Two Years Ago: The Debut of Kamala Khan, The Modern Marvel Hero
When you think of the term superhero, what instinctively comes to mind? Is it a straight white man with bulging muscles and a scarlet cape? Or a brooding vigilante with an aggressive streak and a heart of gold? Whatever your thoughts on mainstream superheroes, Kamala Khan, otherwise known as Ms Marvel, effortlessly dismantles them. Debuting on this day in 2013 in a cameo in the pages of Captain Marvel, the Pakistani American Muslim teenager quickly became one of the most honest and relatable heroes in the Marvel pantheon.
Created by editors Sana Amanat and Steve Wacker, writer G. Willow Wilson, and artists Adrian Alphona and Jamie McKelvie, Kamala Khan deals with average teenage problems that readers will recognize in the pages of her self-titled Ms Marvel series. These problems include overprotective parents and not feeling cool enough to fit in with the popular kids --- but she's also dealing with the specific challenges of life as a young Muslim in Jersey City. Though she wasn’t Marvel’s first Muslim character (she's preceded by Monet St. Croix and Sooraya Qadir, among others), she was the first to headline her own comic, and her faith plays a major role in her life, as in her choices about when to wear the hijab, and her banter about shared experiences with her Muslim BFF Nakia.
Kamala also captures a spirit that every comic reader shares: the spirit of fandom. Her love of the Avengers may be what makes her most accessible. Living in a world of superheroes, mutants, aliens, and magical hammers must be awe-inspiring, and Kamala celebrates all of that. In fact, that wonder is part of what inspires her to do good.
When Kamala first discovers her shape-shifting abilities, she morphs into the likeness of her idol Carol Danvers as the original Ms Marvel --- and she’s mortified. This is one of Kamala’s defining moments. Kamala longs to be a hero, but transformed into a familiar, blonde, Caucasian beauty, she instinctively recoils. This is not who she wants to be. Her individuality matters too much to her, and is something she fiercely protects.
But that connection to Carol Danvers matters too. Though her heroic identity can ultimately be traced back to a male hero, Marvel's first Captain Marvel, Kamala is actually one of the few female legacy heroes in comics inspired by another woman.
Though, like us, Kamala loves all kinds of heroes. After aiding Wolverine in a battle with a giant sewer alligator in Ms Marvel #6, Kamala unabashedly asks the disgruntled hero for a selfie, and he obliges, resulting in the cover art for issue #7. The magic of this isn’t just that she just met one of her and our faves; it shows Kamala interacting with the wider Marvel Universe on her own terms Between this and her addictive superhero fan fiction (I totally support anyone who ships Storm and Wolverine), Kamala emerges as a fun and vibrant hero who feels both fresh and familiar.
When I read Ms Marvel, I see a not-so-self assured teen who wants to do good, and a hero who loves heroes. Kamala is, in many ways, the voice of the readers. We hope we'll still be celebrating her place in the Marvel Universe for decades to come.