Ms Marvel by G. Willow Wilson & Adrian Alphona

21st Feb 2014

Meet Kamala Khan, Marvel’s newest breakout superhero character. Kamala is just your average Muslim Pakistani American teen. She argues with her parents, she sneaks out to attend parties, she writes fan fiction. Oh and she’s a shape shifting kickass superhero.

It is incredible that Ms Marvel is currently the only solo book published by Marvel featuring a leading woman of colour. With constant critique of Marvel and also DC’s fleeting interaction with diversity, you could say there was a hell of a lot riding on this book.

With G. Willow Wilson behind the wheel, herself a convert to Islam, and with this book being primarily aimed at brand new readers / non comic fans, this almost feels like Marvel may actually be putting their money where their mouth is.

Kamala’s daily life is completely relatable, she spends Friday nights at home obsessing over fandoms (hers just happens to be The Avengers… and unicorns), she desperately wants to be part of the in-crowd at school, she struggles to be independent, and she certainly doesn’t need any boys rescuing her from battles.

As a second generation Pakistani American, she feels alienated from her peers and pleads with her father to let her attend a party happening that night. When she is sent to her room instead, she sneaks out, finding that she’s just as unwelcome at the party and is tricked into drinking alcohol and told “Ugh Kamala – no offense, but you smell like curry. I’m gonna go stand somewhere else.”

Leaving the party on her own, Kamala is engulfed by a strange fog filling the streets which seems to cause a very revealing and strange hallucination. The result of that hallucination? Well, that would be giving away the all important big reveal at the end, but lets just say it’s super transformative…

Ms Marvel doesn’t read like a typical first issues of a Marvel comic, and that’s no bad thing. Most amazingly, the comic confronts all the most subtle aspects of everyday racism which can be so hard to articulate.Ms Marvel doesn’t read like a typical first issues of a Marvel comic, and that’s no bad thing. Most amazingly, the comic confronts all the most subtle aspects of everyday racism which can be so hard to articulate. As popular blonde hipster, Zoe, bumps into Kamal and her best friend Nakia, Zoe demonstrates her ignorance and total lack of caring towards cultural difference.

Firstly Zoe identifies Nakia as ‘Kiki’, and exclaims in all politeness, “your headscarf is so pretty Kiki, I love that color. But I mean… nobody pressured you to start wearing it, right? Your father or somebody? Nobody’s going to like, honor kill you? I’m just concerned.” Later as Kamala expresses confusion as to why Nakia doesn’t like Zoe, Nakia attempts to articulate this subtle racism explaining to Kamala that “she is only nice to be mean.”

Small interactions such as these are what sets this comic apart. These oh-so-subtle ‘I can’t be racist, I have a black friend’ interactions are often invisible within comic narratives and hopefully audiences both new and well versed in the supehero genre will welcome the refreshing dialogue and characterisation of Kamala.

This is G. Willow Wilson’s first big title at Marvel. Having previously worked on smaller Marvel titles such as the Mystic mini-series, she has also received critical acclaim for her creator-owned graphic novel Cairo published by Vertigo. The pairing of Wilson with artist Adrian Alphona is incredibly encouraging. With Alphona’s experience on the successful long running teen series Runaways and Wilson’s own experiences of cultural difference as a Muslim woman, the comic is rich in details and succeeds in creating a fully immersive world for all readers.

Anticipation for this book is at an all time high, and with so much attention from the wider mainstream press, all eyes are on Kamala. There are sure to be many Marvel crossovers and events in store with plenty of possible interactions within the wider Marvel universe for Kamala to become 2014’s biggest breakout superhero character. But it’s her strength, her awkwardness, her fiercely independent nature, and her determination that will make her the superhero we can relate to.