New Ms. Marvel Is A Muslim Teen Girl From Jersey City. Can America Handle A New Jersey Superhero?
Marvel, the comics company that has built its franchise on superheroes with human problems — like Peter Parker’s lonesome quest to find something good on TV — will build a new comic book around a 16-year-old Pakistani-American girl named Kamala Khan, who has to balance superheroics with being a high school student and a first-generation daughter of Muslim immigrants who’d prefer she concentrate on getting into a good college instead of messing around with mutant supervillains. A big fan of Carol Danvers, the current Captain Marvel — the Marvel Captain Marvel, not the DC Captain Marvel, who everybody except Comic Book Guy just calls “Shazam” anyway — Kamala takes Danvers’ previous nom de spandex, Ms. Marvel, after she discovers her mutant superpower, the ability to morph her body. Which explains the big weird fist in the promo art, although nobody’s explained that porcupine with the Hulk Hands. Unless the critter is a mutant as well, we assume this means that characters in Marvel comics can buy licensed Marvel merch, too, though the royalties probably go to S.H.I.E.L.D.
Needless to say, the announcement has kicked up a bit of pushback in some predictable places; Breitbart’s “Big Hollywood” blog sneers at the new comic as part of a politically correct “effort to introduce ‘diversity’ into a comics universe historically dominated by white, male superhero characters.” And then there are the commenters, who deride the comic as part of Barack Obama’s agenda to bring Sharia law to America. And then there’s the brilliant analysis at Conservativebyte.com, which dismisses the entire premise of the comic as “silly,” because “Muslim women have zero rights and most aren’t even let out of the house,” which will probably be big news to the comic’s creators, who live in America, not Saudi Arabia. Again, the commenters are pure class — “how can she fight in a burqa?” “Superman had his kryptonite she’ll have her bacon bits to contend with” — haw haw!
Back in reality, we find out that Kamala Khan’s origin story isn’t all that far removed from Superman’s — Supes, after all, was the product of two sons of religious-minority immigrants who took their alienation and turned it into superhero stories.
The New York Times reveals that Kamala Khan’s started with not-dissimilar office chat at Marvel:
No exploding planet, death of a relative or irradiated spider led to Kamala’s creation. Her genesis began more mundanely, in a conversation between Sana Amanat and Steve Wacker, two editors at Marvel. “I was telling him some crazy anecdote about my childhood, growing up as a Muslim-American,” Ms. Amanat said. “He found it hilarious.” Ms. Amanat and Mr. Wacker noted the dearth of female superhero series and, even more so, of comics with cultural specificity.
When they told G. Willow Wilson, an author, comic book writer and convert to Islam, about their idea, she was eager to come on board as the series’ writer. “Any time you do something like this, it is a bit of a risk,” Ms. Wilson said. “You’re trying to bring the audience on board and they are used to seeing something else in the pages of a comic book.”
On a more mundane level, Kamala also ended up with the “Ms. Marvel” moniker to keep the trademark active — there hasn’t been a Ms. Marvel since the Carol Danvers character took on her identity as Captain Marvel in 2012, so even if Kamala’s comic doesn’t find an audience, the company will at least have kept the brand viable.
And like any Marvel character, Kamala gets a backstory that the creators hope will be relatable to comics audiences:
“Captain Marvel represents an ideal that Kamala pines for,” Ms. Wilson said. “She’s strong, beautiful and doesn’t have any of the baggage of being Pakistani and ‘different.’ ”
Ms. Amanat said, “It’s also sort of like when I was a little girl and wanted to be Tiffani-Amber Thiessen,” from “Saved by the Bell.”
Kamala will face struggles outside her own head, including conflicts close to home. “Her brother is extremely conservative,” Ms. Amanat said. “Her mom is paranoid that she’s going to touch a boy and get pregnant. Her father wants her to concentrate on her studies and become a doctor.” Next to those challenges, fighting supervillains may be a respite.
The Marvel team explains that Kamala’s identity as a Muslim will be just one part of her identity, not something central to her superpowers. Wilson says that the comic “is not evangelism” and that Kamala will find her faith as much a struggle as anything, since superheroes often have to play outside of the normal rules.
So will it be any good? Judging by the sample character sketches by series artist Adrian Alphona, the art looks fun, and Kamala’s family and cultural backstory seem like they can make for some rich storytelling. When the character debuts in January, we’ll let you know what we think.