Monday, September 15, 2014

The Pull List: Ms. Marvel

As a general rule, I try to at least skim several DC and Marvel titles, just to make sure I'm somewhat in the know in case a customer has a question. This past week, I've read nearly all the Future's End one-shots that have been published so far*, which was quite an undertaking, and even squeezed in the second installment of Death of Wolverine in between Captain Marvel and Deadpool. But not once did I think that I'd be reading Ms. Marvel.

If you look back on my previous Pull List ... lists, you'll notice that not once has Ms. Marvel been on it. I kind of likened it to last week's Teen Dog: cute but not really worth my time. The importance of a Muslim Pakistani girl becoming a superhero was not lost on me, but I was worried that it would be too gimmicky, possibly even pandering to bring in readers, only to utterly fail and then close any doors for even more minority characters to lead their own books. I didn't want the new character to be a token or a notch in Marvel's diversity belt. But here's the thing: I absolutely love this series.

Cover art for Ms. Marvel, Issue #8
Via Newsarama
After reading the most recent issue, I went through the back issues (we only had 1, 3, 4, and 5, sadly) and immersed myself into the world of Kamala Khan, and it is now plainly clear to me why this title is as popular as it is, demanding a sixth printing of the first issue**. Kamala is obviously an Every Woman, a normal girl pushed into extraordinary circumstances, and even though she is in an ethnic, racial, and religious minority (in terms of the U.S.), she is no different than any other sixteen-year-old girl. She just happens to be Muslim. In a Q&A session, Sana Amanat, the editor of Ms. Marvel and a Muslim-American herself, stated,
"As much as Islam is a part of Kamala's identity, this book isn't preaching about religion or the Islamic faith, in particular. It's about what happens when you struggle with the labels imposed on you and how that forms your sense of self. It's a struggle we've all faced in one form or another and isn't just particular to Kamala because she's Muslim. Her religion is just one aspect of the many ways she defines herself."
To be honest, what I was dreading most about Ms. Marvel was that it would turn into something akin to those godawful Christian fiction novels I used to read when I was a kid. The authors' personal beliefs would compel them to infuse each paragraph with as much God/Jesus/Holy Spirit*** as possible but couldn't figure out a way to make the actual story interesting. Since this is a Marvel title, it's doubtful that it would happen that way, but it crossed my mind. Both Amanat and writer G. Willow Wilson, a convert to Islam, have done an excellent job making sure that this comic isn't a religious mouthpiece, choosing instead to focus on Kamala herself. And in doing so, GASP, all of the Muslim characters - from Kamala's conservative Muslim brother, Aamir, to her best friend, Nakia Bahadir - are as well-rounded and likable as the non-Muslim ones (Zoe not included, since she's basically a shade-tossing, privileged bitch). It's like they're, you know, people or something.

Another big addition to the plus column is how truly hilarious this series can be. One of my favorite panels is from the first issue, where Kamala is interacting with what she believes is a hallucination of Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers).
Via Fresh Print Magazine
The pose and expression are perfect and I actually laughed aloud when I first read that page. Plus, Cap looks kinda ... sad? Perplexed? But the whole series so far has moments like this everywhere, actively engaging in goofy yet legitimately funny situations that makes this nearly all-age-appropriate. That's not something that is easily accomplished, but all talents**** involved manages to do it effortlessly (well, not effortlessly, but they make it seem like it).

I also absolutely adore (alliteration FTW) how fangirly Kamala is about other Marvel superheroes. In the first issue (see the above photo from Fresh Print Magazine), she's wearing an outfit inspired by Carol Danvers' Ms. Marvel, and in Issue #8, she is dressed as Captain America. In an earlier issue, she totally geeks out when she meets Wolverine, mentioning her fanfic that featured him (and was highly upvoted, apparently).
Via Comics Reader
Because seriously? This is totally how I would have reacted if the comic book and anime/manga characters with whom I was obsessed as a teenager suddenly came into my life and told me that I was one of them. Or hell, this is how I'd act today if I met Dolly Parton, but that's neither here nor there.

I've already put aside $15 for the trade paperback that's coming out in the middle of October because, in all honesty, I want to make sure that, if Three and I end up having kids, they have access to this brilliantly witty and entertaining story, in which a minority has as much a chance to make a difference as a white, Christian person does. In which a young woman learns about herself and starts to become comfortable with the identity that she chooses. In which people of different ethnicities are treated as individuals that don't necessarily match up with preconceived prejudicial attitudes. And if Marvel continues with this series, eventually adding even more titles with characters from different backgrounds, racial or otherwise, I might start buying more of their books instead of just reading them at work and then putting them back on the stands. Despite their recent missteps - hello, Manara variant cover - I believe that the company stands a far better chance of staying relevant well into the future of comics, and Ms. Marvel is definitely a great first step in that direction.

* Action Comics, Aquaman, Aquaman and the OthersBatgirl, Batman, BatwingBirds of Prey, Constantine, Detective Comics, Earth 2, Grayson, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, Green Lantern Corps, Infinity Man and the Future People, Justice League, Justice League UnitedNew Suicide Squad, Superboy, Superman/Wonder WomanSwamp Thing, Trinity of Sin: The Phantom Stranger, and World's Finest. Out of all of those, I think I only really liked World's Finest.
** Check out this article on the Daily Dot from June of this year to get a better idea of why this is actually a huge fucking deal.
*** This is one reason why the book of Esther is my favorite book in the Bible. It never mentions God (at least, the Christian version doesn't? I don't know if it's any different from the Jewish one.), but it's obvious that Esther was connected spiritually to something greater than herself. And she saved her people!
**** Apart from Amanat and Wilson, we've got Adrian Alphona (Issues 1 - 5, 8 - ???) and Jacob Wyatt (Issues 6 and 7) as the artists, Jamie McKelvie (who does the artwork for the beloved The Wicked + The Divine) as the cover artist, and Ian Herring as letterer.
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