After 5 years, 50 comics and numerous comic and cartoon crossovers, two of the co-creators of Ms. Marvel, G. Willow Wilson and Sana Amanat are leaving. For those not in the know this is kind of a big deal.
Since her debut Ms. Marvel has become a pop culture icon and a voice for hope. She received a lot of hype in 2013, primarily due to her status as the first Muslim character to headline a Marvel series, but 6 years on and the comic series has become one of the industry’s best titles because it is simply, an excellent superhero comic book, which is written with wit, pathos and heart.
Superhero stories featuring teenage characters are notoriously difficult to write for but to create a monthly comic with a teenage girl of faith was something nearly unheard of in mainstream comics, let alone the religion in focus being Islam. Islam features quite prominently in the comic series as Ms Marvel, 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 super villain of the current story arc.
In a medium that has been pretty hegemonic in portraying powerful white heroes, the recent wave of real world representations in mainstream comics has been exciting. It is explained well in the very first Ms. Marvel comic when Kamala first meets Captain America, Iron Man and Captain Marvel. She is surprised to hear them speak Urdu, but 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, with 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 in 1988 and Iron Man and Spiderman were my first loves) the fact that the main protagonist, Kamala, was the child of immigrant parents from Pakistan, Muslim and a millennial changed the hitherto well tilled soil of fertile comic tropes. I had 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 was a common comic book trope but with Ms. Marvel it was different. I could identify with her, even though I'm not a millennial teenage girl I am a Millenial 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.
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, its 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.
It's for these reason that I wanted to give thanks to Wilson et al. for creating a comic character that speaks truth against power, something I'd normally have to go to indie comics to find. The fact that such subjects have been broached in the biggest comic company and in one of the most popular series in the world is heartening; there is a sea change in the representation of BAME people and that has been long overdue. 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 in a profoundly deep way.
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.
Even though I'm sad that after 6 years the original team is breaking up, I'm excited to see what the next team do with such a well loved and respected character. Now roll on the Ms. Marvel movie!