After reading the Odyssey and discussing the characteristics of an epic and an epic hero, I have the students watch Superman, the movie. Many of them have never seen it before and think they are getting a "break" form school. After the movie, I list all the characteristics of an epic hero on the board:
1. hero is of imposing stature (I teach them physical as well as social stature)
2. hero and/or style is grand, yet simple
3. setting is vast
4. hero has super-human courage and strength
5. hero faces supernatural forces.
I had the kids put each of these topics on a blank piece of paper and fold the paper in half. They then brainstorm on these characteristics as they apply to Odysseus and Superman. Using whatever writing procedure you like, the students may now proceed with a compare/contrast paper. As we are on an accelerated block, this kills two birds with one stone.
Word of caution.... make sure the kids understand the difference between the character having these characteristics as opposed to the story. Sounds simple, but it threw off MANY of my freshmen. For instance, they would say Odysseus had a vast setting, not Odysseus's story.