A Beginner’s Guide to: Ms. Marvel (2014)
In the post-Watchmen world, there’s this pervasive sense that good superhero comics are serious and gritty. I think that’s ridiculous, and I think a good cape comic can touch on real issues while maintaining a sense of fun – and that’s why I’m in love with Marvel’s newest superhero: Kamala Khan aka Ms. Marvel. Like the Young Avengers, Kamala is an original character whose story touches briefly on events in the larger Marvel universe, but for the most part the comic is quite insular. It follows the adventures of a Pakistani-American teenager (the first at Marvel) who balances her conflicting identity with her new superpowers.
In the first issue, we learn that (like so many of us), Kamala is a huge superhero fangirl (her Avengers fan fiction is very popular). She’s got normal teenage problems, like controlling parents and not fitting in at school, but her problems are given fresh perspective by Kamala’s unique background. Writer G Willow Wilson is very aware of the ways these typical teen issues would be felt by a Muslim teenager. But at the same time, there’s no sense of this comic being too aware of its own importance; Kamala is a landmark character in a sea of straight white male superheroes, but it just reads like Wilson is trying to write a good comic, not one that’s trying to fill a niche. Kamala’s cultural background is an important part of her identity, so it plays into the comic, but it blends seamlessly with the rest of her shenanigans. Any new superhero has to find a costume, and teenagers are usually forced to use whatever they can find in the closet, but how many other heroes have ended up using a burkini? Kamala is relatable and hugely endearing, with believable but never cutesy dialogue. In terms of its structure, Ms. Marvel is a very traditional comic, but its unique protagonist contributes to its feeling entirely fresh.
Adrian Alphona’s art is pitch-perfect for the series, matching Wilson’s spirited writing with lively art that is expertly supported by Ian Herring’s colour art. The character designs all lean toward the more abstract and cartoony, which works perfectly for a series focused on a younger character, and prevents Kamala’s shape-changing powers from becoming unsettling. Kamala herself is adorable, from her huge facial expressions to her wardrobe – I don’t know why she frequently sports a fuzzy winter hat, but it’s endearing as heck.
At only 5 issues so far, Ms. Marvel is easy to jump into, and while it touches on the larger Marvel Universe – Kamala’s powers come from the Inhumans’ Terrigen Mist – you don’t need to know anything about continuity to enjoy the comic. If you want something fresh and fun that captures the excitement of superheroes that we gravitated towards as kids, while being mature and progressive enough for adult readers, then this is the comic for you.