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Reading Comics: Ms Marvel, Vol 1 – No Normal + Ms. Marvel, Vol. 2: Generation Why

Beginning in February 2014, the Ms Marvel series written by G. Willow Wilson, launched a storyline that sees the first Muslim superhero to headline a comic series.

Ms Marvel

Beginning in February 2014, the Ms Marvel series written by G. Willow Wilson, launched a storyline that sees the first Muslim superhero to headline a comic series.

Ms Marvel, Vol 1 – No Normal (October 15, 2014) collects issues #1-5 and is an origin story through and through. Dealing primarily with Kamala’s newfound powers, the first arc follows Kamala in her first footsteps as a teen superheroine who suddenly inherits the power of one of her idols, Carol Danvers (the new Captain Marvel). This is actually one of the coolest things for me about this Ms Marvel – that she is not the Only One, that she exists in a world of known superheroes. Kamala’s geekiness about other superheroes is one that comes out of the pages of the comic to meet us, the readers. She worships Carol Danvers as well as other Avengers – she is indeed a fangirl who writes superhero fanfic. Kamala is a superheroine of our times and her encounter with Wolverine on issue 6 and her reaction to meeting him is a mirror to my own inner geek at seeing her meeting THE Wolverine. It’s bloody fantastic and fun.

Plus, the fact that she is the “new” Ms Marvel ends up beautifully folding into the primary concern of these first issues i.e. who is Kamala? The concepts of identity and self are at the centre of this first volume: Kamala is a teenager, a girl, a geek, Pakistani-American and Muslim and the author deftly examines all of these in a way that is neither jarring nor thoughtless. Her family, her friends (Muslim and not Muslim), her duties are all part of how she perceives herself and the world around her.

One of my favourite things about this first volume is when Kamala first gets her powers and she is able to change appearance, she starts out looking exactly as the previous Ms Marvel: blonde, white, “all-American.” This concept – of an “all-American” superhero – is explored and questioned by the comics and by Kamala: can this franchise superheroine, really look like Kamala does? Can she sustain herself under the weight of this type of legacy that literally stands out as a shadow over her? The answer is of course yes, she can. Kamala is as American as Carol Danvers.

There is one serious misstep in this first volume though, one that gave me serious cause for pause. Kamala’s brother is portrayed as a joke, a faux-devout Muslim who is made fun of. I question the need to portray this character as such, especially in a comics that otherwise tries to sensitively portray Islam. Worst of all, there is one moment in the comics when Kamala gets home super late worrying her family about her whereabouts. The brother offers to get “his brothers from the mosque to beat the crap out” the person who has supposedly hurt Kamala. This is again, a light moment played for laughs which I found dangerously close to the harmful stereotypes built around devout young Muslim men. I can only hope this character is better explored in future issues.

Ms Marvel Volume 2

Kamala’s arc as a teenage superheroine continues in Ms. Marvel, Vol. 2: Generation Why (March 24, 2015) which collects issues #6-11.

This second volume moves a bit away from the focus on her family and religious background – although when it comes to the latter, I very much enjoyed Kamala’s talk with Sheikh Abdullah in issue #6 which goes a long way to portray her religion and the influences of the adults in her life as a positive aspect of her existence – to welcome Kamala in the wider context of the Marvel Universe and to reinforce her voice as a teenage superheroine.

The first deals with her inheritance as an Inhuman, something I personally know very little about but which sparked my interest. As a side note, if anyone has any recommendation about where I should go to get acquainted with this storyline, I’d be very grateful.

The “teenage” part is superimportant within the parameters of the story but also I realise, for me: I didn’t realise how much I craved a YA superhero comic until I read this. Where’s there more like this? *help needed*

But yes, this storyline – “Generation Why” – is one that concerns itself with teenage lives and anxieties as well as the disquiet of older generations about the future of those teenagers. Kamala meets her first supervillain with aplomb and under the guidance of Wolverine (Hello, kickback to older times: one of the things I liked the most about the X-Men comics I read in my teens was Wolverine’s relationship with another teen, Jubilee) realises that much can be done with help from others. Some superheroes take their whole lives to realise this: TEAM WORK FOR THE WIN.

I also love that this volume and arc reinforce Kamala’s self-proclaimed mission as a heroine of Jersey City.

Briefly, in terms of art, I vastly prefer that of Adrian Alphona than that of Jacob Wyatt (who illustrated issues # 6-7 only). Jacob Wyatt’s art looked a bit too cartoonish and less detailed than that of Adrian Alphona.

Reinvention and reboots are at the core of comics and one of the reasons many characters and franchises can survive for decades. Sometimes when that happens, we get the same old, same old and we can hardly call them “reinvention.” But sometimes we luck out and get Kamala Khan. Long live Kamala!

Additional Thoughts:

Renay and I talked about Ms Marvel – Volume 1 on Fangirl Happy Hour.

Rating: 8 Excellent

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