Friday, May 24, 2013

The wonderful world of comics (part one)

For those of you who follow our Facebook page or blog or those of you who know me in real life, you are well aware that Aria is a superhero fanatic. Ever since, her dad first let her watch The Hulk she has been hooked. She's mostly a Marvel gal, though she does dabble a bit in DC. She is well versed in the Avengers and the X-men. She loves Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, Rogue, and Wolverine. Thor has to be her favorite right now though. She even knows some of the more obscure characters. Last year she dressed as Domino for Halloween and Portland's first Rose City Comic Con. This year she has plans to dress as Rogue from the X-men for Halloween and Wasp from the Avengers for the Comic Con. PS: She was pretty upset that the Avenger's movie didn't include Antman and Wasp.
DC meets Marvel at the Rose City Comic Con in Portland, Oregon.
I actually love that Aria is into superheroes and comics because its something that our entire family can enjoy together. That said, the superhero geek world is not without problems. Women are often depicted in ways that are highly sexualized and violence is heavily prevalent.  I am well aware of both and yes, they are concerns for me.  The geek world, while a sanctuary in many respects for some, is not a sanctuary for all and let's be honest with ourselves, its not completely removed from general society.  Its impacted by the same crappy misogyny and obsession with domination and violence that we see in the wider world.   

But here is the thing. I'm a firm believer that parents have to make decisions that best fit their parenting styles, values, and children. There is no one size fits all approach to raising children.  Its what makes parenting both interesting and totally terrifying.  I have friends who avoid the superhero franchise because of the violence and I think their concerns are perfectly reasonable.  For my family though we enjoy reading comics together.  I also think it is important to note that despite having a passion for superheroes, Aria is really good at separating the fantasy from reality. We made it very clear early on that if violence became a problem, we'd nix the cartoons and comics immediately.

I do wish that women were not represented so narrowly, but there are examples of strong women peppered throughout the stories.  But even more frequently are opportunities for what I consider to be important discussions.  For example, despite all the misconceptions that comics reduce the world into good vs evil scenarios, that simply is not true. Sure, if all you know are the general story lines, you might get that message but read the actual stories and you'll find that the comic book world is just as complex as reality. The “Good” guys sometimes make bad choices that hurt people and the “Bad” guys sometimes turn out to be not as bad as you originally thought.

Why is this a selling point for me? Because that is exactly what you see in the real world and I think the biggest thing we can pass onto our children is that the world isn't black and white. If you really want to change the world you have to understand why people make the choices they do and you have to stop perpetuating the myth that people are born benevolent or evil. I truly believe that if you foster the belief that people are born "bad," then you're paving the road for hatred.  After all, it feels good to hate the bad.  But the truth is that we are all born into this world imperfect but with open hearts and the potential to be amazing.  
Aria dressed as Wolverine, circa 2011.
Okay, but do children pick up on these subtleties? I believe they do. And I have an example from The Avengers: Secret Wars II series. In The Avengers Issue 260: Secret Wars II (part 2), the Skrulls and the Avengers have built an uneasy alliance to stop Nebula, a common foe.  For those of you not familiar with the Avengers, the Skrulls have long been considered an enemy of Earth.  Needless to say, Aria was a tad confused as to why the Avengers were pairing up with the shape-shifting aliens.

Aria: Momma? But the Skrulls are the bad guys.
Me: They do make a lot of bad choices don't they? And they hurt a lot of people, huh?
Aria: Yes, because they are the bad guys.
Me: Do good people make bad choices?
Aria: Well...yes, the Hulk has made bad choices.
Me: Is Hulk a bad guy?
Aria: No.

We read on until the end and started in on The Avengers Issue 261: Secret Wars II (part 3) and got to a part where (Skrull) General Zedrao says to the Avengers:

My race has waged war across the stars for millions of years -- we have made few allies.  Our races have been hated enemies, yet you fought alongside us against Nebula as though we were your own kind!  I do not fully understand such selflessness, but I feel strangely honored by it.  May your courage endure!'

At this point, Aria was silent and I could tell she was wrestling with something in her mind

Aria: Momma, is General Zedrao a good guy now.
Me: Well...I think he is thinking about the choices he has made and he is definitely questioning what he thought he knew about humans.
Aria: Why do the Skrulls hurt people?
Me: I don't know. We'd have to understand more about them, but they don't seem to think very well of anybody that is not a Skrull. Maybe if they actually took the time to learn about others, they might respect them more. I think its harder to hurt people when you know them and see them as equals.

General Zedrao contemplating Captain America's words about the potential they may work together again in the future right before they go their separate ways.
Now did Aria walk away understanding why people do hateful things? No, certainly not. I don't even understand it so I don't expect her to get it from one talk, but it opened the door for a very tough conversation and more importantly it gave her reason to pause, to think, and to question. Critical thinking is a skill that will serve her a lifetime so I'll take the lessons where I find them.

In addition, being in a world that seems to insist that my daughter aspire to be a princess, I feel the need for a bit of balance. Phil (Aria's daddy) and I are not Disney princess people. We just aren't so it didn't make sense to shove it down her throat before she could talk and personally I cringe when I walk into a big box toy store and see what I have come to refer as the “WALL OF PINK!” I see no need to introduce any of that to Aria because the world does a good enough job for me.

Besides it just made more sense to introduce Aria to our likes. I love my fantasy books and comics as well (I highly recommend Fables, Y: the Last Man, Lucifer, and Sandman.). Phil grew up reading some of the exact same comics Aria enjoys reading now. If she had hated it, we would have backed off, but it just so happened that she fell in love with them as well. Don't get me wrong she likes princesses and fairies as well. And I love that she flips back and forth between them comfortable and confident in HER choices about how to express herself.
Choices.  That's all I want for my girl.  Real choices so she can decide for herself who she is and how best to express herself.  On the left, Aria plays the role of a fairy princess complete with flower scepter.  On the right, she does an odd little victory dance in her Marvel tee from her buddy Max.
That said, I've been on a mission to find more age appropriate and girl empowering comics for Aria and I have stumbled upon some lovely choices.  Tune in next week to read about my current top picks.  For now, I'll just say that I'm really excited that Aria loves comics.  It's a lot of fun having common interests to share with her.  We are super excited about the 2013 Rose City Comic Con.  If you are in the area, be sure to stop might just see a tiny Wasp flitting around.


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