Challenge. Change. Podcast
During their first year at Clark, political science majors Ruthie Brian ’24, Beiyna Chaparian ’24, and Anna Walker ’24 took a course that called for comic books rather than textbooks. In the First-Year Intensive course Comic Books and Politics with Professor Ora Szekely, students used superhero tropes as a vehicle to analyze historical and contemporary politics.
The course made such an impression on Brian, Chaparian, and Walker that the three took the concept and created an independent study for their senior year. They’ve been poring through comics and watching the latest superhero movies, exploring how the plots engage with global and national issues such as racial justice and immigration.
As women and people of color portray more superheroes, a larger audience can see their lives reflected in the storylines, Chaparian says.
“Having depth in characters and representation is important,” she says. “Watching ‘Ms. Marvel,’ I saw things that I could relate to in terms of what my family looks like and how my culture affects my identity.”
Despite progress in representation, comics still contain disparities. The students have found that women superheroes typically have endured more trauma than their male counterparts, Walker says. Even the battle scenes display a gender imbalance.
“The idea of who has the right to violence is very fascinating to me,” Walker says. “Women’s violence is often on a smaller scale, or more social, compared to the massive wipeout of cities that we see in comics and movies like ‘The Avengers.’”
These combat scenes are an avenue for the trio to analyze the motives behind war.
“No one considers themself evil,” Brian says. “People are going to justify their actions with either religion or another belief they hold.”