In a move which proves the relevancy and usefulness of the comic book world, Marvel has revealed that they will be running a new series in which Ms. Marvel will be a teenage Muslim girl growing up in New Jersey.
The new character, named Kamala Khan, is the daughter of Pakistani immigrants. The idea for the new series was originally conceived by Sana Amanat and Steve Wacker, two Marvel editors. Amanat and Wacker were discussing the issues that Amanat faced growing up as a Muslim-American, and the two then thought about the real lack of female superheros with their own series and also the absence of cultural lenses for comic book characters.
Typically, people have a tendency to try to be "politically correct" and avoid discussing religion or other cultural factors. However, Amanat wants readers to empathize and sympathize with the struggles that Kamala faces on a day to day basis: “Her brother is extremely conservative. Her mom is paranoid that she’s going to touch a boy and get pregnant. Her father wants her to concentrate on her studies and become a doctor.” Kamala's Muslim heritage will play a large part in her personal development, and as such is a perfect opportunity to explore the plights that minorities in the United States currently face.
Amanat and Wacker have brought G. Willow Wilson on board to write the series. Wilson was the 2013 World Fantasy Awards winner for best novel for her Alif the Unseen and has worked extensively on comic books. Wilson is also a converted Muslim and has spent much time in the Middle East as a journalist.
With two Muslim, female members executing this project, it is hard to imagine something going wrong. Amanat is not naive, though: “I do expect some negativity, not only from people who are anti-Muslim, but people who are Muslim and might want the character portrayed in a particular light.”
As Wilson sees it, this is her chance to attract unconventional readers, especially younger females, to the comic book world: "I wanted Ms. Marvel to be true-to-life, something real people could relate to, particularly young women. High school was a very vivid time in my life, so I drew heavily on those experiences -- impending adulthood, dealing with school, emotionally charged friendships that are such a huge part of being a teenager." She adds that "It's for all the geek girls out there and everybody else who's ever looked at life from the fringe."
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the story for avid comic book readers will be how Wilson decides to incorporate the original Ms. Marvel, Carol Danvers. After Kamala realizes that she has obtained special powers, she adopts the name of her childhood hero, Ms. Marvel: "Captain Marvel represents an ideal that Kamala pines for. She’s strong, beautiful and doesn’t have any of the baggage of being Pakistani and ‘different’."
The new "Ms. Marvel" series is part of an ongoing effort of Marvel to rebrand many of their series, a project called Marvel NOW! After the finale of the "Avengers vs. X-Men" storyline, Marvel decided it was time to change the game and make an attempt to appeal to an ever-expanding and diverse audience. While Kamala may be the first ever Muslim character with her own series, she will not be the only female lead in Marvel NOW! - Both Elektra and She-Hulk are receiving new runs.
Comic books have often been criticized by the community writ-large as championing violence, delusional fantasies, and social ineptitude. However, the relatability and pertinent nature of comic books make them a fantastic medium to get children interested in reading and to comfortably explore topics generally deemed "off-limits". Children experience a multitude of pressures and stresses on a daily basis. Comic books provide children with an opportunity to read about characters experiencing the same issues and allows them to see said characters rising above their difficulties in order to achieve greatness. Ms. Marvel will be an excellent opportunity for young female and Muslim readers to find that role-model all children need, and could also serve as a great vehicle for young males to understand the challenges of living in a patriarchal society.[Images via Marvel and Twitter]