The Sons of Mercury – The Speedster HeroThe Dark Herald
This is the first in my series on superhero archetypes.
All speedster heroes have one thing in common.
In the last episode of WandaVision, the Scarlet Witch’s brother, Quicksilver was brought into the story. What drew a lot of fan interest was that they didn’t go with the original MCU actor, Aaron Taylor-Johnson but instead they went with the X-Men version, played by Evan Peters.
This was met with a great deal of approval from the Marvel fanbase. Peters’s portrayal of the character has been considered greatly superior to Taylor-Johnson’s. This has a lot more to do with Joss Whedon blundering his way through Avengers 2 than it does Taylor-Johnson’s performance.
Regardless, Peters’ Quicksilver is the fan favorite.
There is fundamental reason for that, but it is an odd one.
Every speedster superhero that the audience instinctively bonds with, the speedsters that truly resonate, have one thing in common. And that thing goes all the way back to the original speedster, Mercury.
They are trickster heroes.
The trickster is a known heroic archetype. I’m not certain there is any pantheon without a trickster god. Or a mythology without a trickster hero.
Trickster gods proper tend to have a strongly amoral bent to them. The other gods hate the trickster but need him. When Set murdered his brother Osiris he did so by building a sarcophagus that would fit him. Then he held a grand party for all of the other gods. He presented the ornate box to the crowd and declared that the god who could best fit in it, could take it home with him. When it was Osiris’ turn he did indeed fit the box perfectly. Set congratulated him and then slammed the lid shut and threw it in the Nile. Yet it was also Set who accompanied his father Ra and protected him from the demon Apophis night after night.
Loki is the best known of the tricksters. While being an unholy pain in the ass to Asgard, he was also responsible for the Aesir’s most powerful weapons; Odin’s horse and Thor’s hammer. When the Jotun’s stole Mjölnir, it was Loki who devised the deception to retrieve it. The other god hated him but were also grateful to him.
When Mercury stole Apollo’s cattle, he did so by putting their hooves and his sandals on backward thus leaving a false trail for his brother to follow in the wrong direction.
I just realized that most trickster gods seem to have dim older brothers.
In America the trickster god was Coyote, and in Africa there was Anansi who eventually turned himself into a rabbit that Disney refuses to mention but everyone else knows about. Good trick!
The trickster hero is a category unto himself. And while audiences love a trickster hero, they don’t want all heroes to be tricksters. When Superman wins the day by outwitting the villain, there is a quiet but jarring note. It feels just a little wrong somehow. Kal-El is supposed to win the day by his unearthly might, when he uses his brain, he’s not really staying in his own lane.
But when the Flash outwits his enemy, the audience approves because it provides an emotional payoff. He’s supposed to win that way.
I admit part of this is due to the limitations of the hero’s superpower. He doesn’t have godlike strength, he can’t throw thunderbolts, nor can he fly. But he can move faster than anyone can see, so he is outwitting them just by exercising his ability. But that isn’t enough to actually satiate what the audience wants from the speedster. He has to utilize his wits to make fullest use of his power. Typical examples are utilizing his own inertia, redirecting his opponent’s strength against him. In more extreme case the speedster can cross boundaries of time, space and other dimensions.
However, I feel there is something more primal at work here.
The audience wants the speedster hero to be one of the sons of Mercury. To be a source of luck in times of uncertainty. To be able to cross boundaries that none other may cross. And to serve justice when justice has failed.
The trickster is the last hope for those who feel crushed by fate, the hero who will “take up the gauntlet of heaven and oppose the order of life and the gods who proclaimed it so.”
And have fun doing it.
(End of part one. I intend to revisit this topic again.)