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Superheroes as Myth

Yesterday we did a 90 minute Wild Card panel at the first Albuquerque Comic Expo.  Since a lot of the folks didn’t know from Wild Cards, and it’s dull to just have people talk about the characters they had created and the stories we had written I tried to make it more about how you adapt an essentially visual media (the comic) into prose.  Since it takes a good action writer to make an battle interesting, and since you can’t do that over and over in a book we rely more on character development and interaction.

Then I called up Len Wein who had come into the _very_ large panel room to join us on the panel because I wanted to ask the question that has been fascinating me.  Other countries have graphic novels and comics, but America created the superhero.  Like Jazz it is a uniquely American creation.  I wanted to know why, and I was on a panel with a whole lot of really bright people — Daniel Abraham, Victor Milan, Walter Jon Williams, John Joseph Miller — and now a comic’s legend.

So I posed the question.  Len thought it had to do with the fact that America was a society without a formal class structure.  That in America you can dream big and have the chance to do anything you want.  He thinks when you tell an American “you can’t do that because you’re a scullery maid,” the American response is to say, “screw you.  Yes I can.”

Daniel thought it was the fact we are a very young country without a vast weight of history.  The superheroes fill in for the history of heroes we don’t have.  There isn’t the equivalent of the Song of Roland, or the Arthurian legends in the States.  So Superman and Batman and Spiderman become those heroic figures for us.

I then mused aloud into the microphone — “superheroes as modern myth”.

The panel enlarged on that saying that the power of myth is that it is constantly being  re-imagined and retold.

Len talked about how from the first moment early humans gathered around the fire they told stories.  He then said myths are on-going, sort of the longest telephone game in history.  Which I just think is a marvelous image.

After the panel a number of people came up and told me that they thought it was a fascinating and really informative panel, and how much they enjoyed it.  That made me feel good, and again thanks to my friends.  All I had to do was ask questions and let them be brilliant.

 

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