When Marvel announced a few months ago that the new Ms. Marvel was going to be Kamala Khan, a Pakistani American teenager who is also Muslim, there were mixed reactions. I read and heard sentiments of excitement, as well as those of ignorant hatred (you can imagine some of those comments).
I thought it was pretty awesome that Marvel was going out on a limb and handing the title of MS. MARVEL to a Muslim woman of color, but I was worried that the effort would come off as gimmicky and 2-dimensional.
It’s always tricky when you’re writing about a character who’s different. On the one hand, you don’t want to go overboard and make the character Super Brown Muslim Lady Teen. But you also don’t want to completely ignore her identity. I’ve always liked Jubilee because she is one of the only Asian American characters in the media (TV and movies included), but the X-MEN writers never seem to acknowledge that she is Asian. She’s just a mall rat vampire who is drawn with black hair – and that’s disappointing to me.
I have the same issue with the current X-MEN series written by Brian Wood. It’s a great book and it’s well written, but if you took the exact same script and drew everyone as guys, it wouldn’t make a difference. I’m not saying that Storm needs to be complaining about her period and Psylocke should slather on lavender hand lotion, but some subtle references and acknowledgment to their femaleness would be appreciated. It would make the characters more real.
So I wondered, beneath all the hype of this new Muslim Ms. Marvel would there be a solid foundation of a good story and a good hero to save the day? Would it be actually enjoyable? Or would reading it feel like I was merely doing my duty to support diverse characters? (Which is how reading Kelly Deconnick’s CAPTAIN MARVEL felt to me.)
Clearly, a lot of other readers have been anticipating this book too, because when I went into Alameda Comics on Wednesday, I picked up the last copy on the shelf.
And folks, let me tell you: I just found my new favorite comic.
MS. MARVEL #1 has the kind of depth and nuance that is not usually found in a superhero comic. The writing is outstanding. I enjoyed every single line of dialogue from writer G. Willow Wilson, and she succeeds in setting up the believable world of Kamala Khan. Kamala is exactly the right mix of ordinary New Jersey teenager who writes AVENGERS fan fiction and Muslim daughter of immigrant parents.
This is one of the few comics I’ve read which does an excellent job of portraying a character of color in a way that doesn’t stereotype or white wash them. In the first few pages of the comic, you see Kamala hanging out with her high school friends, trying to negotiate American culture and Muslim values. She’s smelling some forbidden bacon, while making a Star Wars joke. She’s invited to a party, but isn’t sure her parents will let her go. Her friends also contribute to rounding out Kamala’s complex world. There’s her white dude friend Bruno. And her friend Nakia, who is going through her own phase of embracing more conservative Muslim values.
Quite frankly, MS. MARVEL feels like one of the most realistic portrayals of a Muslim American teenager I’ve ever seen. In the last decade, whenever the media uses the phrase “Muslim teenager,” they’re usually referring to some brainwashed kid who posts on terrorism message boards and stuffs a bomb in his underwear. Or kills people at a marathon. If enough to make you think that every Muslim teenager was going to rise up and take down America. So it’s really refreshing to see the ordinary everyday Muslim American teenagers portrayed in MS. MARVEL.
In addition to finding the sweet spot between American and Pakistani, Wilson offers up witty humor and a storyline that keeps things moving. Kamala quickly goes from sneaking out to a party to being hit with a mysterious fog that changes her life. So yeah, while I can get on my soap box and rave about the multiculti goodness that is in MS. MARVEL, at the end of the day it’s a solid story with solid characters that’s fun to read — with some MY LITTLE PONY/ AVENGERS fan fiction thrown into the mix!
So I just want to say thank you to Marvel and to editor Sana Amanat for creating Kamala Khan and really just getting it right. I’m not Muslim and I’m not Pakistani, but as the daughter of Asian immigrants who grew up in the suburbs, I can completely appreciate Kamala’s story. I can’t wait for this story to continue so I can see what her powers are and how she’s going to kick ass!
Final Score: 10 out of 10