Sunday, May 8, 2016

Meet the new Ms. Marvel: Kamala Khan

(Spoilers for Ms. Marvel.)

Until about two years ago, the name “Ms. Marvel” belonged to Major Carol Danvers, a beloved and perennial Avenger with powers resulting from a Kree experiment.  Since then, Carol has taken the name “Captain Marvel,” and her old moniker has been claimed by one of the freshest, most revolutionary and courageous figures to step onto Marvel’s stage in recent history: Kamala Khan.

Kamala Khan was a Muslim-Pakistani teenager living in Jersey City, New Jersey; an avid Avengers fangirl, her favourite off-hours pastime was writing Avengers fanfiction.  She sneaked out against her parents’ wishes to go to a party one night, and a mysterious cloud—later revealed to be the infamous Terrigen Mists of the Inhumans’ culture—descended on Jersey City.  Kamala collapsed, experiencing a vision of her heroes Carol Danvers, Iron Man and Captain America, reproving her for disobeying her parents and asking her what she really wants.  At the time it seemed that they granted her greatest wish, for upon waking Kamala found herself in a strange cocoon and broke free to find herself metamorphosed into her dearest of heroes: Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers.  The truth is that Kamala’s dormant Inhuman genes were triggered by the Terrigen Mists, granting her the ability to change the size and form of her entire body and heal at an accelerated rate.  She embraces her new powers with joy, and in very Peter-Parker-esque fashion, crafts and perfects her costume as she comes to terms with the hero she is becoming and the hero she is supposed to be.

Ms. Marvel—penned by comics writer G. Willow Wilson—is arguably Marvel’s most ground-breaking and inspiring endeavour to date, marking the first time a Muslim character was given a headlining role in a Marvel Comics’ series.  Wilson—herself a Muslim—has stated that Kamala’s story is “…not evangelism.  It was very important for me to portray Kamala as someone who is struggling with her faith.  Her brother is extremely conservative, her mom is paranoid that she's going to touch a boy and get pregnant, and her father wants her to concentrate on her studies and become a doctor.” [source]  

Marvel editor Sana Amanat—one of Kamala’s fiercest supporters—added: “As much as Islam is a part of Kamala’s identity, [this comic] isn't preaching about religion or the Islamic faith in particular. It's about what happens when you struggle with the labels imposed on you, and how that forms your sense of self. It's a struggle we've all faced in one form or another, and isn't just particular to Kamala because she's Muslim. Her religion is just one aspect of the many ways she defines herself.” [source]  

In January of 2015, all across San Francisco someone—or some people—began covering anti-Islamic advertisements on city buses with images of Kamala.  The adverts had been commissioned by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, an organization that has notoriously and persistently decried Islam as Nazism, and in answer, these anonymous street artists plastered the ads with illustrations of Kamala along with slogans like “Calling all Bigotry Busters,” “Stamp out Racism,” “Free speech isn’t a license to spread hate,” “Islamophobia hurts us all,” and “Racist.”  In response to this, Wilson tweeted: “Some amazing person has been painting over the anti-Muslim bus ads in SF with Ms. Marvel graffiti… To me, the graffiti is part of the back-and-forth of the free speech conversation.  Call and response.  Argument, counterargument.” [source]

I was fortunate enough to have been able to follow Kamala from the very beginning.  And from the very first panel, her story spoke to me.  Each issue invites you into Kamala’s life and into her home, presenting a girl who is very much one of us fanboys and fangirls despite her differing background.  For crying out loud, in her very first arc she teams up with whom else but Wolverine himself, and Kamala behaves just as any of us would: she freaks out and has a total fangirl moment.  Her parents moved to New Jersey from Karachi, Pakistan, and Kamala was born and raised here in the United States.  As we are invited into her home, we are shown a world and a culture that is not at all as frightening and bloodthirsty as we have been led to believe.  The Khan family and their surrounding community are just as peace-loving as the rest of us, and underneath all the trappings and traditions of the culture—not dissimilar from us at all.  To me, Kamala is the Spider-Man of my era: “…the teenage superhero, juggling her life, making mistakes and trying to do everything right.” [source]  I am proud to be a Kamala fan, and if you haven’t discovered her yet…it’s high time you did.

Have you discovered Ms. Marvel?
Are you interested?
Let us know in the comments below!

1 comment:

  1. I've read the first Kamala comic, and I should really read some more! Regardless of the story, though, I continue to be impressed by her social impact inside and outside of her universe.