Ms. Marvel #1
Written by G. Willow Wilson
Art by Adrian Alphona & Ian Herring
The new Ms. Marvel being an American-born Pakistani girl from Jersey City made headlines all over the net, the blogosphere, and here at WWAC. The first issue is out–does it live up to the hype?
Kamala is caught between two worlds: the brutality of high school, and her more traditional Muslim family. She is sixteen–the perfect, rebellious age for figuring out who she is, while trying to fit in. This first issue is an introduction to the forces pulling on Kamala Khan. The rules of Islam prevent eating pork, drinking alcohol and consorting with boys; but Kamala wants to get the attention of the cool kids and enjoy being at parties.
Kamala is a little naive–she doesn’t get that the girl her friends call “the concern troll,” Zoe, is one of those girls who is nice and concerned because it’s trendy and because as a well off, pretty, blonde white girl, she can toss the concern whenever she wants. But Zoe treats Bruno, the boy who works at the convenience store, like he’s a Starbucks employee, and justifies demanding he serve her personally by saying she does it so she can tip him because of his “economic situation.”
Kamala’s a lot fangirl–she writes Avengers fanfic, to the dismay of her friend Nakia. Nakia also finds Kamala’s naivete annoying.
And she’s a lot frustrated by her family: her mother who doesn’t seem to understand anything American; her father who has assimilated a little, and her brother, who is very traditional (apparently as a dodge from finding work).
The writing gets uncomfortable, but I can’t call that a bad thing. It means G. Willow Wilson has managed to hit the right chord–it strikes a nerve to read about privileged kids being mean to the brown kids, and having fun at their expense. I was concerned that as a convert to Islam, she might not treat Islam with concern and care. But it seems to me she has found the right balance for a girl raised in American culture in a family that grew up with Pakistani culture.
It also definitely had me grinding my teeth to see faux-well-intentioned Zoe complimenting “Kiki” on her “headscarf.” The word is hijab, you fictional philistine! Google is your friend; Nakia certainly won’t be!
It tugs a heartstring to read about Nakia insisting on being called Nakia rather than the Americanized “Kiki.” I can’t count how many stories I’ve heard of people of color who have to put up with the privileged not bothering to put any effort into saying their names correctly, or just going, “I’ll call you ____,” to avoid making the effort at all.
Kamala’s origin story, which begins here, feels to me quite a lot like the origin of Virgil Hawkins from Milestone’s Static. Virgil Hawkins is a brown kid having trouble fitting in. So is Kamala. Virgil Hawkins was a good student but due to his skin color, had trouble with gang violence, but peer pressure was put on him to join up. Kamala is a good student, but has her family’s food and alcohol rules on one side, and parties and regular teenage life on the other, with peer pressure on her to party like a regular teen.
Virgil went against his better judgement and got caught in the event they called the Big Bang. For Kamala, she went against her father’s wishes, and after deciding it was a bad idea to try fitting in, got enveloped in the Terrigen Mists from the crash of the Inhuman city Attilan.
The similarities continue: it looks like the Big Bang and the Terrigen Mists will be creating Kamala’s rogue’s gallery.
Virgil’s best friend was Richie, another geeky type who helped him stay balanced. Kamala has Bruno and Nakia, who look out for her. Virgil tended to be a little bit more like Spider-Man, shy in his day-to-day persona and a chatterbox as Static. Kamala has gone on record as wanting to be able to kick butt and have a less complicated life, so they’re already diverging. I hope, of course, that Kamala’s reception with the fans is a spectacular one, so her title goes on much longer than Static’s did.
The art is beautiful. Alphona and Herring’s styles work together nicely. The pencils are lively and cartoony, but with enough realism that it doesn’t throw off the whole vibe of the book. The panels seem hand drawn rather than computer generated, which gives a more organic feel somehow. The backgrounds are detailed (to the point where we can see Kamala’s father is reading a local Pakistani publication), the characters each are visually distinct, and the colors give a strong contrast to show you the significant bits of each panel. I especially like how the kids giving Kamala difficulties are portrayed with big, gaping, almost fishlike mouths. The use of color during Kamala’s “meeting with the Avengers” is also pretty intense. The color intensities fluctuate with Kamala–in subdued relief until she decides to claim the power they offer her, and then she brightens as well. Subtle, but clever.
This is part one of the five part introductory arc called “Metamorphosis.” With a mere twenty pages, it’s a little early to tell if we’ve got a winner on our hands, but I’m still feeling positive and hopeful about what we’ve seen in this premiere issue.
The “Holla @ Kamala” lettercolumn title needs work, though, Marvel.