The Primordial Soup: Superheroes and the birth of ANGST!

So it’s pretty clear that a lot of superheroes are dark, brooding, and filled with angst.

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Lots

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And lots

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of angst.

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It’s not that surprising really, angst and dark internal conflict sell really well.  People love it when they see some of the most powerful people in the world brought down to their level and suffer through base human emotions like grief and hopelessness and while the thought is incredibly depressing it is nothing new, humanity has loved the tortured hero for centuries and today we are going to look at one of the first.

The Greeks were famous for many things: democracy, philosophy, and hating the Persians, but they were also incredibly talented at creating deeply flawed heroes suffering from the kind of inner turmoil that would make the most die hard drama queen blush.  One of the most famous is Hercules.

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Now we may know Hercules as a super strong demigod who had parent issues (come to think of it, most Greek heroes had parent issues) and twelve seemingly impossible tasks involving everything from lopping the heads off of an eight headed demon snake.

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To cleaning out a metric ton of cow dung.

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But what a lot of people may not know is why Hercules had to perform these task and in order to do that we have to look at his back story.  Hercules was the ill conceived product of Zeus deciding he wanted to sleep with a mortal woman and after tricking a woman named Alcmene into sleeping with him.  It went about as well as every other time Zeus slept with a mortal woman: badly.  Zeus wife/sister Hera was not very happy and sent two snakes to kill her husband’s newest bastard.  It did not go well for the snakes and Hercules killed them when he was a baby.

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After realizing just how strong Hercules was Hera tried a different approach.  Instead of killing him directly Hera waited for him to grow up, marry a woman named Megara, and then poisoned Hercules’ mind with an uncontrollable rage that caused him to kill his wife and family.  Heartbroken over this terrible crime Hercules takes up the twelve labors in an attempt to atone for his sins.

It is the inner conflict that drives Hercules on his adventures.  He is plagued with a terrible rage that was given to him against his will based on events he could not control and people suffered for it.  His own strength and powers are turned against him and only through a long and arduous journey of twelve (originally ten but Hera was being spiteful and changed the rules) labors did he finally find some chance at a peaceful life.  It is that kind of personal angst and trauma that makes Hercules one of the most enduring stories in Western history and one of the biggest reason why the idea of a guilt ridden comic book hero filled with angst is so popular today.

 

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