102 Ms. Marvel, Vol 1: No Normal

msmarvelby G. Willow Wilson & Adrian Alphona, 2014

Who knew that an Urdu-speaking Muslim Pakistani immigrant girl would be the hero we need?

I don’t read many superhero comics, so when the task to “read a superhero comic with a female lead” came up for the Read Harder Challenge, I really didn’t know where to start. Wonder Woman is the obvious choice, but I wanted to try for something different, as I was sure there were other female superheroes out there. Luckily, Melissa at Feminist Texican Reads posted feminist possibilities for all of the tasks and from there I took my chances with Ms. Marvel.

I’m really happy I did. In the first volume of this series – No Normal – we’re introduced to Kamala Khan, your everyday student dealing with being on the outside of acceptable high school societal norms. She’s not blond and popular, her parents are strict, she brings weird food for lunch, and the holidays she celebrates are different from everyone else’s. When a mysterious fog rolls through Jersey City, Kamala suddenly finds herself with the ability to transform her appearance and perform feats of bravery and strength. The bulk of this part of the story is Kamala coming to understand her new self and helping to save her friend’s brother from the clutches of The Inventor, a villain at whom we just barely get a glimpse.

What was great about this series is that it captured what it feels like to be a minority in high school. I applaud the decision to make her 1) Pakistani and 2) a Muslim in these, quite frankly, unfriendly times when we are desperate for more positive images of both, but truly this expresses a common experience amongst children of immigrants. There is an acute sense of difference – different words, different clothes, different familial expectations – that you learn to value as you grow older, but that seem to serve only to distance you from the majority when young. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I don’t know who I’m supposed to be,” muses Kamala, just prior to her transformation. And that’s really the heart of this comic – Kamala’s journey to figure out the kind of person she wants to be.

“Good is not a thing you are. It’s a thing you do,” Kamala wisely professes while assembling her superhero outfit. It’s a necessary lesson for all, teens and adults alike, and I look forward to seeing what wisdom lies ahead for this marginalized girl with a badass secret.

[Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: read a superhero comic with a female lead.]

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