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After spending several years in social services, Nicole has finally followed her lifelong dream of being a full-time writer. In addition to her work for The Hudsucker, Nicole is also a staff writer for Womanista. An avid comic book fan, BBQ aficionado, professional makeup artist and first-time mom, Nicole can be found exploring Kansas City rich history when she's not blogging about suburban life at Suburban Flamingo.

A New Kind of Hero: Ms. Marvel

This spring something big happened in the world of comics.  A new person took up the Ms. Marvel mantle and that person wasn’t a busty blonde. It was an awkward, intelligent teenage Pakistani-American girl who just so happens to be Muslim. Let that sink in for a moment. Ms. Marvel, a major player in the Marvel comics universe, has long been the domain of an attractive stereotypical “All-American” Barbie-esque woman named Carol Danvers. She’s pretty awesome in her own right, but most women in comic and especially those that fill significant roles follow that visual template. Now that has been turned on its head.

Image credit: Marvel.com

Image credit: Marvel.com

The new Ms. marvel is Kamala Khan, a young woman trying to figure out who she is as she comes of age between two worlds: the typical American high school culture and the traditional Pakistani Muslim family dynamic. She is, in many ways, an ordinary young woman. What makes her special is what makes her game-changing: she is not white and not Christian. She also doesn’t need anyone to save her. She is becoming her own hero.

It is refreshing to see this in comics. Comics are not exactly friendly to women. Both DC and Marvel have long histories of objectifying women visually (a quick look through nearly any issue of any title will net you a selection of scantily clad, sexualized ladies,) weakening them in the guise of power (many superhero women have passive powers or major issues emotionally that blocks their power potential,) or straight out victimizing them in the name of plot device (rape, pointless murder and death, being blinked out of continuity.) It is unusual for a woman to be an interesting, vulnerable being that resembles an average person. It is unheard of for that woman to be a minority.

This matters for a number of reasons. Young women are reading more comics. With the mainstream popularity of the Marvel cinematic universe the comics are being consumed by a wider audience. This expanded audience includes more women and non-whites who have been exposed to the stories and characters through the films. Additionally, the rise of “geek-culture” has also brought wider, non-male, non-white audiences to comics. This expanded audience is looking to find themselves reflected in the stories on the page and now with a prominent character being a character of our American diversity readers have a hero who is more like them. For Muslim readers having a hero who shares their faith is validating and, especially for younger readers, gives a positive take on a portion of the population who routinely sees only negative images of their culture portrayed. Having an American Muslim heroine is a far, far, cry from the more common”terrorist” caricature so often and erroneously presented.

Heavy social issues aside the comic is a great read. The first four issues of “Ms. Marvel” are on stands now so it’s easy to get in from the beginning and readers are getting a true, ground-up beginning. We meet Kamala as she is searching for her own identity as the teen daughter of Pakistani Muslim immigrants.  She’s American, but an immigrant so she is stuck between the culture where she has grown up and so badly wants to fit in and the culture of her heritage. She is also Muslim which puts her odds with the parties and pranks of teen culture, but also at odds with her own budding feminist self. She is outspoken while being told her cultural leaders to be submissive (there is a great panel in one issue where she points out that there was no partition at the Prophet’s mosque in Medina that kept women and men separate and is shut down by her elders.) And she is a big fan of the Avengers and the former Ms. Marvel (now Captain Marvel) Carol Danvers, her favorite hero. When she decides to take a chance and sneak out to a high school party, Kamala finds herself in over her head and leaves…only to end up overtaken by a mist that leaves her with superpowers. These new superpowers are tested in short order when she discovers a classmate who has been less-than-kind to her is in dire trouble. Kamala must decide what to do with her new-found powers in that moment. Readers are treated to a powerful and beautiful moment when Kamala’s faith comes into play as she decides what to do, relying on a teaching from the Quran that is a more eloquent and humbling version of Spider-man’s “with great power comes great responsibility” bit. But even in her heroics Kamala is still trying to find herself as she can only save her classmate while pretending to be her idol, Carol Danvers. Of course, she gets busted for sneaking out so she’s got even more to deal with leaving her with the complex full plate of finding herself, finding her place, managing family with her own dreams, and now she has this terrible and wonderful secret gift that she can use to change the world if only she can sort out who she is.

Sounds an awful lot like most of us mortals walking the world. She may look different but Kamala Khan is really a reflection of us all.

You can pick up physical issues of “Ms. Marvel” at your local comic shop or purchase digital versions at Marvel.com

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