Why Superheroes are an Awesome Allegory for Real Teen Life

When I was a kid, I was awkward. I was bookish – loved to sit inside and read – and never had more than a few friends at a time. I looked awkward, too – I was the pudgy, braces-wearing, permed-hair, fashion-clueless younger version of the fabulous self I am today.

I was also OBSESSED with the X-men. Every Saturday morning, my siblings and I would watch the cartoons. My brother loved Wolverine (claws!) and my sister loved Storm (she played soccer!) but I loved it ALL. I loved the history of bromance between Xavier and Magneto, I loved the love triangles, I loved the angst. I loved the superpowers AND the drama, but the soap-opera nature of the plot was what kept me watching week after week.

Back then, I made absolutely no connection between to the two. Now that I’m in my *gulp* thirties, though, it’s almost painfully obvious.

I loved the X-men because I was a mutant, too.

Okay, maybe not an actual mutant. Still, I felt like one. Think about it – the typical superhero story is the same as the awkward preteen-becoming-teenager. New superpowers = teen awkwardness.
The superhero starts with some new abilities she didn’t ask for and doesn’t understand. They make her stand out in a way that’s at best freaky, immediately differentiating them from their friends and social circle, and at best devastating, getting them thrown out of the house or worse.

It’s painful, emotionally and perhaps physically as well. Wolverine had adamantium claws slicing through his skin, Cyclops had burning hot lasers shooting from his eyes. Rogue couldn’t touch anyone – ever – or she’d kill them. Jean Grey’s telekinetic abilities sometimes drove her mad.
Now, if all this isn’t the perfect allegory for raging hormones, not to mention the physical and social changes of growing up, thrown in with navigating the new territory of high school and its relationships…I don’t know what is.

Watching the X-men filter in to Professor X’s School for Gifted Youngsters was both triumphant and painful – triumphant, because you knew that there was  promise of these kids finally figuring out how to channel their energy into something positive, and painful, as you watched them struggle with Professor X’s authority and the social structure of the School. I distinctly remember, even at the age of 11, desperately hoping those kids would find a place they felt they belonged, where they could do some good.

Probably because I hoped the same for myself.

The thing is, the superpowers of the kids at Xavier’s school never changed. In fact, sometimes they got stronger. The difference was that they learned how to use them, or got some gear to help control them, or discovered different uses for them.

My super-awkwardness never changed, either. I still have more curves than the average girl, weird hair (it’s purple and turquoise,) and an addiction to holing up with a book. Now that I’ve come to terms with it, though, I use my powers for good – teaching my daughters about positive body image, proudly wearing my hair colors for no other reason than that I like them, and unapologetically spending hours upon hours reading and writing. My introversion has made me pretty proficient at social media –interacting with people who aren’t actually there with me is much less exhausting and more manageable than in-person.

The things that challenged me most as a teen gave me all the things I love most about myself in my adulthood. It’s the same story as each X-man – less super, though certainly no less extraordinary.

Leigh Ann Kopans is May's Affiliate Blogger. To find out more about our guest author positions here at the League, click here.

Raised on comic books and classic novels, Leigh Ann developed an early love of science fiction and literature. As an adult, she rediscovered her love for not only reading, but also writing the types of fiction that enchanted her as a teen. Her debut novel, ONE, is about a girl with only half a superpower, the boy who makes her fly, and her struggle to make herself whole.

Leigh Ann, her husband, and four children live in Columbus, Ohio. When she’s not immersed in the world of fiction, you can find her obsessing over the latest superhero movie or using her kids as an excuse to go out for ice cream (again.)

Twitter: @LeighAnnKopans

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by Leigh Ann Kopans

When having two powers makes you a Super and having none makes you a Normal, having only one makes you a sad half-superpowered freak.
It makes you a One.

Sixteen-year-old Merrin Grey would love to be able to fly – too bad all she can do is hover.

If she could just land an internship at the Biotech Hub, she might finally figure out how to fix herself. She busts her butt in AP Chem and salivates over the Hub’s research on the manifestation of superpowers, all in hopes of boosting her chances.

Then she meets Elias VanDyne, another One, and all her carefully crafted plans fly out the window. Literally. When the two of them touch, their Ones combine to make them fly, and when they’re not soaring over the Nebraska cornfields, they’re busy falling for each other.

Merrin's mad chemistry skills land her a spot on the Hub's internship short list, but as she gets closer to the life she always wanted, she discovers that the Hub’s purpose is more sinister than it has always seemed. Now it’s up to her to decide if it's more important to fly solo, or to save everything - and everyone - she loves.


Anonymous said...

Allegorical bullshit about juvenile melodrama is what ruins many a well drawn comic in my book. Sure, the bad guy might make a great allegory for an abusive loved one, a problematic situation, or a failed romance, but I much prefer it when Batman is simply a deranged rich guy who copes with his shattered psyche by waging a holy but inevitably futile crusade against human evil. No, you can't relate, but goddamn is it more awesome than what happens in real life.

Kaye said...

This sounds like something the teens I work with would love. Me too, for that matter.

Ana Bastow said...

Great analogy.
I loved the X-Men for the same reasons. Aside from the fact that they had almost as many women with superpowers unlike the Justice League for example and they have people of all ethnicities and shapes.
I felt very identified with trying to do the best in a world that not always understood me.

Great post!