This summer we’ve resurrected one of our favorite features, I ♥ Comics, and each Wednesday comics bloggers and creators will discuss the things they love about the medium.
This week, our guest contributor is Karen Healey, who writes the column Girls Read Comics … And They’re Pissed over at Girl-Wonder.org. Per her bio on the site, her doctoral dissertation has the working title “Power and Responsibility: Fan Creators, Fan Consumers, and the Modern Superhero Comic”, but she secretly calls it “Superhero Comics Are Really Fanfiction And That’s Quite Interesting.” She also wrote a paper on Jessica Jones from Marvel’s Alias comic
I heart teenagers, and not in the way that should get me arrested.
I love the way they’re caught between childhood selfishness and adult self-knowledge. I love the way they stampede and stumble into growth, the way that every small disappointment is a major disaster and each minor triumph is the best thing that’s happened to them for, like, ever. I love that they have so much to learn, most of which they arrogantly assume they know. I love how almost every teenager is firmly convinced that they are very mature for their age. I love that so many of them are positive that if the Man just got out of the way for two minutes, teenagers could save the world.
And I love teenagers in comics.
My first comics love is for superheroes, and the teenagers of DC and Marvel almost never let me down. A common argument is that superhero comics are essentially adolescent power fantasies, and I’m not going to disagree (not here, anyway). But it’s easier to forgive adolescent power trips and squabbles over love interests when they actually involve adolescents. Brattish behaviour in adult superheroes is woefully unappealing – in teenagers, it’s something they haven’t grown out of just yet. When Supergirl screws up and sulks, I don’t want to yell at her – I want to remind her that she’s only seventeen and tell her to give herself a break.
Plus, dealing with burgeoning sexuality, bullies, and homework gets even more interesting when superpowers and a secret identity get tossed into the mix. Teenagers have even more real world rules to follow than adults, and the complications make for great plots. Ultimate Spiderman’s Peter Parker’s life is a mess of school and secret identity, part-time job and full time heroism, super villains and family strife, all with great potential for conflict. Young Avengers Wiccan and Hulkling come out as a couple to their parents before they get a chance to come out as superheroes; and find the former is greeted with much more acceptance than the latter.
And the possibilities for metaphorical exploration (like Buffy’s famous “High school is hell” analogy) are limitless. Remember when you thought your parents were evil? The parents of Marvel’s Runaways were trying to destroy the world. Unreasoning family expectations? Supergirl’s dad sent her to assassinate her cousin. Struggling to adjust to a new learning environment? Blue Beetle’s teaching himself superheroics. Body changing in new and scary ways? Tell the New X-Men about it.
But I’m a fan of less four-colour adventures too. The struggle of Re-Gifters’ Dixie to get her crush, regain her ki and maintain her pride in her culture is funny, touching and fierce in that uniquely teenaged perception of a first romance as a life-or-death situation. The girls of Reina Tegelmeier’s Baby-Sitters Club adaptations are dealing with unruly toddlers and divorcing parents instead of apocalyptic battles, but their fears and doubts are just as genuine as those of their costumed counterparts.
The teenage years are a confusing time of heightened emotions and turbulent growth that provides fertile creative ground for great characters and involving stories. I didn’t like teenagers much when I was one. It’s so much more fun to read about them now and realize that yes, I heart them good.