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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

'Ms. Marvel' #1 Written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona.

From the BLURB:

Following the epic events of INFINITY, a 16-year-old Muslim girl from New Jersey discovers extraordinary body-morphing powers and follows in the footsteps of her idol, Captain Marvel, to become the new Ms. Marvel.

Ms Marvel’ is the first issue in a new comic series from Marvel Worldwide, Inc. Written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona. 

It’s only in the last 2-3 years that I’ve started reading comics and graphic novels. Now I’m invested (okay, obsessed) with the Brian K. Vaughan ‘Saga’ series and willing to read any graphic novel recommendations people want to throw my way. I’ve enjoyed everything from a poignant and dark biography of Jeffrey Dahmer, to charming young adult ghost stories and a swashbuckling tale set in Istanbul. But I don’t read Marvel comics and, until recently, I’ve had no interest in reading anything from the most famous publisher of comics. 

I used to watch the X-Men cartoon as a kid, and I’ve enjoyed those various movie adaptations. But everything else is pretty much over my head. ‘Iron Man’ movies got a chuckle out of me, but I have no patience for the various ‘Spiderman’ reboots and Scarlett Johansson’s photo-shopped poster for the latest ‘Captain America’ movie leaves me seriously unimpressed. I’ve been aware of the Hawkeye Initiative (whereby the pornographic “strong female character pose” full of boobs and butt is replaced with a male superhero character doing the same pose to highlight the sexism) and it’s just made me even less inclined to read the more traditional (macho) Marvel comics.

But then Marvel took a big step forward for diversity in comics, after the aforementioned misogynistic character representation was put in the spotlight, as well as the serious lack of female creators working in the industry. Marvel kicked off the women’s “Characters and Creators” initiative – bringing more women into the industry to portray positive female characters in comics. As part of this initiative, Marvel announced a new addition to the Marvel family, with ‘Ms Marvel’ – aka, Kamala Khan – a sixteen-year-old Pakistani-American Muslim superhero. 

Now, I’m interested. And having read ‘Ms Marvel’ … you should be too. 

Straight up, going into the first issue of this new series I had no previous knowledge of the Ms Marvel legend (Kamala is taking over the mantle from Carol Danvers who was, apparently, the hero of the Captain Marvel series). Doesn’t matter though – I went in cold and didn’t miss anything. 

That Kamala is Muslim is actually secondary to the fact that she’s sixteen-years-old. Don’t get me wrong; it’s amazing that a minority (let alone Muslim!) character is stepping up as superhero in a Marvel comic. And the importance of this was beautifully touched on in a Washington Post article by Sabaa Tahir (a Pakistani-American herself) who said: “As a kid living in an isolated desert town, the most diversity I saw in my media was Claudia Kishi, the Japanese American girl from ‘The Baby-Sitters Club.’ At age 10, or even 15, it would have meant the world to me to see a Pakistani girl portrayed positively, let alone as a comic book superhero.”

But Kamala being Muslim really isn’t a central focus of the story. Actually, author G. Willow Wilson has written some of Kamala’s fellow high school classmates as spitefully “well-meaning”, who seem to only know the stereotyped narrative of Muslim women as oppressed creatures to be pitied. “Your headscarf is so pretty, Kiki. I love that color,” blonde-haired classmate Zoe says to Kamala’s friend Nakia, “But I mean … nobody pressured you to start wearing it, right? Your father or somebody?” Kamala’s friends aptly name Zoe “the concern troll.” 

In the same Washington Post piece, ‘Ms Marvel’ editor Sana Amanat (who is also Pakistani-American) said of Kamala; “She’s imbued with great power and she learns the responsibility that comes with it. That’s a universal story. The fact that she’s female and first generation American, continuously struggling with the values and authority of her parents, gives the story extra nuance, but it’s a universal human story.”

That’s what really makes this new ‘Ms. Marvel’ story so compelling – that Kamala is a young woman who is going to be coming into great power and great responsibility, while also living through the struggles, firsts and wonders of being a sixteen-year-old girl. Well, that’s just marvellous.

Even better is that this ‘Ms. Marvel’ series is a self-aware one. Kamala is a fan of comics – she idolizes the fictional heroes Iron Man, Captain America and Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers) – and this comes to fruition in a rather funny, if bizarre-o, scene in the first ‘Ms. Marvel’ issue, when Kamala is visited by her comic book idols. 

There’s still plenty of fleshing-out that needs to happen in upcoming issues (2 of which I’ve pre-ordered already) particularly with secondary characters. But readers are given a tantalizing cursory glance at a boy called Bruno who has a crush on Kamala, while she is totally oblivious. And her friend Kiki who insists on now being called Nakia and whose father hopes her wearing a headscarf is “just a phase”. Then there’s Kamala’s brother, Aamir, whose commitment to Allah their father thinks is a poor excuse to live at home and not get a job. Kamala’s family and friendship circles are truly interesting and, superhero antics aside, this alone will provide plenty of tension for young Kamala and help in creating a heroine of true emotional depth and conflicting loyalties. 

I only had one complaint about my ‘Ms Marvel’ comic – and that was the Marvel foldout adverts throughout the issue. They’re just really annoying … that is all. 

Kamala Khan was a much-needed addition to the Marvel superhero family. But she’s no token Muslim female for the sake of the publisher’s new gender diversity campaign. With author G. Willow Wilson and editor Sana Amanat directing this new series, Kamala Khan is a fascinating hero in her own right; less for her religious leanings and more for simply being a young woman who is growing up in modern America, who is about to be imbued with incomprehensible power and responsibility. Basically, she’s like every other superhero and this first issue is probably like many Marvel origin stories … that she’s a girl and Muslim both means everything and nothing, but for what it’s worth I’m hooked.



  1. I've been thinking of giving Graphic Novels a go and now I'm probably gonna pick this one up. Got any other recommendations? :)
    / Amanda @ Read Books with Us

    1. Brian K Vaughan's 'Saga' series got me hooked. Some graphic novels with a YA-bent are 'Relish: My Life in the Kitchen' by Lucy Knisley, 'This One Summer' by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki and just a darn good read is 'Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant' by Tony Cliff

      Happy reading :)


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