Monday, October 20, 2014

‘Ms. Marvel’, Marvel’s Muslim Hero: Quite Good, But Not As Diverse As Suggested

Marvel Comics’ ‘Ms. Marvel’ series, which has a female, Muslim lead, has been a relative success for the publisher, with the first issue having been re-printed seven times, as well as selling many digital copies. That is part of why I had not read it myself until a week or so ago, though I was eager to see what the fuss was about. Was this series really breaking down long-standing barriers in superhero comics? Not quite … but that does not mean it isn’t a fun read, although probably more for a teenage audience.

A fellow named Chris Sims came up with this theory that Marvel tries to re-invent Spider-Man every decadeNova in the ‘70s, Speedball in the ‘80s, Darkhawk in the ‘90s, and the new, ‘Ultimate’ version of Spider-Man in the 2000s. Alliteration aside, there is more than a touch of Peter Parker about Kamala Khan, our new Ms. Marvel. She’s a bit of an outsider, a bit insecure about herself, and a bit of a nerd – though of the hero fan fiction writing variety rather than a science nerd. And while her heritage is foreign to the US, she herself is very much of Jersey City.

It seems what is meant to make Kamala unique is her growing up in a Muslim family. But, you probably guessed it … that means her family want her to conform to their religious beliefs, do not want her to be around boys, and basically display many other traits typically associated with parents from the Indian subcontinent. The overprotective parent figure is not really that new to Marvel as well – Spider-Man had to tread gingerly around his Aunt May, Daredevil’s father kept him locked up with his law books, and even Thor the thunder god had his father constantly deciding what was best for him.

However all of this is not to say that Ms. Marvel is not a well-written book; just that the Muslim hero angle does not make the book as different from Marvel’s previous output as one might think. Both Kamala and her best friend Kiki, in particular, have dialogue that seems more natural and engaging than most other Marvel books. Also Kamala’s hero worship of the original Ms Marvel, Carol Danvers, and the other Avengers, feels like a very modern type of reverence, reflecting the mind-sets of the fanfic/cosplay generation.  It remains to be seen how well the series can transcend the twelve-issue theory – the series was reportedly meant to end at issue seven. But even if it conks out in its second year, that will not change its historical importance in making Marvel Comics a little bit less ‘male and white’.

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