In my first column of this series, I wrote about how I don’t enjoy the art style of most mainstream comics. I find it overly complicated and with a fundamental lack of understanding about human anatomy, and I can’t concentrate on the storyline because male artists don’t understand how bras work. But before I throw the baby out with the bathwater, I should highlight Kamala Khan, aka Ms. Marvel.
Introducing Ms. Marvel
The character of Ms. Marvel has been around for a while in various forms, but her most recent run, starring a Muslim, Pakistani-American teenager named Kamala Khan, ushered in a renaissance of comics by and about women, especially women of color. Kamala was introduced in a Captain Marvel comic in 2013 and was given her own comic in 2014.
This run, co-created by Muslim women, was the most successful new character in decades and allowed a generation of women and girls, particularly brown girls, to feel represented in comics (which makes them more likely to buy comics! Executives, take note!).
Kamala is your average American teenage girl living in a New Jersey suburb of New York City: she fights with but ultimately loves her family, she writes fanfic about the Avengers, and she has a best friend who works at the corner shop and is maybe (definitely) in love with her. She aches to fit in, to be friends with the popular crowd, even when they make fun of her religion, family, and culture. She feels like if she could just be like her hero, Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel, all her problems would go away.
But when she sneaks out to a party on the night a mysterious mist covers New York and the surrounding areas, Kamala finds herself with superpowers that enable her to change the size and shape of her body parts (think a giant fist).
At first Kamala is transformed into her favorite version of Captain Marvel (blonde, with the “classic, politically incorrect costume [and] giant wedge heels”), but she quickly realizes that changing her outside won’t magically change her insides. Not only does the costume give her a massive wedgie, it doesn’t erase the problems she has with her family or her insecurities—in fact, it makes her feel less like herself.
Kamala soon figures out her powers enough to keep her looking like herself and allowing her body to shift and contort on command (her particularly charming command word: embiggen!). From there, she only needs to figure out how to balance being a superhero with being a teenager. Easy, right?
She has to deal with being grounded by her parents for being late to her cousin’s wedding because she was fighting a giant metal junkyard monster along with getting perfect grades and figuring out if she likes Bruno, her best friend, back.
A huge part of what made this comic so successful is that it’s so relatable. Kamala is just as classic as an American teenager as Peter Parker; in fact, Ms. Marvel and Spider-Man teamed up in an issue of Spider-Man in 2014. Since then, Ms. Marvel has appeared in a number of different comic runs, often teamed up with other young Avengers heroes, including Miles Morales’ Spider-Man and Amadeus Cho’s Hulk.
The comic does tackle racism and Islamophobia, but never in a way that makes it feel like you’re being hit over the head with it. Kamala’s religion is just one facet of her personality, the microaggressions from her classmates just another obnoxious part of high school. G. Willow Wilson, the original writer, created a look into the life of a brown Muslim teenager that is at once educational to those who had never met someone like Kamala and as familiar and American as apple pie.
So if you ever find yourself rolling your eyes at the way women are drawn or written in mainstream comics, reach for Ms. Marvel. Kamala Khan and co will restore your faith in the genre.
Tell us in the comments: Have you read Ms. Marvel?
Marina is a West Coast native living in Washington, DC. She loves writing anything, from sci-fi to creative non-fiction to romance, often drawing inspiration from the frequent travel required by her day job. Her work has appeared in such literary magazines as DistrictLit and Corner Bar Magazine. When she’s not writing, you can find her hosting bar trivia, baking something involving peaches, or bothering her extremely patient dog, Daisy. You can read more of her work at marinabarakatt.com and find pictures of Daisy at @marinabarakatt.