Meet Ms. Marvel, And Then Read Her BookPosted: February 7, 2014
This past Wednesday, Marvel Comics published Ms. Marvel #1, the debut issue of a brand-new character who is inheriting the mantle of Ms. Marvel and setting out on a heroic journey on her own. While the fact that this is a series from the Big Two that stars an all-new female hero is (unfortunately still) notable all on its own, the truly standout aspect of the series is that it follows a Pakistani-American Muslim girl, Kamala Khan. The announcement of this series and character drew a great deal of press and debate last fall, and some of that discussion seems to have returned with the publishing of the first issue. So I figured that I’d throw my two cents in on this comic, and hopefully bring it to the attention of my non-comics-reading audience.
While I feel like all of you should go out and buy a copy of Ms. Marvel #1 right now, it might be best to break down what I think is noteworthy and important about it first. There will be some spoilers for the issue, but given that it’s a first issue and almost everything that happens in it is included in any series synopsis I would give you, I don’t think it’s a huge problem.
First things first: it’s just a damn good story. The art by Adrian Alphona (who drew the other excellent entry-level comics series Runaways) is terrific and fits the story beautifully. Even if your exposure to the Marvel Universe is limited to the movie iterations, it’s very accessible and ground-level, following an all-new character with no convoluted canonical background who is just a kid who likes superheroes… it’s just that in her world, the superheroes are real. And her regular life is depicted in very relatable terms: her parents are overbearing, her brother is full of himself and the kids she goes to school with are a bunch of jerks. It’s just a nice little coming-of-age narrative, no different than Spider-Man. The fact that a decent amount of the aforementioned tension comes from her heritage and religion feels less like a Very Special Episode affectation and more like a level of specificity that another Teenaged White Boy Superhero Comic would have to strain to reach at this point.However, despite the fact that the culture/religion details come off as well-developed character work instead of some forced political correctness, this is still going to be perceived by many as Marvel’s Muslim Superhero, or Marvel’s New Girl Hero. This is in large part due to the fact that a disappointing amount of “fanboys” bring a level of entitlement and status-quo-ness to the table, and view a series like Ms. Marvel as an encroachment on their territory. Books with female or minority leads tend not to sell, and the few that do (such as that of Kamala’s namesake/predecessor, Captain Marvel) do so by drawing in new readers… like women who might not feel as represented by the geek pop culture available to them.
What’s great about Ms. Marvel #1 is that it merges these two major aspects of the comic together to create a story with some greater depth and meaning. The first issue shows Kamala geeking out about the Avengers, particularly Captain Marvel (aka Carol Danvers), and wishing she could be a superhero herself. Then, after being exposed to the Terrigen Mists (long story, doesn’t really matter for now), she has a vision of Captain Marvel extolling her to find her own path. Kamala then finds herself emerging from a cocoon, having metamorphosized into Danvers’ earlier Ms. Marvel appearance, including her skin and hair color. Knowing that her newfound power is a shapeshifting capability, it’s easy to see that writer G. Willow Wilson is depicting Kamala as wishing she was more “normal”-looking, like Carol Danvers, and sees that as part and parcel with being a superhero. I think that’s kind of brilliant, and is a great dramatization of the feelings plenty of female/minority comics fans probably feel when reading comic after comic starring yet another white male hero.
So, in addition to just being a great story so far (in what will hopefully be the first of many many more issues), it’s also one that provides some new and distinct perspective on superheroics, teenage angst and how fans can relate to it all, which is the kind of depth I greatly appreciate in my geeky fun stuff. So please, give Ms. Marvel #1 a chance, toss it your $3 and fifteen minutes, and support some new perspectives in the comics world. And who knows? Maybe you’ll just keep reading it next month….