Review: Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal
Kamala Khan is an ordinary girl from Jersey City who wants all the things the average teenager wants; to be pretty, to be popular, to be normal. But coming from a Pakistani Muslim family, Kamala feels anything but normal and wishes she could be like her hero, Captain Marvel. Be careful what you wish for, though because sometimes wishes come true—and don’t turn out exactly as you expected.
Review: Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal
Written by G. Willow Wilson; Art by Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, VC’s Joe Caramagna
Marvel Comics, October 2014
120 pgs, $15.99
The announcement of the new Ms. Marvel took fans and the media by storm because not only because she was going to be a woman of color, she was going to be a Muslim. While Marvel has had superpowered characters representing one or the other, none have been both, nor have they headlined their own series. This created a lot of hype for the new teenage superhero to live up to, which is exactly what she does in this collection of the first five issues.
Kamala Khan is a sixteen-year-old Pakistani Muslim who has grown up in America and feels like an outsider. She can’t eat bacon, and her dark skin and thick brown hair make her stand out. She just wants to be like the popular white, blond girls. She sneaks out one night to go to a party and gets caught in a strange mist that covers the area. After blacking out, she wakes up and finds she can not only change her size, but also her shape, and she takes on the identity of the superhero Ms. Marvel, Kamala’s idol. This starts Kamala on a journey to discover not only what her powers are, but who she wants to be as a person and a hero.
I loved Kamala. She is a great protagonist, from her geeky obsession with the Avengers to her teenage angst. She is very relatable as she inhales the aroma of B.L.T.s she is forbidden to eat, sneaks out of her room repeatedly despite the trouble it gets her into with her parents, and worries about how different she is from the other kids, from her appearance to her weird food rules and holidays. I liked her reaction to getting powers. She’s freaked out at first, wondering if she can take it all back. But the more she experiments with her powers and starts playing the hero, the closer she gets to finding her true self.
That’s really a big part of this first arc. Kamala starts out wishing she could be someone else, but the more she accepts who she is, the easier it is for her to use her powers. When she shapeshifts as Captain Marvel, she is uncomfortable with her appearance and costume, and her powers are difficult to control. It’s not until she realizes being herself is good enough that she can start to control and hone her powers. She creates a costume for herself made from a burkini, a swimsuit that covers most of a woman’s body, and her headscarf, but, of course with a more superhero touch. Properly suited, she is able to be the superhero she’s always wanted.
But being a superhero is no walk in the park, and this series shows the consequences to jumping into something like that head first. The first crime Kamala tries to stop gets her shot in the gut. It turns out that she has healing powers, so she quickly recovers, but it’s still a dramatic moment for both her and her shooter. When she tries to rescue her friend Bruno’s older brother, she runs in without a plan like she thinks all superheroes do, and fails. She learns she needs to use both her brain and her brawn to be a good hero, and she succeeds when she does.
Kamala has a lot of support, though she doesn’t always see it that way. Bruno, her friend who works at the Circle Q, becomes the first to learn about her new powers. He’s smart and works to help support his family. He also has feelings for Kamala that she is completely oblivious to. He tries to be the voice of reason and talk her out of jumping into danger, but he ends up helping her anyway. Nakia is Kamala’s best friend and the person she turns to at first, though she doesn’t tell her about becoming Ms. Marvel. Kamala’s parents and older brother all worry about her as she seems to be changing, even though to Kamala, they seem to just be trying to get in her way. I liked how her father showed he cared about her, but still punished her for sneaking out.
I loved the art in this book. Most of the time the characters are depicted with a realistic style, though in moments of comedy or background, they take on more stick-figure traits, with stick arms, and dots for eyes. And you have to pay close attention to the background, there are so many little comedic things there. In the crowd scene at the party, there one person chasing another with an axe. The axe shows up later own imbedded in a pole. The magazines, newspapers, and flyers all have hilarious things on them. In the background of a scene where Kamala is searching the web, there is a newspaper article on her wall about the mist with a side headline “High School Cannibalism Experiment Goes Horribly Wrong.” These little things just fly by if you don’t stop and really look at the panels. They are worth the time.
Ms. Marvel had a lot to live up to with so many people talking about it and expecting great things from it. This first volume delivers. It introduces a great character that is in some ways different and respects those differences while also showing that in all the ways that matter, she really isn’t. Kamala Khan shows we can embrace our differences and still be something anyone and everyone can look up to. It’s also just a really fun book to read and deserves the Eisner nomination it has received.
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About Lori Henderson
Lori Henderson is a mother of two teenage daughters and an avid reader. She blogs about manga at her personal blog Manga Xanadu as well as contributing and editing for Manga Village. She blogs about all things fandom (mainly Doctor Who) at her other personal blog Fangirl Xanadu. She's been at it so for over 5 years now and counting!
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