Nov 18, 2014
The new Ms. Marvel is amazeballs
The last time I checked in with the comics world, Ms. Marvel looked like this:
Nothing offensive, but everything from the arched back to her pointy Barbie-doll feet indicates one thing: this comic is not for girls. That’s not to say women never read Ms. Marvel; I’m sure some did. The hyper-sexy design is par for the course in the comic book world, and there’s really nothing wrong with that, but the unintended consequence is that women and girls tend to overlook comics like this one because they seem so overtly designed for male readers. No matter how interesting the articles might be in Maxim magazine, most women wouldn’t give it a second glance. We’re simply not the target demographic.
But recently, the torch has been passed from Carol Danvers, the previous Ms. Marvel, to the unexpectedly Pakistani-American Kamala Khan. Although not the first Muslim hero of the Marvel universe, her character design has made a huge splash in the comics community.
I mean, just look at her. She has brown skin, a small bosom, and narrow hips. She’s so drastically different from the usual pinup-style comic book Barbies that it’s almost hypnotic. Kamala’s design is intentional; giving her flaws is deeply humanizing and quite refreshing to comic readers.
But enough about her looks. Who is Kamala? She’s a sixteen-year-old girl living in Jersey City who just happens to get super powers one day. Her religion is established on the very first page, and it isn’t danced around as if it were a taboo subject. And while it informs her character and the choices she makes, it doesn’t define her entire identity.
Kamala struggles with feeling like an outcast in a sea of white faces. One of those white faces is her classmate Zoe, a painfully out-of-touch blonde who treats Kamala and her friends like amusing brown natives. Zoe’s concern-trolling is cringe-worthy in its authenticity, because we all know at least one Zoe.
So far, the new Ms. Marvel has managed to be accessible while also introducing many readers to the normal life of a Muslim girl… well, minus the super powers part, of course. Readers empathize with Kamala’s yearnings to fit in and rebel against her family, while also being introduced to Muslim family life and how mosques work. She’s both refreshingly different while experiencing all the same teenage angst we did.
But most importantly, Ms. Marvel is a great gateway to getting more girls into comics. Especially non-white girls who have had very little representation in comics at all. Suddenly, they have an avatar, and a hero that relates to the very specific circumstances of their own lives. And with the exception of one particularly tasteless comment from Conan O’Brien (or more specifically, whoever tweets for him), the anti-brown/Muslim/women backlash has been minimal.
Did I mention the comic is funny? Because it’s really funny. (Kamala writes Avengers fan fiction, for God’s sake.) But I’m not just talking about the scripts; the backgrounds are also full of hilarious details. The art is done in a sketchy style that fits the down to earth tone of the comic, yet still manages to be breathtaking when needed. I found myself going back through each issue, squinting at the frames to find little nuggets of humor I had missed on the first pass.
I’d also like to give props to my local comic book shop, which went above and beyond the call of customer service duty. When I came in asking about the first issue of Ms. Marvel, they were totally sold out. Luckily, I was able to special order from the next printing, and the clerk texted me to let me know when my comics were available. When I arrived nearly two weeks later, he not only remembered me, but was ready with a list of other comics he thought I might like (one of which was Rat Queens, a title deserving of its own article). I’d like to attribute this to my sheer feminine hotness, but it was most likely because my one-year-old terrorized the store’s cat. I’m still sorry about that, by the way.
As of this article, there are only three issues out, with the next going on sale May 28th. The new Ms. Marvel is both deeply humanizing and also extraordinary. Author G. Willow Wilson has renewed my interest in comics and opened me up to a world that’s often been exclusively for men. And you can bet I’ll be at my local comic book shop on the 28th to pick up issue #4.