Goodreads: Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal
Series: Ms. Marvel (MARVEL NOW!) #1
Sixteen-year-old Kamala Khan loves superheroes, but she never expected to become one herself. Now that she has the ability to change appearance, however, will she find herself trapped in others’ expectations or will she find the strength to be herself?
Despite enjoying the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I have never before read a comic or even felt much inclination to do so. When I heard about the new Ms. Marvel, however, the one who is a Muslim Pakistani American teen, I knew I had to read her story. Superhero stories, at their finest, illustrate that anyone has the potential to be brave, to be strong, to be selfless. The new Ms. Marvel does exactly that, taking a character many might never conceive of as a superhero, and chronicles her personal journey to the realization that even she, even a brown sixteen-year-old geek girl, can make the choice to be a hero.
Kamala’s story is particularly powerful precisely because of who she is. Muslim, and dark-skinned, she finds it difficult to fit in at school, even when others are not consciously drawing attention to her “otherness”–her clothes, her religion, her parents’ rules. She doesn’t want to give up her faith and she loves her family, but she has that desire common to us all–the desire to belong. That, coupled with the treatment she receives, makes her wish desperately for some semblance of normalcy, which in turn expresses itself in a wish to be what society considers beautiful–white with blonde hair, able to look good in a revealing outfit and some cool boots.
Though readers may not share Kamala’s background, it is easy to relate to her. Teenagers, especially, will understand what it means to be able to fit in. To look different, hide those blemishes, achieve that perfect hair or complexion or body. That sort of recognition of the struggles teenagers face alone makes Ms. Marvel a worthwhile read. But the story goes further, rooting itself definitively in Kamala’s specific identity. Because though many of her problems are common to a wide spectrum of readers, many are not. Only someone dark and Muslim like Kamala will begin to understand her struggle with the casual racism that forms the background of her life, the ignorance that she constantly faces as others misinterpret her faith or immediately associate her with “the enemy” of America or with honor killings or other horrors. Kamala suspects that unlike many of her peers, she will never fit in because her skin color and her religion will always immediately mark her and set her apart.
I appreciated that Ms. Marvel does not sugarcoat the reality of Kamala’s world, but portrays the type of experiences that are all too common for someone like Kamala. She and her friends have to deal with peers who insult their families’ values, who imply that that must only be following their faith out of fear or coercion. These experiences are not presented as mini episodes or highlighted in any way. They simply occur on a regular basis as Kamala goes about her life–and that’s what makes it so horrific.
The idea that Kamala receives powers that allow her to alter is body is thus a very compelling one. Kamala is presented with the opportunity to be who she has always wanted to be–someone whom others will find beautiful and powerful or, anyone but herself. Her journey to recognizing that she is perfect the way she is proves the strongest part of her story, even though volume one sets up what seems to be an interesting villain. Even if Kamala never fought a major villain but simply focused on helping those around her in small ways, I would gladly follow her. She is one of the most relatable superheroes I have seen and, I suspect, one that will only keep getting better.