Charlie: Okay Matt, we’ve alluded to this lots but never actually discussed it. How can you possibly say that comics are recording history in the same way that ancient stories like the Odyssey did?
Matt: I think the crux of the matter is really that we, as a story telling species, tell stories today for the same reasons that we told stories five thousand years ago.
Charlie: For entertainment?
Matt: Partially, but stories also serve another purpose in helping us to grapple with things that we see that make us afraid, inspire us or leave us deeply confused. Proving this with ancient stories is hard but, with all of the modern mythology found in comics it is pretty easy. Just think about the major themes in X-men, Spiderman, The Fantastic Four and The Incredible Hulk.
Matt: Yes, but what gives each character their powers?
Charlie: Well, X-men have mutations.
Matt: From what?
Charlie: Wasn’t it nuclear fall out?
Matt: Yep. Keep going.
Charlie: Spiderman got bit by a spider in a lab.
Matt: What kind of spider was it?
Charlie: A radioactive spider. Ah, okay, I see where you are going. Bruce Banner became the hulk with gamma radiation and the Fantastic Four were also exposed to radiation.
Matt: This is important because of the time when these comics were written. They all publish in the early 1960’s when fears of nuclear war were at an all time high. Moreover, the general public had very little understanding of what sort of effects radiation had on the body. There was a lot of apprehension.
Charlie: And that apprehension got recorded in the comics. I get it.
Matt: Lots of other stuff gets recorded too. Remember how the X-men comics are so heavily focussed on the subject of equality, discrimination and mutant rights?
Charlie: That, no doubt, has to do with the civil rights movement in the United States at the time.
Charlie: But we still have all of these comic book movies and nobody is really all that worried about the dangers of radiation any more. Doesn’t that suggest that archeologists in a few hundred years studying our stories would come to the conclusion that we are still all freaked out about radiation when we really aren’t?
Matt: Nope. If you look carefully at our films, they are adapting to our times. For example, in Spiderman film that got made in 2012 it wasn’t an irradiated spider that bit him. It was a genetically modified spider that did the deed.
Charlie: I guess the script writers didn’t think an irradiated spider would resonate with audiences as much as they though a genetically modified one would. That’s interesting, I suppose it says we are more worried about genetic modification these days than we are about radiation.
Matt: The film Jurassic World, which I still haven’t seen and need to, furthers this element. The dinosaur that causes all the trouble (as I am told) is not a true dinosaur but a genetically modified one with genes from all sorts of different creatures. Again, our fiction here says a lot about what is on our minds right now.
Charlie: And if these fictions are “fossilizing” our current concerns, than your argument goes that our ancient fictions likely did the same sort of thing?