Muslim Teen To Kick Butt As Marvel’s Latest Superhero

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Art by Adrian Alphona and Sara Pichelli

Ms. Marvel, a well-known character in Marvel comics, has come a long way since 1968, when she appeared as a muscular, sexualized blonde superhero in thigh-high patent-leather boots. The newest Ms. Marvel is a 16-year-old daughter of Pakistani immigrants from Jersey City. In February 2014, Kamala Khan will be the first Muslim woman character to headline a Marvel comic.

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Carol Danvers, the first Ms. Marvel

Marvel’s characters include aliens, mutants, other-world gods, super-soldiers and super-geniuses who are known for their incredible powers and certain interrelated personal flaws. Storm, The Black Widow, Invisible Woman, and Carol Danvers (the original Ms. Marvel) are a few of the famous women Marvel heroes.

The comic book company should be both applauded and sometimes chastised for its depictions of Ms. Marvel. Calling her “Ms.” in the ’70s shows that Marvel acknowledged the changing times by incorporating a title that did not include a woman’s marital status. In addition, Carol Danvers was depicted as a feminist editor of a magazine for women (prior to that she worked for NASA and the CIA). At the same time, Danvers—like other women comic superheroes—fought crime in Spandex leotards and underwear. Those women are also much less known by the general public, and far less likely to have lead roles in Hollywood films drawn from the comics.

Khan isn’t Marvel’s first Muslim woman superhero, either: Sooraya Qadir (also known in X-men comics as Dust) is an Afghan American mutant who can transform into a living sandstorm; Dr. Faiza Hussain, who appeared in Captain Britain comics, can disassemble objects and people into their component parts and Monet St. Croix, a telepath with superhuman speed and strength, appeared in X-men comics. Unlike Kamala Khan, though, they’ve all had supporting roles, while Khan is the first Muslim character to have her own series.

In that series, Khan will discover that she is a shape-shifter who can shrink and grow her entire body, as well as specific limbs. Eventually, she will learn to transform into different people and objects. Her storyline includes her identity crises over her abilities to polymorph as well as her cultural identity (straddling American and Pakistani culture).

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Art by Adrian Alphona and Sara Pichelli

G. Willow Wilson, the comic’s writer, said she wanted the story to be true-to-life; she wrote it “for all the geek girls out there, and everybody else who’s ever looked at life from the fringe.” Already, Khan is more realistic than the original Ms. Marvel, who was 5-11 and tremendously muscular, yet still somehow managed to weigh 124 lbs. Khan is drawn as a normal teenager. Her crime-fighting costume incorporates the classic Ms. Marvel lightning bolt, but is not nearly as overtly sexy as that of Danvers—possibly to respect Khan’s Muslim upbringing.

Of course having a starring Muslim character may bring some controversy Marvel’s way. As series editor Sana Amanat told the The New York Times,

I do expect some negativity … not only from people who are anti-Muslim, but people who are Muslim and might want the character portrayed in a particular light.

Other critics are hesitant to pat Marvel on the back before they see the series. They worry that it won’t be very successful because the company won’t give her as much promotion as they do for their white male heroes.

As Muaz Zekeria, editor of a video gaming blog, told NPR,

Any Muslim superheroes I’ve seen introduced go through the same cycle: introduced; heavily featured in one book; book either gets canceled or wraps up; character fades into the background; and is rarely, if ever, heard from or featured again. This also goes for most minority characters.

We can only hope that the new Ms. Marvel’s giant morphed fists and feet not only dispatch her enemies but also kick butt in promotion and ratings. It would be nice to see her and other women superheroes make it into marquee roles on the big screen as well as on the little page.

Photos of Kamala Khan courtesy of Marvel Comics, Adrian Alphona and Sara Pichelli

Photo of original Ms. Marvel courtesy of CalebJoe via Flickr.

IMG_8982Shae Collins is the previous owner of a Marvel encyclopedia of  every character ever made. She is also the creator of A Womyn’s Worth, a social commentary blog that addresses interests and cultural issues of black women. Follow this current Ms. intern on Twitter.

Comments

  1. I truly can’t believe that people are blindly celebrating this symbolic victory for the slow Islamification of popular culture. Islam is the enemy to women. Do you not pay any heed to the messages of Ayan Hirsi Ali, a former Muslim, who is desperately trying to make people understand that there are limits to tolerance and to cultural relativism. We cannot, as women, as feminists, accept Islam, as counter to our politically correct, liberal, Judeo-Christian reflexes as that may be.

    • Hi, Jennie.

      Thank you for taking the time to share your concerns, but your comment reflects a disturbing lack of awareness about the actual role of women in Islam. From the first Muslim, the prophet Mohammed’s wife Khadijah, a woman who was 15 years his senior as well as his employer before she proposed to him, Islam has actually worked to counter institutionalized sexism. Muslims, being human, often interpret sacred text by taking items out of context and choosing to search for confirmation of their own prejudices and bigotry rather than practicing as the religion is intended. However, Islam itself does not place more restrictions or limitations on women as compared to men. For further information, you may be interested in starting with the free book linked below. I am also happy to answer any questions about the actual theology of Islam that you may have. My father is actually the local Imam (Muslim preacher), so I was privilege to grow up around a wealth of information regarding the theology of my faith. I would be extremely happy to answer any questions you or any other readers may have.

      Have a wonderful day! I hope to hear from you soon.

      http://islamicbulletin.org/free_downloads/new_muslim/complete_idiot_guide_islam.pdf

      • Hello Effie,
        Whilst I appreciate looking at the exceptional role that Khadijah played in the Koran, and I am sure there are several such heroines in the book, I am more influenced and concerned, and angry about how women are effectively, currently, being treated in Muslim cultures and families. Honor killings, female mutilation, and banalized domestic abuse are happening within Muslim culture around the globe, this is a fact. Whereas it is easy for an American to objectify the Muslim as “the other” without having any real contact or experience with them as they are not as visible or populous in the US, I myself have spent most of my adult life in Amsterdam, Paris, and the South of France, regions that host a significant Muslim population. I am acutely aware of what is happening within the Muslim communities in Europe through the media, word of mouth, and direct contact with Muslim women. They are suffering, and have no options but to remain under the thumb of their husbands, or brothers, or fathers. Just as an indication, the domestic abuse hotline rings off the hook in Amsterdam, almost all of them Muslim women. I realize that each country, each region is different, but on the whole, Muslim women are effectively treated as property. If I can recommend a book for you, it is Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Muslim woman who speaks out against the very religion and culture in which she was raised. She is a former member of the Dutch Parliament, lecturer, and member of a think tank in Washington, D.C. (She was the subject of the note that was pinned to Theo Van Gogh, the Dutch filmmaker who dared to make a film that exposed the misogyny of Islam, and who was assassinated by a Muslim radical for it. The note said “Ayaan Hirsi Ali, you are next.”) To return to your point about ‘feminist’ Muslim historic or literary characters, as we know, the New and Old Testament present such personnages and their opposites and they all make for fascinating character study, but what is important is what is actually happening in the real world under the banner of Islam.

  2. The inclusion of a Muslim woman in the pantheon of superheroes mirrors the amazing strides Muslim women, across the globe, have made in finding their voices, demanding rights, and embracing empowerment. The struggle for equality, the struggle to be the beneficiaries of basic human rights, in fact, dwarfs the efforts of any comic book superhero. The inclusion of this new Ms Marvel illustrates just how far some Muslim women have come when a comic book publisher sees Muslim women as an important enough demographic to develop the character to draw in a new readership.

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