So, it has just been announced that Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan, will be getting a TV series which will air of Disney’s streaming platform. This is huge news and not just because I’m a HUGE Kamala fan but because I believe that this is just what the world needs right now.
Ms. Marvel received a lot of hype due to her status as the first Muslim character to headline a Marvel series, but several year on and the comics series has become one of the industry’s best selling titles because it is an intelligently written superhero comic 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. The fact that the religion in focus is Islam is an interesting dynamic. Islam plays a major role in the life of Kamala as 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 pretty hegemonic in portraying powerful white heroes until quite recently, the 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 Islam’s name is interesting and challenging.
Another scene in the graphic novel 'Mecca' has Kamala's brother, Aamir, placed in detention after being accused of not conforming to 'societal norms'. It's a powerful scene as he explains how, just because he is brown and wears traditional dress, he isn't to blame for all the ills in the world but because he stands out, it’s easy to target people like him. This storyline was in direct response to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency's policy of separating children form their parents at the border, an extremely controversial policy.
The fact that a comic character speaks truth against power, something I'd normally have to go to indie comics to find, is amazing. Add to this that this topic has been broached by the biggest comic company and in one of the most popular comic series in the world is heartening; there is a sea change in the representation of BAME people and that has been long overdue.
Art is of its time but it can have a long-lasting cultural and societal impact on the world. By encouraging a sense of community and a forum for discussion change can occur, and comics are an excellent medium for showing or even introducing that change. The fact that it is now going to be made more commercial and public through a television serial has me excited.
I feel a connection to Ms. Marvel in the same way that Miles Morales speaks for another, often underrepresented or unfairly represented demographic. Ms. Marvel speak to me and many others in a profoundly deep way and that is why there is such a buzz about the upcoming series.