In this post I’m just going to focus on the mythos and symbology of the current cinematic Justice League, and how they seem to represent two different eras of Gods and Goddesses colliding with each other: the Old Gods vs. (with thanks to Jack Kirby) the New Gods. For the development of mythology is not something that stopped with ancient times—and there are indeed New Gods to contend with in our current era.
So let’s do the Justice League Roll Call, and then get into each character/archetype:
I. THE OLD GODS
The Old Gods are those of antiquity, representing fundamental forces that occupied the imagination of humankind up to the point of the coming of Space-Jesus. These are primal, elemental, essential forces:
Wonder Woman as Diana (a.k.a. Artemis): Goddess of nature, the moon, the hunt, and pregnancy.
The Flash as Mercury (a.k.a. Hermes): God of travel, messages, boundaries, and commerce.
Aquaman as Neptune (a.k.a. Poseidon): God of the sea.
These three are superheroes clearly based on mythological figures, especially in the cases of Wonder Woman and The Flash (with his winged headgear).
II. THE NEW GODS: SUPERMAN AS “SPACE-JESUS”
I would argue that Superman, upon his arrival in 1938, was the first “new God” in a sea of pulp heroes and mythological figures—bringing an unique energy about him that broke away from the usual tropes and encapsulated the zeitgeist in a manner the other heroes could no longer accomplish.
But of course, I am speaking particularly regarding his place in the pop-culture of the 20th Century. The energy Superman embodied felt particularly…Biblical, with the telltale “El” appendaged to his Earth-name. He was his world’s only son, sent to Earth to save the human race—hence, in a way he was indeed “Space-Jesus.”
But—as is the case with many of the key Greek gods and goddesses—we can go back further from the Bible to Egyptian lore and see a particular connection to Horus as well. For like Jesus, Horus was the herald of a new Aeon of humanity, and an age of New Gods.
III. THE NEW GODS: BATMAN AS “THE INDUSTRIALIST”
I would like to to suggest a New God that may never have been considered such before—that of The Industrialist. This is a self-made man of wealth and scientific knowledge, who brings an advanced technology to humanity. This is of course Bruce Wayne/Batman, as it is Tony Stark/Iron Man, Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison, and so many more.
With his dark, brooding costume and demeanor, it is easy to classify Batman as more of a Hades type—a God of the Underworld. And yet, I think that doesn’t quite nail down the archetypal weight of the character. Unlike the Old Gods—the Superheroes such as Wonder Woman and Aquaman—Batman’s “powers” are completely self-made (if you don’t count the fact that he was born wealthy). He embodies the ethic/mythos of the Industrial Age, that anyone can “make it” if they work hard enough.
However, one could also see somewhat of the Lucifer or Prometheus archetype in Batman—in the former case, the Caped Crusader’s pointed “ears” perhaps linking him to darker gods.
IV. THE NEW GODS: CYBORG AS “THE POSTHUMAN”
And now we get to a superhero that is literally the newest of the bunch, by many decades: Cyborg, a character first created in 1980. Cyborg represents the stage of humanity next in line after The Industrialist bestows his technological expertise upon the world—the posthuman condition.
What exactly is the nature of The Posthuman? Enlightened super-powered humans with the ability to colonize other worlds and create a Utopia on Earth? Or mindless Borg Horde? As this is an archetype waiting for us in the (not-too-distant) future, it’s still undefined.
V. WAR OF THE GODS
For first you have the Old Gods—those who a nascent, somewhat frightened and unsure Humanity worship by default. Then you have Space-Jesus—a God who possesses aspects of humanity and sends them on a path of the individualized Spirit (the purity of the original message getting co-opted by unscrupulous dictators and directors who were better off working on more movies like Watchmen).
In opposition to Space-Jesus you have The Industrialist, who espouses a more materialist view (he is rich, after all) and stresses science and technology. These two figures naturally have an enmity to each other, for they offer sharply contrasting views on what offers liberation to humanity. Seen through a particularly classic lens of paranoia and traditional conspiracy theory, the conflict between Space-Jesus and The Industrialist could be that of “good Christians” (whatever that means) and the the agents of Lucifer (the light-bringer, Prometheus, Dr. Frankenstein, s/he who brought the secrets of the forbidden Tree of Knowledge to the human race).
Lastly, you have the Posthuman—half-human, half-machine (or, if you’d prefer, AI). This is a mythological figure for a future we haven’t even entered yet—but of course pop-culture is chock-full of examples of this particular “God.” Will it be a future where humans indeed “become” as Gods—the ultimate plan of the benevolent form of The Industrialist?
Or will the Old Gods return to deliver the smackdown? (some say this might already be happening)
Please note that this interpretation does not stick to the exact storyline of the upcoming Justice League movie…rather, I’m looking at more the “broad strokes” in terms of the larger archetypes these potent icons stir within the collective unconscious.