Superheroes assemble…in the classroom?

A ‘Green Lantern’ used to just mean something that could be used to decorate the walls of a Vietnamese restaurant for me, just as how the name ‘The Avengers’ would once have drawn a blank stare, followed by some question that would probably cause fans of Marvel and DC comics to cringe, such as “Oh, are they like ‘The Power Rangers’?”

Before the slew of movies based on Marvel and DC comics in recent years, the world of Superhero comics was an alien one to me. While I’ve been a fan of and have used two other sub-genres of comics, the comic strip and the more serious ‘graphic novel’ category of comic books in the classroom, I’ve never really considered Superhero comics as an educational resource, mainly because I didn’t know much about them and I suspect, neither did the girls in the convent school I was teaching at.

Now however, the Superhero comic book audience has widened, in large part due to these movies. This current generation of students, girls as well as boys, are so ‘tuned into’ these comics that teachers around the world are probably be asking themselves what place the Superhero comic book could have in their classrooms. Could Superhero comic books help start a literary discussion on plot and character development? Could they help develop visual literacy? Could they be used to teach values such as cooperation, empathy, etc.?

Take for instance, Spider-man, who as Peter Parker, was bitten by a radioactive spider and who decides to uses his powers for good after his Uncle Ben is killed partly due to him not stopping a thief. He deals with various emotions through his comic book life, such as grief and guilt, and has to deal with financial and romantic issues. Or The X-Men, a group of mutants who are normal children born to normal parents, but who possess wondrous powers due to increased amounts of radiation in the earth’s atmosphere which altered their genes and who band together, drawing strength as a group, for the common good. Or The Avengers, who, if you watched the recently-released movie, are an ad-hoc group of superheroes who work together to fight “the foes no single superhero can withstand”, such as saving Earth from aliens, etc.

Given the rich character histories and plots as well as the heightened interest in this particular genre, the possibilities for the classroom really do seem quite exciting.

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