I’ve been out of the comic book game for a long time. Let’s just say the last time I was really serious about comics, Superman was coming back from the dead. So, when I decided I wanted to get back into the game, I didn’t know where to start.
Thinking I’d want to read in bulk my first time out, I decided to pick up a volume collection. At the bookstore I faced a sea of masks and muscles I didn’t know how to cope with. Knowing I’ve always been drawn more to Marvel, that’s how I began to narrow down my choice. Then Ms. Marvel herself grabbed my attention. I picked up Ms. Marvel volume #1 “No Normal,” which covers issues 1-5 of Ms. Marvel 2014.
A great deal of debate surrounds the issue of diversity in media. In comics this sometimes revolves around how best to introduce minority characters into the mythos; whether to make totally new characters who represent minority groups, or to change the race, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality of an existing character. Ms. Marvel takes a third option. Here we find a new face taking on the mantel of a familiar hero, then carving out a niche for herself.
I’ve often heard it said that Superman is essentially an immigrant story. Superman is the outsider who makes good, given that he’s an alien. But, Superman is ultimately a story about a white guy. Ms. Marvel lends some authenticity to the discussion, being an emblem of otherness on several levels.
I would gladly read about Kamala Khan even if she weren’t a superhero. Kamala is a complex girl from an immigrant family. Enough said. The forces that pull on her in her normal life are enough to make a compelling story. From her visits to the mosque where she chats with her friend during the youth lecture, to the “Fantabulous Hakka” takeout food she eats as a midnight snack, G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona expertly weave little moments and details into the story that speak volumes about how Kamala lived her life before getting her powers. I would have liked to see more of that.
On the subject of powers, I’d have to say that’s where the book falls a little short. One thing I appreciate about Marvel is that there are no monolithic powerhouses. No one is O.P. That’s why there are so many great teams in Marvel comics. There’s always a great “you complete me” vibe.
Ms. Marvel’s vulnerabilities are obvious, and that’s fine. I just don’t see anything fresh about her powers. She is a little Ant Man, a little Mr. Fantastic, with some shape-shifting and accelerated healing thrown in. In a way, the hum-drum nature of her powers fits the book. I wasn’t caught up in wondering how her powers work, rather I thought more about how and why she would use her powers. I thought more about her choices. However, it left me wishing they did something new and exciting with them.
Ms. Marvel is a good read. The tension between normal life and Kamala’s burgeoning crime-fighting career plays out in a novel and fun way. While her powers are a little tired it’s still satisfying to see her scrap with the robots and punks of Jersey City. The series brings with it questions about identity and belonging I don’t remember the comics of my youth exploring quite so well. I look forward to further forays into the world of Kamala Khan. She’s definitely not your dad’s superhero.