One of the seeming goals of Marvel Comics’ recent Marvel Now! initiative has been to put more female-centric titles on the stands. Black Widow, Elektra, and She-Hulk are all currently headlining their own series, along with two teams of female-centric X-Men (in X-Men and Uncanny X-Force). In March, they will be joined by Captain Marvel, a relaunch of the title which recently saw Carol Danvers, longtime Ms. Marvel, elevated to the rank of Captain Marvel (a name previously held by a male character mostly remembered for dying of cancer in the early 80s). This left the Ms. Marvel name up for grabs, and with Ms. Marvel #1, a seventh female-centric title joins Marvel’s title list. Oh, and the new Ms. Marvel is also a teenaged Muslim.
As a result, this issue arrives amidst a din of hype and expectations. When the character was announced last November, news outlets from The New York Times to Entertainment Weekly to The Colbert Report discussed it. Marvel (and other comics publishers) have featured Muslim characters before, but never one this high-profile, one expected to carry a title, and one with a superhero name steeped in tradition, but lacking the cachet with the general public necessary to guarantee a hit. Without a doubt, this is a bold, necessary, and admirable move by Marvel. Comics need more diversity and more characters with distinct cultures and viewpoints to serve as points-of-entry for new readers and to teach new perspectives to existing ones.
But all the hype and media frenzy and good intentions won’t matter a whit if the book itself is no good. New readers may be drawn to a title headlined by a young female Muslim, but they won’t stay if what they find is lousy. Fortunately, Ms. Marvel #1 kicks off the new series admirably. While Kamala Khan, the new Ms. Marvel, may be relatively unique to the world of comics, her story is an archetypal one. She is a teenager, struggling to find her place in the world amongst her friends, her family and her culture, when she’s hit by a green cloud comprised of the Terrigen Mists (a genetically-altering chemical released in the wake of Marvel’s recent Infinity crossover event) that grants her super-human abilities. It’s the classic superhero origin, the ordinary person made extraordinary who must now strike a balance between both worlds.
Writer G. Willow Wilson does an admirable job of making Kamala herself entertaining and relatable from the beginning (In an amusing note, Kamala idolizes Captain Marvel and is an Avengers fangirl, putting her on equal footing, presumably, with many of the book’s potential readers.) while also setting up a supporting cast and various points of conflict, making her feel like a fully-realized character right from the get-go.
Written as it is in the age of decompression, this issue is only the beginning of Kamala’s origin story (by issue’s end, it’s not clear yet what her powers are, nor does she adopt the name Ms. Marvel; gone are the days of Spider-Man getting a complete origin in eleven pages), but it still feels satisfying in its own right. We’re left eager for the next issue because we want to find out what happens next, not because this issue feels incomplete.
Art comes from Adrian Alphona, most well known for his work on Brian K. Vaughn’s Runaways series. As with that series, the art here is clean and expressive, evocative of animation, with each character’s personality displayed by their visual as much as their dialogue. Most importantly, none of the characters are overly-sexualized. All too often, a female-led comic book is undermined by the choice of artist, one who twists and contorts the lead figure into impossible positions to show off T&A, making it clear the intended audience remains the heterosexual male.
Amidst all the hubbub, then, Ms. Marvel #1 succeeds because it tells an entertaining, well-crafted story, built around a protagonist who, while unique, groundbreaking and admirable, remains eminently relatable and fun to read. A strong start to what will hopefully be a long and lengthy run for the new Ms. Marvel.
This is not the first appearance of Kamala; she previously appeared briefly in Captain Marvel #14 and #17, before making her first full appearance in All New Marvel Now Point One #1 last month.
Other superhero Muslim characters of note at Marvel include one-time X-Men student Dust, current member of the X-Men M (Monet St. Croix), Faiza Hussain, former member of Paul Cornell’s Excalibur and current wielder of the sword by the same name, and at DC, Simon Baz, the most recent Green Lantern, and Nightrunner, one of the international Batmen established by Bruce Wayne in the “Batman, Incorporated” storyline.