It doesn’t happen every day that a literary fiction guy who also happens to be an academic feels like geeking out in public. And yet, one comic book series, coming from a company that absolutely does not need my help in promotion, makes me curl up to my iPad like to a real book (yes, I had to use the digital edition, sorry fellow geeks). The new Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan, made the gadget transparent for me. She made me think Harold Bloom himself would venture into using the word “awesome” if he read it (and he damn well should). To (mis)quote Jacques Derrida, it has “presence.” Alice Munro is raving about it (no she’s not, but I can so see her do it).
She’s a super immigrant
There are so many reasons why this series of popular superhero genre is so fresh. Ms. Marvel is not only a super-girl with cool powers. She’s also a super-immigrant, and a super-Muslim at that. One cannot underestimate the identification-value in this combination. Not since Spider-man has there been a character that readers from all walks of life (except for evildoers, of course) can identify with.
She’s a plain jane
She is the kind of female heroine that does not need to appear in the figura serpentinata like most superhero-Eschergirls. This spiral pose, aka The Brokeback Pose, shines with its absence. This shows how much we’re used to seeing the artist (read: male geeks drawing for male geeks) defying the laws of anatomy and even physics in order to display breasts and buttocks simultaneously, and thereby maximize the image’s erotic appeal. What’s interesting is that Kamala Khan starts off wanting to be like the original blond bombshell that is Ms. Marvel (Carol Danvers), and with help of her shape-shifting powers she can indeed assume that “ideal” form. But this seriously affects her other abilities and makes her weaker. In other words, she can only fully utilize her powers if she remains her plain self.
She gets her geek on
As if all this was not enough, she is a geek herself. In an amazing scene she teams up with none lesser than Mr. Best-at-what-he-does (and what he does is not nice). She reacts to his presence like a genuine fan. It turns out she has written fan fiction about him. And she saves him too. These are just some bits about the cool content, but besides the editor Sana Amanat and the writer G. Willow Wilson, much praise needs to be given to the artist Adrian Alphona. The style fits the character perfectly both in the action scenes and in humorous scenes (typically Marvel).
She has fantastic fans
Last, in recommending this series, I want to draw your attention to the single issues. Normally I wait until the release of a hardback edition but I simply could not wait. One day I will buy the ultra-geek edition with all the behind the scenes stuff, but that which those absolute, Bible-like editions never have is fan-mail. And there is a lot of letters to the editor in Ms. Marvel. In order to truly experience Kamala Khan and the great Marvel that she is, you have to take part of the fandom she has created from #1. Seldom do I see that much diversity in readership in terms of gender, ethnicity, nationality, religion, age and any other category. These voices are a part of what Kamala Khan is.
Adnan Mahmutovic came to Sweden from Bosnia as a refugee of war in the 90s. He’s an Associate Professor of Literature and Creative writing at Stockholm University. His first novel was published in 2010 as the winning entry in the Cinnamon Press competition and his short story collection How to Fare Well and Stay Fair came out in 2012 with Salt Publishing. He’s the fiction editor of Two Thirds North.