News broke earlier this week through the New York Times that “Ms. Marvel” is becoming a legacy name for Marvel Comics. The new Ms. Marvel, a Jersey City teen named Kamala Khan, also happens to be Muslim.
Kamala Khan was born from a small conversation between Sana Amanat and Steve Wacker, two editors at Marvel. Amanat was commenting on the lack of positive representation for Muslim women she had growing up, especially in comic books, and soon an idea was born.
Though little information has been released about Kamala, we do know that the new title will be penned by G. Willow Wilson, who wrote DC’s Vixen miniseries and Marvel’s more recent (and fantastic) CrossGen imprint reboot of Mystic. Wilson, a convert to Islam herself, was quoted as saying, “Any time you do something like this, it is a bit of a risk. You’re trying to bring the audience on board and they are used to seeing something else in the pages of a comic book.” Adrian Alphona, co-creator and artist of the Runaways series, will be the artist on the book. Marvel has released some of Alphona’s character sketches, along with the cover of Ms. Marvel #1, by Sarah Pitchelli.
Kamala will struggle as much with her family and identity as she will with supervillains. In fact, fighting crime is more of a relaxing pastime for her, when in her civilian identity she has to deal with her demanding and protective parents and her conservative brother. Kamala is a big fan of Captain Marvel, “[she]represents an ideal that Kamala pines for,” said Wilson to the New York Times. “She’s strong, beautiful and doesn’t have any of the baggage of being Pakistani and ‘different.’”
Kamala has already caused quite a stir, with a number of positive and negative comments regarding her race, religion, and why Marvel chose to create a Muslim Ms. Marvel. Kamala gained such notoriety that she was featured on the Colbert Report, as well as on a number of other news sources. Many have pointed out that the public reaction is similar to when Miles Morales was announced as the new Ultimate Spider-man, citing that Miles’ success could bode very well for Kamala. Others cite that Captain Marvel has been a low selling comic, and predict that Ms. Marvel will follow suit.
Kamala has the ability to grow her body parts and, essentially, shapeshift. Whether she is a mutant, or gained her powers some other way, remains to be seen.
Frankly, Kamala is a victory in a lot of ways. While both Marvel and DC already have Muslim characters (though DC’s Nightrunner currently exists in Grant Morrison-induced limbo), it’s great to see Marvel produce another positive female Muslim character. Kamala will be joining the ranks of characters like Monet St. Croix (French Algerian), who will be prominently featured in upcoming issues of X-Men, and Sooraya Qadir (Sunni Muslim), aka Dust, who was a big player in the X-Universe during the early-to-mid 2000′s, both of whom are rare examples of positive Muslim characters in comic books.
However, Kamala represents something more significant. She is taking on the mantle of the women that many assert is Marvel’s star, iconic female character (much like Wonder Woman is for DC). This means she will not be relegated to a team book, like Dust and Monet are. Beyond that, she’s not an X-character: while the X-Men have some of the most diverse characters in Marvel Comics, they tend not to get much spotlight. Kamala will have her own solo title, making her a more accessible character to read, not mired in 50 years of continuity.
Kamala’s costume is also exciting. Designed by Jamie McKelvie, who also created Carol’s Captain Marvel costume, the costume references both the original red and blue Ms. Marvel costume and classic, black Dave Cockrum design, while pulling elements of current Captain Marvel costume. The scarf is a synthesis of the original Ms. Marvel costume and can also be visually read as a dupatta. The whole costume thoughtfully evokes churidar kurta, a traditional South Asian style of dress.
Kamala Khan is another sign that Marvel has some dedication to diversity and female led titles, and I couldn’t be happier about it. I’m excited to see what the new Ms. Marvel brings, and I nervously await how the rest of the Marvel Universe–and the world we live in–will react to her.
Ms. Marvel #1 will be available in February 2014, but Kamala can be seen in Captain Marvel #17, as well as (according to Kelly Sue Deconnick) in other issues of Captain Marvel.
Ellie’s writing also appears in a column called “Heroine Addict” at the Modern Myths website.