I'm making myths. For an age that doesn't have any of its own yet.
- The Unwritten #28
by Mike Carey and Peter Gross
This is said in the context of a pioneer in the superhero genre about her comic book creation. Though she is a fictional character in The Unwritten, the sentiment rings true. I don't know if many, or any, comic book creators of the 1930s and 1940s were this self-aware about what they were doing. Actually, probably not. Most of them were just glad to get something, anything, published.
But over time, these stories certainly spread throughout the public's consciousness. Even if you have never read a Superman comic, you know the story. His parents send him as a baby off in a rocket just before their planet Krypton explodes. It crashes on Earth and the baby is raised by adoptive parents as Clark Kent, a mild-mannered reporter, but who is actually Superman, the Man of Steel.
We know this story. It is the mythology of Superman. And, odds are, more people know this myth than the classical Greek, Roman, or Norse myths that people have been telling and retelling for ages. At some point we stopped telling these ancient myths and began telling new ones of our own. Of course, the argument could be made (and has been) that comic book superheroes are simply retelling the same old myths, but in a modernized form (Check out yesterday's Daily Quote).
I wish I could say more with some authority, but it's been awhile since I've read any Joseph Campbell. I should go back and read some of his stuff again, even if it does kind of ruin the mystery and allure of stories. It is rather disheartening the first time you realize Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars are essentially the same dang story!
Making myths for an age that doesn't have any also raises an interesting question for me. Do we need myths? Is there something inherent in humanity that drives us toward mythology? Do we crave it on some level, whether consciously or unconsciously? Perhaps we do. Most today cling, in some fashion, to the mythology of their respective religions (remember, myth doesn't necessarily mean untrue).
Maybe a rise in secularism during the 20th century led us to adopt modernized secular mythologies? That happened to take the form of superhero comics? What is Superman if not a secular savior?
Okay, I'm just rambling here and throwing out ideas. But it's something to think about.