Its Thursday, which means yesterday was release day for new comics. Among other things, Ms. Marvel #1 debuted, which features a new heir to the moniker. Kamala Khan is a 16 year old girl from New Jersey who loves fan-fiction, adores the Avengers, and struggles to fit in with her peers and obey the wishes of her parents. Of course, the thing that everyone is talking about is the fact that she’s a Pakistani-American and the first ever Muslim hero to grace Marvel’s covers.
So what’s all the fuss about? Does this comic live up to the hype? Well, kind of. Spoilers below…
In this issue, we are introduced to Kamala and her world. Her friends are Nakia, whose headscarf her father insists is a phase, and Bruno, a convenience store clerk whose biggest flaw is not being Pakistani. Her family is embarrassing and overbearing, complete with a father who won’t let her go to parties, and a brother who is putting off getting a job (although he isn’t playing video games in the basement, he spends all day praying instead). Her enemies are the popular, blonde kids at school.
Her world is turned upside down one night when she sneaks out of the house to go to a party, and the city is filled a mysterious fog that renders every one unconscious. When Kamala wakes (or maybe she doesn’t, its difficult to tell), she’s greeted by a vision of her idols, the Avengers, with Carol Danvers front and center. Kamala tells her heroes that she’s confused about who she is, what she’s supposed to do, teen angst, blah blah blah. Carol tells her that she’s about to get “a total reboot”, and when Kamala wakes up (for real this time), she finds herself transformed into Ms. Marvel, complete with blonde hair, red sash, and tall black boots.
I love artist Adrian Alphona’s style for this title. Curving, swirling lines dominate this issue. The swirling clouds that precede Kamala’s close encounter of the Avenger kind are thick with metaphorical meaning, obscuring her path forward and her sense of self as well as isolating her from the rest of the world. Kamala’s hair seems to move with a life of its own, never tied back with a hair tie or head band, and Carol’s hair is much the same way, although longer and blonder. I think that the fluid style will also lead itself to dynamic fight scenes, and I can’t wait to see Ms. Marvel in action. Alphona’s style also seems well suited to the flights of fancy that Kamala is prone to. His depiction of the Avengers versus My Little Pony (One of Kamala’s fan fictions) is both epic and hilarious. His humor shines through in the background details too. Kamala’s bedroom has a winged, dopey looking sloth, which later appears in Captain America’s arms, and her father is reading a news paper which proclaims that “Tax on Color Orange Approved”. For a title featuring an ass-kicking, fanciful teenage girl, the art is is spot on.
Writer G. Willow Wilson’s dialogue is a little flat, and pretty heavy on the angst, but I understand the need for dramatic exposition in the first issue, particularly when introducing a brand new character. I’m hoping that she can find a more graceful way to characterize Kamala in the future. Wilson does have her moments, and the best is hands down the second panel, when we see Kamala drooling over some BLTs which she refers to as “delicious infidel meat” (my new favorite term for bacon). She doesn’t want to eat them, she just wants to smell them.
I’m disappointed that the issue ended with Kamala transformed into the white woman she idealizes, mostly because I find those kinds of body swapping stories boring and full of mediocre writing. I’m fairly certain that this is the first manifestation of her shapeshifting powers, and she’ll realize the importance of being herself and all that jazz.
Kamala reads like a check list for diversity, and Marvel will undoubtedly be called out for pandering, or selling out, or something. Some comic fans are certain to be ruffled by a new, non-white female character. But as comic writer Dan Slott put it so elegantly yesterday: “Not every comic has to be out there for YOU. It’s okay to have other comics out there for other people of other backgrounds. Honest.”
And since high profile news outlets are reporting on Marvel’s new character, they’ll get the attention of people who don’t normally read comics. I’m delighted to report that both the comic book stores I went to yesterday were sold out of Ms. Marvel #1. Obviously, it sucks because I don’t get a physical copy, but it means that the comic did pretty well.
To put it bluntly, this isn’t a super exciting first issue, but its also not bad either. Teenage super heroes are certainly nothing new to Marvel (see Spiderman, Runaways, Young Avengers, Cloak and Dagger, the upcoming All-New Ultimates…I could keep going), but there is something charming about Kamala’s struggles. In a few dozen pages, she has depth, doubt, and sass, certainly enough for me to keep reading for a few issues just to see where her story takes her.