Let’s preface this: when I was twelve, we didn’t use the fancy term “tween”. I’m that old.
Back in 1987, I was just a pre-teen, my head buried in Sweet Valley High books, building unrealistic expectations of my life as a high schooler. I figured I would have to die my hair blonde and be anyone but myself if high school was going to be at all manageable.
If these five Marvel comics had been around in 1987, I might have picked up a few comic books. And I would have discovered that you don’t need to be a California blonde to be amazing.
Kamala Khan is a Pakistani-American teen growing up in New Jersey. After sneaking out of the house for a party, she encounters Terrigen Mist, a substance that activates her InHuman powers of shapeshifting.
She uses her powers to save her city, friends, and family. And she meets her favorite superheroes along the way.
As a shape-shifter, Kamala can look like anything she wants. In fact, she instinctively takes on the form of Captain Marvel in her first shift. But that’s the last time she shifts into someone else. As an “outsider”, you might think Kamala would much rather look like the popular kids. Instead, she chooses to remain herself and change the size and shape of body parts to get the job done.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl
Doreen Green is a mutant with the proportional strength and speed of a squirrel. She also has the ability to speak with squirrels and convince them to fight evil with her. In The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Doreen has gone off to college. But every day seems to bring a new villain to campus.
Doreen is not your typical female superhero in any way. She’s goofy, innocent, and loveable. She wears her hair short, has bucked teeth, and is short and curvy. No broken backs with tiny waists and giant boobs here.
Does this ever occur to Doreen? Not for a single second. She’s too busy saving the word, making friends, and loving every minute of life. She loves who she is and surrounds herself with people that see her amazing mind and heart. As a tween, I needed Doreen’s example of self-acceptance.
Written by Kieron Gillen and drawn by Jamie McKelvie, the relaunched Young Avengers follow the adventures of Wiccan, Hulking, Hawkeye, Kid Loki, Marvel Boy, and Miss America. A few issues in, Speed and Prodigy join the group.
This title has all the drama and romance of Sweet Valley High. But the kidnapping and evil twins actually make sense in this universe.
Young Avengers is all about finding your identity. It’s about growing up and growing out of the shadow of your parents and mentors. Each member of the team must find their own way, just like every tween/teen.
In this book, a group of teenagers discovers their parents are actually members of an evil crime organization called The Pride. The Pride consists of time-travelers, wizards, scientists, aliens, and telepathic mutants. The teens also discover that they have inherited their parent’s powers. Shocked by their discovery, the teens band together and defeat their parents.
Like the Young Avengers books, Runaways is about growing up and finding your own way. The difference lies in the characters, in particular, the many female characters. Nico is courageous and a natural leader, but she doesn’t necessary she herself this way.
Molly is the little sister of the group, desperate to be accepted as one of the big kids. Gertrude is intelligent and kind. Plus she has a dinosaur and gets the guy. Last, but not least, Karolina’s identity struggles bring a truly human feel to the story.
All these characters were young women I would have loved to have as friends. And they are definitely better influences than Lila and Jessica.
Carol Danvers, an accidental half-Kree superhuman, takes up the title Captain Marvel and heads into space. She heads up S.W.O.R.D., a military organization that protects Earth from intergalactic threats.
The title of Captain Marvel Volume 3, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick and drawn by David Lopez, is Alis Volat Propriis. This is Latin for “She flies with her own wings.” I can’t image a better motto for a tween girl than these three words.
Carol, time and time again has fallen, picked herself back up, and flown into greatness. She is by no means perfect, and she is the first to admit it. But she tries to do what is right by her friends and family, and most importantly herself.
In Captain Marvel #1, Carol explains why she decided to go into space with words I feel all young women need to hear.
“Have you ever seen a little girl run so fast she falls down?” she asks. “There’s this instant, a fraction of a second, before the world catches hold of her again…a moment when she’s outrun every doubt and fear she’s ever had about herself, and she flies. In that one moment, every little girl flies. I need to find that again.”
If these five Marvel comics had been around back in 1987, those Sweet Valley High books would have lost their luster. Of course, instead of fantasizing about having blonde hair and blue eyes, I’m sure I would have fantasized about having magical staffs and super strength.