Marvel-ous Debut

I’ll admit, prior to Februrary’s Ms. Marvel #1, I’d never read any comics starring the original Ms. Marvel, Carol Danvers.

Okay, I still haven’t, but Captain Marvel #1 drops this month and it’s on my pull-list. At any rate, I can honestly say I know zilch about the character. I don’t know her original history or origins, I don’t know her powers or affiliations. From Previews, I’ve been able to glean that Danvers, as Captain Marvel, was a member of some version of the Avengers and is currently joining the Guardians of the Galaxy. So I take it she can fly and has whatever secondary/implied powers she needs to travel through space with the other Guardians. I know that she was one of Marvel’s first female superheroes, first appearing way back in ’68, and gaining her powers in ’77 (no, I didn’t know the years off-hand, but that’s not important).

But at any rate, suffice to say I don’t know much about the character. But the new Ms. Marvel title seemed like a good jumping-on point, especially given the mass amount of press coverage it’s been getting ever since it was announced. Why? Because the new Ms. Marvel is Kamala Khan, a teenage Muslim girl, lauded as the first mainstream Muslim superhero. Whether or not she’s actually the first Muslim hero isn’t something I can answer; after all, the media is usually wrong about comic news. If you’ll allow a small digression…

About a year or two ago, DC’s Earth 2 started. The monthly comic was one of the titles spearheading the second wave of New 52 titles, along with Worlds’ Finest, the spin-off title featuring the adventures of Power Girl and Huntress, stranded on Earth 0, the primary reality of the DC multiverse. A few issues into Earth 2, it was revealed that Alan Scott, the Green Lantern of Earth 2 (based on, of course, the original Golden Age Green Lantern, Alan Scott) was gay — a detail transplanted to him from the original, Earth 0 Alan Scott’s son. News outlets everywhere reported that DC was writing the first-ever gay superhero, and that it was a high-profile character (headlines were cleverly written to avoid spoilers while drawing in readers). While technically Lantern is a high-profile character, the media failed to understand that Earth 2 is not the primary location of DC stories, and its Green Lantern is not a mainstream superhero, but an alternate reality hero, a category which fills a niche for comic fans but isn’t particularly worthwhile for casual readers. Additionally, the articles failed to acknowledge Marvel’s Northstar, a member of the X-Men who had been openly gay long before Earth 2 began, and who had recently gotten married to his boyfriend when the Earth 2 hype began.

tl;dr, Kamala may not be the first Muslim heroine, but she’s the first to receive such a huge level of attention in mainstream news outlets.

As of right now, only the first issue of the series has been released, but for me at least, it was enough to hook me. Writer G. Willow Wilson presents an interesting first issue, as there’s actually nothing in the book, until the last page or so, that fits the usual expectations of a superhero comic. For an entire issue we get the rare chance to see the relatively bland, ordinary life of the character we already know will become the heroine. Kamala Khan isn’t anyone particularly special. She’s a bit of an outsider because of her Muslim heritage; she idolizes the Avengers, especially Captain Marvel, and she writes fanfiction about them. Basically, she’s a universal Mary Sue for readers, especially for girls. She loves her family, but she’s like all teens and has a rebellious streak, directing her angst towards them.

In short, she’s the modern female equivalent of Peter Parker, circa Amazing Fantasy #15, 1962.

Panel from Ms. Marvel #1 (2014)
Visions of the Avengers lead to flashy-but-impractical displays of stereotyped kung fu.

The book would be nothing without the art, of course, and Sara Pichelli does a fantastic job. Kamala is an adorable and lovable girl from the moment you meet her, and that’s partly to do with scripting and partly to do with art. She simply looks like someone you’d want to be friends with — and full disclosure, she reminds me a bit of a close friend of mine. Regardless, she has all the right qualities to make a great heroine. Unlike other female characters, whether hero, like Black Widow, villain, like Catwoman, or civilian, like Mary Jane Watson, Kamala doesn’t have any overt sexuality. She’s not drawn with gravity defying breasts and she’s not very comfortable in social situations — you’re definitely not likely to see her partying like MJ. Again, I have to draw a comparison to Peter Parker — remember, Pete wasn’t hero material back in the day, either. He was a scrawny nerd from Queens who couldn’t have killed a fly if he belly-flopped on it from 10 feet up. It took quite a long time before he became toned, and even still he’s slim and streamlined — certainly not bulked up the way Wolverine and Captain America are. Kamala is a similar character, one who readers can easily relate to and identify with, and drawing her as an average girl rather than an absurdly proportioned goddess makes it that much easier to identify with her.

Panel from Ms. Marvel #1, page 1 (2014)
Kamala Khan admires the forbidden fruit of bacon.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is that everyone should be reading this comic. I know, it’s only one issue in, but I’ve read enough (both comics and regular books) to know that there’s something special about this one. Ms. Marvel is going to be the next big hit, I’m calling it now. It may take a bit to build up steam, especially with Amazing Spider-Man #1 dropping in April, but by that time Kamala will already be 2 issues ahead of ol’ web-head. I think she’s in for the long haul, and I’m excited to see where her journey to heroism takes her.

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7 thoughts on “Marvel-ous Debut

  1. A couple minor points: She’s not the first Muslim superhero, but she is the first Muslim superhero to get a solo title at one of the Big Two publishers. And the art isn’t by Sara Pichelli, it’s Adrian Alphona. I think Pichelli did one of the covers, but the interiors are Alphona.

    Regardless, it’s a fun start to the series, and I have very high hopes for the book.

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    1. As I said, I didn’t know whether or not the media was correct in their claim of her position as the first Muslim superhero. My apologies on the art, though, I will fix that asap. I didn’t have the issue handy at the time and resorted to a quick web search for the names; I guess it wasn’t made clear that Pichelli was only the cover artist in whatever source I found.

      You don’t happen to know who does hold the title of first Muslim superhero, do you?

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      1. That, I don’t know. Marvel’s first Muslim superhero, I believe, was Arabian Knight. In recent years, they’ve had Dust of New X-Men, Monet of X-Factor (she debuted in Generation X in the ’90s, but it wasn’t until a couple years ago that it was revealed that she’s Muslim), Monica Chang of Avengers AI, and Faiza Hussein of Captain Britain & MI:13/

        A general list of Muslim superheroes is here: http://www.adherents.com/lit/comics/comic_book_religion.html#Mu

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      2. Thanks for the info! I’ve been out of touch with much of the Marvel Comics ‘verse for quite some time, so I’m more than happy to have help with facts.

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