I must first establish my credentials.
I have none.
No, seriously. I have never, ever, owned a comic book involving superheroes in any sense other than reference. The comic titles I do own? Strangers in Paradise. Transmetropolitan. A few random Sandman comics, which I guess comes close-ish to superheroes in that the Martian Manhunter & Wesley Dodds make appearances. I’m not sure Morpheus counts as a superhero. A few Scott Pilgrim books, again, I guess Scott has some super powers, if only in his own mind. But spandex tights and capes? Nil. Incredibly disproportionate females? Nope. Evil masterminds ready to unleash hordes of robot assassins? Does Gideon Graves count? No, my villains are Darcy Parker, an insane president and crippling self-doubt and image issues.
I really enjoy superhero stories though. As with any geek around my age, I’m more than familiar with the big heavy-hitters, Supes, Batman, Spider-man, the X-Men, etc. But most of my exposure has come through cartoons, and later movies. To be honest, I’m a lot less familiar with the Fantastic Four & Dr. Doom than I am Spider-man and Doc Ock or the X-Men. I just haven’t really enjoyed comics. Oh I’ve read a few belonging to some of my friends – but never enough to be familiar with who writes these things, and more to the point, who the hell DRAWS these books?
Oh, I could link an image here if I wanted. But this is nothing shocking, is it? Comics and anime have mocked their own before – think Red Monika from Battle Chasers or Faye Valentine from Cowboy Bebop. It’s not the only reason I’ve stayed away from comics, in fact, truth be told, there was certainly a period in my post-pubescent life when I would have flocked to the insanely proportioned heroines or heroes of comics. Mostly, it’s the volume and inconsistency, the need to always retell the same story over and over. How many times do we need to examine just how fucked up Bruce Wayne is? Is it really worth another look at Superman’s commitment to the American Way? HOW MANY TIMES MUST UNCLE BEN DIE?
So today I broke down, of a sort. I bought my first superhero comic, and by way of a review, I adore it. I bought the first 6 issues of Ms. Marvel, a character I’ve never followed, have only peripheral knowledge of, a character whose new incarnation I have almost nothing in common with. I couldn’t be happier with the purchase.
Kamala Khan is actually not really a different character. She’s a teenage hero, a subgenre that combines the challenge of being hero and doing the right thing with the constant identity crisis of being a teenager. She’s a misfit, not unlike some of our favorite characters (read: Spider-man.) She’s a geek and a pretty nerdy girl. She’s shy, socially awkward, but is a good kid, is intelligent, well-thought, and has a good heart. She’s your average American girl. She’s also a Pakistani immigrant and a Muslim, making her the first Muslim character to headline a comic book.
I must first establish my credentials. I have none. I was raised Roman Catholic, and in full disclosure, a theology to which I no longer subscribe. I grew up on the West Coast in the 80’s and 90’s, a far cry from Kamala’s Jersey City of 2016. I have no reference to Kamala’s particulars; her religion is a mystery to me, her city has only been referenced to me as a location of some of my favorite mob movies. And yet, I found the book exceptional at making all of this available and familiar to me. Is her overly devout brother any different from my relatives that lean a bit too much into the Church? Are her parents any less protective and conservative and well-intentioned than those in Petaluma? Granted, growing up as a young woman is not something I can readily relate to but I enjoyed the writing so well, how the book highlights her experiences as a brown girl in suburban New Jersey without clubbing anyone over the head with it.
So far, I’ve been incredibly pleased with the series. It’s only 6 issues in but it’s got a great sense of humor, fabulous art and well-crafted story that does the right thing in “show not tell”.