Ms. Marvel with Kate (and Dan)
Dan and Kate are relaxing in leather wing-backed chairs in the library at the Asylum in St. Paul. A large globe sits to the left of Dan, a decanter of ginger ale rests on the table next to Kate. The walls are lined with fancy looking books that neither of them have ever opened.
Kate: ::swirls snifter of ginger ale:: Dan, do you remember your first comic book? Your gateway book to graphic novels and men wearing capes?
Dan: ::leisurely spins globe:: Why, yes I do. I was on holiday with my family to scenic Brainerd, Minnesota. I had a few moments to myself in between boating excursions and relaxing near the pool so I stole away to the resort gift shop. That’s where I first laid eyes on WEST COAST AVENGERS #1. The book called to me from the spinner rack and I knew I needed to rescue it from the torture of that rack. My life was never the same after that encounter.
K: Ah, yes. That is a tale as old as time. Young boy on holiday looking for a distraction when the brightly colored pages of the comic book call to him. It’s a siren call of sorts. Except sirens are always female, and when you started reading comics there weren’t many ladies, so I’m not really sure who was sounding the call. What’s the male equivalent to “siren”? Is there such a thing? Wait, what was I talking about?
D: Like usual, no one knows what you’re talking about, Red. I think you were trying to make a point about female characters in comics. There weren’t that many back in the day when I started reading comics. There were a few here and there like Wonder Woman, but nothing like what we see today. Today there’s Batgirl, Spider Gwen, Captain Marvel, Red Sonja, the Birds of Prey, and Black Widow.
K: That’s so cool. It’s a great time to be a comic fan! Comics for all readers! ::toasts with snifter of ginger ale. Drinks soda too quickly. Burps::
D: ::shakes head:: You wanna talk about inclusion? Comics today are more than just male versus female characters. The racks are becoming much more inclusive with the lesbian Batwoman, the racially mixed black-Hispanic Spider-Man Miles Morales, and then there’s the new Muslim Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan.
K: I’ve heard things about this Kamala Khan. Good things. Do you happen to have one of her books?
D: ::crawls up ladder to search bookcase:: I think so. ::swings ladder around shelves. Almost falls off:: Maybe over here. ::swings ladder in the other direction::
K: Oh, it’s right here under the ginger ale decanter.
D: I can honestly say, this is one of the most well-written first issues I’ve ever read. G. Willow Wilson, who is also a Muslim woman, gives us the Kamala Khan. Kamala is a regular high school student in Jersey City. Kamala faces the normal stresses of teenaged America, but factor in the additional challenges of being Muslim in America, and well, high school is hard.
K: Kamala does ok. She’s got a supportive and loving family. Her brother would rather sit around and pray all day than get a job, but hey. Her best friend Bruno works down at the Circle Q corner store. Bruno is a good dude.
::whispers:: I think he likes Kamala.
D: ::whispers:: Of course he likes Kamala. They’ve been friends forever. They used to play Avengers and Aliens as kids!
K: ::whispers:: You are SUCH a boy.
D: ::yells:: I’M ALL MAN, LADY!
D: Anyway, the pressures start when their classmate Zoe Zimmer shows up at the Circle Q. You know the type: so over-the-top nice, that you just know they’re making fun of you, but they haven’t said anything bad to your face and you still want them to like you? Yeah. That’s Zoe.
K: I hate her stupid face.
D: Yup. That’s our Zoe. Kamala is usually happy staying home and writing her Avengers fan fiction, but tonight? She wants to go to the party down by the waterfront. With the regular kids. With boys. Why can’t she go?!
K: Because she’s just sixteen. And her parents said so, that’s why.
D: Lame. I’d go anyway.
K: No, you wouldn’t. But she did.
D: Yeah? Good for her! I bet it was a killer party.
K: It sucked. Her “friend” Zoe tricked her into drinking alcohol, which is a sin…
K: Yeah. And then there was the creeping evil fog that hit? Yeah, it knocks out Kamala. And while she’s out, she has an amazing vision.
D: Hold on. We need to talk about Adrian Alphona here. Mr. Alphona is responsible for bringing that vision, as well as the rest of G. Willow Wilson’s words, to the page. Fans of the much-loved RUNAWAYS already knew of Alphona. His work was new to me, and I still can’t stop staring at these pages. His richly organic pencils give us real people with real body shapes making real expressions. His backgrounds are filled with detail and subtle jokes and gags. All too often, I’ve finished a comic book in minutes. These pages reward you for the extra time.
K: So, back to Kamala’s vision…
D: The vision!
K: That’s what I said. The vision.
D: Kamala is visited by her heroes, The Avengers, but floating in the air with the aspect of her gods about them. Surrounded by floating fish, birds wearing hats, and even a porcupine, it’s an amazing sequence. She is confronted by her heroes, who challenge her to stop trying to fit in and to be herself. When Captain Marvel asks her who she wants to be, Kamala responds: “I want to be beautiful and awesome and butt-kicking and less complicated. I want to be you. Except I would wear the classic, politically incorrect costume and kick butt in giant wedge heels!”
Muslim-god-aspect Captain Marvel replies: “You must have some kind of weird boot fetish.”
K: And so, having confronted her inner turmoil, Kamala wakes up with amazing shape shifting powers. Coming to grips with this new reality, Kamala becomes the protector of Jersey City.
Ms. Marvel: “This is Jersey City. We talk loud, we walk fast, and we don’t take any disrespect. Don’t mess.”
D: That was awesome.
K: It was awesome. But it also summed up the book. This isn’t a macho-butt kicking story in 22 pages. This is about a young girl, in a culturally diverse city, trying to get to class on time, while her so-called friends tell her she smells like curry. This is a comic for that kid that may be looking at the comic shelf, or looking for downloadable comics, and just needs a hero that speaks to them.
D: :sips ginger ale:: Yeah well, it speaks to me, too.
K: Whatever, 40 year old white guy.