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.