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Superhero comics — why reading them will always inspire us

August 24th, 2020 By Mini Prasad

Comics. I’ve been reading comics for as long as I can remember. Thanks to my sister, as a kid, I’d excitedly accompany her to the local comic shop and drool over all the new titles. I still drool over new titles, not much has changed. Ask anyone.

Somehow, I've found myself in the envious position of being the lucky human that purchases the comics — aka graphic novels — for our Services to Schools’ lending collection.

‘That sounds cool,’ I hear you say, and yes, it’s awesome. And no, I’m not leaving anytime soon.

Comic book with batman rubber duck sitting on top beside feet wearing batman branded socks
Image by Boris Bučko. Unsplash. License to use.

I read superhero comics because I love them...

...you know, like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Spidey, Loki, Thor... the whole deal and tons more.

I feel a few eye rolls and maybe a few sighs. I’ve met many who don’t think they are ‘valuable’. I literally heard someone a few days ago say they were meaningless and ‘what’s the point?’.

In my personal experience, people seem to have a real thing against them. They want kids to read quality ‘graphic novels’ and not comics, with their muscled superheroes beating alien overlords up and the like.

I read superhero comics because I love them, so buckle up, and go get a cuppa. I’m only discussing a few things as comics have been covered in many lengthy tomes and academic papers, which I'm sure you can go find if you really want.

Who are they good for?

First up, anyone can read them. I was always a reader and I think there is a tendency to say they are great for reluctant readers, which they are, but your proficient readers will love them too because comics are fun and enjoyable! They have great art and great stories! Simple.

Cool and clever

The vocabulary I learned from these comics was unparalleled.

Where else could you learn about mass spectrometry and its use in forensic science? From the world’s greatest detective — Batman, of course!

Where could you learn about atavism as a ten-year-old? From (Batman villain) Killer Croc’s origin story, that’s where.

I’m not even going into learning the perils of not following the scientific method correctly. Ahem, I’m looking at you, Hulk.

But seriously, I learned so much that when I actually did study physics, chemistry, and English, I was quite comfortable with a lot of complex science and societal concepts, and reading novels with extended vocabulary wasn’t intimidating. Also, it made me feel clever when I learnt the same concepts in class. Like, hey — I knew that already!

'Dreams save us' — Superman, Action Comics #775

Superhero comics — with characters created by people like Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Jerry Siegel, and Joe Schuster — were instrumental in showing me and countless others that there was a place in the world (and other worlds even) for people of all cultures, genders, colours, and sexualities, and of course, mutant abilities.

The stories inspire and continue to teach us to value other people and to embrace the differences between us. To use our strengths for good, not evil. To work to better the world, not destroy it. To fight injustice where we see it.

Values that are as important today as they have ever been.

An alien, Superman himself is an immigrant, like, 'from another planet' immigrant. During his 80-year run in comics, he has faced the same issues our human immigrants face all over the world. He has faced prejudice and xenophobia and has always overcome with surprising grace and, well, humanity. That’s his greatest strength.

At the time 'Black Panther' and X-Men' were created, both were commentaries on civil rights, echoing in fiction the persecution of Jews and discrimination against people of colour. The battle against racism, prejudice, and bigotry continues today.

Let’s not forget that Captain America was battling Nazis in 1941. He’s still doing it — over 70 years of fighting Nazis. That’s a great legacy if you ask me.

The comics I read as a kid and now, show a vision of unity amongst us. They challenge us to better ourselves. (That means everyone and everything included: human and non-human, like Squirrel Girl, Streaky the Supercat, and Lockjaw the bulldog. Look them up. You won’t regret it).

Representation

Representation is so important, and we see all types of people in comics, which is great.

It’s normal in comics to see aliens and weird giant star thingies next to new versions of our heroes. Thor is now female, Ms. Marvel is Muslim, Loki is bisexual and gender-fluid, Coagula is a trans woman, Oracle is disabled, and we have a black Spider-Man and Captain America. They are orphans, adopted, from all sorts of families — interracial, interfaith. I could give you more examples, but you get the idea.

You may not know half of these characters, but the important thing to know is that superhero comics are still working to represent all of us — whoever we are, and wherever we came from — and all the places we might end up if we aim high and work together. It’s great to have a variety of characters just as diverse as we might see in life. And those identities are just part of who they are.

The ordinary and extraordinary have always lived side by side.

Superhero comics aren’t perfect. They have their share of problems, I don’t deny it. But, as a kid and now as a (pretend) adult reading them, they seem to me to be only getting better — written, drawn, and inked by some incredibly talented and diverse individuals — and are resonating with more people than ever.

So. Superhero comics

They made me realise that we oddballs and everyday kids could grow up to be the heroes, we could see our best and worst selves play out in thrilling adventures. They're a rousing reminder to us of the pure potential we all have. Like Superman, we're inspired to make the world a better place. I hope, now, you can see a bit of that too.

So the next time you see a superhero comic, if you can, look past the muscles and the violence of The Avengers smashing up whoever. Have a read, look for the value, share and use them to start discussions. And of course, let’s all try to be like the heroes (maybe with a little less spandex) and simply enjoy some great stories!

After all, I’ve bought some pretty cool comics you can borrow. Wink, wink.

Read more

Graphic novels

What makes a good comic?

'Graphic novels' is not comics

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Mini
26 August 2020 10:24am

Thanks so much for your comments Leigh, Kelly and Mel, I had hoped the blog would be fun and informative so your positive feedback is much appreciated!

Leigh Takirau
24 August 2020 4:58pm

Bloody Great Read @MiniPrasad. Your knowledge of Graphics justifies the fact that you are the perfect person to purchase this genre.
I have had Māori parents come up to me saying how much their child becomes more engrossed with graphic novels than print because they are visual and kinetic learners. Tēnā koe Mini mō tō mahi.

Kelly Mucalo
24 August 2020 4:05pm

Great post Mini! A very long time ago, I once had to put together a report on the value of comics and graphic novels and present it to a group of fellow library managers and collections people. At that stage, we didn't have collections for adults and kids, only for teens. I was a bit sad that we needed a report to convince them, but the evidence for the value of comics was undeniable, and we did get our new collections. I hate that all this time later we are still having to 'sell' that value, but what an awesome job you have done! Fellow librarians, comics are invaluable to us, as Mini has so rightly shared above.

mel spark
24 August 2020 11:14am

Great post with some good points raised to think about, for the 'non-comic' reader :)