Where Conflicted Teen Tries to Find Her Place
By Jerry W. Vandal
“You thought that if you disobeyed your parents—your culture—your religion—your classmates would accept you. What happened instead?” — Captain America in Ms. Marvel Issue 1
With its wave of new Marvel Now! titles the comic book publisher has decided to tackle something that has always been an uphill battle in the comic book industry—diversity. The women of Marvel are getting a shot at the spotlight including Black Widow, Captain Marvel, She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel and Elektra. With Ms. Marvel Marvel isn’t just looking to boost their female heroic count, but also add a young Muslim girl to the mix. And the above quote is a great example of how this book plans to promote diversity by building up a connection between Kamala (the new Ms. Marvel) and the reader.
Now that quote, spoken by Captain American as a figment of her imagination, is pivotal in taking Kamala, a young Muslim girl (not your average comic book reader) and conveying something that some, perhaps even most people have gone through and placing a different face on it. Most people just want to fit in. This entire issue we see this from Kamala, this girl who has to face a world she isn’t really more than a spectator in (even retreating into her fan fiction writing to find her place). She’s from a culture that many of her high school acquaintances don’t understand. She has hobbies that her mother and friends don’t get and a father that impedes her need to go out and be normal. It’s ironic actually—she really just wants to be normal, meanwhile, in her head she’s a superhero fighting monsters and bad guys alongside the Avengers. And that, regardless of religion or gender or skin tone or any other way we’ve dissected ourselves as humans is… normal.
The artwork provided by Adrian Alphona works for this story. I’ll have to admit, I was disappointed with his work on Uncanny X-Force, so I’m not really into his art. He does nail some great facial expressions that scream young teenage girl, and annoyed middle aged man, and also obnoxious pampered teen. And if this book is going to succeed, facial expressions are going to be instrumental. Most expressions are recognizable by anyone, so it’s a way to get through those barriers of language and cultural differences.
G. Willow Wilson does an excellent job in the early portions of this book in establishing the world through Kamala’s eyes. She’s a nerd—plain and simple. The dialogue and narration are mostly very well done. There’s a scene with Kamala at the dinner table with her family that I think provides an interesting look at the inside of a Muslim household living in America—and it’s really no different than an American father telling his American son he needs to get a job and telling his American daughter he doesn’t trust boys.
The only real falter I saw in this book, and it may be cleared up in issue 2 is the way in which Kamala becomes Ms. Marvel. It’s not really explained here, which is fine, but still the direction the plot takes make things feel like, okay we have to do this here so this happens, then this happens and she wakes up to be Ms. Marvel. There’s really no tension to the transformation. The question isn’t, “Oh, what happened that makes her Ms. Marvel?” It’s more like, “Wait, what just happened?” The speech leading up to it is great. I won’t speak for elsewhere around the world, but Kamala’s statement, “I don’t know who I’m supposed to be,” is one I think can resonate with anyone who has ever been a teenager in an America High School or even a twenty something trying to figure out what to do post high school or college or somebody just working a dead end job.
Marvel has a real chance to make a statement with this book. And that statement is normality. The irony of living in a country once considered the melting pot of the world is it’s really just a place where we allow our difference to define us. With Ms. Marvel #1, Marvel Comics has taken a step at taking a Muslim character and begins to explore the differences and how at their core, not so different. Kamala is an awkward teen who isn’t really sure where she belongs and dreams of being something important. I suppose it could just be me, but that’s who I was in high school. And I think that’s why I took to this book. Her family argues and shelters her. She wants to fit in with the cool crowd, but to do that she has to give up a part of herself. She wants to be something important, but she doesn’t know how. Oh, and she’s Muslim. I really do think that’s the key to diversity. If you can make that thing that’s different the last thing on the list we can move passed the differences. That’s not to say we shouldn’t explore or notice those differences. But, I think it’s easier for the human mind to address similarities first. It’s much harder to look away from a person you share something in common with.
Ms. Marvel is worth a read—not because it’s something different as it introduces a young Muslim teenage hero into the mix. It’s worth a read because it’s relateable. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I don’t know who I’m supposed to be,” is what Kamala says to a another figment of her imagination—the former Ms. Marvel, Captain Marvel replies “Who do you want to be?” I think this book knows what it wants to be. And I’m looking forward to watching it, and Kamala grow.