Trigger Warning: Great Power, Great Responsibility
Spider-Man taught us that with great power comes great responsibility but does this pithy homily ring true when a trigger is pulled at a school?
Iron-Man defeated Thanos with just the snap of a finger. Surely, we can agree on a plan to decrease School Shootings.
Not eradicate. Not eliminate. JUST DECREASE. That’s entirely possible…
I won’t pretend that gun violence, mass shooting, or school shootings are anything novel. We’re humans after all and as such our capacity to harm each other has never known a limit.
We are also a civilized people with the ability to make change on a global level so when it comes to school shootings… what’s our problem?
It Was A Day Just Like Any Other…
The answer to that is a broader and much more convoluted conversation than we’ll tackle here. This is an entertainment website after all. We talk about comics, games, and Nerd Culture not “issues” as serious as this.
So, what gives?
The hard truth is that School shootings ARE part of Nerd Culture. Just like they’re part of the Movie or Music Scene. For better or worse they are woven into every fabric of our life.
School Shootings have become synonyms with who we are as a nation at this point. There are more school shootings in America annually than months in a year and we’ve accepted that fate.
The Hero Always Wins…
It hasn’t always been that way though and we can use Comic Books as a rubric to show what our acceptance level has become.
Take for instance Amazing Spider-Man #31 (1999) written by J Michael Straczynski with art by John Romita Jr. This Comic came out in July of 1999.
Peter Parker is applying to be a Science Teacher at his former High School. Not his dream job and not quite as monumental as fighting The Green Goblin. Peter after all is a genius level Scientist and has saved the world countless times as the Amazing and Spectacular Spider-Man.
He IS a Hero.
Today is not just any day at Peter’s alma mater though. Peter Parker faces a new evil when automatic rifle fire explodes inside the school. Peter instinctively reacts and does what Comic Book Heroes do. He saves the day.
Peter subdues the shooter only to discover that he is a student. A teenage boy who has been bullied, beat up and “can’t take it anymore”.
The dust settles just in time for Peter to accept a position as the fulltime Science teacher and move on to “Spider-Man level” supervillains in issue #32.
Case closed. Happy Ending. The hero wins because with great power comes great responsibility.
With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
This issue of Amazing Spider-Man was published after what was at the time the deadliest school shooting in American history. The Columbine High School Shooting.
In April of 1999, two students entered Columbine High School in Colorado murdering 12 students and 1 teacher. This wasn’t the first school shooting in American history, but it is considered the catalyst for what modern school shootings became.
Amazing Spider-Man #31 is the response to a School Shootings that you would expect. The Hero saves the day. Lessons are learned and we are all better for it.
Even more though it shows the resolve of a Hero. It treats the subject matter as an anomaly in our culture not a forgone conclusion of what our society is. In all its naiveté Amazing Spider-Man #31 (1999) shows that the School Shootings can be prevented. It epitomizes the saying “with great power comes great responsibility”.
In 1999 the idea that school shootings would evolve to what they are today was unthinkable. Surely Americans wouldn’t stand for such violence against their own children. There is no way that those in power would balk at the responsibility to do something. To be the Hero that those with great power are held responsible to be.
Where Fantasy and Reality Divide
History tells a different story, According to The Washington Post, more than 311,000 students have experienced gun violence at school SINCE Columbine.
The West Nickel Mines Amish School Shooting in 2006.
The Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting in 2012.
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas School Shooting in 2018.
These are some of the more high-profile school shootings in American History, but they are FAR from the only ones. There have been 948 school shootings alone since the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012.
School shootings have accounted for 185 children and educator deaths across more than 300 schools in America since Peter Parker saved the day in Amazing Spider-Man #31.
These facts along with the inaction of those with the power to make change has been felt across the Nation. It can be pinpointed – again through Comic Books.
Trigger Warning: Great Power, Great Responsibility
In The Champions #24, Writer Jim Zub and Artist Sean Izaakse tackle the subject of School Shootings once again. Spider-Man takes center stage as the Hero, but something is different this time.
Champions #24 was published in 2018 after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas School Shooting. It was published after we as a Nation watched school shootings happen again and again. It is the narrative of a world where those with power do little to decrease gun violence in schools.
Not eradicate. Not eliminate. JUST DECREASE.
In Champions #24 the subject is delivered differently. It’s less about stopping the shooting and more about the aftermath. The School Shooting is treated as an inevitable action that even the mightiest Marvel Heroes are helpless to prevent.
This is the shift since 1999 where Peter Parker decided that with Great power comes Great responsibility. Champions #24 perfectly highlighted what happens to the state of our Union when those with Great power do nothing.
There is an exchange between Miss Marvel and Miles Morales in Champions #24 that puts it more eloquently than I ever could.
“Understanding our limitations is Important. Once you accept those, you’ve got a simple choice to make. Despair or Hope. Give up or Stand up.” – Miss Marvel/Jim Zub.
That brings us to today. As a nation we are one day removed from our latest School Shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas. A shooting that has so far left 19 children and 2 adults dead. Time will tell if our Comic Book Heroes respond or if like many of us, they’re at a loss. Defeated by the inactions of the powerful.
The best example of this acceptance comes from Mad Magazine. Mad Magazine is famous for its humor and satire but in 2018 they spoke truth to the pain we all felt. Following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school Shooting in 2018 Mad Magazine published The Ghastlygun Tinies.
This is a spoof of The Gashlycrumb Tinies that used the alphabet to detail 26 child deaths. Each in unique and morbid ways. The premise of Mad Magazine’s twisted ABC book is that children are more likely to die by gun violence nowadays – so accept it.
The Ghastlygun Tinies is not funny. It is not humorous. But it is true. It points a finger at each of us and says, “this is inevitable without change”.
We’ve come a long way in the wrong direction since Amazing Spider-Man #31 (1999). I don’t pretend to have any answers, but I do know that doing NOTHING isn’t working.
Comic Books help guide me to some basic facts though.
“With Great Power comes Great Responsibility.”
“Give up or Stand up.”
It seems simple because it is. As a people we can choose to Give Up when the powerful abandon their responsibility or we can Stand Up to remind them what Heroes look like.
WE SHOULD STAND. We MUST Stand because there are over 20 people in a small Texas town today who can’t and never will stand again.
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