I have professed my deep and abiding love for Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel before. Volumes 7 and 8 are why we read comic books. These volumes are what we’ve been growing towards. These are the issues in which Kamala faces the evils in our society, the ones that can’t be entirely super heroed away. This is the dark third act when it looks like everything is lost.
After the events during Civil War, Ms. Marvel is on her own and no longer universally loved in Jersey City. HYDRA manipulation and her own choices have soured some people on Ms. Marvel. The hits keep coming. Kamala’s friends and family become targets, not just potential collateral damage. The threats in these two volumes are more real, more realistic, and more personal.
G. Willow Wilson is fighting a real world culture war in these issues and I think that makes them more engrossing than anything she’s written for Ms. Marvel before. Right now we find ourselves living in a crazy world where the racists are coming out in the open and venal clown is in The White House. The internet has become a tool of white supremacists and Russian misinformation campaigns. Science and education aren’t valued, and too many people are trying to go back to a time that never really existed but was definitely bad for anyone that wasn’t a white man. Code words and dog whistles for white supremacy are becoming more common and more transparent. Wilson is tackling all of these things through Ms. Marvel. She shows the beauty mixed in with the ugliness, how the fears we share unite and divide us, why it’s important to keep fighting and how hard it is to fight. Identity politics become even more complicated when a secret identity is thrown into the mix.
In Damage Per Second, Kamala takes on voter apathy when her old foe and HYDRA hipster, Chuck Worthy, looks like a shoe in for Jersey City mayor. Having held back the mainstreaming Of HYDRA in her city, she has to fight an actual internet troll. A software developer created an AI program that learns how to behave from Internet comment sections and online roll playing games.
In Mecca, Kamala takes on radicalized white kids and identity politics. For the last couple of decades, segments within politics and media have questioned whether Islam can coexist with Western democracies. The huge population that follows the Muslim faith gets reduced down to freedom hating, violent, primitive tribes. The question gets asked, can you be a Muslim and an American? From the first, Wilson has dismissed that question by making Kamala a typical 2nd generation immigrant kid – American and Pakistani. She is Muslim. She is American. She is an Inhuman. She is an Avenger. Mostly though, she is a good hearted, nerdy teenage girl who wants to save everyone and also be left alone. In Mecca, all of these identities and culture clashes are at the forefront of conflict. The stuff that’s been bubbling underneath erupts. The narrative about the radicalized Muslim gets flipped to tell the story about the radicalized whites.
Wilson reflects the story that is happening now. Women are leading the resistance. Kamala isn’t the only hero in Ms. Marvel. Nakia and Tyesha are among the first to fight injustice and to hold Kamala accountable. And Becky is there with her smug intolerance, representing the complicity of women too.
Wilson isn’t telling a story of diversity. She’s set her character and her stories in a very specific place and culture. I don’t love Ms. Marvel because she’s a Pakistani-American Muslim girl. I love her because she is authentic. I identify with her because though I am white, I was a nerdy, awkward girl trying to figure out how to be a good person, and I am now a nerdy, awkward middle aged woman still trying to figure out how to be a good person. I’ll leave the last word to G. Willow Wilson.
If you’re going to write a smug thunk-piece about the “failure” of “diversity” in comics, maybe don’t use the cover image of a book that’s had 4 collections on the NYT graphic books bestseller list, won a Hugo and cleaned up at Angouleme. Just because you HOPE it’s on the chopping block, oh Riders of the Brohirrim, doesn’t mean it is.