As part of the launching of the Marvel NOW! brand in January of 2014, we saw a sudden influx of new titles, especially solo books featuring female heroes, following the successful run of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Captain Marvel that started in 2013. Captain Marvel put Carol Danvers, the previous Ms. Marvel, into a brand new suit with a brand new title, leaving a vacancy in her former position that needed claiming. The moment shapeshifter Kamala Khan was announced as the new Ms. Marvel, the entire comics community exploded almost overnight.
Ms. Marvel, a new ongoing series written by G. Willow Wilson (Air, X-Men) with art by Adrian Alphona (Runaways, Uncanny X-Force), isn’t just a breath of fresh air. It’s revolutionary.
Not only is it the most widely successful female-led solo title to come out in the last year, but the book is about a Muslim teenager who also happens to be an Inhuman and the new Ms. Marvel. Kamala Khan is a Pakistani-American born in Jersey City after her parents immigrated from Karachi, Pakistan, a young girl struggling with her own image and the constant pressures of being a high schooler who maybe doesn’t live up to the typical standard of beauty that white America has set for her. She also openly worships the Avengers, in particular her personal hero Captain Marvel. One night, Kamala sneaks out of her house to go to a party. Jersey City is suddenly enveloped in the Terrigen Mists, released by the Inhuman king Black Bolt during the Infinity crossover event (and other such convoluted information overload). Kamala’s Inhuman lineage was triggered, beginning her Terrigenesis that ultimately left her with some incredible, body-altering powers.
Since DeConnick took Carol Danvers out of the Ms. Marvel mantle and made her Captain Marvel once again, this wonderful community appropriately named the Carol Corps has risen up all over the internet and at conventions. People who love DeConnick, people who love Carol – they share their cosplay online, bring cookies to the Carol Corps convention meetups, and genuinely love promoting the Captain Marvel books on social media. The general mantra of the Carol Corps, and something that DeConnick herself has advocated, is that if you want to be part of the Carol Corps? You’re in the Carol Corps.
A similar sentiment is similarly expressed in the pages of Wilson’s Ms. Marvel, when Kamala’s still trying to figure out her identity as a superhuman and whether or not she loses some of her own by calling herself Ms. Marvel. As Kamala wisely theorizes, “Maybe the name belongs to whoever has the courage to fight.” Ms. Marvel isn’t just an identity, it’s a cause. Sort of like “We are Groot,” but a little less succinct. Kamala finds herself with some extraordinary powers that she feels should be used for good instead of ignoring them outright, she hears the call of Ms. Marvel and instead of continuing to appear as the previously white, blonde incarnation that everyone expects, she takes the mantle and molds it to fit herself. It’s a message not just for Kamala to internalize, but for the people she might inspire, and for the readers she touches, too.
No matter what, be yourself. That is the most powerful thing you can ever be, whether you actually gain superpowers or not.
Kamala Khan came at a time when the comic book industry really needed her. There was no shortage of superhero books… but there was undeniably a severe shortage of superhero books featuring women, especially younger women, and women of colour. Ms. Marvel knocked out all three in one, and it was an instant success. Something for hungry readers to relate to, something that they can actually see themselves in.
As a comic store retailer, I cannot even begin to properly describe the sheer emotional weight of seeing so many young fans – often new and even more often women of colour – coming into the store months before it came out, asking about the new Ms. Marvel comic. The impact of Kamala Khan started before the first issue even dropped, and it hasn’t stopped since then. She’s even finding ways to fight injustice in our lives outside the pages of a comic book, with messages of anti-hate and tolerance.
Wilson’s writing is wonderfully candid and warm. She captures the heart of being a teenager perfectly, and gracefully addresses relevant issues relating to growing up, especially growing up as a young woman of colour in America. Wilson doesn’t sugarcoat it, but she writes with the fresh perspective and hopeful courage that a teenage hero should possess. Alphona’s art is still as captivating and inventive as it was in Runaways, another great book about teen heroes; his use of body diversity and facial detail are all on point and beautifully realistic. Jacob Wyatt, Elmo Bondoc and Takeshi Miyazawa all trade artist duties after volume one, and they all do a remarkable job staying consistent despite their unique – and, of course, always breathtaking – styles. Ian Herring’s (Silk, All-New Hawkeye) watercolours are lush and appropriately bright, in contrast with the frequent heavy blue tones that set the scene whenever there’s danger afoot. VC’s Joe Caramagna letters perfectly encapsulate and complement each characters’ personality.
Aside from being voted in the Best New Series category, Wilson is up for Best Writer, Alphona is up for Best Penciller/Inker, Caramagna for Best Lettering, and Jamie McKelvie and Matthew Wilson for Best Cover Artist.
Ms. Marvel is a book of significant impact. It’s brought more people to comics in the last year alone than I’ve seen in a long time, and the Kamala Corps readership is always growing. Not to mention the eye-catching costume design by Jamie McKelvie, one that reflects the Ms. Marvel legacy that came before as much as it does Kamala’s own roots. It’s one of the most positive superhero books out there, but it doesn’t shy away from the important issues, either. Race, gender, religion… it’s all there, along with an appropriate dose of your typical teen angst and humor. One of the things I love most about Kamala is that she’s so recognizable; she’s me, and she’s you. She’s anyone who’s ever dared to dream bigger than themselves. She’s a fanfiction writer who one day realizes she’s become the heroes she idolizes, and also just how impractical a bathing suit and heeled boots can be for superhero work. If this comic doesn’t deserve an Eisner, I don’t know what does.