.
My teachers would soon encourage my parents to get me more comics. If I was reading, it didn't matter what they were, let me read. It would help me read, and help me become a writer.
Since that time, comic books and super heroes have remained a constant presence in my life. From comics I would travel on to books of all sorts (high school English did nothing to help with any of this). I found my place in the genre fictions, mystery, science fiction, and fantasy.
But I would always return to comic books and to super heroes.
Super heroes are, I suppose, a genre unto themselves, whether they appear in comics, novels, TV shows, or movies. Depending on their origin stories they could be science fiction, fantasy, or a mixture of both, along with the masked detectives.
Comic book super heroes of today are what I would describe as "pseudo-science fiction". In the "Silver Age" of the 1960s and 70s, the heroes had powers and stories that were more science in their fiction as they were responding to the real world "Atomic Age" and "Space Age". Powers were granted by alien visitors or being showered by strange radiation, or men building their own super armored suits. Even mythological characters, who would normally be found the realms of fantasy were given sci-fi origins. In Marvel Comics Thor, the Norse gods of Asgard are actually aliens.
Going further back, to what is known as the "Golden Age" of comics of the 1930s and 40s, things were quite different. This is the time and world that I want to talk about in regards to fantasy story telling.
Though Superman is known as the very first super hero, and his origin of arriving from another planet is clearly science fiction, it comes from some very solid fantasy elements of story. A chosen child survives the destruction of his own civilization and is raised to become the saving warrior of the world.
Much of the rest of the heroes of that time period had more mystical and magical origins that owe a lot to the fantasy genres of the time. These comic heroes were the next step from the pulp novels of the previous decades. Some became the detectives, and others became great masters of the magical arts as they fought crime and monsters.
Zatara, who appeared in Action Comics #1 alongside Superman, was a stage magician who solved crimes and when the need arose could call forth mystical powers by speaking spells backwards. The character's daughter continues to use these powers even today as she steps further into the fantasy worlds around her.
Captain Marvel, who was created to compete with Superman (and outsold big blue for a time), was purely a fantasy-based character and origin. By speaking the name of the old wizard SHAZAM he gained powers ad abilities given to him by several ancient gods and other heroes of legend and myth. It is also a strong fantasy heroes journey about a young boy discovering the hero inside.
As Superman was the little baby from another planet that came to save the world, and Billy Batson meets a stranger and becomes a hero, there were other youth that became great heroes through magic.
Johnny Thunder and his Magical Thunderbolt genie is quite an example of this. Though he was young, and not the smartest of his fellow mystery men, his story comes out of many fantasy story-telling elements. A baby, saved from being killed, is kidnapped and taken to America where he is raised as an average kid only to discover he is the "chosen one". Mysterious priests protect him waiting until the time is right; he comes of age, and is then granted control of a very powerful genie that he calls his Magical Thunderbolt.
Another character also took his origin from Aladdin's lamp, and yet made it unique as well. Most people today know of Green Lantern as Hal Jordan the test pilot who joins an intergalactic police, which was a take on Lensman by EE Doc Smith. The original Green Lantern was very much a fantasy as a magical rock falls from the skies with a prophecy that it would first bring death, then life, and then power. That stone was fashioned into a lamp like Aladdin's and then eventually into a Lantern discovered by a train engineer. Alan Scott took that Lantern power and and used it for good.
Wonder Woman is well known for her fantasy background of the Amazons of Paradise Island and her interaction with the Greek pantheon of gods and goddesses.
Dr. Fate was a man who discovered an ancient helmet in an Egyptian tomb. Some versions of his origin say that he was a boy, like the others, whose parents were archaeologists but die as part of the tomb's curse, but he survived to become the avatar of a great ancient power to fight evil. His powers soon became too great, and the stories struggled because there was struggle for the hero, and so his helmet was cut in half and his powers were more limited. Later there would be stories of struggle between the man and the power of the helmet. Who was in control? He continued to fight crime and battle mystical beings all over the world while living in Salem in a tower that had no windows or doors.
The Specter, perhaps the most powerful character of the Golden Age, was a police detective who was killed, but the powers of the afterlife (sometimes God himself) thought that his job was not yet done and so sent him back as a ghost with great mystical powers and abilities to bring about vengeance against all evil.
Fantasy-based stories come up in comics throughout the decades. Marvel has Dr. Strange, and Neil Gaiman brought depth to the fantasy comics at DC with his book The Sandman. Currently DC has brought several mystical based characters into a book called Justice League Dark, including Zatara's daughter Zatanna.
As stated, fantasy and the paranormal exists throughout comic book stories. In super heroes its use is limited now, but when it all began fantasy was an extremely important core.
In the modern comics there is a darkness to the stories. Not of the dark evil forces that the heroes fight with their fantastic powers, but the darkness of politics and the darkness of fear of the hero. It's sad to see, even in the best of stories.
So it is time to return to a Golden Age of the fantasy hero, whether it be on unknown worlds, on sun-filled fields, or moon-cast alley ways of urban streets. It's time to bring the magic, the fantasy back to the super heroes.
It's time to bring fantasy to those who want to read, like when I was young. Give them heroes worth enjoying and reading about.
Thank you, Kevin, for your insights on the subject, and for participating in this event.
Kevin is an author of two novels: Clockwork Genie - A Contemporary Fantasy, and Revenge of the Masked Ghost - Mystery in the Golden Age of Masked Heroes. Both are available now on Amazon Kindle. His weekly blog on writing, creativity, and work can be found here: http://kevinpsbroden.blogspot.com/ and you can follow him on Twitter at: @Kevinpsb00.
Thanks for reading! Come back tomorrow for a lesson in blending Manga with Fantasy!
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I\\\'m a huge of fan comics and superheroes, but I don\\\'t know why. I only picked them up last spring.
I\\\'m not familiar with the Specter, but he reminds me of the Phantom Stranger, who\\\'s probably one of my top favorites, even though I\\\'ve only read a few issues with him in it.
Fantasy was a big part in superhero stories, and it\\\'s kind of sad that it isn\\\'t there as much anymore.