Ms. Marvel: A New Female Teen Superhero (Who Also Happens to Be Muslim)
I love superheroes, so I was fascinated when I read Marvel Comics introduced a new Parkistani-American female superhero named Ms. Marvel. Ms. Marvel is the alter ego of Kamala Khan, a 16-year-old Muslim teen living in Jersey City, NJ who discovers she has shape-shifting abilities. She takes on the superhero moniker of Ms. Marvel as an homage to her own favorite female superhero, the original Ms. Marvel.
There aren't many really strong, ethnic female superheroes out there for young girls to admire, so I love that Marvel Comics took a leap in creating such a special character. Growing up, I watched "X-Men" cartoons and dreamed about being Jubilee because she was the only Chinese-American superhero I saw on TV. In the cartoon, she had a goofy-looking outfit, but she also had the power to shoot fireworks out of her hands. But beyond our shared ethnicity, I didn't identify with her alter ego: an orphaned daughter of wealthy immigrants who lived in Beverly Hills, and who was once on the track to becoming an Olympic gymnast.
In addition to Jubilee, I also admired Batgirl, the version shown on TV reruns of "Batman" with Adam West. I loved how a seemingly mild-mannered bookworm could transform into a confident crimefighting superhero able to kick butt alongside the guys. Plus, she had a pretty awesome purple suit and purple motorcycle. But even though we were both only children, I still couldn't fully identify with her alter ego as the 20-something daughter of a police commissioner.
Kamala Khan, on the other hand, is someone who truly feels fresh, real, and contemporary; aside from her extraordinary powers and superhero costume, she's just an ordinary girl with ordinary struggles. She's someone young girls can admire as they grow up grappling to find their place in the world. She's someone even I could have identified with growing up. (And who doesn't like identifying with a superhero that's just like them in some way?) Kamala is the child of immigrants, she's a minority female teen, and she's trying to integrate a conservative upbringing with a modern world, while also dealing with friendships, grades, religion, and family. These were all things I struggled with as a teen.
What's even better about the character is that she's being written by an award-winning novelist and female Muslim, G. Willow Wilson. Speaking to The New York Times, Wilson mentioned that the new Ms. Marvel series will be "about the universal experience of all American teenagers, feeling kind of isolated and finding what they are" shown "through the lens of being a Muslim-American." Even though the new Ms. Marvel isn't the first Muslim superhero introduced in the comic-book world, she will be the first character to grapple with religion, which plays a big part in her life. The series debuts in February 2014, and I can't wait to add it to my collection of Marvel comic books based on Jane Austen novels. (Because isn't Lizzie Bennet just as strong and sassy as Batgirl?)
Which female superheroes did you admire growing up? Which ones do you want your daughters to love?
Update (11/8/2013): Read an interview with G. Willow Wilson by my friend Dilshad D. Ali, who blogs over at Altmuslim on Patheos.com!
Photo: Ms. Marvel design by Adrian Alphona, from Marvel.com