I guess if I’m going to call myself a geek, I’d eventually have to give western comics a go. So there I was at the ripe ol’ age of 29 and I picked up my first comic that wasn’t a manga or based on another form of media.
It’s not surprising that my choice was the 2014 Ms. Marvel, featuring the cute-as-a-button Kamala Khan. She and I have a lot in common, being brown girls from Jersey, first generation Americans (sort of, as my parents were born in Puerto Rico), and unabashed dorks. How could I not love her? Spoiler: I do.
Marvel got a lot of highly-deserved praise for the new Ms. Marvel for featuring a progressive and spunky protagonist – Kamala is a Pakistani Muslim-American teenager who also happens to be a huge Avengers nerd. She counts Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel) as her #1 idol and pretty much has a fangirl freakout whenever she meets a superhero that she’s probably written a fanfic about.
The thing I love about the first volume, a collection of chapters 1-5, is the way her identity is so central to her story and ties directly into her powers. Growing up the youngest in a traditional Muslim family (but, from what I gather, not super conservative), Kamala struggles with where she’s supposed to fit in between inherited values and assimilating to American culture. At times she rejects the strictness of her parents’ and religion’s views. At others, she genuinely feels out of place when asked or forced into a position that other American teens wouldn’t think twice about.
It’s amazing that we have her as a central focus, because there are doubtless many young women and men out there who struggle similarly. Many immigrant families come to the United States for a plethora of reasons and thousands of youngsters out there deal with the clash of cultures that Kamala is going through. That she is here to represent those individuals is a gift.
The other thing I love is how meta Kamala is, in more than one way. It’s easy to put yourself in her shoes for simply being a follower of heroes that we’ve come to love both in print and on the big screen. This is a point of view we rarely get to see and does kind of put things into perspective. The Marvel Universe is one in which superheroes are common and ubiquitous in culture. In their world, Carol Danvers is as much of a household name as Taylor Swift. Kamala puts that in perspective by being a hardcore fan – fanfics and all – and being unabashedly proud of that fact.
Going back to culture and identity, it’s also great that we get to see the inside-out view of being young and Muslim in America. While Vol 1 didn’t go too deep into what is obviously a very heavy subject, it does touch upon some more generalized stereotypes. Background character Zoe makes a lot of casually insensitive and racist remarks about Kamala and her Muslim friend Nakia who chooses to wear a scarf. Zoe’s sentiments are painted as rude but not unfamiliar, and as we’re seeing the world through Kamala’s eyes, it’s suddenly easy to see how such comments can be insidious and hurtful.
But the comic focuses more on the normalcy of Kamala’s life as a teenager struggling with her identity and newfound powers. Willow Wislon, the volume’s writer, does a great job of balancing that act. Kamala is Muslim, and that is a big part of who she is and who she wants to become, but it’s not so central that it seems forced upon us. It’s refreshing and much needed.
Now, this might be my unfamiliarity with comic-book pacing but I did kind of feel removed at times at how quickly things happened. Sometimes I found myself re-reading a few pages because I felt like I had missed something. But this issue got better as I read on! It also felt a little juvenile – and again, this might just be my inexperience talking. Kamala is a teenager and she definitely comes saddled with lots of teen corniness.
But overall, I really enjoyed the first five chapters of the new Ms. Marvel. Kamala is beyond precious and I have high hopes that she’s going to be a fantastic role-model. I’m deeply interested in seeing her grow and evolve, and perhaps branch out beyond to see how she interacts with other established super heroes!
To the Readers – What are your impressions of this Ms. Marvel? How do you feel about Kamala?