Ms. Marvel #1

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Breaking Down Boundaries

 

When Ms. Marvel was announced late last year, it made headlines. It’s rare when a comic book will break into mainstream media; it’s usually brought about by some major controversy like having kids with guns in a panel of Batman INC. or having Alan Moore bash a reporter for spoiling his latest League book before it was released. This type of news really distorts the way a spectator envisions the comic world. They don’t see the heroism that we get to read about every day, the books that empower children rather than endanger them. It’s not always about credit or money and especially not about getting the next major blockbuster to outsell its predecessor. To us, reading comics is about making connections, seeing our lives play out on the pages in front of us. Relating to our heroes, and seeing some of them reflected inside our hearts. That’s what Ms. Marvel #1 is about. It made the headlines primarily because it was announced that the title character was going to be a teenage Muslim girl living outside of New York. That was the reason it made the news, but hopefully, people who saw the story and were intrigued by it didn’t stop their pursuit with the mere clicking of a link to the Washington Post. Anyone who actually went out this week and picked up the book would understand that, yes, she is a Muslim girl, but she is so much more at the same time. She is someone that everyone who’s ever been at odds with themselves can relate to. She is a mirror with which we can see ourselves, learn from, and ultimately, hopefully, become better for it.

The comic book, which is written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona and colored by Ian Herring, introduces us to a story about a 16 year old girl who is trying to find herself in Jersey City, USA. She has problems like everyone. At that age, who didn’t encounter new a problem between every class period? She deals with mean-girl bullies, parties that go awry, and male friends who don’t quite know how to express themselves romantically. Oh yeah, and some Terrigen Mist. Obviously, no one in our universe has problems brought on by evolutionary gas, but its a serious problem for a lot of people in the Marvel Universe at this point in time, Kamala Khan included. But that’s really beside the point. What made this book so incredible is its real life snap shot of American teenage behavior. It was great for the same reason Amazing Spiderman is great. Everyone sees themselves in Peter Parker because we’ve all had the same problems he’s had at some point in our lives. Same story for the future Ms. Marvel. Kamala lives at odds with her family, she has problems accepting who she is and has a hard time fitting in. Of course some of these things are brought on by the religious/cultural themes that must accompany an American Muslim in mainstream comic fiction, but these are problems that we all face in our lives. What this title does is it plays down the cultural aspect of the character by making light of it, while also severely focusing on it. Throughout the book, we see Kamala interacting with her classmates and friends, who tread lightly around her beliefs, but still have problems understanding her religion. That’s sort of how I see this book as a whole. In order for us to feel comfortable as readers, we have to have everything out in the open; we need to see Kamala’s self deprecation, as well as the insensitivity put out by the other, less informed characters. We can better understand her as a hero if we see both of these things.

I loved the characters. Her friends. Her family. Everything worked well to help paint a better portrait of what Kamala faces every day. Seeing the members of her household argue, one devout and unemployed and one who makes it obvious that he knows the value of a hard days work and what it brings. Is it right for the primary breadwinner of the house to accuse the devout member of using prayer as an excuse to be lazy and unemployed? I’m not sure, but it’s definitely a fascinating dynamic that I hope we get to see more of in later issues. We see her school life depicted with a fellow Muslim girl, who appears to be embracing her culture a bit more than Kamala in the first scene. She wears her headscarf against her father’s wishes, defying what most of us, including the insensitive White American girl, would have expected. She also prefers her proper name, Nakia, to KiKi, a nickname she used to go by. We see Kamala sneak out of the house and go to her first party, where she unknowingly consumes alcohol, gets into a fight and runs off, only to be stopped by the Terrigen Mist, unlocking her secret powers and making her dreams come true.

By the end of the issue, she has powers like her hero Captain Marvel, but she may end up regretting it. We will have to wait and see how this dynamic plays out in the coming issues. Undoubtedly, she will have to face herself and embrace herself, something that I think we all need to do.

Read this comic.

–John

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