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Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal


Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal

Superhero comics are obsessed with identity, almost by definition. Most characters in comics had lives of their own before they run smack into the genetic fluke/tragic death/bubbling green vat of deus ex machina that turns them into the latex-laden villain-whipping vigilantes we know and love. The best comics pay careful attention to the juggling of identities: the weight they carry, and the damage they can cause to the loved ones of the hero in question when not juggled just right.

Pakistani. American. Muslim. Daughter. Sister. Friend. Student. Unlikely hero and newly-formed Inhuman (although she doesn’t know it yet). These are all roles Kamala Khan, a Jersey City teen from an immigrant family, is forced to play, and she’s having trouble figuring out how she can possibly manage.

"Perhaps the most impressive achievement here is how natural it feels to have Khan as Ms. Marvel.... I can't wait to see what's next."

Khan, the first Muslim character to headline a Marvel comic book, develops powers overnight after a fateful interaction with the Terrigen Mist --- and after saving a classmate’s life and nearly dying from a gunshot wound, she realizes she has a lot to learn before she can be a real superhero. It’s hard to balance a desire to use your powers to save the innocent with a ten o’clock curfew, and even harder to know who it’s safe to trust with your new secret identity.

Normally, I try to avoid the conventional “author backstory” section of a review, but G. Willow Wilson deserves the nod. Wilson converted to Islam while attending Boston University and spent the subsequent few years living in Cairo freelancing for The Atlantic and The New York Times Magazine, among others. Her experience is unique among comics writers --- at least, as far as I’m aware --- and it shows in the best of ways.

Refreshingly, Khan’s skin color and religion are not tokenistic here, but rather seem to be at the crux of the story’s larger theme (hint: I’ve mentioned “identity” a lot in this review), and Wilson’s experience is clearly put to good use. The compassion she feels for her character is palpable, and as such, it’s quite hard for a reader not to come to care for Kamala, even with only five issues worth of material in which to get to know her.

Alphona’s art, too, must be praised. It benefits immensely from Ian Herring’s gorgeous pastel color choices, but the exaggerated faces and bodies of the characters are a constant reminder of the uncertainty of the self and the ever-changing world.

Perhaps the most impressive achievement here is how natural it feels to have Khan as Ms. Marvel. The character has quite a history --- Carol Danvers, now Captain Marvel, is one of Khan’s role models even before she gets her own chance to “embiggen” --- and that history is paid its due reverence while still serving primarily only as a frame for the picture. Wilson has created a character who fits naturally within the existing Ms. Marvel paradigm while bringing her own nuances to the table. That’s quite a feat.

All eyes in the comics world are now on this teenaged Muslim superheroine, who has the potential to be one of the most important characters in recent history. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Reviewed by John Maher on October 28, 2014

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal
by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona

  • Publication Date: October 28, 2014
  • Genres: Comic Books, Graphic Novel
  • Paperback: 120 pages
  • Publisher: Marvel
  • ISBN-10: 078519021X
  • ISBN-13: 9780785190219