Ms Marvel #1 review

Kamala Khan is 16 and your average Jersey girl. Your average Jersey girl trying to juggle her dual heritages as a Pakistani Muslim and an American teenager. Her best friend is embracing her Muslim identity, her brother is abusing his, her mother wants her to be a good Muslim girl and her father, while more relaxed, has the normal fears any dad has about his little princess wanting to party with teenage boys.

Kamala dreams of being an Avenger, like her favourite, Captain Marvel. And it looks as if she’s about to get her shot, when the Inhuman-activating Terrigen Mists descend on the world. Kamala enters a cocoon state and when she emerges, she’s a superhero. She’s the new Ms Marvel.

Not that that’s how Kamala sees it; she’s in the clouds, where Captain Marvel is singing her a song. In Urdu. Captain America and Iron Man speak the lingo too. Kamala tells them she wishes to be ‘beautiful and awesome and butt-kicking and less complicated’. Captain Marvel advises her that less-complicated isn’t necessarily an option.

And that, in a nutshell, is the story of Ms Marvel’s first issue. We’re quickly introduced to Kamala and her world, and learn that it’s not necessarily the world she wants. It’s obvious that as her horizons expand, so will her troubles. And that’s what could make this book a classic Marvel series with a very different viewpoint, that of a young Muslim woman in a society that barely tries to understand, never mind love, her.

The strokes of G Willow Wilson’s script are a little broad on occasion, that is, every time all-American girl Zoe appears, with her condescending ‘understanding’ of Kamala’s faith and culture. But full marks for economic sketching of character. Plus, it’s refreshing that Kamala isn’t kicking against her culture, trying to be an all-American girl; it’s more that she’s aiming to find that happy mix between the different sides of herself.

Where this first issue does fall down is that it gives us no idea of what the new Kamala can do, of what this series is going to be. Pre-publicity gives me some idea of her new powers, but this issue would be more successful if we had a demonstration of them. A double-sized start would have helped, but times are hard and so I thank Marvel for a rare $2.99 launch. Starting the story in media res and flashing back is one way to do it, but it seems Wilson and editors Sana Amanat, Steve Wacker and Devin Lewis wanted to do some character building, really make us care about bright, frustrated Kamala before she gets her powers. While the trick worked, this is a superhero book and some genuine action – there is a fantasy fight sequence involving ‘Planet Unicorn’ – would have been useful. It’s not as if you can’t show character through ‘action in the Mighty Marvel manner’.

The very notion of a young Muslim superheroine (it seems everyone has forgotten MI-13’s wonderful Excalibur, Faiza Hussain) has caused media ripples, likely bringing in a lot of first-timers. This being the case, I’m not sure tying Kamala’s journey so tightly to that of Carol Danvers is a great idea – the issue-ending big moment seems wholly dependent on familiarity with Ms-turned-Captain-Marvel.

Or perhaps I’m overthinking, and underselling the intelligence of new, young readers. Maybe it’s all deducible from the rest of the issue.

I hope so, as I want books to succeed, find their audience. Certainly, I liked Wilson’s first effort a lot, and I similarly enjoyed the illustrations of Adrian Alphona and colour artist Ian Herring – Ms Marvel #1 is full of people, not types; the only perfect beings appear in Kamala’s dream sequences, and I suspect she’ll meet the grubbier, real-life versions of her heroes soon enough. Kamala herself is a cute kid, with the eyes of a dreamer, and I hope she never loses that quality. The hand-drawn page borders and wobbly narrative boxes also help evoke the idea of a life that’s a little rough around the edges. The letters are the work of the talented Joe Caramagna, and my only complaint is the choice of upper and lower case for the dialogue, which lends a tentative, kiddyish feel to the script. Oh, and ‘blonde’ has an ‘e’ when we’re talking female.

Sara Pichelli’s cover design – presumably a deliberate, if unacknowledged, homage – is eye-catching and clever, mixing superhero iconography with such signifiers of heritage as Kamala’s scarf and bracelet. Justin Ponsor provides the sympathetic colours.

So, Kamala’s here in a first issue that while a little problematic, is very engaging. Hopefully she’ll earn a run long enough to become the heroine she wants to be.

13 thoughts on “Ms Marvel #1 review

  1. Now you've drawn attention to that Supergirl cover I wish I wasn't quite so down on the interconnectedness of this #1 issue's continuity with Marvel crossovers elsewhere. Supergirl was a good series that often stepped outside the boundaries of the traditional superheroine tales, but lordy was it ever mired in DC continuity right from the very start – I seem to recall even DC fans and editors saying they didn't have a clue what was going on with it at the time.

    I think Marvel's aim with Ms Marvel's origin was creative synergy with the “Marvel Universe” as a brand in the same way Agents of SHIELD ties in with movieverse Marvel while in theory standing alone, too, but I would have thought looser ties to it would have been the way to go rather than immersion in a specific and current crossover that creates the impression (deliberate or accidental) that you need to be reading something else to be fully invested in this. Having said that, it seems to have avoided getting the character's origin too attached to continuity in the same way that Sword of Sorcery was (lead character Amethyst's backstory revealed as being closely tied to existing DC villain Eclipso), and hasn't thrown gang-rapes at us in an attempt to establish faux-grittiness, so it's already well ahead of the last teen superheroine launch title I invested in.

    Something I also didn't twig on first read-through was that the plot is structured like a Pollywood movie – complete with colourful costume and Urdu musical number. It would be interesting to see this made into a straight-to-dvd animation.


  2. I wanted to love this comic and I am happy to say that I did. I particularly like the quite subtle commentary on the lack of diversity in superhero comics. So when Kamala wishes to be like her role model, the result is a bit too literal.

    It could have been worse, I guess. She could have been a Wolverine fangirl.


  3. I wanted to love this comic. Too bad it was terrible. They harped on this being a great Muslim hero of Pakistani decent and instead gave us a girl that constantly reminds us that “normal” is a white (probably protestant) girl and at the end.. she actually is able to make it happen! And NOBODY seems to be calling Marvel on the fact that they COULD have had a proud Muslim girl as a hero and instead we get a girl that literally wants to be a typical white girl just like the nasty popular girl (that young Kamala apparently thinks is “super nice”) whose name escapes me. I mean.. we have a girl that is Muslim, of Pakistani decent (one of the few, if not ONLY heroes in all of comics of Pakistani decent), who is also a Shapeshifter in a world shortly after Skrulls had a massive invasion on Earth, so people are a tad leery of Shapeshifters, AND she's one of the new Inhumutants™(one of the new Inhumans created to be like mutants so that Marvel can make an X-Men movie without X-Men).
    Seriously, did we need this? If you wanted a Muslim female character to lead a title, why not Dust (Sooraya Qadir)? Why instead have we been given a girl that insists that “normal” is non-Muslim and white? Why can't she be remotely proud of who she is? Why can't she be proud of her differences (like her friends who both seem smarter than her imho or at least more socially aware).


  4. For reasons of political correctness, Martin, I am obliged to say that Pollywood and Bollywood are different beasts entirely… to people who live in Pakistan and/or India.

    I noticed extensive UK shooting in a lot of latter-day Bollywood films, all the same, to the extent that superhero film Ra One was mostly set in the UK. It's well worth a gander if you local library has a copy.


  5. I hope the reason this happened is so we see her learn normal isn't what she thinks it is and we watch her self discovery and realize she should be proud of herself and her heritage.

    Growing up a minority in a country like the US, white is the normal. I grew up an Indian (India) in the US during the 60s and 70s before there were many of us around. My brother, sister and I stood out like the proverbial sore thumbs. My sister and I wished we looked like our peers who were white and had European features. Neither of us felt attractive for years because we didn't see ourselves reflected back through society, and when you're a teenager, that matters.

    It's a different world for sure and there is far more diversity out there, however not as much as I thought there might be. My daughter is now approaching teenagehood, she's bi racial but you couldn't tell by looking at her. She is a spitting image of my sister.

    She doesn't struggle as much as we did with how we looked, but she's expressed irritation that she didn't inherit her dad's pigment and features.

    I think if this book can show Kamala learn that she, the way she is, is normal, that she is beautiful and should be, as you say, proud to be who she is, I feel it will be a fantastic book to share with those young people (boys too) struggling in themselves that they don't look like the models in the magazine, and even though their heritage is currently being vilified as terrorists, that is *not* true.

    I'd give this to my teenage son to read if this was the case too. Currently I'm warning him about profiling, because he too inherited my side's looks and color. My nephew and I were warning him the older he gets he might face profiling for looking like the stereotype of a terrorist. It's ridiculous and unfair but it is what it is.

    I think by opening the book with her struggles to accept herself, the reader is forced to examine their own prejudices and go on a journey with her to hopefully learn that Kamala in her own skin is as normal as the white girl next door.

    At least that is where I hope this is going..



  6. Top Anon, thanks for the comments, and I'm sorry you didn't enjoy the comic. I think perhaps you're judging what the series will be too soon, I really can't see her shapeshifting into a white girl and staying that way … the end of the issue is her subconscious giving her what it thinks she wants; she's going to be her own Ms Marvel, and her own features will be to the fore. There's no way G Willow Wilson, a Muslim herself, is going to put across the message that the faith Kamala has been raised in is inferior to any other.


    And thank you too, Maya, for sharing your story, perceptions and insight. I'm sorry you had a tough time growing up, and yes, while things have moved on to a large extent, non-white kids do indeed get looked upon with much more suspicion than their contemporaries. It's sad and it's wrong. If the new Ms Marvel series can help young people from multi-cultural background realise that they don't have to accept being the 'other', that they can be proud to be whoever the heck they are, that's wonderful. With luck, its a truth that young people of all backgrounds – and us oldies too – can latch on to.

    Thanks for brightening my day – you sound a great parent.


  7. Top anonymous responding. Where I grew up and still live, we're not the most racially diverse, but.. the population of pretty much every school I went to was about half and half (half white, half African American). I never met an African American kid in any of my schools that wanted to be white (i did meet a few white kids that didn't want to be white, but that's a different story). I went to a high school with a high (for the US at least) Filipino make up as well and they all spoke the Filipino language rather fluently (sometimes so they could talk about all us crazy non-Filipino kids without us realizing it). None of them that I met wanted to be white either. MY experience with that is that it's not “normal”. So if you want me to buy that as “normal”, you have to do a lot more work than just telling me this girl has decided for some random reason in a place I've never even visited that blond haired, blue eyed white is “normal”.

    As for G. Willow Wilson, I know she's a convert to Islam. And maybe part of the point of the issue was to show non-Muslims that the Islamic religion is not that far from a typical judeo-Christian household, but it'd be nice to see them as more than just another generic religious family since.. any religion could have achieved that same exact effect.

    Also, yes I may be judging the series too early and I'm sure it's going for a whole “be careful what you wish for” and “learn to love what you are” storyline, but.. it's crap. I didn't want to read a Disney special. I wanted to read a story about a young woman who as comfortable with who she is and openly accepting of her religion and heritage, as Marvel proudly advertised. I'd have the same issues, if they'd done a similar thing with Batwoman after launching her solo and suddenly decided she had to try being straight to learn to be a better lesbian. It's just.. not acceptable to me. and I don't get why NOBODY seems to find it problematic.


  8. 'I don't get why NOBODY seems to find it problematic'

    Because they can see that Kamala DOESN'T want to be white. Nowhere in the book does she profess a desire to be white. She wants to taste bacon. She wants a bit more freedom. But she doesn't want to be white.

    Again, she wakes up with a Carol Danvers makeover because she hero worships Captain Marvel, and her new morphing powers are responding to that. Does she seem especially thrilled to you?

    Anyway, the book apparently isn't for you, Fair enough.


  9. I hope this goes to the thread including Anonymous (I'm new to this site), but if not I stand by it: I can definitely agree that I think it was wrong of them to end the issue where they did. It made it seem far too probable (and I've seen a lot of people who were confused, offended, or surprised because they took it literally) that she had actually transformed into a blonde white woman, rather than just envisioning herself that way due to internalized racism and hero-worship. In another situation, I could be fine with it because I get that they want to create tension and curiosity for the next issue, but in something as culturally heavy as this I think it's important not to send such conflicting messages, even accidentally–especially in the first issue, when people are still deciding what they think of the book.

    I have loved a lot of G Willow Wilson's work in the past, but at the end of the day I'm mostly white (I present as white) and non-Muslim, so it's not up to me to decide or argue whether it's right, wrong, problematic, progressive, etc. I think it's great Marvel has created a Muslim-American female character, but the character can be handled in good and bad ways, and while I can like it, I'm not the one being represented here, so I wouldn't presume to say whether it's being done “right.” You're not the only person who has problems with it–I think you're the second or third I've seen, so you're not alone.

    I enjoyed it a great deal as a mostly-white American non-Muslim who has spent a fair amount of time in the Middle East, but Pakistan isn't in the Middle East and I can't pretend to know what anyone's immigrant experience is like. I do think the transformation to blonde white girl will be reversed in the next issue, but I completely understand why the way this one was structured could be upsetting.


  10. Hi Miwome, the comment landed in the right spot, and thanks so much for sharing your experience and insight. I see what you're saying, and I hope people aren't put off trying the second issue.

    I was delighted to enjoy this as much as I did, not having loved the previous GWW work I've read. As a decidedly non-teenage White British male, I'm definitely not looking for Kamala to especially reflect me, but I remember feeling like an outsider as a gay kid, and I think the comic is resonating a bit with me. I'm looking forward to seeing the mail on the first issue, finding out what the general tone of the posts is, if there is one. I'd not be surprised to see many people finding something with which to identify.

    Thanks for dropping by!


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