Dennis O’Neil: The Evolution of Religion and Mythology
Gotta get this sucker written tonight because tomorrow or the next day I may have to resume watching the snow fall and fall and fall and fall…
So: what some benevolent publisher should do (and surely benevolent publishers do exist) is to put put a book that examines the way mythology/religion have evolved quite similarly. Both began with stories that were. by our standards, crude, with little characterization and virtually all the meaning carried by the plot. Then, very gradually, the storytelling forms began to vary, the story content change, the narrative structure mutate…But hey! Enough. I’m not going to write the frigging book, at least not here and now.
If such a book were to exist, though, it might include. perhaps as an appendix, a discussion of how a certain kind of movie is evolving much as its source material evolved a half century or so earlier. I refer, as you astute hooligans have already guessed, to superheroes.
The first superhero stories tended to be short – there were several of them in your 10-cent comic book – and the heroes were…well, they were the good guys. The ones that beat the bad guys. Characterization, insofar as it existed, tended toward the sketchy. All the heroes were white and waspy, and the minorities were small in number and often the kind of stereotypes that might make those of us with delicate sensibilities cringe – not because the writers and artists were bigots, but because they didn’t know better. You could tell which heroes were which mainly by their powers: the Flash could run fast, Green Lantern had a magic ring, Hawkman had wings that enabled him to fly, et cetera, et cetera…Most of them also had double identities, also white and waspy: rich guys with no jobs, or scientists,or journalists – nary a trash collector or milkman in the lot.
The form – comic books – soldiered on through good times and bad, growing more sophisticated year by year, and gradually those complete-in-one-issue stories were supplanted by elaborate serializations. Genuine characterization entered those colored pages, and “adult” themes, and one morning I woke up and my benighted profession was being covered by the New York Times and taught in major universities and – ye gods! – I was respectable.
That was comics.
And movies? I did mention movies, didn’t I? Somewhere back there?
Well, yes I did. But that topic might be a bit ungainly to be contained in the small bundle of verbiage remaining in the 500 words (more or less) I promised to deliver each week to Mike Gold back when ComicMix was in its birth throes. Let’s table movies until next week. For now, some of you better get to the ATM because you’ll probably need to buy salt or to pay hardy young men with shovels because the weather people are predicting more of the same. Then you can lie back, cuddle up with a mug of hot chocolate, gaze through the window at all that glistening splendor, and hope there are no power failures.
Next week: the cinema.