Written by G. Willow Wilson
Recommended? Definitely add to your pull list
When it comes to pushing the boundaries of the media representation of socially marginalized groups, DC and Marvel Comics aren’t the first two companies that spring to mind. Recent controversies out of DC have certainly not helped, such as DC’s call for sexualized suicide images of Harley Quinn, or how Batwoman’s creative team quit after DC refused to let Batwoman marry her partner Maggie Sawyer.
These incidents, in addition to years of absurd outfits (I mean really, what’s up with Power Girl’s boob window, or damn near anything Emma Frost has ever worn? Those outfits deny all laws of nature and certainly aren’t made for super-powered fights.) and “Liefeldian” body-proportions that no skeleton could possibly support have resigned many comic fans to the belief that Marvel and DC just can’t, or aren’t willing to, give us heroes from marginalized groups that are written or drawn as well as their white male counterparts.
Marvel may, at least to some small degree, be beginning to prove us wrong. The addition of great female writers like Kelly Sue Deconnick, the creation of an all-female superhero team in X-Men, and a slew of new stand-alone series featuring female superheroes like Ms. Marvel, Captain Marvel, and She-Hulk are showing the beginnings of something exciting there.
The announcement of the new Ms. Marvel book quickly attracted a flurry of attention, both online and off, and with good reason. The original Ms. Marvel, Carol Danvers, is now in the new Captain Marvel title written by Deconnick, and the new Ms. Marvel centers around Pakistani teenager Kamala Khan. That’s right, the new Ms. Marvel was going to be a Muslim teenager. The writer for the new book is G. Willow Wilson, who is Muslim, and the award-winning author of the comics Cairo and Air.
I was both excited and nervous for the release of this title. I was excited that Marvel might be adding a well-thought-out, positive representation of a Muslim teenage girl to its pantheon of superheroes. I was nervous, perhaps terrified, that everything which could go wrong, would go wrong. The character might end up a perhaps well-meaning but still awful two-dimensional caricature that, instead of being an empowering figure, would instead reinforce contemporary exotic narratives of “uncivilized” culture.
From the first page my excitement grew; Wilson has written a well-rounded character in Kamala, someone with whom you can empathize and see as a real person. Her relationships with her family and friends feel realistic. The story begins with the absolutely wonderful introduction of “concern-troll” (actual phrase used in the book!) Zoe Zimmer, who proceeds to let everyone know just how interesting other cultures are and how she hopes Kamala’s friend Nakia isn’t being forced to wear that oh-so-pretty headscarf. The disgust dripping off Nakia is excellent, as she explains that no, observing hijab was her choice and that her father thought it was just a phase. This scene highlights Wilson’s efforts to portray a well-rounded and textured Muslim identity, one that mirrors diverse facets of the Muslim community and allows for the growth of interesting and powerful individuals who happen to be Muslim but are not defined by their faith any more than Steve Rogers or Nightcrawler are defined by theirs.
As exciting as actually reading the book are the discussions that I’ve had and seen surrounding it. When I went to pick up a copy at my local comics store the owner told me that the first printing was already sold out; he couldn’t order more if he had wanted to, that’s how much attention and excitement surrounded this release. On internet boards other titles slipped to the background as discussion revolved around reactions to the introduction of Kamala Khan. Most readers seemed to feel that Wilson did a good job of writing a Muslim character, with a few arguing that the book spent too much time dealing with it. I wonder, however, how many of the readers who objected to how much time was spent on Kamala’s relationship to her faith objected to Amazing X-Men’s current arc, which takes place quite literally in Heaven and Hell. How annoyed are they by the representation of Nightcrawler’s Christian faith by Jason Aaron and others?
Wilson has given us just what mainstream comics needs: a complex and interesting character, a Muslim and teenage girl who engages with her relationship to each of these identities in realistic ways. These identities don’t feel included so that Marvel can check off minority quotas, but instead are written with respect and their character has been allowed to grow into a multi-dimensional character. I’m excited to see what Wilson does with Kamala and the book (the third issue comes out this week), but it seems safe to say that Ms. Marvel does a lot right and gives a great example of how super hero comics can write compelling and respectful stories featuring characters from marganilized and oppressed groups