New Normal: Ms. Marvel and change in comics

When Carol Danvers stepped away from the persona of Ms. Marvel to become Captain Marvel, the introduction of a new character to fill the vacant role wasn’t unexpected. What did surprise some people, however, was the new Ms. Marvel would be a Pakistani-American teenager from Jersey City.

Kamala Khan was struggling with her identity even before she developed superpowers. The first story arc, No Normal, sees her trying to balance life as a teenage girl at a New Jersey school, life at home with conservative parents and a scary imam and her new life as a costumed superhero. Kamala not only has to determine ‘who is Kamala Khan?’ but also ‘what kind of Ms. Marvel does Kamala Khan want to be?’

This new series, written by G. Willow Wilson, was greeted with certain snide suggestions that a Muslim Ms. Marvel was ‘change for the sake of change’; an attempt to provoke a response from readers and the media with a story that would have no real substance. The creative team behind this series have completely blown away any such accusations.

Kamala is one of the freshest, most lovable, most relatable characters currently in the Marvel Universe. She writes fanfic about her favorite superheroes and, when she gets to team up with Wolverine, just manages to contain the fangirl squee.

If proof were needed that this is an important series, the collection of the first five issues was the best selling graphic novel of October and debuted at number 2 on the New York Times list best selling graphic novels. In the same month that an impotent, screaming minority tried to justify misogyny and threats of violence with a hashtag, Ms. Marvel is outselling everything. Kamala is not just the hero we need, but the hero we deserve.

Marvel Comics has long had characters who reflect the changes in our society and give narrative to social struggles (the X-Men are one of the earliest and purest embodiment of this concept, and still one of Marvel’s strongest titles). With the success of the Ms. Marvel series, perhaps this will encourage similar reinvention and evolution of characters as comic narratives continue to adapt to reflect our society.

Change is rarely permanent in comic books; even in death a character’s comeback is being rehearsed in the wings. Characters may adapt but will almost always return to a variant of their original state. True character evolution is rarely sustainable, but as Kamala grows into her Ms. Marvel persona it’s a wonderful story that’s long overdue.

Ms Marvel Issue 1 Cover

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