Superman and Achilles

One of the many pieces of symbolism that’s everywhere in Batman v Superman is the horse. It serves as a clear symbol of death. This includes the metaphorical horse – Wallace Keefe, used as a Trojan horse to smuggle a bomb into the Capitol. And that Trojan horse reminded me of another aspect of The Trojan Cycle: the story of Achilles (Ha! I promised I’d stop talking about Christianity and classic Christian literature as it pertains to Batman v Superman, but I never said anything about Greek mythology and the associated epic poems!).

To today’s audience, Achilles is pretty unlikable. At the best of times, he was kind of a sociopathic nightmare. Personality wise, not at all like Clark Kent. But they were both invulnerable, with one physical weakness – for Achilles, his heel; for Clark, kryptonite. That weakness was exploited by a weaker character. In Achilles’s case, that was Paris, making an impossible shot through godly intervention. For Clark, that was Bruce, forging a weapon from a material Lex had found and proven to be dangerous to Kryptonians. Both were separated from humanity in some way, Achilles because of his divine parentage and Clark because of his alien birth and role as Superman. They both could be hurt by someone hurting a loved one – Patroclus, for Achilles, and Lois, for Clark.

As much as Clark is a much better person than Achilles, his behaviour in the Knightmare sequence was highly reminiscent of Achilles after Patroclus’s death. The loss of Patroclus left Achilles devastated and furious. Losing Lois did the same to Clark. Achilles went to fight everyone he deemed responsible, ultimately killing Hector, who’d killed Patroclus. Clark became a full on tyrant, claiming Bruce took his world away from him, then killed him. A similar concept applies to Clark’s trip to the Arctic. Achilles spent however long sitting in his tent and refusing to fight because of his argument with Agamemnon (an incredibly horrifying argument over ownership of a sex slave. Christ, I hate everyone involved in this stupid poem). Clark walked away for a much more heroic reason – horror at being unable to stop the carnage that was the Capitol bombing and fear that it was his fault for not looking, not facing the person whose life was forever changed by his actions – but as a plot device, it mostly amounts to the same thing: he was gone, and while he was, Lex could kidnap Lois and Martha. Achilles being gone allowed for Hector to kill Patroclus. But whereas Achilles and Knightmare Superman’s arcs revolved around not being able to save someone they cared about, the real, present day Clark came back from his self imposed exile in time to catch her when Lex shoved her off the roof.

Clark falls far more into our modern perception of a hero than Achilles because beyond being the protagonist, he’s a genuinely good person. That being said, it’s fascinating to compare him, as written in Batman v Superman, to Achilles, because there are plenty of similarities in their stories. Christian mythology clearly had a large influence on the movie, but the story elements are so classic, we can also connect it to stories that predate Christianity by centuries (If I can overcome my distaste for this nonsense later, I’ll try to write a post on how Bruce’s character arc in the same movie parallels Odysseus’s journey in The Odyssey. I probably won’t, because there are few groups of characters that I find as irritating to read or think about as everyone involved in this).

 

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