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  • Writer's picture Natalie Budnyk

The Underworld: So Hot Right Now

It seems like every day a new interpretation of Hades pops up on my Twitter feed. With the release of Supergiant’s mega-successful video game “Hades”, season 2 of Rachel Smythe’s beloved web comic “Lore Olympus”, and Netflix’s latest venture into anime “Blood of Zeus”, 2020 is officially The Year of The Underworld. Even Disney has hopped back in on the Ancient Greek IP with their announcement of a live action version of their animated classic “Hercules” earlier this year, which all 90s kids will remember centers around King of the Underworld and fury-turned-love-interest Megaera’s plot to kill Zeus’s son, Hercules.

It’s likely that exact movie that primed the now laptop-bound generations of quarantined millennials and zoomers for a lifelong dedication to whichever cartoon gods they related to most as kids. The most appealing thing about Olympus and The Underworld are that they’re familiar territory everyone. These are tales as old as time. They’ve been written and rewritten over and over for thousands of years to fit present day narratives. There’s a comfort in sharing this collective knowledge with complete strangers. Say “Hades” and people will know who you’re talking about. It’s like seeing someone with a “Batman” t-shirt on. You smile a little because you realize there are a lot more nerds out in the wild than you thought.

In a year of so many uncertainties and a veil of impending doom around simple tasks like mailing a letter or going to the grocery store, it’s no wonder people are finding the toils of The Underworld relatable and the all-powerful might of The Olympians appealing. In an election year for Americans, it’s also another opportunity to choose sides. What’s refreshing about these new interpretations is that they all take a different approach, leaving the decision of who is good and who is evil up to the consumer.

The Supergiant game “Hades” has gamers playing as Zagreus, son of Hades, trying to escape The Underworld to talk to his estranged mother, Persephone. You get the sense right away that this Hades is just trying to do what’s best for his son. He’s organized, lives by his word, and doesn’t abuse his power. The gods of Olympus who help Zagreus in his escape to the surface are frivolous, silly, sometimes drunk, and very fickle. They help you if you’re nice to them, but cross them, and they’ll just as soon help your enemies.

Rachel Smythe’s Webtoon hit, “Lore Olympus” also gives Hades points for being more boring than his brothers. Not only is he the monogamous, rational foil to his adulterous, hotheaded brother Zeus, but he’s also painted as the only one holding their family together. Hera confides in him, Poseidon makes sure he’s there to talk sense into Zeus when things are getting out of control, and his nieces and nephews all love him as much as they fear him. Like the “Hades” video game, you can tell as soon as Persephone shows up that the story is going to be pro Hades. She brings out the light in him.

Similarly, if the story starts with a mortal in a poor town plagued by danger, we can assume we’re going to find out his dad is Zeus. In Disney’s “Hercules”, Zeus has a mortal son who has to prove himself to earn his place among the gods. Since it’s a Disney movie, they gloss over the infidelity to Hera. She’s just a sparkly mom, happy to be here. That’s not the case at all in Netflix’s “Blood of Zeus”. I don’t want to spoil the story for you because it’s actually a really fun one, but the title of the show tells you what you’re in for. What is unexpected is that this story starts off with a disclaimer that Greek Mythology is an oral tradition, passed down for ages before being written down. Stories passed by word of mouth are often lost or twisted from the original version. The premise of “Blood of Zeus” is that it’s one of these lost stories, now being told for the first Netflix in 2020.

The Zeus vs. Hades narrative simply hits different during an American election year no matter which side you support. Zeus and his Olympus want to have fun and rule freely. They like to be worshipped by and take advantage of the mortals who have no choice but to go along or be smited. On the other hand, Hades and his Underworld want peace and order in the stories from his perspective. In the stories that are not from his perspective, he’s the villain. It’s all about perspective. No love interest, and Hades is just a dark reaper, jealous of his brothers. No blood connection to the mortals he rules over and Zeus is just a tyrannical, all powerful party boy. As with any rulers, it’s just Politics.

Don’t ask how Poseidon fits into this analogy because I don’t think anyone, including the writers of all of these stories, has ever been able to figure that out. He is simply a merman. Let him be drunk and talk to fish while his brothers take care of the big problems. I’m sure Batman and Superman don’t ask Aquaman to weigh in on everything. I guess he probably supports The Green New Deal. That’s all I’ve got.

xo Nate

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