Last week, John and I were at Comic Carnival perusing the aisles for new reading material. There it was, the cover of Ms. Marvel, catching my eye with her lightening bolt t-shirt and a colorful scarf tied around her neck.
Normally I wouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, but when it comes to comics, the illustration is just as much a part of the story as the words behind it. It’s no secret that female superhero characters are drawn in a way that emphasizes our sexuality, from larger-than-life breasts to barely covered bums and more. Many have argued that both men AND women are drawn in an unrealistic manner, and while that is true to some degree, I’ve never seen a male comic book character who spends the entirety of his days without a t-shirt or in shorty shorts. Just sayin’. That’s another issue in itself that I’m not going to address today, so read this awesome article that discusses body type, clothing and other ways in which women are over-sexualized in comics.
Why should you pick up a copy of Ms. Marvel? Here’s my reasoning:
1. Her age – Kamala is a 16-year-old high school student who battles the same issues that just about every high school kid goes through. From being invited to parties where alcohol is involved to not “fitting in” with the “normal” crowd, Kamala struggles to understand why she is so different. The cover of issue 3 shows her in front of a few lockers like she’s being pushed inside, presumably hiding her newfound superpowers as she attempts to figure out what to do with them.
Kamala isn’t the only teen superhero out there, but she offers a distinct viewpoint that relates to her superhero character so well that I don’t think the comic would be the same if she was portrayed as an adult. As a 26-year-old woman, the days of being worried about high school drama are (mostly) over, but I can easily relate to Kamala and her struggles. If you flip to the last page of both issue 1 and 2, you’ll find printed letters to the editor that praise Ms. Marvel for being a young, relatable comic character.
2. Her race and religion – Kamala is Pakistani-American and lives with her mother, father and brother in Jersey City. She is often made fun of for smelling like curry or for having strict rules set on her by her parents. As a practicing Muslim, she honors different holidays and eats different food, and that difference makes her feel abnormal.
While people connect with Kamala because of her religion, anyone can relate to being different. As a teenager, we all struggled with what we WANTED to do vs what we thought we should do because of what our friends/family/anyone on the street may have thought about our decisions. These are important life lessons that Kamala is learning, especially the one about sneaking out of your parents house.
3. Her super power – In issue 2 you are introduced to Ms. Marvel’s powers. After she’s transformed, she’s able to shrink down to size and grow her hand to reach out and help someone who fell in a body of water. This is called shapeshifting, and it’s a power that’s traditionally been reserved for villains, not heroes.
In Kamala’s case, shape-shifting seems to symbolize that flexibility is strength, not only physical but emotional. Of course, she hasn’t quite figured it out yet, but she recognizes it as a 6th sense. It makes me want to read more issues and read about how she uses this power in different ways.
4. Modern day – Early on you learn that Kamala writes Avengers fan fiction, which “has almost 1,000 upvotes on freakingcool.com,” Kamala says to her mother, who understands very little of her online world (and perhaps little of Kamala as a whole). The author’s writing reflects that not only is Kamala tuned in to a modern era, she has to deal with problems that will only arise because of the setting.
In issue 2, Kamala shows her shape-shifting abilities and finds herself surrounded by people who shine their camera phones in her face, asking for her autograph while they presumably record her superhero skills. This is what will keep me reading Ms. Marvel as I try to figure out how she plans on covering up her skills in a day when you can’t sneeze without it being tweeted across the Internet.
5. New Character – Ms. Marvel is essentially a new character, as the author G. Willow Wilson describes “I’ve never before tried to make a super hero from scratch. I’ve always worked with established super heroes in the past.” A quick Wikipedia search explains that Ms. Marvel has made appearances in the late 1960s before becoming a mainstay in The Avengers, and later is renamed Captain Marvel. Though that character has flowing blonde hair and is over-sexualized to the tenth degree. It seems that the previous Ms. Marvel will bear little resemblance to Kamala’s portrayal of Ms. Marvel. If you want to reach about the Carol Danvers version of Ms. Marvel, go here.
The cover of issue 2 and 3 suggest that Ms. Marvel is going to be portrayed as herself, a 16-year-old girl. Though something tells me the situations she will find herself in are much more adult than what she’s been presented with so far.
Final thoughts? Ms. Marvel is a must read comic series for anyone looking to relate to being different. I’m looking forward to issue 3 which comes out on Wednesday, April 16.