The much-hyped debut of new Marvel superhero Kamala Khan is finally here, as Ms. Marvel #1 went on comic book shelves three weeks ago. For many, this title has been the one to watch, mainly because of how the media is obsessed with the fact that Kamala is Marvel’s first Muslim superhero to have her own series. Immediate reactions had mentions of “diversity” and “tokenism” and even “Islamophobia”.
Proving how big a deal the announcement was, journalist Shehryar Warraich interviewed a wide range of Pakistanis in Lahore for their initial thoughts on the new Ms. Marvel, even before the launch of the book. (Even though Kamala is a first-generation American and identifies more with Jersey City than Karachi.)
But now that the actual story is out, what’s the real verdict? Is Ms. Marvel one of the All-New Marvel NOW! titles you cannot afford to miss?
Essentially, the answer is a resounding YES! YES! YES!
Writer G. Willow Wilson starts us off with a five-issue arc entitled “Metamorphosis”, so naturally the plot can afford to take a while to warm up. For most of this first issue, Kamala Khan has no idea her life is going to change drastically, and so we get a glimpse into her daily routine, and just getting to know just how normal this 16-year-old is. And by “normal” I mean hanging out with friends in a convenience store before school, writing Avengers fanfic after school instead of doing homework and having dinner together with her family. (Admittedly, your definition of “normal” may vary.) However, when she is enveloped by Terrigen Mists, Kamala’s dream of becoming an “intergalatic superhero” suddenly becomes very, very real.
As a comic book, what works for Ms. Marvel is the overt connection to the Marvel Universe, yet without being bogged down by too much exposition or explanations. For example, there was no mention of the words “Terrigen Mists”, or “Inhumans” or even references to the events of “Infinity”, most likely so that readers new to the comics side of the Marvel Universe would not feel excluded. Yet, for geeks of all ages, there are several “inside jokes” that speak volumes, and I’m only referring to the ones that are obvious, like “Chatty Bob” and “Rainbow Toots”!
Most other reviews naturally choose to focus on her Muslim identity. To be fair, it is very relevant to her portrayal. The first page even has Kamala salivating over a BLT sandwich display muttering “delicious, delicious infidel meat”. But what writer Wilson, who is a convert to Islam, does is make sure that our new superhero doesn’t come across as a two-dimensional poster girl for religion.
Let’s be blunt here and talk about what truly makes Kamala Khan, Kamala Khan. Take away the fact that she’s Muslim. Take away the fact that she’s Pakistani-American. Heck, take away the fact that she’s a woman! Ms. Marvel #1 still remains a brilliant, funny, heartfelt and wonderfully told story about a teenager, dealing with friends who don’t quite get her, schoolmates who are just jerks, and a family who loves her but not in the way she would like… and whose craziest fantasy just became reality. That’s the real selling point, the familiar coming-of-age tale of a young person that anyone who has felt misunderstood or different before in their life will identify with. I bet anyone and everyone can relate to that.
Now that you’ve recognised the similarities, add the fact that she’s Muslim, add the fact that she’s Pakistani-American and the fact that she’s a woman, and suddenly you have a spotlight on a protagonist who is quite unlike anyone who has been featured in a mainstream comic book. This is what makes Ms. Marvel so immensely powerful as a bridge across all kinds of cultures. Finally, a superhero that is so adorable, so relate-able, so like-able, who can give you insight to a world that is not yours, but actually isn’t that different from yours.
If you want to introduce Marvel Comics to a new reader, my suggestion would be to get them a copy of Ms. Marvel #1. Trust me, they’ll thank you, then complain that it’s going to be at least three weeks before they’ll get to read the next issue.