I’ve talked a lot about the changing dynamics of the comic book industry over the past few months. We’ve seen DC’s latest attempts to intrigue a female readership and some of the changes made to brick and mortar stores to create a more inclusive environment. Now Marvel has stepped up their game with the introduction of a brand new superhero that could change the way this generation views the superhero genre.
Marvel has been busy rebranding. Their aptly titled All-New Marvel Now line has moved into its second wave and features new creative teams, storylines, costumes, and characters, all focused on bringing in new readers and expanding the reach of the Marvel Universe. Many of these changes reflect a growing awareness of the diversity in comic book readership. One of Marvel’s flagship properties, X-Men (Brian Wood & Olivier Coipel) features an all-female cast. Loki: Agent of Asgard (Al Ewing & Lee Garbett) capitalizes on the popularity of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki in the Avengers movie franchise, and Ms. Marvel (G. Willow Wilson & Adrian Alphona) introduces us to a brand new character that the industry sorely needs.
Kamala Khan is a 16-year-old, first generation Pakistani-American, practicing Muslim. She lives with her parents and brother in Jersey City, is obsessed with Captain Marvel (comic book hero Carol Danvers and the original Ms. Marvel) and dreams of the things every teenager wants—purpose, freedom, and acceptance.
Marvel’s character roster is not shy of cultures or ethnicity but this book fills a void. She’s not part of a larger group, like the diverse cast of the 90s New X-Men. She’s not an Avenger, Defender or an X-Man. The reason that Kamala Khan is so important is not only that she exists, but because this is her story. Kamala is just Kamala and because of that, we get to see her thoughts, her identity, and her views of the world. She discusses her heritage because it’s a part of her life and upbringing. Most importantly, the story moves beyond pandering stereotypes and creates a human being. Kamala acts like an individual. Ms. Marvel is her origin story and we get to see it through her singular view and from the very beginning.
In many ways, Kamala reminds me of Spider-Man. She’s young, struggling with her identity, and is given powers she never imagined (except in fanfiction.) While the character of Miles Morales (a Black Hispanic youth) created an internet frenzy when he (spoiler alert) took over the mantle of Spider-Man in the Ultimate Universe after the death of Peter Parker, Kamala’s introduction seems more low key. Maybe the culture has finally become more accepting. Could it be that it’s no longer newsworthy when someone other than a white male is deemed a superhero?
Kamala Khan is a touchstone for many people who lack representation in this medium (Muslims, people of colour, women) and yet, everyone can identify with the struggles of growing up and acceptance. Marvel Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso agrees, saying “the fact that Kamala is female and a first generation American who struggles with the values and authority of her immigrant parents might give her story different shading, but ultimately, her story is universal.”
It’s the perfect jumping-on point for someone who is interested in comics—no baggage—only a brand new character with a unique story to tell. Issue #1 of Ms. Marvel was released last month and is available online and at your local comic book shop. Issue #2 arrives March 19th, 2014.