Modern Super Hero lessons from the Ancient Greek

If you have ever met an 18 year old, who is wise beyond his age (or mine…), quirky, funny and knows way more about mythology and history than you ever will, it was probably Isaac Glover. Isaac talked at TEDxZurich in 2019 about “failing heroes: why diversity isn’t as brave as inclusivity”. Our conversation ranged from comics, to movies, tv shows and books and I definitely came out smarter (don’t know about him though).

Isaac grew up reading about Greek Myths. He explained that he effectively learned how to tell good stories from the Greeks, their Myths and the heroes’ journey from rise to fall and a conflict, back up to ending with the resolution.

IG: The idea of characters having flaws comes from the Greeks, most of Shakespeare plays are inspired from Greek stories. If there is one thing that we can learn from these stories, it is that even though it’s ancient, or has been done before, it doesn’t mean it isn’t relevant for today.

My favorite Greek Mythology heroes are Achilles and Odysseus, neither of them wanted to be in the position they were in. Both of them were destined to do great things and had the skills and the knowledge to do what’s required of them. But neither of them wanted to do it; they wanted to live a quiet life by themselves. Their stories are about inevitability.

There is the idea of fate; that certain things are predestined. It is an interesting concept and you could see why people would like to believe in destiny. It certainly gives a degree of comfort and reassurance to a lot of people’s lives, while it also takes away the responsibility. I would personally not believe in it myself, but it definitely intrigues me.

Multiple heroes tried to bring back their loved ones or journey to the underworld, however almost none of them ever succeeded. Especially in the story of Achilles’, fate plays an important role. He was destined to do great things and then die a hero. His semi-divine mother, who could not watch this happen, tried to stop his destiny. In the end, no matter how hard she tried, it was inevitable. I really like that tragic element of them both, no matter what they did, their fate could not be avoided. 

What would you like to see in how messages are conveyed through movies/comic books etc?

IG: It is good to do something new or different with comic book characters. If one is writing a new story about an existing character, but for a different medium such as a movie, it should be done in a way that makes sense. For example in Wonder Woman they took the best parts of the comic book and added new story telling. This resulted in a film that felt different from what we were used to, but still stayed close to the character.

On the contrary in “Birds of prey” ideas of toxic masculinity and feminism are approached in a simplistic way: “men are bad” and “women are good”. Naturally it does not sit well with the viewers. It’s a topic with a lot of nuances to it, complexity and things open for debate. If you take this really simple one sided view on it, you will never be able to discuss that topic in depth. It does more damage than good. As soon as people feel attacked, the dialogue dies. Therefore, adding both sides is important to increase the value of a piece. 

Art, be it literature, paintings, sketches or cartoons, has always been a way to talk about social issues in a way that is very relatable or easy to grasp for the audience. It is a lot easier to understand certain concepts, when they are conveyed through a character.

One should try to communicate in a very open and unbiased view and leave the interpretation up to the audience. In addition rather than replace “old” characters, who do not fit our societal views anymore (misogynistic, racist etc.) one should give them a chance to evolve and improve. 

This improvement we see often when characters get a sidekick. There is typically a transformation of that character in almost a parental role. Tony Stark, for example, was a character that was arrogant and self obsessed. We saw him evolve partially through becoming Iron Man and a hero, but no massive character changes happened on his outlook on life until spider man was introduced. I think that’s especially when a lot of fans started to think “oh I really like Tony Stark’s character now. He cares about people other than himself and has things to lose”. He evolved into someone more likeable and more relatable. 

NK: What is your favorite childhood book?

IG:Skulduggery Pleasant” by Derek Landy.

NK: Any last messages?

IG: One lesson that can be learned from my experience from TEDx is that you have to seek out opportunities. They will not always come to you and it is your responsibility to make the most of them, nobody is going to do it for you.

Sarah Ebling

          Sarah Ebling holds a professorship in Accessibility Studies at Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) and is a senior researcher at the University of Zurich. Her research focuses on natural language processing in the context of disabilities and special needs, specifically, sign language technology and automatic text simplification. Her groups’ contributions involve artificial intelligence techniques with a strong emphasis on user involvement. She is involved in various international and national projects and leads a large-scale Swiss innovation initiative entitled „Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies“ (2022-2026;