Review – Ms. Marvel # 1 (2014)
I really am not the person who needs to be writing this review. There are many people who have more right to tell you why this book existing is good for Marvel, good for comics, good for diversity, good for female readership, just plain good. I am not the person who should be typing these words. I am a straight, white, male. There are plenty of books on the shelves for me. I can read just about any mainstream title and enjoy a sort of wish-fulfillment fantasy by swapping myself out with the title character. I could be Batman. I could be Captain America. I could be Peter Parker or Tony Stark. I could be Bruce Banner or Wolverine or Superman or Cyclops. The generic template for the superhero is one of the straight white male. We are the default, the blank slate. The starting point for 99.99% of mainstream comic characters. There are some wonderful characters that are more diverse and I am sure they are inspirations to the younger generation of readers discovering comics in this sort of geek renaissance that we are experiencing, but the comic book world needs and deserves more. As a white straight male I understand this. I know that seeing the same white straight male characters ad nauseum gets repetitive and boring. I myself am guilty of being repetitive and boring. I imagine that folks who do not identify as straight white males find it frustrating, to say the least, that there aren’t a greater number of characters out there for them to identify with. Marvel seems to be attempting to rectify that by not only developing new characters that stand apart from their white male brethren, but giving them real focus in their own books. We’re getting a Latino Ghost Rider solo book soon, people. Sit and think on that for a minute.
So Ms. Marvel is indeed a refreshing book. We have a female lead, still a teenager dealing with school and family issues in the tradition of great Marvel heroes like Peter Parker. We have a character who is of Pakistani descent living in New Jersey in a post-9/11 world, dealing with the ramifications of her own culture as it relates to her social life or lack thereof. If anything, this book is one of the most honest looks at the perception of “the foreign other” in the high school structure that I can remember in recent memory. I had a good friend in high school who went through much of the same struggle that our protagonist, Kamala, goes through in this issue; the balance of faith and family with school and societal norms. Kamala is a very realized character. She wears her inner conflict on her sleeve. Who she is and who she wants to be are at odds with each other in a way that feels very human and real. She is a teenage girl dealing with serious issues, the escapism that she seeks through writing Avengers fan-fiction is a solid indicator of what Kamala truly is like as a person. She longs for power as a means of control, not of others but of herself. She sees strength in The Avengers and admires it.
From a writer’s standpoint the issue is quite strong. We are introduced to the character and we organically learn her motivation. We take the journey with her and we can empathize with her because even if everyone reading the book isn’t Muslim, we all can sympathize with being a teenager and disagreeing with our parents over the level of trust and responsibility we were mature enough to bear. That is why it is so important to have books and characters like these, because there is an across the board connection that we can feel with the character regardless of our race or upbringing. There is a universal quality to any character in a comic book. We can relate to a talking raccoon and his sapling BFF so we should easily be able to identify with another human being, regardless of their nationality or heritage. But it is important that these characters exist for that one comic reader who is the real-life iteration of Kamala who wants to be represented in graphic fiction. She deserves this character. We all deserve this character.
Artistically speaking the book is an A-plus effort. Adrian Alphona puts some gorgeous artwork on display. It takes me back to the days when Runaways was still being published and makes me wish there was more stylistically emboldened artwork like this on more titles. The colors and the expressiveness of the characters blend together to make a truly astonishing debut issue that sets it apart from the myriad other first issues that hit the stands on any given week. Honestly, the book is simply gorgeous.
I shouldn’t be the one saying this but everyone should buy this book. It is an important book. But it is also a good book. Sometimes we have to suffer through importance but this time around we actually get to enjoy it. So please take the time to do so.