NOCs of the Roundtable: The New Ms. Marvel

Yesterday, Marvel Comics made a splash by announcing the launch of Ms. Marvel #1, written by G. Willow Wilson with art by Adrian Alphona (best known as the co-creator of Marvel’s Runaways). And while launching another Ms. Marvel book isn’t usually big news, the reason for all the attention this time centers around the teenaged girl assuming the mantle — Kamala Khan. In order to process this announcement from Marvel, we convened a “roundtable” of fellow Nerds of Color to talk about their thoughts on this new series from Marvel.

Borne from the childhood experiences of Marvel editor Sana Amanat — who will also edit the new series — Ms. Marvel will tell the story of Kamala, a Pakistani American teen from Jersey City who idolizes Carol Danvers (the original Ms. Marvel who now goes by Captain Marvel). Kamala takes on Danvers’ old codename after she discovers her own shape-shifting super powers. The new Ms. Marvel is part of Marvel’s ongoing quest to spotlight more women and characters of color in their books. After all, Ms. Marvel is coming out on the heels of Mighty Avengers and the all-female mutant X-Men. Overall, I think it’s a net positive to have a high-profile book be fronted with a teenaged girl of color who is also Muslim. Whether or not the narratives inside the pages fall victim to old stereotypes remains to be seen, but I think Marvel deserves credit for making the continued attempts to diversify their superhero roster.

To talk about their first impressions regarding the news of Kamala Khan’s entry into the Marvel Universe, a few of the Nerds — including Bao, Vincent,  J.Lamb, William, Jenn , N’Jaila, Shawn, and Tribe — got together to discuss their initial reactions to the news.

BAO: There’s a few things that give me pause — in particular, I’m wondering if this character is gonna be set up as the “exceptional” Muslim within a conservative or oppressive Muslim family…

WILLIAM: The only real newsworthy part of this is the fact that she’s supposed to be a lead character somewhere. Marvel’s already got Muslim girl heroes, like M from Generation X and X-Factor. Plus, DC already beat Marvel to the punch in 2010 with the “newsworthy Muslim” addition to the Batman family, Nightrunner.

VINCENT: I’ve been thinking about the New DC hero taken from a Cree woman. What negative stereotypes will this character have to take on?

BAO: Yeah… been thinking about how hard it is to ask liberals to see how they’re being racist, since there’s this belief that inclusion and representation equals anti-racism. It may be progress, but it’s debatable how much. Especially when the structure reinforces stereotypes under the guise of holding up one or two “credits to their race.”

J.LAMB: This article in the New York Times does not encourage. Especially this:

Kamala will face struggles outside her own head, including conflicts close to home. “Her brother is extremely conservative,” Ms. Amanat said. “Her mom is paranoid that she’s going to touch a boy and get pregnant. Her father wants her to concentrate on her studies and become a doctor.” Next to those challenges, fighting supervillains may be a welcome respite.

Let’s see: oppressive traditional male sibling, paranoid old-world sexual sensibilities, and model minority up-from-bootstraps conservatism. Exactly why should anyone support this project?

WILLIAM: This won’t succeed for the sheer fact that no one gives a flip about the Ms. Marvel franchise. Never really have. Hell, you could make Storm the new Ms. Marvel and no one would read it for more than a year. They’d almost do better making her an original hero instead of saddling her with the baggage that comes with the Ms. Marvel mantle.

JENN: This project sounds a little more about the nod to diversity than strong concept. Remember All-New Atom? ‘Nuff said.

WILLIAM: See, I don’t get why this has to be an ongoing. If they wanted to be groundbreaking, they’d announce this as a maxi-series, give it the 12 issues it would normally have, and commit to actually releasing all 12 issues. Test the waters a bit. Nobody wants a Ms. Marvel comic, let alone a Muslim one. That’s not the desire of the core, comic-buying audience. By doing it this way, it lets Marvel off the hook with a “well, at least we tried,” which simply isn’t good enough. Ms. Marvel always feels like Wonder Woman, in that they have to publish a series every so often just to keep the trademark. I don’t know anyone who has ever said, “Man, what’s Ms. Marvel been up to? I used to LOVE that book!”

J.LAMB: And you never will. Given this article, we’ve no reason to believe that this new Ms. Marvel will compel readers buy her stories. The supporting cast info delivers boring tropes about old-world traditionalism vs. Western gender parity, while we are to believe that the heroine so loves Ms. Marvel that she wants to be her when she grows up — a weird request, since no one loves that character that much. How is this not an example of #MarvelFail?

JENN: The problem with writing POC characters is this sometimes come across as stereotypical, even when they are nominally authentic. The harsh East Asian father, for example, is an experience many APIAers can relate to, but when Gail Simone did that  to Ryan Choi in All-New Atom, it came across as cardboard cut-out and inauthentic, like a non-Asian person who heard stories of what it means to grow up Asian and then tried to translate it back onto the page. It tries too hard and still doesn’t come out sounding quite right. It comes off sounding like a weird secondhand story of my experience being written for the benefit of people who aren’t me.  Without having read Ms. Marvel, I worry that the same problem will plague this book. There are hints already: Kamala deals with the traditional conservative mom and the overbearing dad, and with pressure to be a doctor. This is a lived experience for many APIAers, yet it’s frustrating that it seems to be the ONLY way non-Asian writers appear to be able to synthesize the APIA experience into comics.

To that end, I agree with Will above that Monet was kind of a cooler character. She was A-type, but more as a personality quirk than as something imposed upon her through her parents. Basically, I’m not hopeful that this comic will do anything more than All-New Atom did, because it sounds like both ideas had the same kind of genesis. Also, aside: I’m an art snob, and this one concept art leaves me really underwhelmed. And, what’s up with the porcupine?

J.LAMB: This whole idea reeks of “save the decent Muslim girl” paternalism. When the writer describes the series as “about the universal experience of all American teenagers, feeling kind of isolated and finding what they are,” it’s hard not to roll one’s eyes. How often will Marvel use that justification to sell tokenism?

Plus the art for the brother appears derived from every stereotype about violent fundamentalist young Muslim men available, from the beard to the post-Sixties revolutionary cap. We have no idea how this will turn out, I admit, but I hope he’s not used to interrogate Wahhabism.

N’JAILA: I wonder how many issues in does she get a white guy love interest?

SHAWN: Wilson is Muslim — white — but a Muslim. I’ve read everything she’s written, and she is a damn good writer. I do worry about the possibility of the white boy love interest thing as this would be the reverse of her journey. Air was dope. Cairo was dope. Her novel, Alif the Unseen, was good. Hell, she managed to make Vixen interesting — something even McDuffie had a difficult time doing.

TRIBE: I’m actually hopeful about this book. G Willow Wilson is capable of being a great writer, and Adrian Alphona is a legit amazing artist. 

Check Runaways.

8 thoughts on “NOCs of the Roundtable: The New Ms. Marvel

  1. I really liked this conversation, but the point about balancing realism with stereotype interested me most. Of course, the book hasn’t come out yet, but to be honest, as a Muslim-American teen, the description of her home life was what excited me the most. It sounded very true to life in a much more real sense than just the “harsh parents” mentioned as being in All-New Atom. Based on the details described in the NYT article, she sounds like a lot of other Muslim kids I know – myself, included. I think the key to the execution is not just that the author is Muslim, but that it seems a lot of story and inspiration is from collaboration with the editor, a Pakistani-american Muslim herself. I feeeeel like she has a good deal of influence on this book? At least I know if I was writing a book about about a Pakistani-American and I had a resource sitting right next to me, I’d take advantage of it as often as I could.

    Anyways, Kamala sounds a lot more appealing to me than Dust or Simon Baz or even M or Nightrunner, because she actually represents real experiences and struggles that Muslim immigrants have?

    Despite my not being as familiar with Dust as certain other character, I really am just not that enthusiastic about her because of well, some problematic things about her background, the way authors seem to love having her say “Allah” instead of God too often and speak in ARABIC despite the fact she is Afghan, and some personal/religious issues with Niqab.

    The cover of Baz’s debut issue should probably be enough to tell you why I feel uncomfortable about him as a character.

    Nightrunner and M both seem to be Muslim as an afterthought. Although I do like that M does show that there are Muslim women who like to express their sexuality, her Muslim identity often feels tacked on. Writers also seem not to know enough about Algeria to craft a convincing ethnic background for her.

    Kamala, on the other hand, is a lot like people I know. Her family is well-meaning but comes on too strong. She might feel burdened by expectations from her ethnic and religious community, and under the combined weight of her community’s expectations and institutionalized xenophobia, she struggles with her identity and sometimes wishes for a way out. None of this is unreasonable to portray in a character as long this is handled with tact.

    I don’t think the Ms Marvel name is unreasonable, probably because of the fact that it doesn’t have the greatest recognition. If things work out, this name that has direct ties to the publisher will be connected almost exclusively to this character in people’s minds. Other than that, it is tied to Captain Marvel, who is pretty much a positive figure.

  2. I came into this really looking forward to a roundtable and the varying opinions you would have on this issue, but man, I did not expect the amount of pessimism that abounded.

    “This won’t succeed for the sheer fact that no one gives a flip about the Ms. Marvel franchise”? That’s what we’re focusing on here? It’s a comment made without acknowledging the many on the internet who are already crowding behind a book that hasn’t even hit the stands yet.

    Mohamed above [below? I’m not sure how this comments section works] hits the nail on the head by stating that her upbringing is similar to that of many different Muslims. It’s extremely similar to the strict Asian parents, a stereotype that happens to be true for many families out there.

    At this point I’m reserving judgement while still hoping to pick up a copy, or maybe even more than one if I enjoy it enough. We have a perfectly competent writer, a good artist, and an editor who has life experience and who can guide the book towards authenticity. Right now I’m choosing to hope for the best; that may be naive, but it’s where I’m at.

    1. I can understand how my statement sounded glib, but I stand by it. People always forget that comics are a BUSINESS. I don’t care if they get the best writer and artist on the book – if it doesn’t make money, it’s getting cancelled. There are better known concepts, like Blade and She-Hulk, that can’t avoid cancellation, yet we’re supposed to hitch our wagon to this new girl? I think the Ms. Marvel mantel is unnecessary baggage, and will be detrimental to Kamala. At the end of the day, this is not an ongoing series. This is a miniseries or an original graphic novel. The audience simply doesn’t exist for this to survive longer than a year in the current marketplace. And I say this as a former buyer for the country’s largest comic distributor.

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