Let’s talk about the big white elephant in the room.
Yes, Kamala Khan is a Pakistani Muslim teen raised and living in New Jersey who becomes Ms. Marvel.
Why that would offend anyone is beyond me. The Marvel Universe itself is already loaded with gods and goddesses, Christians, Buddhists, atheists, and agnostics.
If you’re afraid of being proselytized — you shouldn’t worry about a thing. Kamala’s story is more in line with American Tale than the Quoran — it’s an immigrant’s tale that anyone who hasn’t fit the all-American mold can relate to. And by that, I mean anyone who isn’t blue-eyed, blonde, star of the football or cheer team, with a Midwest upbringing that got them into Harvard on good grades and a donor’s purse.
For most of us, our teenage years were spent trying to fit in while our parents tried to raise us according to what they believed was right. As we grew up, we experienced things we felt no one else could understand, yet we couldn’t bear the thought of being alone.
If that kind of experience, on a deeply-felt and organic level is what you’re looking for in a comic book filled with superheroes, Ms. Marvel #1 knocks it out of the park. If you can get over the fact that Kamala Khan is not exactly you, but there’s a rich story to beheld about someone living in America who doesn’t fit the stereotypical mold, then you’d be able to recognize the potential in what could become Marvel’s title of the year, 2014.
Credit goes to G. Willow Wilson who creates a rich world around Kamala filled with family, friends, and rivals all with different backgrounds, aspects, and personalities. There’s her brother Aamir, deeply religious and unemployed. Her father demands excellence while her mother struggles to understand what fan feek (fan fiction) is.
For an immigrant like me, a geek who loved reading comics and playing video games, this is a story I can relate to on a deeply personal level.
There’s also Kamala’s friends, Nakia and the Star Wars quoting Bruno. Nakia has recently begun wearing a head scarf — her dad thinks it’s a phase — which gets the attention of Zoe Zimmer whose bubbly personality possibly masks condescension towards Kamala and friends.
It’s not that Zoe and her friend Josh are bad people — they’re just that: People, flaws and all — and Kamala has her own problems as well. She struggles with her identity as an American teenager born to a Pakistani family. There’s a divide between the culture of her family that Kamala’s rooted in and the pull of the American teenage ideal that Kamala wants to partake in, and it’s not that Kamala wants to totally reject her background and head towards an extreme version of her American self — she wants to be accepted as she is while finding a balance.
To bring even more substance to the character, Wilson adds plenty of additional layers to Kamala’s character. Khan is a tech-savvy Avengers fan who writes, the aforementioned, fan fiction, and she wouldn’t mind slipping out of her skin to become a physical specimen — “blond and popular.” Even where she lives — New Jersey — seems to intimate that Kamala is only that far removed from New York, the world’s capitol.
An encounter with terrigen mist which overcomes the teens at the party and catches up with Kamala as she walks home gives Kamala a bit of what she’s been hoping for. It comes with a caveat — gaining the powers of Ms. Marvel may be a classic case of “Be careful what you wish for.”
Ms. Marvel #1 is reminiscent of Peter Parker’s glory days when readers flocked to the title because they were just as interested in the alter-ego as they were the superhero. Parker was the everyman with a quick wit and a sharp tongue, and fans loved that he was just as dynamic outside of the costume as he was web-slinging over New York City and fighting villains like Venom and the Green Goblin.
Kamala is this generation’s Parker because her situation is so relateable. Who doesn’t want to be accepted and loved? Who doesn’t struggle with ideals and expectations? Who hasn’t made a mess of things by letting desire take over?
Wilson’s story is beautifully complemented by Adrian Alphona’s artwork which gives the words visual support that creates a world full of dimension. Those who don’t know what bad acting is until they’ve seen it may not appreciate those who do the job particularly well because all actors should be good at acting, right?
Well, in Alphona’s case, there’s good, and then there’s amazing. Characters come to life through expressions and mannerisms that do more than beg for attention — they demand it. It’s easier to get a sense of what Kamala’s going through because the extent of her actions show just how strongly she feels.
To top it off, Ian Herring’s colors give the issue a beautiful polish that solidifies this issue as one of the best this month. Herring’s colors are textured, vibrant, and pleasant to the eye.
Reading the scripts and having the visuals there creates a theater for the mind that comes complete with audio, smells, and other textures for touch. Talk is cheap, and what Wilson does so well is let the characters show us who they are. Like I said before, we don’t know what bad acting is until we see it, and everything else is the norm.
What Wilson and her creative team has done is set a new standard. Superheroes are at home in comics, but that shouldn’t mean we as readers should be left in the dust. This is storytelling at great lengths that pulls in readers from wherever they are to exist in a world that isn’t. It’s when we close the book that we look around and see that art has imitated life, and we are very much alive.
Ms. Marvel #1 (2014)
Words: G. Willow Wilson
Art: Adrian Alphona
Colors: Ian Herring
Letters: Joe Caramagna