This is exactly what origin stories are supposed to do. Meet our hero: Kamala Khan, an ordinary teenage girl living in Jersey City. Her family comes from Pakistan and Kamala is having trouble navigating her family’s expectations, heritage, and culture as they bump against American culture and, even worse, the American assumptions about Muslims. Throw into the mix that Kamala adores superheroes and, hey, wasn’t there some problem with Terrigen Mist spreading through New York City? I seem to recall seeing that in…um…just about every other Marvel book I’ve been reading.
Marvel knows well that “relatable teenager” + “freak accident” = superhero gold and Ms. Marvel’s origin is clearly in the Peter Parker tradition without being cliche or heavy handed. Kamala is introduced as a normal teen living a normal life. Her “best friend,” if one can call Nakia that, is embracing the Muslim heritage that Kamala is trying to avoid. Kamala’s family might, on the surface, seem to be a collection of Muslim stereotypes but “protective grandparents” is a fairly universal trope here, especially when no mention in made of Kamala’s parents. In this first issue, we only need to know that they don’t understand Kamala’s world and are protective enough to not allow her to go to a co-ed party where there might be alcohol. That sounds about right to me; Kamala is only 16 after all.
But Kamala is 16 so she sneaks out and goes to the party. She runs into the usual social awkwardness that geeky teens run into when they try to blend in with the cool crowd. Kamala feels rejected by just about everyone and definitely misunderstood by all. Then the Terrigen Mist hits. Kamala’s adoption of the Ms. Marvel name (while still keeping Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel) was expertly handled and revealed. But, like any superhero transformation, there is a bit of “be careful what you wish for.” The last page was so unexpected that I just stared at the page for a while letting all the repercussions rattle around in my skull.
This is definitely a book to read. This first arc is starting incredibly strong and I have high hopes for the next 4 issues. A lot of attention is going towards this book because this is the first female Muslim superhero and she has her own solo title. This isn’t a diversity token in a team book, this is Ms.Marvel. I want to deflect some of this attention over Kamala’s gender and race and put it towards the creative team. G. Willow Wilson (writer) Adrian Alphona (art) and Ian Herring (colors) have create an excellent story with compelling characters. Kamala’s world is very real, very tangible, very relatable. Marvel has a way of making everyone think that superhero powers could happen to anyone, to us, at any time. Wilson captures the essence of some of Marvel’s most enduring creation myths but before the superheroics take hold Wilson gives us a rounded, complex character who would be interesting to follow around even if this wasn’t a superhero title. Wilson’s characterizations are keen and sharp and each person in the story shows enormous potential for depth as they interact with Kamala’s situation.
Adrian Alphona’s art reminds me of James McKelvie’s work on Young Avengers but with smoother and softer lines and contours. Motion is captured using rather few frames on the page (as opposed to titles like Hawkeye which use many frames to show motion and reaction). Herring’s colors match the softer lines and favor muted tones and an almost watercolor look. Overall, the book looks as it reads; the details exude out of the book’s pores and you KNOW these people and this situation without having to be told every detail. It might sound like a contradiction, but this is a lived-in origin story.
I do not mean to understate the importance of this title’s diversity elements. I am a strong advocate for diversity in comics and love the fact that Marvel is taking this title in this direction. On the one hand, this shouldn’t be a Big Deal. On the other hand, it IS and the creative team sees the strong potentials inherent in having a young Muslim woman explore issues of race, religion, and culture. This is EXACTLY what Marvel Now! should be doing.
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