Greek mythology is the well that comic book writers, movie producers, and video game publishers return to again and again. While these industries are not quite saturated with Greek myth, it is certainly the case that they pop up time an time again: Zeus in Marvel Comics, as recently seen in Thor: Love and Thunder; the world inhabited by Kratos in God of War, although the action has now moved to Norse mythology; Apollo has popped his noble head up in various media, ranging from God of War games to Percy Jackson movies.
But one of the most interesting Greek ‘characters’ has always been the minotaur. There have been movies and plays based on the half-man, half-bull monster, but they aren’t exactly of the comic book variety. They tend to follow the tortured history of the minotaur myth, and it usually doesn’t stack up well with comic book-style storytelling. In fact, some verge into the world of horror.
Minotaur is rarely the main character
Of course, we have seen minotaurs – or minotaur-like figures – pop up in various worlds: Assassin’s Creed, CS Lewis’s Narnia, and even League of Legends. But as a central figure, the beast is hard to find. Playtech’s Age of the Gods: Maze Keeper, a slot game based on Playtech’s wider canon of Greek mythology, is one of the few modern entertainment products that put the minotaur front and center of the action. The game is obviously based on the Labyrinth (hence Maze Keeper), but the minotaur’s story is so much more than a wild beast thundering around an underground maze.
The natural inclination for creators is to frame the minotaur against the hero, Theseus. The latter is obviously one of the most recognized characters in Greek mythology, and he is also one of the most well-rounded (a lot of Greek myth is a bit “dry”). But, some might argue, the adventures of Theseus, of which there are many, pale in comparison to the tragedy of the minotaur.
A fantasy tale with a touch of horror
There are several interpretations of the minotaur myth, some of which overlap. However, they all depict a horrific outcome. By today’s standards, a half-man, half-bull isn’t all that scary, but there is something uniquely base in the minotaur’s creation. The bull is meant to depict so much of the avarice of human nature – anger, aggression, rage, lust, mindlessness – and that was part of the punishment meted out to the innocent son, birthed by the union of King Minos’ wife and a snow-white bull.
The fact that the minotaur’s creation was in itself a punishment is part of the allure of the story. We root for Theseus, sure, but there is more depth to the beast. As all good comic book villains are – the minotaur is a tortured soul, and that should make it worth of empathy, if not sympathy.
And perhaps that’s our point here, the depiction of the minotaur in popular culture is all too often two-dimensional and unsympathetic. And there are two areas of culture that better serve the multi-faceted story of the minotaur – artworks and theater. With regards to the former, you can find famous examples like the works of Picasso, which are never two-dimensional. And the latter, we have come across several productions that align with one fact – the minotaur is infinitely more interesting than the hero, Theseus. It is somewhat like Frankenstein, particularly in the stage versions, where the beast is worthy of more exploration.
However, it’s not likely that we get to see a range of comic books or movies with the minotaur as the hero. The character, in its traditional sense, is not marketable as the handsome hero. But it’s certainly worth more than the side character role in a video game or movie. The beast has a story to tell, and it would be awesome if someone could find a new way to tell it.