Comic books and superheroes have long been seen as something only enjoyed by nerdy boys and teenagers with pocket protectors, thick glasses and a lack of social skills. However, recent surveys have shown that as many as 47% of regular comic book readers identify as female, and comic related pages on Facebook have and average of 53% of likes coming from women. It’s hard to tell if this is a new thing brought about by the mass appeal of superhero films, or if it has always been this way. Either way, marvel had the sadly revolutionary idea of introducing many new characters that were more representative of the diversity that one would see in real life. These new comics were part of their All-New All-Different series of comics, which sought to introduce many new takes on old characters as well as entirely new characters. Marvel sought not only to tell new stories, but to tell stories from perspectives that are often ignored or disregarded in media as well as create characters that their audience would be able to relate to. These new characters included new takes on Wolverine, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, and Captain America alongside many others. By far, their most popular new hero was the new Ms. Marvel.
Ms. Marvel is a Pakistani-American teenager from New Jersey named Kamala Khan. She is a Muslim woman, and while not the first Muslim superhero, she is the first to have her own comic book. Kamala is a high school student who is obsessed with superheroes, video games, fan-fiction and other teenager hobbies. She has an overbearing family who she has to worry about pleasing while managing her heroic duty. Kamala’s best friends are a boy named Bruno and a girl named Nakia. Bruno is the only person who she lets know about her powers and secret identity, and he does everything he can to help her. She is set up as a character that is very easy to relate to and empathize with. She is a character that almost every one of her age can see themselves in.
Kamala’s introduction to powers is interesting in how it relates to her identity as a Muslim and a woman. She was given powers by a mysterious mist while sneaking out to go to a party. The party didn’t even interest her, but she wished to prove that she wasn’t an antisocial loner. She also hopes that if she can prove herself to her peers that they might see her as less different and maybe be a little bit less mean spirited to her. On her way home after leaving a strange mist envelops everything around her and sends her into a dream where she sees multiple heroes including her favorite, Captain Marvel surrounded by Islamic religious imagery. Captain Marvel expresses disappointment in her for sneaking out and lying. They ask Kamala who she wants to be and who she wants to become, and she responds saying that she wishes to be like Captain Marvel herself, kicking butt and standing for virtue. Kamala then wakes in a cocoon and finds that she has literally become a younger captain marvel, when she went by Ms. Marvel.
Instead of being overjoyed to have become her idol, she immediately hates this new form. She hates the high heel boots and skimpy tight clothing. She doesn’t want to be her, she wants to be herself. While stumbling around trying to figure out her new powers, she witnesses a drunk girl who bullies her being pushed into the water. This prompts Kamala to recall a quote from the Quran “Whoever saves one person, it is as if he has saved all of mankind”. With those words in her head she doesn’t hesitate to save the girl. While saving the girl, Kamala realizes what her powers are when her arm stretches out and grows to rescue the girl. After saving her Kamala becomes herself again and realizes that she has the opportunity to help people. This is her first step towards putting her powers to helping people, and the start of her heroic career. She goes on to create her own costume to conceal her identity and takes up the name of Ms. Marvel to do good in the world.
Becoming someone else leads Kamala to the realization that she has gained the power of shape shifting and can alter her body as she pleases. Kamala doesn’t use this power to become someone else ever again, only using it to empower herself and to help others in situations that call for it. Instead of changer her looks she “embiggens” herself growing parts of her body for various purposes. She never actually changes away from being Kamala in anything but costume. Kamala describes the experience saying “Being someone else isn’t liberating. It’s exhausting.”. There is a real feminist message in that she doesn’t need to become someone else to help people, and that she doesn’t need to or want to change who she is for anything.
There is also a feminist message in how she operates as a heroine. She never overcomes obstacles through violence alone and finds that it can only be a last option for her. Instead her solutions usually come from organizing and uniting people. For example, when the world seems to be coming to an end, she headlines efforts to gather people at her school and inspires people to work together. Her solution is to bring people together as equals, which is a big part of feminism.
Interestingly, Ms. Marvel is in many ways the perfect answer and opposite to postcolonial criticisms of hero stories. Many hero stories that are the subject of postcolonial criticism because of how they portray groups in a way that contributes to negative cultural views. Ms. Marvel breaks so much of that portrayal in interesting ways. Kamala is a character that is easy to empathize with and see yourself through. Her story has more in common with what everyone has gone through in high school than it does with most other heroes. In a way, she has become the Spider Man for a new generation. She is what would be described as an everyman character, even though more accurately, she could maybe be an everybody character. Almost everyone can feel a connection to her story, no matter who they are.
Even though she has broad appeal and is easy to relate to, being a Muslim teenage girl is still a huge part of her story. A lot of her struggles are those that Muslims and girls face. She is often influenced by Islam, using her abilities to help people and better her community. She is proud of her identity and embraces it. She deals with Islamophobia and the general ignorance that nearly any Muslim woman if forced to face in real life. Her stories present an honest view of Islam, and one that helps to promote understanding, which is very important in the times we are living in.
Ms. Marvel is one of the most successful Super-heroines of all time, and broke comic book sale records. Many people clamor for her to eventually get her own movie, and she has already appeared on Marvel’s TV shows and games. Her rampant popularity proves that there is space for new and different hero stories that break trends.