Title: Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal
Author: G. Willow Wilson & Adrian Alphona
Release Date: October 28, 2014
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Genre: Comics, Cultural Fiction (South Asian)
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 out of 5
Kamala Khan is a normal South Asian American teen, except for one thing: she’s been given the powers of Ms. Marvel, a superhero. Now, she must balance her hidden life with her duties as a daughter of protective Muslim parents.
Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal is a quirky and honest depiction of South Asian life today. Fifteen-year-old Kamala Khan struggles with her Muslim versus American identity, all while trying to do the right thing as Marvel’s newest superhero.
As I’ve been getting into comics, I’ve been saddened (but not surprised) to see that they have similar diversity issues that exist within traditional publishing, especially within the “Big Two” (Marvel and DC). Marvel, particularly, has been making strides to correct this diversity imbalance, and one of the ways they did that was by introducing a brand new Ms. Marvel: Kamala Khan. Now, if you don’t understand the way superheroes work, well, there’s the title and then there’s the person’s name. Most of us who only know superheroes through the movies think of Tony Stark as Iron Man or Bruce Wayne as Batman, but the fact is, others can rise in their places and become Iron Man or Batman (which indeed has happened in the comics world). Carol Danvers shed her Ms. Marvel name, graduating to Captain Marvel, and so a new Ms. Marvel was made: Kamala.
With that explanation out of the way, let’s talk about Kamala Khan. She’s a 15-year-old Pakistani American, and a Muslim, living in Jersey City. She loves the Avengers and is trying to balance between being a kid raised in America and living under her parents’ strict rules. She’s smart, funny, and a good person. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to see someone that looks like me in the pages of a comic; if this had happened when I was a kid, I would have likely been all about the superheroes. I love seeing aspects of Kamala’s home life as a South Asian teen conflict with her duties as a superhero. For example:
Not only that, but this comic is well written, funny, and engaging. The first volume (which includes the first 5 collected issues) sets up the character and her primary opponent. It’s more about getting to know Kamala and the world she lives in—yes, her superhero world where she’s coming to terms with her powers, but also being in a situation where, for the first time, she can’t turn to her parents for help. She has to learn to navigate her issues on her own; as a superhero, that’s what’s expected of her, not only to deal with her own problems, but to fight for justice on behalf of others. But Kamala’s also just a 15 year old with identity issues, torn between the world she sees at school and the more conservative Muslim world at home.
If I haven’t convinced you to read Ms. Marvel yet, well, I’m not done. The art in this comic really plays an important role. The colors are bright, but not stark. Alphona really knows how to draw teenagers; Kamala’s facial expressions are priceless and really underline her whimsical, quirky qualities. You can tell that, while she’s conflicted in some ways, Kamala is having a BLAST with this whole superhero thing.
Bottom line: If you aren’t into comics, but are interested, this is a good place to start. If you aren’t into comics, but are curious about the depiction of South Asians, well, you’ve seen it for yourself: Kamala’s fighting bad guys, doing her superhero duties, and gets a call from her mother yelling about how she’s late for her cousin’s mehndi. And if your are into comics, but the Marvel Universe intimidates you, Ms. Marvel is an easy entry into the universe, focusing on the character and easing you in. You really can’t get any better than that.
Also, here’s me dressed up as Ms. Marvel for Halloween.