Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Meeting Ms. Marvel

Images (c) Marvel Entertainment.

Wilson, Alphona, and the Marvel team have created a modern twist to Ms. Marvel offering fun and diversity for tween readers and beyond. Ms. Marvel is a finalist for the first Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity (nominees range from independent to mainstream comic books), and one of YALSA’s Top Ten 2015 Great Graphic Novels for Teens. It is also one of YALSA’s 2015 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers.


Ms. Mavels: No Normal encompasses the first five issues of Marvel’s new reboot. It features a Muslim Pakistani American (polymorph) super heroine who struggles with identity issues whether she’s in or out of her costume.  Kamala’s polymorph superpowers are a wonderful metaphor reflecting her inner struggles as she stretches, bends, and recoils from the pressures all around her. Throughout this volume, Kamala Khan not only struggles with her identity, but with the different-ways and expectations of her religion, with the pressures and expectations from her strict (but nurturing) parents, and with her power as well. Throughout all these conflicts, Kamala must also be careful as a polymorph to not be all things to all people, which in the long run, might be very dangerous.

Images (c) Marvel Entertainment.
The readers, while passive observers, can’t help but be drawn into this story.  Despite Kamala’s diverse cultural background, or maybe because of it, she’s in many ways, also a wonderfully typical teenager, wrestling with being a Jersey City girl who happens to come from a modern religious family. Like most teens she’s just trying to figure out how to fit in. Throughout this book, the text provides wonderful insights into Kamala’s thoughts and character, while moving quickly along.  The art is equally engaging and inviting. Alphona’s somewhat comic figures balance Kamala’s real-life conflicts with Wilson’s wit, drawing us deeper and deeper into the story.
Note that while this is a reboot, readers do not necessarily need to know the original story.  It may help, though, as there are some gaps in the beginning of the story. That said, Ms. Marvel is engaging for all readers (tweens and up) and is full of wonderful witticisms and humor while subtly introducing diversity in a previously told but equally engaging story.
Images (c) Marvel Entertainment.

Ms. Marvel is about:
·      The typical American girl teenage experience;
·      The struggles and pressures of assimilation and fitting in while retaining family background, family history, and family religion;
·      The stresses of being an individual trying to fit into various cultural “boxes” or communities, which may or may not conflict with each other;
·      The ability to balance gifts and pressures in the world around her;
·      The fact that while a Muslim and a polymorph, what shapes and drives Kamala are her personality, her parents’ teachings, her inner strengths and her values – not her labels.

Images (c) Marvel Entertainment.
In Ms. Marvel: No Normal, Kamala, a sixteen year old Muslim Pakistani-American, has a “sad nerd obsession with the Avengers” and tries to bridge her Muslim world and friends with the Jersey City kids she goes to school with. The book opens with Kamala and her friend Nakia in the Circle Q convenience store talking with Bruno (Kamala’s “second best friend”). Zoe and her boyfriend, Josh walk in and Zoe, all peaches and cream, condescendingly patronizes Kamala and her friends while inviting them to a waterfront party.  While Nakia has no interest in attending (because they’ll be drinking alcohol which is against her religion), Kamala wants to go.  Despite the fact that Kamala’s parents refuse to let her go, she sneaks out and goes anyway.  While she sees and approaches Bruno, Zoe comes over to her, openly insults her, and Kamala runs away after they trick her into drinking alcohol.  As she runs away, a mist envelops Jersey City, and Kamala meets the Avengers.

Not understanding where she is or what she’s seeing, Captain America tells her, "You are seeing

what you need to see. You stand at a crossroads. You thought that if you disobeyed your parents – your culture, your religion – your classmates would accept you. What happened instead?” Kamala explains that they laughed at her and mocked her family and “brown people” but that she was there because she grew up American, from Jersey City and “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I don’t know who I’m supposed to be.”  When Captain Marvel - Carol Danvers asks her who she wants to be, Kamala answers, “I want to be you.” And just like that, she becomes a polymorph, although Captain Marvel warns her, “It is not going to turn out the way you think.”

Images (c) Marvel Entertainment.
In Ms. Marvel: No Normal, Kamala learns that becoming blonde and Caucasian doesn't make her happy or glamorous or even popular. She eventually realizes however, that changing shape doesn't mean she can erase who she is. It doesn’t protect her from others insulting her values, her family’s values or her religion. It also doesn’t protect her from the wrath of her parents or from Sheikh Abdullah who runs their mosque and its youth lectures she has to attend. Kamala even admits that,

Being someone else isn't liberating. It's exhausting. I always thought that if I had amazing hair, if I could pull off great boots, if I could fly—that would make me happy.  But the hair gets in my face, the boots pinch … and the leotard is giving me an epic wedgie.

Kamala also finds that her father’s teachings of the Quran give her the vision and strength to use her powers. Just before deciding to rescue Zoe, she remembers a passage from the Quran: "Whoever saves one person, it is as if he has saved all of mankind." She soon learns that while she may look like Captain Marvel on the outside, that's just a costume. What's inside is Kamala, and part of who Kamala is - her family, her religion, her friends, and her ethnicity- are what ultimately guide her and help her realize who she is and how she fits in.

While Wilson and Alphona have created a superhero comic in the classic Marvel mode, they offer a more progressive perspective in the characters, text and artwork. Alphona provides a wonderful balance of gravitas and whimsy in his art, keeping the tone light and fun with his cartoonish-y exaggerated character expressions and flourishes. Balancing this quirkiness is Wilson’s insightful text filled with imagery of its own. Alphona’s cartoonish characters, fashion details, and use of color are engaging and add a delightful depth complementing Wilson’s highly expressive, real-life text. All this enables readers to embrace the diversity of their characters while adding a breath of fresh air to this rebooted story.
Images (c) Marvel Entertainment.
Whether used in classrooms or just read for fun, there is great depth of character and this book provides a wonderful look at the balancing of family, religion, and pop culture that all tweens and teens deal with.

Suggested Prose, Graphic Novel and Poetry Pairings
·      D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths by Ingri and Edgar D’Aulaire: an introduction to the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece. Note that George O’Connor (First Second Books) is also putting out an exceptional collection of graphic novels accurately and creatively accounting the stories of the Greek gods. When reading these Greek Myths, discuss how Kamala’s story does and does not parallel these myths.
·      The Absolutely True Story of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie: About a bright motivated young Native American who must decide about commuting to a better all-white school off the reservation and face ridicule (by white kids he must befriend and from his local friends he leaves behind), or remain with his friends who are heading know where fast. Compare and contrast how the characters from different cultures strive to fit in.
·      American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang: about a Chinese boy who struggles to fit in with his American classmates.  Compare and contrast how Jin Wang and Kamala are similar/different and how they struggle to be American.
Images (c) Marvel Entertainment.
·      Captain Marvel; Young Avengers; and Captain Marvel: Earth’s Mightiest Hero – Marvel comic series.  Compare and contrast these Avenger/Captain Marvel series.
Images (c) Marvel Entertainment.
As always, thanks for your visit.
Please leave your reactions in the comments below.


  1. I can't read books anymore, sadly enough, always admire people who can and do and have so much fun with it as you seem to have.

    Thank you for participating in our weekly Photo-meme. Hope to see you next week, and weeks to come, again.

    Have a nice abc-week / -day
    ♫ M e l ☺ d y ♫

  2. Love the gist of this comics! Sounds like a nice mix and the illustration is amazing too! I miss reading comics and graphic novels now!

  3. Wow, keeping up with the Captain Marvel/Ms. Marvel lineage is complicated stuff. I suppose that's why graphic novels are more popular than the individual issues.

    ROG, ABCW-

  4. I teach English, and I have so many girls who love manga (anime, graphic novels). They need a hero!

  5. My friend's son loves these kinds of books. I could never understand them. I think I am too old!

  6. Very helpful suggestions that help in the optimizing topic,Thanks for your sharing.


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