It seems Marvel wasn’t kidding when they promised new and better things for ‘Marvel NOW!’ when it debuted in 2012. Fans got new titles, new teams, new story arcs, and everything felt bigger. Continuing on that track, Marvel has announced a reboot of the Ms. Marvel series. However, this time, it won’t be Carol Danvers taking up the mantel. The new Ms. Marvel is going to be sixteen-year old Kamala Khan, who is a Muslim and of Pakistani descent. This appears to be a pretty bold move from Marvel, but considering their attempts to add some diversity to ‘Marvel NOW!’ it doesn’t come as a surprise.
Despite the fanfare around Kamala, this won’t actually be the first time a Muslim superhero appears in the Marvel universe. The comic book company already has a roster of Muslim characters that have popped up in various series. Some of these characters that have appeared in the main Marvel Universe (Earth-616) are:
Sooraya was born in Afghanistan and made her debut in New X-Men #133, released in 2002. She has the power to turn her body into a sand-like substance. After being rescued by The X-Men, she joins up with the New X-Men and becomes part of their roster. She is of Muslim faith and observes the Islamic Hijab. While Sooraya was generally well received, there has been some controversy regarding the way some artists draw her abaya, making it tight around her body. Nevertheless, Dust is an example of positive depiction of a Muslim character in the Marvel universe. She even made appearances in ‘Wolverine and the X-Men’ animated series.
Monet St. Croix/M
Monet made her debut in 1994, as a teenaged member of the mutant group Generation X. Monet has a full set of standard superpowers, ranging from super strength to telepathy, but she is known more for being a controversial take take on Muslims. She isn’t conservative in her dress or mannerisms. Her costume shows her cleavage as well as the rest of her body and she has had sexual relationships outside of marriage. However, her story lines have been used to comment on anti-Muslim sentiment, making her a good addition to the often allegorical X-Men franchise.
Josiah al hajj Saddiq/Josiah X
Formerly known as Josiah Bradley, Josiah made his debut in 2003 and is the genetic son of Isaiah Bradley, known as the black Captain America. After Isaiah was court martialed and imprisoned, his DNA was extracted and used to create another Super Soldier. Josiah was the result. After serving in Vietnam and being subject to a court martial himself, he converted to Islam and changed his name to Josiah Saddiq. He went on to become a Muslim minister and opened up a Muslim mission in Brooklyn.
Dr. Faiza Hussain/Excalibur
Faiza is a British Muslim who debuted in 2008 as a part of Captain Britain’s serial. Faiza became the wielder of the mythical sword Excalibur and took on the name as a codename to strike fear in the hearts of her enemies. Aside from the sword, she has the power to disassemble things into their components and put them back together, which means she can alter things at an atomic level according to her will.
So, how is Kamala Khan different from the aforementioned heroes? Though Marvel has introduced Muslim characters before, in the main and alternate universes, they haven’t been given their own solo books. Kamala won’t be a side character in another superhero’s story. She’ll have her own title. Not only that, Kamala will be taking on the mantle of Ms. Marvel, who is a very big name in the comic-verse.
According to Marvel, Kamala Khan is a sixteen-year old Muslim-American from Jersey City, New Jersey. And like any other teenager, she is trying to find her true-self while dealing with the pressure she feels from her family. Add in new superpowers, and Kamala has a lot in her plate. Marvel Comics Editor In Chief, Axel Alonso, said that while she is exploring the many facets of her identity, her new superpowers will send her on an adventure of a lifetime.
According to The New York Times, Kamala came into existence because of a conversation between series editor Sana Amanat and fellow editor Steve Wacker. Ms. Amanat was telling him about her experiences as a Muslim-American, growing up different and having few to no superhero role models to look up to. Deciding to do something that was culturally-specific, they brought onboard G. Willow Wilson, a comic writer as well as a covert to Islam. They created Kamala and gave her the power to shapeshift; she can increase or decrease the size of her limbs or shift any other part of her body. A huge fan of Carol Danvers (who presently goes by Captain Marvel), Kamala will take up her role model’s former mantel. Ms. Wilson says that Captain Marvel represents an ideal that Kamala looks up to because she doesn’t have to worry about things like being ‘different’. Compared to the challenges Kamala will face at home, fighting villains should be a piece of cake.
Kamala’s family includes a conservative big brother, a father who wants her to become a doctor, and a mother who is worried that her young daughter will get herself pregnant. Even though Marvel is trying to not come across as stereotypical, I can’t help but feel that’s the direction they have taken, especially after how the new family has been described. The whole ‘conservative brother, demanding father, paranoid mother, and rebellious teenaged daughter’ sounds like something I’ve experienced before. Why couldn’t they have shown a family that actually embraces the fact that their daughter would be an amazing superhero? It’s not like those folks haven’t seen other superheroes flying around in the Marvel Universe.
However, I have faith in Ms. Amanat and Ms. Wilson. Both are Muslims themselves and I believe they can take this series in a direction that shows Kamala’s struggles in a way that fans can relate to. So, for now, I will over-look the currently stereotypical family…baby-steps Marvel, baby-steps.
Some fans might not be happy about the new development and Marvel is ready for the backlash. They experienced similar responses when the company announced the debut of a Black-Hispanic teenager, Miles Morales, as the new Ultimate Spider-Man, in 2011. Similarly, DC had its share of backlash when they introduced the Muslim Green Lantern, Simon Baz, in 2012. Though both characters had fans voice their disapproval, over time they found a loyal fan base. Marvel seems to be expecting the same kind of response when Kamala shows up in her own series in February 2013. Yes, there might be some backlash, but if the story provides fans with something they can relate to, Kamala can fast become a household name. According to Ms. Amanat, the writers know that they will have to “face negativity from not only Anti-Muslims, but from Muslim readers who might want to see Kamala represented in a particular light”.
But I hope that the negative response won’t be too overwhelming. After all, as comics make slow strides to be more inclusive, their fan base comes to reflect those ideals. Recently Marvel announced that Loki is now canonically bisexual and gender fluid. Fans reacted positively to this announcement, even the ones who knew about the character from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This mostly positive reaction shows that fans are ready for more diverse characters. Not every superhero needs to be a straight, white American male anymore. What matters is the story and character portrayal that readers can relate to.
I have high hopes for the new Ms. Marvel. The art looks amazing and her costume isn’t something that Muslim comic books fans should get upset about. I personally like her costume and her powers. And if her shape shifting powers allow her to change her gender as well, I’m looking forward to how that will be handled in the series. Judging by what the writers have said, the new Ms. Marvel is more of a story about finding who you are and what it means to grow up different. It’s something that non-white readers can look at, and through Kamala see their own experiences represented in a comic book.
I hope to see the Marvel Universe grow and continue to diversify itself. What do you think of the new Ms. Marvel? Do you think having a Muslim teenager of Pakistani descent is a bold move from Marvel? Are you excited to see what they do with her character? Nervous that they won’t do her justice? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
All photos and properties copyright Marvel Entertainment LLC.
Farid has a Double Masters in Psychology and Biotechnology as well as an M.Phil in Molecular Genetics. He is the author of numerous books including Missing in Somerville, and The Game Master of Somerville. He gives us insight into comics, books, TV shows, anime/manga, video games, and movies.
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