The Latest Ms. Marvel Shapeshifts Comic Stereotypes

Adrian Alphona, Ms. Marvel Sketches, Courtesy Marvel

Adrian Alphona, Ms. Marvel Sketches, Courtesy Marvel

Meet Kamala Khan: she’s a 16-year-old Pakistani American girl living in Jersey City. She loves Marvel comics and even writes her own fan fiction about The Avengers. But she believes, “My chances of becoming an intergalactic superhero are even slimmer than my chances of becoming blond and popular.”

But when Captain Marvel herself gives Kamala shape-shifting powers, she has to create her own identity and embrace her Islamic heritage as the newest incarnation of Ms. Marvel.

The overwhelmingly positive reaction to Marvel’s update proves that being blond isn’t a prerequisite for popularity anymore. For many years, Marvel presented Ms. Marvel as the buxom and scantily clad Carol Danvers. Like many of us, Kamala grew up idealizing this narrow representation of female superheroes.

Recently Mirius Gallery presented visual artist Sandra Chevrier’s, Les Cages: A Fractured Gaze, which explores this dysfunctional relationship between females and their comic book representations through multimedia works.

Sandra Chevrier, Les Cages: A Fractured Gaze, 2014; courtesy Mirius Gallery
Sandra Chevrier, Les Cages: A Fractured Gaze, 2014; courtesy Mirius Gallery

“The comic book collages, at once anesthetizing and alluring, echo rather entertaining pop-art references that eventually [belie] the bitter irony that these females have been silenced, smothered, and even blinded by the very mechanisms that seduced us into their existence,” Mirius’ website states.

Kamala receives her superpowers while experiencing an identity crisis brought on by these same societal pressures. At first she plans to kick butt as Carol Danvers in the “classic, politically incorrect costume” Ms. Marvel was known for, but the figurative and literal wedge heel doesn’t fit.

Sara Pichelli & Justin Ponsor, Ms. Marvel Issue #1 Cover Art, 2014; courtesy Marvel
Sara Pichelli & Justin Ponsor, Ms. Marvel Issue #1 Cover Art, 2014; courtesy Marvel

Assuming someone else’s form does not make Kamala feel beautiful, strong or brave. In the first four issues she begins to explore what does. She re-purposes a modest “burkini” bathing suit and taps into her video gamer reflexes to save her peers as a new Ms. Marvel.

As one of the few representations of Islamic characters in the comic world and the only female protagonist of her kind, the pressure is on Marvel to convey a well-rounded character.

Writer G. Willow Wilson, who calls herself a professional genre-bender, told Wired Magazine, “The key thing is authenticity, and not trying to please everybody with a cardboard cutout that doesn’t feel like a human being with flaws and quirks and charm.”

Illustrator Adrian Alphona rounds out the characters with dynamic panels that reflect the awkward movements and conflicted personalities of modern teenagers discovering their identities: secret or otherwise.

The fifth and final issue of this story arc came out on Wednesday, June 18, 2014. Let Marvel know you appreciate diverse characters like Kamala by calling your local comic bookstore and ordering Ms. Marvel comics. You can also purchase digital issues through Marvel’s Digital Comics Shop.

Keep an eye out for a trade paperback that will combine the first five issues into one volume later this year.

Author

Adrienne Blaine

Adrienne Blaine is a Millennial writer from the South Bay. She has a BA in Comparative Literary and Cultural Studies combined with Communications and Media Studies from Franklin University Switzerland. She currently works as a writing and reading instructor and academic interventionist.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor