Ms Marvel Volume 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona (artist) is the first collected instalment in an #OwnVoices Islamic, young adult, superhero comic series about a Pakistani-American Muslim teenager named Kamala Khan from Jersey City. After sneaking out of her house in order to attend a hip party with the popular White kids, Kamala gets taken by surprise by a mysterious event. When she awakens, she discovers that she has eccentrically newfound superpowers.
This is a comic series that I had been interested in picking up for a long time, especially never having encountered a superhero tale about Muslims, let alone Muslim girls. Since my goal this month is to read as many books by Muslim authors as possible with Ramadan going on, I supposed it was time to stop being lazy. While I really liked Kamala as a character and found humour and curiosity in watching her adjust to her new capabilities, I still felt heavily disappointed overall. The comic ended up falling victim to stereotypes that I find exasperating as a South-Asian Muslima and also as someone who enjoys superhero narratives. With that said, the story does also have a good foundation for exploring themes on individuality that I did appreciate.
Within the first one-fourth of the comic we watch as Kamala encounters some ignorant racist White kids from her school. They made their typical comments that people like them do—jabs at culture, food, or strict parents—and this sets up a decent understanding of some of the basic challenges that people of colour, particularly South Asian individuals, undergo on a daily basis. I loved Kamala’s friend who seems to be fiercely spirited and unaffected by such brash bigotry (unfortunately, she has a severely limited presence in volume one). However, as we learn more about Kamala, she falls into stereotypes that made me feel bored and uninspired.
The biggest stereotype that bothered me were her parents. I’ve read a lot of #OwnVoices South Asian narratives that depict the parents to be protective and conservative, specifically with their daughters. Yet, there’s an authenticity to it that utilises large chunks of culture, such as the personal anecdotes from the writers to help set them apart enough to avoid those typecasts. Here we get a super generalised mum and dad who don’t allow Kamala to do much of anything because she is a girl, yet with the same breath turn around and allow their son to do as he pleases for the most part. It’s like someone took the insults that were spewed by the White kids in the beginning of the story and used that as a mould for her parents. For me personally, it was uncomfortable and frustrating, which only became more heightened as her acquisition of superpowers came in play.
As an origin story, this is excruciatingly bland and blinkered. For starters, you’ve a pissed off teenager going off and doing something in a fit of rebellion. Upon doing the thing she technically wasn’t supposed to, she realises it was a waste of time. Rather than going back home, she storms off in a fit of rage, where she runs smack dab into a mess of trouble. When she wakes up, she learns that she now has superpowers, which she must hide from everyone, particularly the parentals.
I don’t know what annoyed me more. The fact that she followed a newbie’s boring formula of colliding with the element that would give her powers, or how she acquired her powers in general. There was nothing exciting or inspiring about it; rather it was a giant moment of convenience and it came off super awkward and unpolished. There was no real action or badass moment that led to it at all. This had to be the most desultory origin story that I have ever read.
The rest of the volume is dedicated to Kamala trying to figure out her new abilities while balancing her life at home. These parts may be the saving grace to the comic because it shows her having an inner struggle with trying to please people around her in an effort to maintain peace, while simultaneously humouring the notion that rather than try and please others or pretend to be something she’s not, she should instead be making an attempt at deciphering who she is as an individual and a person. This theme of self-discovery is one that many, many people will be able to relate to. Watching her struggle so much with learning how her powers work and seeing her compensate for her insecurities and inadequacies with ridiculous misunderstandings and cheesy dialogue felt like the most genuine part of the whole experience. Yet once again, it’s all perfunctory without much depth or actual exploration. Many aspects are touched upon briefly then quickly shoved aside to strive onwards.
I understand what having this kind of representation in comics, particularly superhero tales, can mean for a lot of readers out there. Because of that, regardless of all of the stuff that made me annoyed, I respect it for what it is. As an introductory volume, Ms Marvel Volume 1: No Normal is extremely subpar and a massive disappointment, more so if you’re a regular or veteran comic reader. Nevertheless, for readers in search of positive Muslim representation within this medium and genre, specifically where females are concerned, and for people who might have never read comics before, I think this isn’t too terrible of a place to start. I mean, I have read far worse things, unfortunately.
2.75 burkini outta 5!