Ms. Marvel received a lot of hype due to her status as the first Muslim character to headline a Marvel series, but a year on and the comics series has become one of the industry’s best titles because it is an excellent superhero comic intelligently written with wit and pathos.
Superhero stories featuring teenage characters are notoriously difficult to write for but to create a monthly comic with a teenage girl of faith is something nearly unheard of in mainstream comics, let alone the religion in focus being Islam. Islam has not talked about a great deal in the comic series so far but Kamala is Muslim and as such it forms a major part of her narrative, it greatly influences her behavior and decision-making, adding tension to her life that doesn’t come from the more traditional sources like romantic interests or the masked supervillain. In a medium which has been hegemonic in portraying powerful white heroes, the recent wave of real world representations in comics is exciting.
In the first comic of Ms. Marvel when Kamala first meets Captain America, Iron Man and Captain Marvel she is surprised to hear them speak Urdu, to which Captain Marvel replies,
"We are faith. We speak all languages of beauty and hardship."
This is a real nice touch that speaks to the universal humanity in us all, the underrepresented now being represented in a medium supported by the diverse community invested in these characters.
As a longtime comic book fan (I first started collecting when I was 7, Iron Man and Spiderman were my first loves) the fact that the main protagonist, Kamala is a child of immigrant parents from Pakistan, Muslim and a millennial changes the hitherto well tilled soil of fertile comic tropes. I have loved comics for years and certain aspects I could identify with, Peter Parker being picked on by Flash Thompson in High School, the various aspects of loss in the Death of Superman and striving to achieve against all odds, which is a common comic book trope but with Ms. Marvel it's different. I can identify with her, even though I'm not a millennial teenage girl I am a Muslim comic book geek who enjoys pop culture. I remember what it was like as a young teen trying to find my way through school and life where balancing my home life and religious beliefs and practices with those of my mostly white Christian friends was difficult. I wanted to go to parties, go out clubbing and have relationships. Other comics have covered these aspects but the fact that the struggle Kamala has in balancing her home and life outside rings true for me.
A moment that touched me occurs in issue 6, Kamala seeks guidance from Sheikh Abdullah, an Imam. Fearing she will be told off for not following her parents will she is surprised to be told,
"... do it with the qualities befitting an upright young woman: Courage, strength, honesty, compassion, and self-respect.”
This message is one of positivity, which against the current media obsession with violence done in Islams name is interesting and challenging.
For once I feel represented in a mainstream comic, usually I have had to read Indie comics to feel a connection but Marvel have changed all that. Ms. Marvel has been used to fight racism in the real world, Anti-Muslim adverts on the sides of buses in San Francisco have been defaced with posters of the Pakistani-American teen superhero. The adverts were run by the notorious right wing anti-Muslim organization, the American Freedom Defence Initiative (AFDI). Ms. Marvel author, G. Willow Wilson, tweeted,
“Some amazing person has been painting over the anti-Muslim bus ads in San Francisco with Ms. Marvel graffiti. Spread love.”
Who said comics can't change the world? By encouraging community and discussion change can occur as Kamala has shown. This is a well written comic story with a great character who has dynamic stories to be told and I look forward to reading more. Roll on the Ms. Marvel movie!