The all-new Ms. Marvel has had a lot of pre-publicity, not only because it’s a new ongoing series featuring a female lead, still sadly a rarity for mainstream superhero comics, but also an ongoing series featuring a young Muslim character, which may very well be a first for a major publisher. While the first issue of Ms. Marvel doesn’t break any new storytelling ground in terms of how superhero stories are told, it is nevertheless a total delight to read. Writer G. Willow Wilson, author of the Vertigo graphic novel Cairo, is both a woman and Muslim, so she’s the perfect person to bring this character to life with an authentic voice.
Wilson’s writing reflects the best kind of teen characterization, and harkens back to things like Clueless and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And the art from Canadian artist Adrian Alphona, best known for his work on Brian K. Vaughn’s Runaways, is absolutely beautiful; it might be this side of “too cartoony” for some, but every page has a stunning attention to detail, and all his characters have expressive faces that tell the story as much (if not more so) than the dialogue does. I’ll take that over photo-realistic-yet-stiff-and-lifeless any day.
The first issue of Ms. Marvel opens in a convenience store in Jersey City, where sixteen year old Kamala Khan (like most superheroes worth their salt, Kamala has an alliterative name) is chatting with her friend Bruno, who works the counter and is smelling delicious meats with her friend Nakia looking on dismissively. Smelling, I should reiterate, because Kamala is from a devout Muslim family, and can’t eat pork, no matter how much she might want to. In almost every way, Kamala is your typical American teenage girl; She just happens to be Muslim. Being sixteen, she just wants to be “normal,” or at least what the American media says is normal, in other words, white and Christian. If you grew up as not being just one of those two things, you understand the yearning to be just like everyone else. If you grow up in this country being neither, you spend most of your time trying to be either the complete opposite, or doing your best to be just like everyone else and hoping people just look past the fact that you don’t look exactly like they do.
Kamala happens to also be a superhero fangirl, especially when it comes to the Avengers. She writes Avengers fanfic online, and dreams of being like one of her heroes. One night, when she sneaks off to a party that she was forbidden to go to by her father, she sees the true face of the popular kids at school, who we see earlier in the issue as being “nice” to her, but in a condescending fashion. Now that she’s broken her family’s rules by going to a party where there is alcohol and debauchery going on, the popular kids see it as Kamala breaking away from her traditions and “siding” with them. They see it as an excuse to make fun of her culture to her face, instead of behind her back like they did before. Kamala leaves the party, disgusted and disappointed.
This being the Marvel Universe though, a strange mist descends upon the city, knocking Kamala right out. While in (what we assume) is a dream state, She has a vision of the Avengers, Iron Man, Captain America, and her idol, Carol Danvers, the former Ms. Marvel and current Captain Marvel. Captain Marvel asks her a simple enough question: “Who do you want to be?” To which Kamala answers, “You. Except in the classic politically incorrect costume and wedge heels.” (I gotta side with Kamala on this one; while I love that Carol Danvers has now been elevated to Captain Marvel, her old costume of thigh highs, red sash and opera gloves was way better.) As the vision continues, Captain Marvel says, “All right kid… as fate would have it, you are about to get the total reboot most people most people only dream about.” Kamala then awakens in some kind of cocoon, for lack of a better word, and when she breaks out, she’s wearing the classic Ms. Marvel costume, thigh high boots, heels and sash and all. AND…she’s suddenly blonde and Caucasian. While it’s fair to say the blonde and Caucasian part won’t last too long, it will be interesting to see Kamala make the choice to not look like what everyone expects is the “ideal” when actually being given a choice, and just looking like herself.
Just on a pure storytelling level, Ms. Marvel #1 channels old school sixties Marvel in the best possible way. The first six pages introduce not only Kamala, but her friend Nakia, her older brother, her parents, and the annoying popular kids at school, Zoe and Josh, all quickly and efficiently. You immediately know just about everything you need to know about all these characters with just a few choice words and phrases. Her older brother and parents have chosen to live a more serious, devout Muslim lifestyle; her friend Bruno clearly has a crush on Kamala, and the popular kids are more like frenemies than enemies, but still awful underneath all their outward chipperness. All of this character info is handled with the snap of a finger and not drawn out needlessly, to which Wilson has my sincere gratitude. It’s something all too rare in modern comics.
This comic offers pretty much everything you could want from a modern superhero book. It’s fun without being dumb, has a light breezy air to the writing, and more than anything, the storytelling is efficient. In this era of long, drawn out stories, here we are presented with an origin story that takes place all in one brief issue. This is why the book harkens back to classic Stan Lee for me, but with a modern touch; much like Amazing Fantasy #15 back in 1962 told Spider-Man’s origins in a brief 15-page story, this does the same in only a slightly longer length of time. Oh, we still don’t know how Kamala got her powers exactly, but regardless of what the answer is, we got all the basics we need to know in this first issue.
People say they want diversity in comics; Well, time to put your money where your mouth is and support this book. Not only is Ms. Marvel a book with good intentions, it’s also well done enough that it stands on its own regardless. It’s just a well done superhero comic, period, and my hope is that fans will rally behind this one.