Coming of Age With Super Powers

Coming of Age With Super Powers

A review of Mariko Tamaki’s Supergirl: Being Super (DC Comics, 2018).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Canadian comic writer and artist Mariko Tamaki has frequently explored coming of age and that fascinating experience of being between childhood and adulthood in comics like Skim and This One Summer. She shows an incredible ability to draw her readers into those moments in our own past where we were in that awkward state of transition between childhood and adulthood and we sought out our own identities. in Supergirl: Being Super, Tamaki unites the awkward time of questioning identity in our teen years with the figure of the superhero… another figure for whom identity and transformation are a central issue.

We all remember what it was like to be a teenager and feel like we are in the wrong skin and like we don’t fit into our society… but that is magnified for Kara Danvers, a girl who just got her first pimple and exploded it all over her bathroom…. literally. Along with her friends, the young lesbian Dolly and track star Jen, Kara is seeking out what it means to be a teenager… but she is still holding back a secret from these friends. It turns out that her feeling of alienation comes from actually being an alien. Kara is from another planet.

Tamaki frequently explores the idea of being an outsider and what it feels like for a teen who is treated as though she doesn’t belong… as though her entire existence is at conflict with the world around her. In Kara Danvers, Tamaki is able to explore what it means to ‘pass’, keeping an identity secret from friends, teachers, and all of those around her, what it means to worry about being a danger to everyone around her, coping with post traumatic stress, exploitation, rejection from family, and the death of a classmate… along with the desire to do something to make this world a better place. Tamaki’s Supergirl is someone who holds onto the idea of hope that people will become better even when she is constantly faced with disappointment from a human race that is still shaped by bigotry, intolerance, exploitation, and hate.

To find out more about Supergirl: Being Super, visit https://www.dccomics.com/graphic-novels/supergirl-being-super-2016/supergirl-being-super

To discover more about Mariko Tamaki, visit http://marikotamaki.blogspot.com

Advertisements

Multiverse History

A review of Patrick T. Goddard’s “Diary of a Teenage Grizzly” in Tesseracts Nineteen: Superhero Universe” Edited by Mark Shainblum and Claude Lalumiere (Edge, 2016).

By Derek Newman-Stille


In “Diary of a Teenage Grizzly”, Patrick T. Goddard brings together multiple different comic book and fan narratives. He addresses a letter to the editors of Tesseracts Nineteen: Superhero Universe in which he tells them that he uncovered a diary from his time as a teen superhero in the 1980s. He plays with the notion of the multiverse to write himself into a superhero story, creating an alternative history for himself in which his teenage years were a battle between his life as a teen and his life as a superhero. Goddard plays with the fan fiction narrative of the Mary Sue, in which the author inserts her/himself as a character into the story, but uses the comic book narrative and the format of a diary to play with the idea that this was an alternative history for himself.

Despite being a superhero story, Goddard’s tale reveals some of the realities of teenage life including the complicated mix of feelings that get experienced in the high school setting. Goddard’s character/ self experiences clashes between different social groups, the pressure to fit in and conform, conflicts with personal needs versus the desires of parents, and the uncertainty that defines the teen experience. Writing his teenage self as a bear shape shifter whose emotions trigger him to change from human into grizzly bear reveal the way we portray teens as unstable, subject to emotion, and generally a danger when they become emotional, ascribing animalistic characteristics to them.

Goddard invites us to imagine the life of the superhero child and the pressures that it places on their life in addition to the regular challenges of high school life. He explores the complications of hiding identity, celebrity culture around superheroism, and the challenge of defining one’s moral structure in a world that is divided into hero/villain. 

To find out more about Tesseracts Nineteen: Superhero Universe, visit Edge’s website at http://edgewebsite.com/books/tess19/t19-catalog.html

 

The Outsider School for Outsider Youth

A review of Jillian Tamaki’s Supermutuant Magic Academy (Drawn and Quarterly, 2015).

By Derek Newman-Stille

In Supermutant Magic Academy, Jillian Tamaki takes on the recent cultural trend of portraying children just finiding the right school for their outsider status and then finally fitting in with all of the other students – a theme that has been played out in cultural phenomena like Harry Potter, which Tamaki heavily spoofs. Tamaki blends ideas from the Harry Potter universe with ideas from the X-Men universe (Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters). These ‘outsider schools for outsider kids’ phenomena that continue to be popular unwittingly project the idea that the best method for inclusion of diverse youngsters is to create a school environment where they are not diverse, where everyone shares some trait with them, whether it be mutation or magical ability. This unintentionally suggests that what works best for kids is to keep the current system intact with all of its ideas of forced normalcy and associated exclusions, but to create special schools for those who don’t fit into norms so that they can finally find a place to be normal. This cultural trend favours maintaining the status quo of the school system, but imagining other schools with other norms to push on children – whether it be control of their magical abilities or their mutant powers. The message is still one of conformity.

This is what makes Tamaki’s Supermutant Magic Academy so clever. It challenges the idea that we can just create special schools for each person’s diverse qualities without changing the school system itself. Her characters, although learning about magic and their abilities are still teens. They are still just as disaffected as other teens about the school environment and the superstructure of controlled learning. No matter what they are learning about, the system still fails them in diverse ways and they still challenge and push the boundaries of that system. This is the particular power of Tamaki’s work, her ability and desire to push boundaries, to challenge the status quo and intentionally subvert it from the inside – by creating a story that is nominally about a school for diversity of magical and mutant abilities and then playing with the attitudes of the teens that attend the school and ensuring that they still engage with the school in their own ennui-shaped framework.

Tamaki illustrates that even when a school suggests that its curriculum is inclusive (in this case, of mutants and magicians), it still fails students when it fails to make changes to the ideas that underly that curriculum. 

Tamaki’s fun, brilliant, savvy critique of supernatural school lit is filled with students who don’t use their powers to fight epic battles and fight for all of the rules of normalcy of society… instead they continue being teens and use their powers in ways that real teens would – to get rid of acne, deal with the tribulations of attraction and sexual identity, deal with people misunderstanding them, and cope with school until they can get out at the end of the day and do something that isn’t state sanctioned. Like most teens, they recognise that the things that are the most fun are the ones that aren’t part of a state prescribed curriculum. 

To read more about Supermutant Magic Academy and see a few online images from this graphic novel, visit http://mutantmagic.com 

You can also visit the Drawn and Quarterly website to find out more at https://www.drawnandquarterly.com/supermutant-magic-academy