Many developers have been going darker with the tones of stories lately. It's time we stop asking definitively if this is a good or bad thing and consider the artistic value at hand.
Ms. Marvel #1 Review: Struggling Muslim By Day, Superhero By Night
When Marvel first announced that a new character would take over the mantle of Ms. Marvel, I honestly wasn’t surprised. Carol Danvers, the long-running holder of the name, has expertly been situated into being the latest Captain Marvel. With Carol leaving the old moniker and heading into the future, there was never any doubt that Marvel would figure out a way to carry on something as everlasting as the Ms. Marvel name.
However, when it was revealed that newcomer Kamala Khan would be receiving that honor, and that she is a Muslim teenager, that certainly held heads up in surprise.
The New Shift in Comics
If you look at the current trends within DC Comics and Marvel, there are things changing all over the place. Whether this is to drive more movie-goers to buy comics or if the companies just want to be young again, the theories could go on and on. What I can say though, is that both companies have changed their heroes and comics in a radical way.
In last couple of years and with the coming of DC’s New 52 and Marvel’s NOW campaigns, both companies have looked to giving new audiences something to buy into. Instead of creating a new generation of heroes, they’ve changed current and established characters to fit their new direction. Ultimate Spider-Man is now a young black male. Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern is gay. Simon Baz, a new Earth-based Green Lantern is Lebanese-American. The X-Men had a gay couple featuring Northstar and somewhat recently Morph came out as gay. The main Marvel Universe has a new Nick Fury and he’s the “secret son” of the original who looks… just like the Ultimate universe’s black, Samuel L. Jackson Nick Fury. Alright. Obviously, this is a conversation for another day.
My point here is that Marvel and DC aren’t creating something new anymore. They are overwriting established lore to do at least three things: 1) make societal and political standpoints, 2) attract the movie audience, and 3) obtain a younger audience. We’ve definitely seen DC shift their style into a more movie-like presence with a lot of the new costumes and storylines. Marvel has brought in characters like Phil Coulson to join Shield and have created a lot of younger heroes lately including Nova, the upcoming Ghost Rider, and now Ms. Marvel. Instead of creating something new, they’re morphing things and depending on how big of a fan you are of a certain character or the lore behind all things Marvel this may or may not be a good thing.
The newest addition to this list is Kamala Khan, a teenage Pakistani-American who debuted in Captain Marvel’s comic and in a short story within the pages of All-New Marvel NOW! Point-One #1 (whew.. what a title). Last week she was featured in her own debut comic, Ms. Marvel #1, which is also the first issue of the third volume of this superhero’s series.
As you continue reading my Ms. Marvel #1 review, you’ll begin to see how Marvel is tackling this change better than the past changes I listed above. Kamala’s character is a huge deal to Marvel, especially with the current way the world has an somewhat skewed vision of Muslims. This isn’t as easy as making Ultimate Spider-Man a young black kid or introducing a new Ghost Rider who wears a flaming helmet and drives a car instead of a motorcycle. The company was expecting a lot of reactions with this one and they needed to find a perfect balance between story, character, and the expected culture shock.
So how did they do? Was Kamala’s introduction a worthy one? Did Marvel shove the differences between Muslim culture and American culture down our throats? Was this all just one big agenda? Let’s find out.
Kamala Khan’s Introduction
As you begin reading Ms. Marvel #1 you’re immediately introduced to three characters. Of course, one of them is Kamala Khan, our main character. The other two are her good friends. You have Nakia, a Turkish teenager, and Bruno, an American teen who works as a retail clerk at a convenience store.
The difference between everyone close to Kamala is very apparent. Kamala herself is struggling with full acceptance from everyone around her. She wants to just be a part of things. She has her Muslim heritage and the fact that she lives in New Jersey and has American friends and society to be around. Kamala doesn’t want to be stuck in one world, though. She wants to be, what she refers to, as “normal”.
Nakia, on the other hand, is a practicing Muslim who straddles much closer to her faith and heritage than Kamala. Bruno is accepting of them both and is a clear picture of what Kamala is striving to be. Both friends are her extreme opposites. Then we have Kamala’s family, who are all very varying themselves but all stick close to tradition and faith in their own way.
The important thing to realize here is that Marvel did a fantastic job ensuring this issue was not “preachy”, “sympathetic”, “pandering”, or too focused on Muslims or Americans. It’s split right down the middle and that’s because of how the character is being introduced to us. Kamala is struggling with her faith, heritage, and blends of culture. It’s extremely interesting to see how someone in Kamala’s shoes has to deal with things. The people at school treating her differently, some times in a mean way. The fact that she can’t do everything her American friends do due to her faith. It’s tough for her and it defines a huge part of her character. So instead of shoving one culture down the throats of a reader, which was a concern heading into this issue for many, Marvel focused on the character herself. Smart.
Then we have the other side of Kamala, the side that is an Avengers’ fangirl. She’s a superhero fanatic and enjoys finding herself immersed in her own fictional stories and thoughts. It seems to be how she deals with the stress. In this respect you can almost see a sort of Kyle Rayner (one of the Green Lanterns) in her. She’s creative and almost living in her own world.
While this is only one issue, Kamala is introduced to us as a strong but struggling teenager who wants to find her fit in the world but also wants it to be something spectacular. Her fascination with superheroes shows that she wants to make an impact on the world and transcend any sort of cultural or faith boundaries. At least, this is how I interpreted the issue and character.
If this is what Marvel was striving for, then they hit the nail on the head. For her grand introduction, Kamala Khan is an enjoyable and interesting character. This first issue did a great job at showing us who Kamala is, what her situation is, and then how things are going to change drastically for her thanks to the events covered in Marvel’s latest big event, Infinity.
Issue #1 of Kamala’s story finds her struggling with what life is throwing at her. She wants to fit in and be a normal person so everyone she knows can enjoy her and have a good time despite any differences they have. We’ve covered all of that. However, this situation brings Kamala into a life changing event that we’ve yet to see the after effects of.
While out at night, Kamala comes in contact with what long-time comic fans know as the Terrigen Mist. During the events of Infinity we see a bomb carrying the Terrigen Mist releasing this substance unto the world. Kamala is one of those affected by the mist. As we see during Infinity and during the short two-issue story of Inhumanity, anyone effected by the mist is cocooned while their transformation is completed. Kamala’s transformation sees her having a vision related to her love of superheroes and her struggle with culture and faith. The vision’s purpose was to show Kamala that she has the power to control how she sees herself and how others do, as well. Kamala has the power to be what she wants to be. It just so happens that at that time in particular, she wants to be “beautiful and awesome and butt-kicking and less complicated.” Kamala then points to Captain Marvel and says, “I want to be you.”
That very telling confession from Kamala is what leads to her emerging from the Terragenesis cocoon as the classic black attire, boot wearing, and blond haired Ms. Marvel. So, you see, this is a Ms. Marvel comic because the character wants to be Carol Danvers. She views Carol as the epitome of everything she wants to be: accepted, powerful, beautiful, and beloved by all.
However, it is very important that the readers of the issue and anyone reading this Ms. Marvel #1 review understand what Kamala has emerged as. She’s a shape shifter primarily and any other powers she may have are not known to us yet. Though, keeping in mind that she can shape shift is very important. Kamala emerges from the cocoon as a very different person. She looks nothing like herself and she will not look like Carol going forward. We’ve seen previews of Kamala looks like in her own costume and it seems that she’ll be breathing new life into the name of Ms. Marvel.
Issue #1 & Beyond
If I had to tally up the pros and cons of Ms. Marvel #1, there would definitely be more good than bad. Writer G. Willow Wilson does a grand job with the dialogue and story progression. I enjoyed seeing so many varying characters and the mixtures of culture and traditions. Reading Kamala’s introduction was an interesting and enjoyable one, which is a great aspect that a first issue desperately needs.
The art is also top notch here thanks to the talents of Adrian Alphona. Adrian has a distinct style and captures facial emotion in a great way. Kamala looks amazing in this issue and, if I could be so bold, Carol in her Captain Marvel costume looks the best that she’s ever been here. I never really got into Carol’s hairstyle when adapting the Captain Marvel mantle but Mr. Alphona does a wonderful job here capturing the classic flowing blonde hair with what has quickly become my favorite costume for Carol now.
This team along with the rest of Marvel did a fantastic job with this issue and quickly quelling any reservations readers had before opening the cover and diving into the first page.
Of course, I would have liked to see Kamala stretch her legs a bit more after emerging from the cocoon but there’s always Issue #2. As it stands right now, I’m eagerly awaiting the next issue. To me, that’s a damn good thing to say after a #1.
Yes, Marvel, it is too late. Keep it up, you’ve got my interest.