Friday, May 13, 2011

How Reading Comics Put Me On a College Reading Level During 7th Grade

Mutants, Superhero Worship, and Growing Up
(or How Reading Comics Put Me On a College Reading Level During 7th Grade)

This semester we have explored a great many issues surrounding the possibility of the human form. We’ve covered subjects that range from shape-shifting to aging, from the Terminator to body building, and everything in between. It’s been a wild ride, from start to finish. In this paper I’d like to take a look back on my favorite topic analyzed in class, one that really brought out the nerd in me: superheroes, and more specifically, the X-Men.
Superheroes and mutants with special powers have always intrigued me. I think this interested started middle school, a period of life when everything is in transition. Your friends would rather prank call boys than play pretend in the backyard (as if asking Andrew Jones if he could name all of Baskin Robbin’s 31 original thirty-one flavors would guarantee a place in the 8th grade social Valhalla). Your parents don’t understand you, your teachers don’t understand you, no one understands you… and you hear yourself saying that in excess to mirrors, your cat, and to the poster of whatever teen heartthrob’s likeness you’ve pulled out of Tigerbeat (that’s a thing, isn’t it? Maybe it was Bop…). Even your body is betraying you, as it grotesquely morphs to something mysterious; something hairy, something unfamiliar, and, quite frankly, something that is as scary as hell and eternal damnation. Middle school was the worst. This is a statement few would argue against. The previously mention changes I experienced during this time made me feel like some sort of monstrosity, something that was set apart from the rest of the world, or at least should have been set apart. I had real estate in bell towers and hermitages on the mind. So when the X-Men comics and characters turned up on my pop-culture radar, I was drawn to it. Why? Because these super-humans were monsters in their own right, but beautifully so, and romanticized in a way my life wasn’t nor could it have been. Storm, Wolverine, Rogue, The Beast… these people were my celebrities. Jean Grey and Cyclops were my Beniffer (Jennifer Lopez/Ben Affleck reference… it’s ok… it’s been a long while), Charles Xavier was my Ronald Regan, and I wanted to marry Gambit (who wouldn’t?).

On further investigation we see that the X in X-Men stands for the extra gene (the “X-Gene) that these people carry inside their DNA, making them mutants, special in their own right, though the earliest comics gave them the “X” because of their “extra” abilities that normal humans. Either way, the X-Men had/have some addendum to a normal body, some extra special ‘sexy’ something, which, in my eyes, was a great deal better than the addendum that I experienced because of puberty. Though my body’s changes were a far- and less aesthetically pleasing- cry from the changes and powers that the X-Men claimed ownership of, I related to them, in all their weird and wonderful glory.
The X-Men, along with other comics of this ilk, not only gave middle school Claire something to relate to, something to maybe day-dream-aspire to, but it opened doors to an understanding of a common human theme: good vs. evil. This theme was a blanket for other deep and provocative themes, such as prejudice and racism. I don’t believe that a lot of 6th and 7th graders are out there who understand the complexities of our culture in the way I had started to because of my obsession. I was gaining an education on human life that reading The Babysitter’s Club couldn’t quite keep pace with. I was turning into someone who understood the world as opposed to the ‘Gossip Girl in Sweet Valley of the Traveling Pants’ breed that populated my age group. My fascination with the mutants of the X-Men, these monsters, these demi-gods, these creatures of power, held me captive and I watched as they faced off against others with abilities and powers like them. My heroes were held in the act of fighting to protect those without powers- the lowly mortals, the non-X-Men. This understanding of “With power comes great responsibility” (special thanks to Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben in that 2002 blockbuster travesty) gave my own view on my changed form more poignancy.
To see that the changed body could be used for good made me re-evaluate the horror that I had at my own growth. My new body wasn’t built to hold Magneto at bay, or stop genocide and end world hunger, but who said it couldn’t? My new body could do anything be anything. This potential put a new light on my changes, and made me re-evaluate the thoughts of “Oh-my-gosh-dear-lord-what-is-happening-to-me-please-god-no”, putting a more positive spin on my attitude. To be clear, I didn’t actually believe that I could stop bombs with my fist, or that my very presence could cure cancer or anything. I certainly wasn’t crazy or huffing glue (momma didn’t raise no fool). I was, however, learning that I could go out into my world and make it a somewhat better place, someone that could raise her voice and hands to make a difference, whatever cause I chose to champion, or value system I chose to personify. I was no longer a mewling and co-dependent life form. I was becoming an adult, a normal human adult. But if you look at adulthood from the standpoint of a pre-teen, or tween/teenybopper, adulthood is a form of mutant-cy. There are abilities and powers that come with reaching adulthood. As an adult you can do things you never imagined to be possible, like ordering products from infomercials, being able to vote and have sex (not simultaneously), and DRIVE A CAR (the big one). I’d like to narrow it down and simply call it confidence. I saw that with the power of adulthood, I could change the world.
This sounds so typical, so cheesy, as I type it all out on the screen before me. But there it is: my coming of age story, as inspired by the X-Men and other weirdos in spandex. It doesn’t matter that it is typical, it just mattered that it happened, and that my catalyst was easy to identify. Superhero worship changed a potentially terrifying time in my life, aka puberty, into a reason to make a difference in this world, gain new knowledge, to aspire higher, to fight against the evils of this world, and a reason to consistently wear spandex. Maybe that is why I became a dancer in the first place.