Robot 6

The Fifth Color | Representation in ‘Ms. Marvel’

mamarvel1The “Guy Card” doesn’t exist. No one can take away your masculinity however you choose to define that. So get out there and take dancing lessons or moisturize your face (note: I have no idea what would constitute the removal of a Guy Card because it doesn’t exist). In fact, there’s no such thing as a “Girl Card” either, so fail at wearing heels and makeup with impunity because no one other than yourself should have the power to call you on it. Be you, because that’s all we can be; pleasing everyone else is just way too hard.

What we do or don’t do shouldn’t be an indicator of gender, or race or sexual identity. I mean, we can make guesses, but that doesn’t tell you who you are inside, and it’s the inside that really counts, or so years of cartoon morality lessons have taught me. There’s no such thing as “not black enough” or “you act too gay to be straight,” because that says more about the person making those statements than the person they’re defining. The United States started out as just some humble little colonies trying to forge their own identity, coming to America to be themselves.

And some people want to be Carol Danvers.

WARNING: A spoiler-free review of Ms. Marvel #1 lies ahead, and I promise this is about as preachy as I’m going to get.

Inside Ms. Marvel #1 is the story of a girl who wants to be someone she can’t be, at least on the surface. The seed of the new NOW! Ms. Marvel isn’t that unique of a concept; a lot of kids go through celebrities and role models like a clothing rack as they shop for a sense of who they want to be. If you don’t know for sure, why not see how other people do it and try it on for size? Kamala’s dream was somewhat inspired by editor Sana Amanat’s childhood and how she wanted to be Tiffani-Amber Thiessen from Saved by the Bell. When I was younger, I wanted nothing more than to be like supermodel Iman; she was tall, gorgeous, elegant, married to David Bowie and was in Star Trek VI! Iman was, and still is, awesome! I knew at the time I couldn’t be Iman (I was far too young for David Bowie), but I could admire her for who she was.

Admiration, real admiration, requires understanding. Sometimes you don’t even have to like what you admire, but you can at least get to appreciate it and understand it’s purpose. Now, I’m not a big fan of Brian Michael Bendis’ work (surprise!), but I do try to understand it. I read his books as far as they’ll go and listen to people who praise him to learn what they’re taking out of his comics that I might not be. Understanding, even of something that doesn’t speak to you personally, can still broaden your knowledge and help other fans gain ground.

msmarvel_familyG. Willow Wilson is writing a common teen’s tale. Kamala Khan is not understood by her family, her peers can be bullies, she finds trying to fit in awkward and frustrating. This is an experience we’ve seen or had ourselves, it just so happens to be told through the eyes of a Muslim Pakistanti-American girl in New Jersey. Her ethnicity and religion aren’t used in broad brush strokes, like how ’80s-era Chris Claremont would throw in a “By the White Wolf!” or “Unglaubich!” and be done for the day. Comics don’t necessarily have the best track record for representing diversity in a way that doesn’t seem like a Captain Planet cartoon. Despite the media attention around this new series, Kamala is not defined by what makes her different. Who she is and what she wants to be is woven into the story, so while the details might be foreign to us, the weight of what’s happening is universal.

Kamala Khan is funny. She’s relatable. She writes Avengers fan fiction. Like all great protagonists, Kamala wants more than this provincial life, and we know she wants it in the most butt-kicking way possible. She’s nothing like her idol Carol Danvers on the surface, and while she might admire those surface issues of being beautiful and blonde, Kamala also possesses courage, personal awareness and good intentions, demonstrating she’s a lot closer to her idol than she may feel. She’s a great person, and following her through her new adventures is easy to get behind.

msmarvel_previewartSince this title’s announcement in November, there’s been a lot of support for the new character and her unique point of view. The letters page in this first issue is full of love for a girl readers haven’t even met yet because, in a way, a lot of them already have. This is a hero just like them, who looks like them, who shares an experience like them and represents them in the four color world. It might not seem like a big deal to some, but for others, seeing a face that looks like theirs reflected in the pages of a comic book is monumental.

Some of you might have looked at Ms. Marvel #1 this week and thought, that’s not for me. You might not be a girl, you might not be Pakistani, you might not be a teenager, the surface-level information on this book might have just turned you off. That’s OK; you’re not racist or sexist if, at first glance, you didn’t want to read this story. However, if you take a chance and open up the comic to see the story inside, there’s a lot of the human experience that can connect with anyone.

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Comments

29 Comments

Well said. I’m white, male, British and atheist but I enjoyed the hell out of this comic, because i felt a connection to KK because she is a nerd like me, who’s friends don’t get her and who’s parents don’t entirely get her like me.

There’s no such thing as “not black enough” or “you act too gay to be straight,” because that says more about the person making those statements than the person they’re defining.

Yet, that’s what contemporary “progressive” creators (and especially politicians) do — assume beliefs based solely on skin color, gender and sexual orientation. Any deviation from the expectation is harshly denounced and criticized.

God, I love this article. Thank you so much Ms. Hoffman! The fact that these discussions are being had in reference to mainstream big league superhero comics is extremely exciting. Ms. Marvel is a freaking great book as well.

Carla says “What we do or don’t do shouldn’t be an indicator of gender, or race or sexual identity.”

I’ve been arguing this point for years in entertainment (comics, films, novels, etc.). Thank you for bringing it up.

I haven’t read this because I’m not a huge Carol Danvers fan and $ is tight now, but I might consider the trade since I like the ideas you presented in this column. And KK sounds like a fun and relatable character. :)

Its certainly a good character book. But as I said in the forums, sadly its a failure for an issue #1. Theres no explanation of the magic Jersey intoxicating smog for any potential new readers. There’s no clue as to what this Ms Marvels powers are, or if even if she has any. Surely those are essential if you want to snag readers, especially from genders and ethnicities aren’t currently into comics.

I liked the book just didn’t care for the stereotype of the bully being white blonde and blue eyed. But then again only white people are mean never Asians, Africans or Hispanics . Oh we’ll hopefully one day marvel will become more progressive.

@ Stereotype : Marvel starts publishing a monthly that centres around a Muslim young woman and you’re belly-aching about the company not being progressive? Yeah, take a step back and re-analyze the situation, why don’t you.

This is an excellent step in the right direction, but there needs to be even more positive discrimination in comics.

@Paul Nolan Not really.

Character comes first, powers a far distant second.

No problem at at introducing those in the second issue.

@afrocarter u missed the point … Missed it …. Oh well head hurts …… I mean belly aches

Its interesting that you mention not being a big fan of Brian Michael Bendis, because this issue seems to be structured in the uber decompressed style popularized by Bendis. The issue even ends with Kamala using her powers for the first time as Peter Parker did in the first issue of Ultimate Spider Man. For the record, I’m generally a Bendis fan and I’m also a fan of this issue.

Yeah, Stereotype, there are way too many positive examples of Asian, African and Hispanic characters in comics! Don’t let them put the white man down!

I find hard to relate to a character who worships a slave owning war criminal who married an 8 yr old girl. Just as I find it hard to relate to white fascists who worship Hitler.
STill each to his own I suppose.

Thank for the support Kkk …. U nailed exactly what I was saying .

I enjoyed the comic, but I absolutely expect her to be revealed to be a Skrull when her readership level goes low enough and Carol Danvers is put back in the Ms Marvel role.

I only read one Marvel book: Thor: God of Thunder. Marvel is too multicutural for me; they are too progressive. I chuckled by the commentor who said they need to be more progressive. That. Is. Funny.

Having said that, both Marvel and DC do have philosophical differences. You can see it in Forever Evil; you see it in Marvel with not only in comics but in the entertainment business as well. Arrow, The CW’s hit, is as moderately-conservative as it can be. And I do believe we, as consumers, like what is acceptable. Which brings me to my next point.

I don’t think this article is about the human experience or even the American Dream. I believe the writer has the right approach, but let’s be honest: this is about women being underepresented in comic books. There are so many male dominated books out there that it feels like women can’t have an impact like Batman or Spider-Man. If they aren’t heroes, they are either lovers or supporters. If they aren’t important, then is just that. They are not important.

I’m not trying to discredit the intent of this article(too late for that, lol), or discount my bias towards this carefully written piece. After all, it is a man calling this article for what it is, and perception is reality. And I think us, as men, are just colorblinded to say the obvious: most of our comic book habits are male dominated. I confess I don’t have much more female centered books. But I’m speaking for men, and any man tells you anything differently is lying. Don’t listen to him. After all, I have 7 sisters. I should know.

The politics will always get talked about no matter how much we ignore it, the fanatics will complain until the movie is out(still complaining about the casting of Luthor), and the audience will choose according to their belief system. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Is normal. What’s not normal? Having to explain why a female Muslim can relate to us. And Ironically, no matter how hard we try to stop, we still end up where we started: still trying to please everybody.

Or in my case, please Zooey Dechannel.

Frank, you are one weird dude.

kimekaro, Carol is currently CAPTAIN Marvel, and that doesn’t look to be changing any time soon. I think Kamala is pretty safe with her new nomenclature.

@Frankly: you can’t speak for all men, no single individual can. You certainly don’t speak for me.

I haven’t read this issue yet, but I think I will after reading this. Yeah, I’m a male, atheist, white guy, and yeah, maybe this comic isn’t FOR me, but I find the concept interesting and fresh. Maybe it doesn’t fit into the cookie cutter comic book superhero mold that I’m used to, but maybe it shouldn’t.

Some people will always resist change, but I say keep rocking the boat!

Why is every brown person who isn’t Hispanic automatically Muslim? Not all Hispanics nor all Irish people are automatically Catholic. And those that are aren’t billed as “the new Catholic superhero”. Likewise, where are all the atheist superheroes? Why is religion only brought up when it’s iIslam? Or, why can’t we just keep religion out of our comics all together since it hurts more than helps? It’s just ridiculous that every non-hispanic brown person in comics just HAS to be Muslim. How narrow minded.

I felt that there really is something special with this book: the visuals felt unique and hits me like lungful of fresh country O2, and bits from the script like Kamala writing an Avengers fan-fic hits home for a dood like me (a Filipino in his late 20′s). I honestly feel that this book is not just here to address a certain niche that’s been previously untapped, but it really is a superb and well-rounded storytelling on a brand new character (of which I wish many more creators will be given an opportunity to do).

I fully support this book, and certainly am willing to give away my extra copies of this title just to get the positive buzz around :D

@vizator

you make it sound like there’s a lot of brown non-hispanic muslim characters in comics.
why don’t you list some characters for us? because i honestly don’t know any other.

@oneofme

Off the top of my head, Simon Baz AKA Green Lantern.

ok, so thats one.

I fully intend to read this, I have been looking forward to it since it was anounced. But I don’t really buy my comics in floppy format, but rather wait for the compiled editions, so it’s going to be a while still before I end up reading it. It’s very heartening to hear it’s doing well though, I think it’s an important book. Representation matters, and it seems to have an honest voice

On an unrelated note, I’m new to your blog, but as a huge BMB fan, I am curious what you don’t like about his writing.

You need an explanation how a female Muslim can relate to you?

Here’s on: She is a human being…

Wow. Some of the comments on here…

I haven’t read this book, yet, but I plan to give it a try. I enjoy different perspectives and this book sounds fun. I love the art. If you can only relate to someone who looks and believes like you, you’ve got a pretty narrow, uninformed and immature view of the world. The characters have super powers and live in a crazy-ass super-powered, almost-destroyed-every-Wednesday world. You can relate to that?

“Yet, that’s what contemporary “progressive” creators (and especially politicians) do — assume beliefs based solely on skin color, gender and sexual orientation.”

It’s obviously preferable to assume beliefs solely based on political orientation.

“Likewise, where are all the atheist superheroes? Why is religion only brought up when it’s iIslam?”

What the hell are you talking about? Daredevil is a Catholic, Ben Grimm is Jewish as is Shadowcat, Spider-Man is a Protestant, Elektra is Greek Orthodox.

“atheism” in the Marvel Universe doesn’t mean what it would in other universes, since the Marvel Universe has gods and the universe is a living entity and the evolution of humans was interfered with by uber-powerful aliens but, having said that, supposedly Quasar, Ant-Man, and Carol Danvers are among Marvel’s atheist super-heroes, and certainly Spider-Man and Iron Man have explicitly said that they believe in non-guided evolution (which is weird, since they both met the aliens that evolved us, but whatever).

I think your point is extremely poorly thought out.

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