You Should Pay Attention To Ms.Marvel

Comic books have long been viewed as a pastime for male juveniles.  The word “superhero” brings to mind images of masks, capes, and ill-fitting spandex but time has allowed the medium to evolve and its audience to grow exponentially.  Publishers have long since struggled to balance acceptance of a newer generation without losing their core audience’s attention.

In February 2014, Marvel updated the female superhero Ms. Marvel from her 1977 debut as the tall and buxom blonde known as Carol Danvers to the drastically different Kamala Khan of Jersey City.

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Kamala Khan, 16, is a Pakistani-American girl struggling to find herself between her two cultures.  She doesn’t drink alcohol or eat pork, but drools over bacon, the delicious infidel meat, in the comic’s first panel.

Following the typical superhero struggle to define one’s self-identity, her only wish is to live a normal life and to fit in with her peers without compromising her principles.  Khan attends lectures at the local mosque every Saturday, yet argues with her parents over archaic ideas about women’s roles and spending time alone with boys over dinner.

Marvel won the gambit with this reboot, creating the first female Muslim superhero to headline her own title.  According to Comichron.com, the first issue, now on a historic seventh printing, sold over 50,000 copies in its first week.

With issue 10 about to hit stores, the comic has hit an average of 35,000 copies sold for each subsequent issue.  These numbers do not include online sales which are rumored to have a higher volume of sales than the print copies, an uncommon occurrence.

Ms. Marvel focuses on the everyday struggles Khan experiences while balancing her normal life with her newly found superhero identity instead of the typical combat heavy good versus evil battle sequences of mainstream comics.

After sneaking out to attend a party against her parents’ wishes, Khan is overcome by a mysterious mist that endows her with shapeshifting and healing powers.  Her first act is to save a girl who previously mocked her from drowning.

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Just like the superheroes she idolizes, Khan rationalizes the use of her powers for the greater good despite personal risks.  She bolsters her bravery by quoting an ayah, a verse, from the Quran, “Whoever saves one person, it is as if he has saved all of mankind.”

Ms. Marvel writer G. Willow Wilson uses Khan to speak words of wisdom garnered by a fellow Jersey girl split between cultures.  The Eisner Award winning author converted to Islam while attending Boston University.  She balances commentary on outsider culture with touches of Muslim cultural and geek chic.

“When you’re growing up as a minority and you feel somewhat alienated from the mainstream, you’re going to seek out other people who feel that way. That’s what geek culture is traditionally about,” Wilson said in an interview with Vulture.com.

Reminiscent of fellow Marvel teenage hero Peter Parker, or the original Spider-Man, Khan haphazardly fumbles her way through the pitfalls of newly found powers.  Superheroes seldom admit to epic leotard wedgies and the euphoria associated with saving another person’s life in the same thought bubble.

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Once the X-men’s Wolverine joins the fray, Khan begins to find her stride, learning how to kick ass and take names from one of the best.  She gushes over meeting one of her personal heroes and then debates the moral dilemma of harming giant sewer crocodiles in order to save others a few panels later.

With a sprinkle of bad puns and tongue-in-cheek commentary on stereotypes in comics, Wilson uses humor to make characters relatable and interesting to read.  She tells the story of a girl trying to find her niche between two worlds without losing herself.  Her literal and figurative ability to change at will is her greatest strength as she transcends into adulthood as an American Muslim woman.

The new Ms. Marvel is part of a conscious effort by Marvel’s “Characters and Creators” initiative to improve diversity and female representation in comic books.  With the addition of Ms. Marvel, the publisher now has nine female-lead comic books to DC’s eight.

“Slowly we have made progress on that front,” Marvel’s editor-in-chief Axel Alonso said in an interview with The (London Daily) Telegraph. “We believe there’s an audience of women out there who are hungry for this and we want to make sure they get it.”

Although publishers are still learning to balance the old with their new found demographic, kudos to the Marvel editors for producing content that incorporates all their readers.  Be it with Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel, the black and Hispanic Miles Morales as Spiderman, or the new unknown female who wields Mjölnir, hammer of Thor.

Shukran, thank you, Marvel and the Ms. Marvel creative team for their efforts to further include positive examples of disparate roles in the comic book universe.  May the success experienced by Ms. Marvel prove the importance of diversity and dynamic characters in comics.  Here’s hoping it will start a new trend, god willing, inshallah.