The superhero 12 miles from Manhattan

ms marvel vol 1Ms Marvel vol 1: No Normal
by G Willow Wilson (writer) and Adrian Alphona (artist)

When Marvel launched a new Ms Marvel series in February 2014, it got a fair bit of press attention for starring their first Muslim superhero. Add to that the fact that the series is edited and written by women, and cue a lot of clamour about how comic books are changing. What interested me more, though, was that it had a teenage female lead, making it effectively a coming of age story, and I’m a sucker for those.

Kamala Khan is 16 and lives in Jersey City in the US with her parents and older brother. She idolises the Avengers and resents the strict rules imposed by her parents and religion, but as rule-breaking goes she keeps it small, because she does want to honour her parents and her god. So it’s a big deal when she sneaks out of the house one night to attend a party. Of course that just has to be the one night that a mysterious green mist descends on Jersey City that does something decidedly weird to her.

Kamala doesn’t really understand her abilities at first, and she certainly doesn’t have control over them yet. She can shapeshift, but the way this manifests is very interesting. The first time Kamala wants to jump in and help someone in peril, she turns herself into a young Captain Marvel, complete with long blonde hair and thigh-high boots. It’s not a look she feels comfortable in, but it is the look she associates with being a superhero.

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And that’s why having a Muslim Pakistani-American superhero is interesting – it adds extra complexity to the story we’ve all read before. Otherwise this is effectively just girl Spider-Man, and we’ve seen that many times now. Kamala isn’t 100% happy about being different, but she doesn’t straightforwardly aspire to be the All-American popular girl either; she has her own identity to forge.

G Willow Wilson doesn’t shy away from the contentiousness of Islam in modern society. The difference between how Kamala and her brother are treated is very clearly due to their gender, and there’s an excellent scene in the mosque where Kamala and other girls are receiving a talk from the imam but with a screen between them. I don’t want to give away the punch line but look out for it!

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The art is somehow clear and bold but also watercolour and subtle, which I really liked. (After these first five issues the Ms Marvel artist changed and I don’t like the new style nearly as much.) And the “fighting crime” part of the story did something a bit different (in my admittedly limited experience), which again impressed me. I really hope the series maintains this standard.

Published 2014 by Marvel.

Source: Tim’s Marvel Unlimited subscription.

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