Astrology references appear throughout popular culture, in television shows, movies, fiction novels, comic books, and advertising.
References go as far back as the early days of film and television and appear throughout the works of Shakespeare and various stories in classical literature.
With astrology’s ability to capture the imagination, it has only grown in popularity. This article will look at astrology in the American comic book, specifically Marvel Comics.
Comic Books and Popular Culture
Comic books are a uniquely American phenomenon and part of its popular culture since late 1930 when Superman burst onto the scene in 1938 in Action Comics #1.
While the industry has been through numerous ups and downs, it has survived continuously since its first publication. There are two dominant publishing companies, DC Comics, and Marvel Comics, each owning the most well-known super-heroes and super-heroines:
- DC – Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman
- Marvel – Spider-man, Scarlett Witch, and Iron Man
Astrology in Marvel Comics
Astrology is often used to define the character and to develop its personality and experiences that can easily identify that character with human personality traits. For example, we can see in Thor and Dr. Strange, traits that we commonly find in the natives of the zodiac signs Aries and Scorpio, respectively.
Additionally, in some of the characters, we can even follow their inner evolution and battle to fight their inner enemies that for some reason were locked but in face of a threat, they rise and will change completely the character’s view on the world around and the way he/she will publicly interact with other from that moment on.
Comic book superhero characters and stories are thriving thanks to the worldwide success of Marvel movies, which have dominated the box office for the last 10 years. With a continuity of characters and stories stretching back to 1938, it’s no surprise that spiritual concepts and themes would appear at some points throughout the vast catalog of books.
As is often the case with popular culture, astrology shows up in various popular culture narratives to add to a story’s world-building or as a plot device. Below is a brief look at the history of astrology’s appearance in Marvel Comics through the criminal organization known as The Zodiac.
Avengers Vol 1 #72
The first appearance of the Zodiac occurred in The Avengers #72, published in 1970. They are a human criminal organization that comes to the attention of the super-team, The Avengers, who they want to destroy. This issue was written by Roy Thomas and drawn by Sal Buscema.
The Avengers Vol 1, #72
The Avengers Vol 1, #72 inside panel feature 11 members, but not Scorpio, who is on the cover.
As with any representation of astrology in popular culture, it is interesting to see how the writers and artists choose to depict the concept or characters. The visual style of comic books lends special focus to visual interpretation, as shown in the examples above. It is not surprising to see the Zodiac depicted as villains in 1970. Each of the following incarnations keeps the Zodiac as a villainous group.
Defenders Vol 1 #49
The second appearance of the Zodiac team took place in The Defenders #49 in 1977. This version is made up of androids and was created by writer David Anthony Craft and artist Keith Giffen.
Continuing with the original tradition, the Zodiac group are enemies of the heroes, now more powerful in android forms.
Alpha Flight Vol 2 #1
The Zodiac group would not appear again until 1997, and only briefly, in the first issue of the second volume of Alpha Flight, written by Steve Seagle and drawn by Scott Clark. This group would be super-powered, rather than humans using technology or a group of androids.
This group works as super-powered mercenaries, and the only signs to get significant recognition in the story are Pisces, Sagittarius, Scorpio, Taurus, and Virgo.
New Warriors Vol 4 #4-5
It would be another ten years before the Zodiac supervillains would appear again; this time in New Warriors Vol 4, numbers 4 and 5 in 2007. This incarnation was created by writer Kevin Grevioux and artist Paco Medina.
In this version, the character Cancer kills a member of the New Warriors, Longstrike, and claims to have killed all the other members of the Zodiac, using their heads as hunting trophies in his secret lair.
In the first version of this group Scorpio is the dominant character, in the second version it is Taurus.
Avengers Assemble Vol 2 #1-2
The most recent version of the Zodiac appeared in Avengers Assemble Vol 2 numbers 1 and 2 in 2012, written by Brian Michael Bendis and drawn by Mark Bagley. This version was created by the Mad Titan, Thanos, and is another group of humans who assume the Zodiac sign identities.
Thanos returns from the dead and attempts to take over Earth using ambitious humans who want to rule the planet. When the plot fails, Thanos abandons the group to die in a self-destructing S.H.I.E.L.D helicarrier. Only Cancer survives, and he is captured by S.H.I.E.L.D.
Unfortunately, a heroic version of the Zodiac has not been part of the Marvel Universe. The group continues to be reused, starting in 1970, and reappearing in 1977, 1997, 2007, and 2012. Perhaps the next use of the group will take a different direction and have them appears as heroes. Until then, astrology remains a plot device for creating villains in Marvel Comics.