By: Hollis McAllister, City Year AmeriCorps Alumna '12 & '13 & City Year Tulsa Chief of Staff
Some may call me late to the game, but over the past year, I have dived headfirst deep into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Somehow, Black Panther was the first MCU movie that I saw in theaters and I was simply awestruck.
I was stunned by the beauty that is Wakanda and deeply inspired by how much it has meant for kids and adults all over the world to see a superhero and supporting cast on the big screen who looked like them. Somehow, I missed the memo that these movies, and the comic books they’re based, were remarkably powerful with complex storylines that wove together from throughout the entire MCU.
So, with the mentorship of a patient and very well informed, life-long self-proclaimed “comic book nerd” in my life, I set out to watch all the MCU movies at least once before The Avengers Endgame came out. I am proud to report that we achieved our goal – well, other than the Incredible Hulk, but from what I hear, I didn’t miss anything.
While watching these films, I couldn’t help but continuously pause and exclaim about the leadership lessons conveyed, the celebrations of diversity and inclusivity, and of course, the City Year culture and values I saw within these movies. Since then, I’ve started to explore some of the comic books that laid the ground for the MCU, and my fandom for these stories just keeps snowballing.
One of my favorite aspects of the MCU is the unique origin stories behind each of the heroes we’ve come to know and love. Each carry with them their own relatable flaws, and often trauma in their backgrounds, while also the potential to move mountains.
I see something similar each year in our City Year AmeriCorps members. Each of them brings with them a unique set of talents, past struggles, and experiences that lay the ground for challenges and triumphs they’ll experience during the heroic journey they embark on with City Year. Service becomes the next step in each of our heroes’ origin stories and the red jacket as their insignia for the year.
To celebrate National Comic Book day, I thought I would walk through each of City Year’s 10 core values and connect them to Marvel characters and their stories. Now, for any comic book aficionados who may be reading this, I own that my selections are biased towards characters in the MCU and I welcome your thoughts and suggestions for others who might fit the bill.
So without further ado, I give you the City Year values as Marvel Comic Book Characters:
1. Service to a Cause Greater Than Self – Iron Man
Tony Stark was once a wealthy, pretty self-absorbed businessman and CEO of Stark Industries, a military weapon manufacturing company. After escaping a kidnapping by creating what would eventually become his Iron Man suit, Tony learns the damage that his company has done to the world and instead, turns his attention from his formerly selfish, flashy lifestyle to now focus on a cause greater than Tony Stark himself - joining the Avengers to protect planet earth from evil.
2. Students First, Collaboration Always – Professor X
When children and teens who were first discovering their unique abilities were cast out by the rest of the world as “mutants,” Professor X saw their potential to be fostered and realized at Xavier Institute. Faculty such as Wolverine, Rogue, Storm, and Iceman, supported them by collaborating with each other to meet their student’s unique needs so that they can become their best selves using their “mutant” abilities to their advantage and the world’s good.
3. Belief in the Power of Young People – Hawkeye
Hawkeye, or Clint Baron, has zero superpowers. He has an innate ability for sight and geometric thinking but he’s just a dude. Yet he’s an avenger. When a young girl is grappling with not only her own unmatchable superpowers but also the anxiety of such (not to mention the dichotomy of almost becoming a villain), Clint Barton listens, and explains her own importance to her. When he tries and fails to save her brother, he is there to comfort her. Clint Barton knows how important the very smallest interactions and lessons can be to young people. And after all he has seen in his life, he makes it a point that these young people know they are important too.
4. Social Justice for All – Black Panther
T’challa did not ask to inherit the throne of a hidden nation of unlimited wealth and unmatched technological advancement. Faced with a question of helping a world in desperate need or keeping everything for a people constantly persecuted by the world around it, Black Panther chooses to stand up and set a precedent, that if anyone needs help - regardless of race, gender, nationality, and it can be provided, then they shall receive it. Even in the face of discrimination, T’challa chooses to serve a higher purpose of working towards a more just world for all.
5. Level 5 Leadership – Captain America
Captain America, or Steve Rogers, was a tall, scrawny young adult in the 1940s. After watching Hitler’s rise to power, Steve answers the call that he feels within himself to enlist in the army. While he was quickly determined unfit to serve due to his stature and physical shortcomings, his determined nature, humility, and intense will to do something to counter hate in the world was noticed. Subsequently, Steve became a test subject in the Super-Soldier project injecting him with a serum that transformed him into a nearly perfect human specimen with the ideal physical traits of strength, agility, and stamina. But these powers aren’t what makes Captain America the iconic superhero and human embodiment of American ideals that he is regarded as today. What makes Captain America stand out as an incredible leader and unmatched hero is what he already had within him, powerful personal humility and a desire to serve others and his team wherever and however he is able as well as his indomitable will to make America and the world live up to our ideals. Captain America is certainly worthy of the label of a Level 5 Leader.
6. Empathy – Mantis
Mantis first appears in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" and is essentially an embodiment of empathy. She comes from a race of insect-like, human-like beings with incredible empathic abilities. Mantis is not only able to sense and feel what others are feeling, her powers also allow her to alter someone’s emotions. Mantis uses her abilities to serve others, and to help alleviate pain and suffering in those around her. We may not all be able to alter others' emotions like Mantis can, but we learn from her that sometimes, the most powerful thing we can do for someone is to listen to understand someone's perspective and then, be there for them when they need us.eed and the higher need in a unique way that equally matches others’ physically abilities.
7. Inclusivity – Spiderman
Between the Spider-Verse and Spider-Geddon, storylines, it feels like there are almost too many Spiderman variants to count, but the fascinating thing about these variants is the incredible diversity they can represent. Spiderman is all about inclusive representation from the oh so familiar Peter Parker to Miles Morales, an Afro-Latino teenager from Brooklyn, to Anya Sofia Corazonl, a Latina Spider-Girl, to Pavitr Prabhakar, an Indian version of Spider-man. It is best said at the end of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse when Miles Morales states “anyone can wear the mask.”
8. Ubuntu – Groot
I am Groot. You are Groot. We are Groot.
9. Teamwork – Guardians of the Galaxy
Despite coming from various origin stories, planets, and races, as well as holding differing world views, strengths, and flaws, this team compliments each other like no other. They certainly do have their rocky times when backchanneling tears at the cohesion of the Guardians organization, but in the end, they are always able to set aside personal challenges for the higher goal of working together to protect the galaxy from evil – like Thanos.
10. Excellence – Captain Marvel
All Carol Danvers wanted was to serve a purpose. Before she gained her powers she wanted to be something. And after she gained the most powerful forces anyone could ever hope for, all she cared about was doing what’s right. Her superpower is ultimate, but it’s based on her inherit altruism that wherever she is needed, she will be.