Kamala Khan is a 16-year-old second generation Pakistani-American Muslim immigrant living in New Jersey. She wants to go out to a party but her parents refuse to give her permission. They don’t feel it’s safe. She goes anyway. When she returns from the party her brother vows to summon up the boys from the mosque and sort out any man that has hurt her. Her parents ground her.
In actual fact Kamala left the party early and walked through a terrigen mist. The mist has given her the ability to shapeshift. Her powers arrive at the same time as a religious vision/hallucination involving Captain America, Iron Man and the original Ms. Marvel (now Captain Marvel). Kamala is a huge fangirl for the Avengers (her mother is confused by her Avengers ‘fan fiction’) and wants to be just like the original Ms. Marvel. And she becomes just that, turning into the tall, blonde superhero. Kamala soon realises, however, that the supposedly perfect body isn’t so ideal. The “perfect” hair gets in her eyes, the “perfect” costume gives her a “wedgie”. Over the course of this first volume of comics Kamala learns, through the power of shapeshifting, that she prefers to be herself. Only smaller, so that she can sneak through the gaps in a chain link fence, or with a giant hand for grabbing armed robbers.
At the heart of this latest incarnation of Ms. Marvel is the formula that has helped make Marvel comics so successful. Spider-Man, for example, is not just a teenage boy with good climbing abilities, he’s a geeky teenage boy with girlfriend troubles and money worries. Only Ms. Marvel is also an example of Marvel reaching out to different audiences, to cover different experiences of growing up in the United States, and yet at the same time creating a universal story that anyone can enjoy. Any reader can relate to a desire to fit in but Ms. Marvel also allows us to learn a little more about the experience of a teenage Muslim girl growing up in the U.S.
This contemporary story is told with a self-reflective wit, Kamala is mistaken for the original Ms. Marvel and when she seems confused the male character quickly corrects himself and calls her “Captain,” and images that almost resemble watercolour paintings. The art style adds a sense of timelessness to a story that has been praised for its contemporary approach to a superhero character. It produces a sense of youthful wonder rather than the urgency of more photo realistic art styles.
Of course, Ms. Marvel is still a mainstream superhero comic book. It has certain expectations to meet. There are still costumes to be worn, victims to be saved and laser gun wielding villains to be fought but it’s in the quiet moments that the book shines. The character immediately captured the public’s imagination, being recognised in mainstream newspapers such as The Guardian and The New York Times, and the comic is prepared to focus as much on Kamala’s everyday life as her superhero adventures. She argues with her parents for more freedom, she questions her faith, and she doesn’t realise that her best friend is in love with her. Comic books entertain but they, like all stories, have the possibility to let us enter the lives of other people, to get a better understanding of the world, and this is a comic book that achieves just that. If you’re a fan of the movies and new to the world of comic books, then this would be a good place to start.
By Mark – Uxbridge Library