Monday, April 27, 2009

Looking at Adaptation and Characterization With Marvel's Hercules

Rationale: Like many high schools, the one I work for requires English/language arts teachers to provide some introduction to mythology as literature. As a lover of myths, it bothers me greatly to hear students complain about how boring these classic stories are. If you are an educator who can relate, I'd like to suggest adding a little graphic novel reading to "spice up" your mythology lesson plans and draw in a few of those reluctant readers.

There are many graphic novel adaptations of mythology out there, but I like to use Marvel Comics' "Hercules: The New Labors." Why this text? I enjoy this book so much because it is a modern day retelling of the Greco-Roman Myth with the classic old-world protagonist attempting to adjust to our reality-television-addicted society.

That said, what I really like about reading this text is that it provides ample opportunity to talk about key literary terms like "adaptation" and "characterization." I like to merge this comic with the reading of the actual Twelve Labors of Hercules and discuss what the word "adaptation" or "re-imagining" real means and how they are similar and different from the original text (which also leads into discussions of theme and the nature of sequels). I also like to spend some time analyzing the Marvel Comics version of Hercules, who is a seemingly happy-go-lucky drunkard who is quite humorous and hold that up to the archetypal portrayal of the hero.

Grade Levels/ Content Area(s): High School (grades 11-12)/ Language Arts- English

Objective: Students will be able to analyze the literary nature of adaptations and discuss variations in characterization.

Time Alloted: Depending on class length. Two 90 minute classes or four 45 minute classes.

Materials: Hercules: The New Labors (Marvel Comics)

Vocabulary: mythology, characterization, adaptation, characterization, sequel

Direct Teaching: Have students read a selected number of the Twelve Labors of Hercules (usually 2-4) and then have them read "The New Labors." Ask them to record how the stories have changed. I like to focus questions which require the students to compare the classic text to the modern re-telling (such as how the creatures were portrayed, or how other gods, like Pluto, were characterized in each text). -This is a perfect time to present the word "adaptation" and discuss how it relates to literature.

Once you feel as though students have a handle on adaptation, ask them to do a character study of each version of Hercules. I like to provide students with a "t-chart" where they record their observations on each with citations to the texts. Students should be able to explain the similarities and differences in characterization by using the exposition, dialogue, and illustrations provided in each text.

*Sometimes I have students write a two page comparison/character analysis as a written product.

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