The first issue of Marvel’s acclaimed new Ms. Marvel comic series is entitled Metamorphosis. And it’s appropriate—both to the ever-changing Kamala Khan (our new Ms. Marvel) and to the role of the series in changing and revamping Marvel’s brand as a more inclusive and gender-diffuse representation of the superhero landscape. (Though this transformation is far from perfect. For just one example, check out the recent furor surrounding the firing of Chuck Wendig from the Star Wars comic series.) It is easy to say that the success of the series is in large part due to its writer, G. Willow Wilson, herself a metamorphic figure (though the co-creator, Sana Amanat, should not go unmentioned).
Jia Tolentino’s reflective interview of Wilson for The New Yorker gives us a glimpse into the successful New Jersey writer who converted to Islam in college. Here, we see Wilson talk about her response when the new concept of Ms. Marvel as a Pakistani-American Muslim was presented to her and her response to the Islamophobic backlash after the concept and first issue were released. It must be said, first and foremost, that the release of the new series was overwhelmingly successful. And in response to her critics, Wilson is straight to the point. The concern of Marvel’s new direction should not be to promote diversity when it is “a form of performative guilt” but to rather seek out “authenticity and realism.” And that realism comes in many shapes and forms.
In the five-part run that kicks off the new Ms. Marvel series, Kamala desires nothing more than to be a superhero, to be a part of the Avengers, but that desire is a bit muddied by the very white and sexist portrayal of established female superheroes. In issue one, the teenager speaks to a dream-form of the original Ms. Marvel (Carol Danvers) and insists that she wants to be “beautiful and awesome and butt-kicking and less complicated . . . Except [she] would wear the classic, politically incorrect costume and kick butt in giant wedge heels.” Consequently, when Kamala first transforms into her superhero form, she is white, blonde, and skimpily clad. She quickly realizes that real life, authentic life, can never be less complicated, and so she tries to navigate the competing factors of faith, family, friends, and super powers. In her attempts to juggle all these factors, Kamala introduces moments for considering a woman’s role in traditional comics and traditional faith, as she questions her role at the mosque and insists that she must be the one to save male friends, not the other way around. The text also introduces a number of “big boots” jokes as a way to poke fun at former portrayals of significantly curvier female superheroes.
So Kamala’s challenge is to balance tradition and change, to preserve and to advance. This is exactly the way that G. Willow Wilson speaks of herself and other speculative-fiction authors. In her tribute to Margaret Atwood’s graphic novel Angel Catbird, Wilson calls the legendary author a “chimera,” a multifaceted and intimidating creature. And she determines that Atwood’s call to action is simple: “resist complacency.” Certainly, Wilson herself has never been one to embrace complacency. In her memoir, The Butterfly Mosque, Wilson uses her own journey as a way to address the misinterpretation of change as danger or threat, specifically in the context of Islamic-Christian relations. She establishes, in the beginning of the text, the unique stance in which humans find themselves: “We are all standing on a mountain top, and we must learn to look out at the world not through the medium of self-appointed authorities, but with our own eyes.”
At the end of issue one, Kamala wonders if it is “too late to change [her] mind” regarding her wish to be a superhero. And it is. The change cannot be reversed. But by the end of issue five, Kamala has found a measure of confidence, and she takes pride in her role of defending Jersey City. Her enemies acknowledge that she is now a “legend,” one they hope to destroy. But this legend gives readers a different hope: hope that they too can be heroes, regardless of sex or gender, faith or ethnicity.
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