I come to you today to discuss a very serious topic: comic books. Don’t scoff! Although you may have never read a single issue of X-Men or even a panel of Peanuts, comic books and their characters are now a huge part of our popular culture. Marvel and DC (among others) are raking in billions at the box office thanks to A-List characters like The Avengers and Batman, and even lesser known books (RED, 2 Guns, Scott Pilgrim, etc.) have gotten the big screen treatment. Personally, I’ve always loved comic books: I started reading Archie and the Sunday strips as a young boy, moved on to Japanese Manga in high school, and more recently started downloading the latest exploits of American superheroes like Hawkeye and the aforementioned X-Men on my tablet. It may not always be great literature, but comic books are a fun escapism from a complicated world.
The problem with superhero comic books, however, is that they often skew their content towards a teenage and 20-something male audience. If you don’t fit within that demographic, the tough luck; perhaps you’d prefer to read Archie instead. That could all be changing though, thanks to the inaugural issue of Ms. Marvel.
Let’s face it, many of the most popular comic book heroes (especially in TV and film) fit a certain type: white, male, and almost certainly straight. There isn’t a ton of gender or even racial diversity, unless you consider “Norse God who’s actually an alien” its own race. Black Widow and Nick Fury may be card-carrying members of the Avengers, but often their roles in the Marvel movies seem secondary to people like Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America, who – if you hadn’t noticed – are all straight, white men. Things are even worse on the DC side, where the top-tier superheroine – Wonder Woman – hasn’t had a live-action movie or television series since the 70s. This doesn’t seem right. Three of the biggest films last year (Gravity, Frozen, and Catching Fire) featured strong female leads; so why has Hollywood yet to make a Blockbuster-style superhero movie starring a woman (or any other minority for that matter)? At the very least, this is a huge missed opportunity. Humans come in all shapes, sizes, genders, and colors: shouldn’t our popular media reflect this?
That could all change with this new Ms. Marvel comic. Announced back in November, the book stars Kamala Khan, a 16-year-old Pakistani girl from New Jersey. She idolizes the Avengers and is particularly fascinated with Captain Marvel, a strong female superhero who could almost certainly best many of the Avengers on her worst day. Basically, Captain Marvel is exactly the kind of hero moviegoers deserve to see on the big screen (but that’s a topic for another day). Kamala is also Muslim, which doesn’t affect her character as much as you might think. It certainly defines Kamala Khan as a person, but it does so in the same way that living in Queens defines Peter Parker or being Canadian defines Wolverine. Her religion is an important part of Kamala’s character, but thus far the writers haven’t dwelled very long on that aspect. Her home life in particular doesn’t seem that much different from what I grew up with in a Catholic household or how my friends describe their non-religious upbringing. Kamala, in spite of her inherent “differentness” compared to most readers, is actually a very relatable character. I know heroes like Spider-Man and the X-Men are frequently cited for their relate-ability to geeks and other young people who don’t fit in growing up, but I personally identified more with Kamala than I have with any other comic book hero I’ve encountered.
The best thing about Kamala Khan though is her potential in the future. She may be a brand new superhero right now, but in 3-4 years, Marvel should have built up enough material to parlay her character into the movie world. Considering that Marvel’s parent company is Disney – who has already made strides in recent years to diversify their own characters with movies like The Princess and the Frog – I have a feeling that a Ms. Marvel movie is more than just a possibility. More than that however, I want to believe in a world where the most successful movie of the years stars a character who is the complete antithesis of someone like Thor. How great would that be?
Comic books – like any piece of literature – can change the world; and Ms. Marvel is the change we can believe in.