by Samantha Cooper
In the movie Spider-Man (Raimi 2002) and the comic book, Ms. Marvel, Volume 1: No Normal (Wilson), two social outcasts are granted superhuman powers and transform from ugly ducklings into modern-day heroes who experience both exhilaration and dread once they obtain these powers. Both Peter Parker and Kamala Khan are outliers within their social groups. Peter Parker is a geeky teenage boy who is too shy to talk to the woman he loves, and instead invests his time longingly staring after her or working on his science projects. Kamala Khan is a Muslim girl who struggles with assimilating to Western culture, juggling school and overbearing parents, and also wanting to fit in with kids her age. Both of these characters strongly wish for a different life, and once granted super powers, experience the type of exhilaration that represents a sense of liberation and newfound freedom. This type of transformation is indicative to today’s youth to celebrate their differences instead of trying to assimilate into what they identify as normal in their environments, and it is through both of these awkward teenager’s journeys that self-identity is established as more important than how others identify you.
Peter Parker yearns to drive an expensive car and run like the jocks that capture Mary Jane’s attention. He is bullied at school and does not have many friends. Although he has a stable home environment with his aunt and uncle, he cannot stop dreaming of more. When a scientifically modified spider bites Peter, giving him the powers of Spider-Man, he is sick at first. However, after the sickness passes he wakes up feeling healthy and strong, and looks much stronger. He admires his appearance in front of the mirror, and immediately starts to plan around it. He celebrates his new appearance by running and jumping from rooftops and shouting out with joy. He fashions a new figure-flattering superhero suit, and enters into a wrestling competition to win money for a car to impress Mary Jane.
Kamala Kahn is a high school girl who is struggling with identifying as both Muslim and American. She has immigrant parents who have assimilated well into the culture while maintaining their traditional views. On top of this, she is surrounded by people who continually misunderstand both her and her culture. Her peers make ignorant comments like Zoe who chooses to excuse herself from being around Kamala for smelling like curry (Wilson 9). Comic book heroes, including Ms. Marvel, are Kamala’s bigger idols, and when she becomes enveloped in thick smog she is granted the powers of Ms. Marvel. Although at first she is convinced she somehow became inebriated from one sip of a drink, she soon discovers that she has these powers. She is frightened but incredibly excited, and just like Peter Parker, begins to experiment with her new powers. She experiments by changing her hair blonde, disguising herself to look like another person, and she learns she can heal from bullet wounds (Wilson 66). Both Peter Parker and Kamala Khan learn hard lessons after they experiment with their newfound powers. Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben dies from a gunshot wound after Peter lets a thief run away and Kamala Khan is shot trying to help a store from being robbed (and also trashes the store from lack of experience). As Uncle Ben says to Peter, “with great power comes great responsibility”—it’s a lesson both characters have to learn early on. However, it is also their powers that allows them to start expressing their individuality. Not only do they start expressing their individuality, but they also start becoming prouder and more assertive of themselves and their self-worth. Peter Parker has newfound confidence to pursue Mary Jane, and Kamala Khan is able to stick up to Zoe, her snobby classmate who continually disrespects her background.
Peter Parker and Kamala Khan are representations of today’s youth who can misguide themselves into being versions of themselves they think will be more socially acceptable. Peter Parker struggles in the beginning with appealing to Mary Jane’s love of jocks and fast cars. He tries in vain to assimilate to that standard. Kamala Khan struggles with being more Americanized than her Muslim parents, but also fears letting go of that part of herself that connects to her traditionalist parents and culture. Both Kamala and Peter have to ultimately accept themselves for who they are, and that means letting go of what they had both previously identified as standard. It is in this struggle that these comics encourage the youth reading or watching these stories to accept themselves for who they are. Perhaps what is most inspiring, by the end of these stories, is that both characters not only come to accept their individuality, but also embrace it and are happy with themselves. The stories’ promotion of self-acceptance is why they are a great resource for any pre-pubescent young adult who will inevitably struggle with some form of self-consciousness while entering adulthood.
Both Spider-Man and Ms. Marvel are perfect representations for how fantasy and superhero stories can positively influence today’s youth. The traditional representation of an unflawed hero has been tossed out, and in its place is an average citizen who undermines their own value, just like a lot of today’s youth. These are the types of stories that more children and young adults should read, as they inspire everyone to be not only more independent and confident in themselves, but also more understanding of people of different races, ethnicities, backgrounds, and religions.
Spider-Man. Sam Raimi, Director. Sony Pictures Entertainment. 2002.
Wilson, G. Willow. Artist: Alphona, Adrian. Ms. Marvel, Volume 1: No Normal. Marvel Comics. 2014. Print.