Recently, I’ve had a bad habit of buying #1s of all of the series I’m interested in, and then either letting the single issues stack up or buying the trade when that drops. In Binge-Reading, I’ll catch up on everything I’ve been missing since falling off the monthly train. Last time, I caught up on Erica Henderson and Ryan North’s The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. That series sees a new and revitalized take on the eponymous hero, but today I’m going to binge-read a series that puts an entirely new character into a familiar role.
In the current landmark Ms. Marvel run by writer G. Willow Wilson, artist Adrian Alphona, colorist Ian Herring, and letterer Joe Caramagna, Kamala Khan picks up the legacy name left behind by Carol Danvers when she became Captain Marvel. Kamala is a high school student who writes Avengers fan-fic, fantasizes about being a hero, and struggles to balance her Muslim faith with her desire to fit in with her classmates in Jersey City.
SAD NERD OBSESSION
Kamala’s best friend Nakia, in the first scene of Ms. Marvel, teases our hero by characterizing her as having “sad nerd obsession with the Avengers.” What makes this series incredibly poignant, beyond the wish fulfillment of comics readers relating to a pre-powers Kamala’s passion for superheroes, is the way her drive to be heroic goes beyond wanting to emulate her idol, Captain Marvel. When a Terrigen Bomb doses Kamala in its transformative mist, she finds herself with the power to manipulate the size and appearance of her body to the extreme. This leads her to save a classmate from drowning, with her body changed to appear as Carol Danvers in her “classic, politically incorrect” Ms. Marvel costume. Over the course of the first arc, though, Kamala learns that her motivation for saving lives goes beyond her desire to be like an Avenger. Her heroism is a moving combination of her goodness as a person and her values based on her religion. My favorite quote from the book is right before Kamala saves her first life. She says:
“There’s this Ayah from the Quran that my dad always quotes when he sees something bad on TV. A fire or a flood or a bombing. ‘Whoever kills one person, it is as if he has killed all of mankind – and whoever saves one person, it is as if he has saved all of mankind.”
Though it takes actually living this way for Kamala to learn how to rise as her own unique hero, this respect for all life, no matter if the person is cruel or even evil, is what makes her motivation for her heroism emotionally resonate.
As I caught up on the first volume, No Normal, I fell in love with the way G. Willow Wilson plots this title. Seemingly unimportant exchanges, like Kamala’s friend Bruno being asked by his brother to take some money from the deli where he works, end up building into the main plot by the end of the chapter, only to lead Kamala to an even larger issue. All of this, entwined with the ongoing family and friend drama, gives Ms. Marvel’s world an incredibly lived-in feel. The superhero/villain conflicts come up naturally, feeling like blips in Kamala’s actual life, tying deeply into her relationships and her character arcs, rather than the action driving the story. That’s what makes Ms. Marvel stand out to me – it’s a very Peter Parker set-up, both from the focus on character and her honorable reason for fighting the good fight, but those are structural similarities. Beyond that, Kamala’s life and story are utterly unique.
I still have a lot of Ms. Marvel to catch up on, but G. Willow Wilson’s writing and Adrian Alphona’s lovely art has me just about as obsessed with the character as Kamala is obsessed with the Avengers. No Normal is told with nuance, grace, and a sense of humor that makes it feel real, as if it could be happening just down the street from you.
And I kind of wish it was. The world would benefit from a hero like Kamala Khan looking out for us.
NEXT TIME: Binge-Reading… Thor: Goddess of Thunder
PAT SHAND writes comics (Destiny NY, Hellchild, Van Helsing), novels (Iron Man, Avengers, Charmed), and pop culture journalism (Blastoff Comics, Sad Girls Guide). He lives in New York with his girlfriend Amy and their four cats, where they spend most of their time attempting to convince one another that it would be inadvisable to get a fifth.