Comic Review: Ms. Marvel #1

Back in November, the news that Marvel would be unveiling a new Ms. Marvel was huge, being revealed by the New York Times before blowing up across all aspects of social media. And I will admit, it was pretty important; the new Ms. Marvel would be a 16 year Muslim girl from Jersey City. Now, I'll easily admit that I was worried at first because the only aspect of the character that was being focused on were that she was Muslim. The news stories didn't mention anything else about her (except for the New Jersey thing). I could see why Marvel would attempt to open up the doors of diversity and create a new character that actually exemplifies the world around us. But if all the girl had to offer was her religion, she would just be a two-dimensional caricature, falling short of actually being someone.

I pushed that to the side and sent a tweet to my buddy Jay over at The Sexy Armpit. A new super hero from New Jersey was definitely in his wheelhouse and I wanted to make sure he knew about it. After a short conversation, he convinced me that I was "The Marvel Guy" and that I should be the one to cover it. I quickly agreed with him and, well, here we are.

The first issue is pretty much at the "getting to know you" stage, introducing Kamala Khan, an intelligent and well spoken 16-year-old girl. She comes from a stable household, lives in Jersey City and has a handful of good friends. She also dreams of becoming a super hero and writes popular Avengers fan-fiction for the internet. All in all, she's a regular Aughts child. One night, after leaving a party she sneaked out to attend, she is engulfed by a strange fog and has an enlightening conversation with Captain Marvel, Iron Man and Captain America. When she wakes up, she finds herself transformed.

For a start-up issue, Ms. Marvel was pretty stellar. Seeing as we're getting a new character in I don't know how long, the issue takes its time with introducing the cast to us. This isn't a "Here's Peter Parker; now he fights the Lizard" kind of thing. The issue can't take for granted that the reader has some kind of knowledge of who the main character is. Which is why it's acceptable for it to end with the reader seeing the hero in costume for the first time. It's a great build up to the cliff-hanger of an ending.

The issue was written by G. Willow Wilson, an award-winning writer and essayist who also happens to be a Muslim woman from New Jersey, so I guess there really is no one better to write a character like that than her. One of my biggest fears of the title, given the way Marvel was promoting it, was that Kamala's religion would be the focal point of her character. As someone who lacks a belief in organized religion, this wasn't something that appealed to me; while I think religion is OK as a moral compass, I don't think it should define a person. In a way, my fears were realized, but not in the way that I imagined. Kamala adheres to her religious doctrine, such as not eating pork, but she doesn't necessarily see the importance of it. In fact, in some cases, she rebels against it. To her, being a Muslim isn't her defining quality and most of the allusions to Kamala's religion are made from outside forces, like her father and the bitchy white girl from her school.

We also see that, while Kamala rages against the rules of her family, her father has taken a lax approach to much of his Muslim ideals. He mocks Kamala's brother's prayers, stating that if he prayed less, he'd have more time for find a job. Meanwhile, her brother, Aamir, fires back that he refuses to profit from usury, a jab at his father's job with the bank. So even in this small familial setting there are varying levels of religious adherence. We can see how Kamala developed her rebellious attitude. In her own words, she's "from here" and she just wants to experience life as a "normal" person.

Variant cover by Arthur Adams
Artist Adrian Alphona has a pretty distinct style and he makes it work in Ms. Marvel. The detail he puts in Kamala is remarkable, and is emphasized by the way he caricatures the supporting cast. Kamala's father is pictured as round and dumpy, with a big nose and loose jowls. Zoe Zimmer, the popular blonde at school, is long and lanky, her face lacking any defining features. Her boyfriend is shown like a football meathead, with a broad torso, thick neck, and big ears. Alphona's storytelling style is also simple yet just as effective. He chooses to view the action mostly head on, rarely varying his angles. But he adds small dynamic touches by subtly changing his view or tilting a panel slightly. It simplifies the read, making the action easy to follow. Alphona was a great choice for the book.

Though hesitant at first, I am pleased with the final product of Ms. Marvel #1. Wilson and Alphona make a great team and have introduced readers to a spectacular character. Kamala Khan has the ambition and energy to step into the role as Ms Marvel, and I'm especially proud to see a new heroine from New Jersey. My little home state doesn't get enough attention so anything that shares it in a good light is OK by me. I look forward to seeing what Wilson and Alphona have in store and will be heading out to the comic shop more often than I have been recently.

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