Character Reference is a weekly spot where I provide a letter of recommendation for a series you should try, kicking off with a selection of comics. Every Thursday will have an overview of a fantastic comic book series that you might otherwise have missed, covering a range of genres, styles and characters. Enjoy!
This week we’re going to meet one of my favourite actually super-powered heroes, the current Ms. Marvel (just FYI, Catwoman is my hands-down favourite character from a superhero universe, despite having nothing more than a whip and a feline-themed leather catsuit to her name; I don’t know what that says about me). Ms. Marvel is a powerful superheroine with shape shifting abilities. There have been a few characters with the name of Ms. Marvel including Carol Danvers, now Captain Marvel, who will be getting her own film in 2019 (estimated release)! However, the series I’m going to talk about stars the current incumbent of the title, Muslim-American teen Kamala Khan.
This is a truly ground-breaking run, with Kamala Khan being first Muslim character to headline a Marvel series, yet it never feels like it slips into tokenism or diversity for diversity’s sake; every decision and storyline of Kamala’s feels believable and rooted in her age, life and experiences. She is a character very much shaped by her identity, something that has long being lacking from superhero titles; lots of superheroes seem to exist in a vacuum and are written in a way that feels disconnected from real life. This Ms. Marvel feels like someone we can all relate to; she’s conflicted between multiple lives, her sense of responsibility to her family, her faith and her superhero alter-ego. Looking up to her idol Captain Marvel, she has to reconcile her aspirations with her own reality, as well as dealing with being ‘other’ in multiple senses in a less-than-understanding world. However, this is mostly handled with an exceptionally light touch; you can’t imagine Kamala sitting around being angsty in the Bat-Cave, feeling hard done by. She’s a go-getter who likes to actively work through problems rather than sitting down and accepting the status quo.
She’s a fantastic role model for young women as far as superheroes go; she’s smart, versatile, a quick thinker, compassionate and her storylines explore the conundrum of the modern woman; how do you balance being and doing it all? This series examines that question with nuance and a good dose of humour. The Ms. Marvel title also has fantastic art, which strikes just the right level of detail and realism whilst never skimping on the massive hands and super stretchy limbs that mark Kamala’s super-powered genes. She is also very recognisably a (not) normal teen; no super-sexualised skimpy costume, but instead a mega-cool red, blue and yellow get-up emblazoned with a lightning bolt that pays subtle tribute to her cultural heritage and is practical to boot.
In addition to her own title, Ms. Marvel is also currently involved with the teen hero team The Champions in the aftermath of the Civil War II storyline, along with Miles Morales (Spider-Man) and others. Kamala questions the judgement of her personal hero Captain Marvel, so once you’ve got into her run (starting with volume 1 – No Normal) you might want to check out her further adventures.
Title: Ms. Marvel
Writer: G. Willow Wilson
Artist: Adrian Alphona
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Status: On-going, plus cross-overs, most specifically Champions
Best for: Anyone who has ever had a crisis of identity, people going through a transformative life phase, superhero fans, actual superheroes