Thursday, December 18, 2014

Ms. Marvel Making History

Marvel Comics celebrated its 75th anniversary this year and as many honor Marvel's achievements, the popular comic publisher continues to push the boundaries and make history with their 2014 release of the Ms. Marvel series.

I've heard lots of buzz about the revamped Ms. Marvel so I thought I'd check it out. I'm not afraid to dip my toe into the buzz. I embrace the buzz. Most times, I join the buzz. I picked up Ms. Marvel Volume One: No Normal (the first five issues compiled into one nice, neat book) and thought I'd give it a go.

Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan isn't your typical va-va-voom lady-superhero, but a young Muslim girl from Jersey City. The 16-yr-old outcast is unexpectedly gifted with some freaky super powers to which she must first learn to control and then kick bad-people ass. As someone who has never (like ever) read a graphic novel before, I believe anyone when they tell me this series is "groundbreaking."

Review with lots of spoilers
So first off, how is Ms. Marvel making history? Of what I gather from my basic superhero knowledge (movies), not being a voluptuous super-heroine is uncommon and most certainly being a Muslim super-heroine is even more unusual in the comic world. And forget sprawling metropolises like NYC and Gotham, Kamala dwells in Jersey City - Obscure-town, USA.

Kamala is being painted in the series as an outcast, however in today's definition of what's "cool" or not, Kamala would be Queen Cool. She writes fan fiction, loves video games, references Taylor Swift, the Avengers, phone apps, "MeTube" (YouTube), and wears a bomber hat alongside pink tights. She says hip things like "righteous," "wannabe hipster punk," "boss" (as in 'awesome'), "this is totally happening," "word," "come at me bro," "there are layers of unpackable crazy up in here," "this is a legit thing," and a sarcastic "wow that's real deep." By today's standards, Kamala's eccentricity would be celebrated.

Begin rant: It's kind of like the new Spider Man movies. Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is an adorable skateboarder who is super bright, witty, talented, sensitive but not too sensitive, a family guy (when he isn't indirectly contributing to their murder), all that stuff. Yet, he is portrayed as an outcast. This type of persona non grata has been the 'it' person for years. I learned recently that Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister, Aeropostale and similar store's sales have deeply declined, while H&M, Forever 21, and Topshop are all thriving. People want the more affordable, mixy-matchy clothes that they can play around with and make their own. Why? Because they want to look unique. Unique is in. A recent Boston Globe article said that lil baby Prince George's clothing style doesn't appeal to younger American parents because they "lean more toward the hipster look" for their babies. Like mustache pacifiers. I know this is just about clothes, but you get what I'm saying. End rant. Anyways, depicting Kamala as an outsider didn't work for me.

I had some problems with a few of the other characters as well. Kamala's dad had a violent outburst directed towards her over a pretty minor issue in the beginning of the volume, but then later goes on to act indifferent when dealing with what I thought was a larger transgression by Kamala. His personality was inconsistent.

Then there is Bruno. Bruno is Ms. Marvel's Lois Lane, Pepper Potts, Gwen Stacy, Mary Jane, etc. However, it took forever to come to this realization. Throughout the first issue, Bruno was just a convenience store clerk. In the second issue, he calls Kamala's parents to tattle on her so I was like OH he's an obnoxious convenience store clerk. It is not until the fourth issue he addresses himself as Kamala's "second best-friend." Firstly, addressing yourself as such is weird and a little sad. Secondly, I wish major relationships would have been a little more clearly defined from the get-go.

And finally: Vick. Vick is Bruno's brother. Vick is also an asshole. He tries to get Bruno to steal from the convenience store and when he doesn't, Vick robs it himself with a gun in which he shoots Kamala as she attempts to stop him. Vick blames his attempt at thievery on Bruno because Bruno wouldn't steal money from the store in the first place. Then he blames Kamala getting shot on Kamala because she was squeezing him too tight while trying to subdue him. Narcissist? This guy seriously sucks. The rest of the volume is Kamala trying to save Vick after he is shortly thereafter held hostage by a crime-boss-type figure known as the Inventor. Why is he the victim that Kamala is trying to save? He should be the scumbag the superheroes are trying to stop.

The real villain in this series is the mysterious Inventor. Whom we finally catch a glimpse of on the last page and it is no other than a gigantic penis parrot!

I thought the numerous Muslim references in Ms. Marvel were unnecessary. I understand that by listing religious stereotypes and then having a character interpret and/or challenge them is educational and enlightening for comic book readers, BUT there were just too many. For example: Muslim dietary restrictions, frowning on alcohol, wearing a headscarf, getting signed out of health class by her parents, "stuck with the weird holidays," someone reeking of curry, "dumb inferior brown people," speaking Urdu, bringing pakoras to lunch, traditional Muslim dress, and praying were all mentioned in the first 30 pages. Thirty pages in a comic book takes about four minutes to read so it was a little overkill. The momentum didn't stop there either. The entire volume was packed full of Muslim stereotypes. I get it. Our religious and cultural backgrounds do not solely define us as the kind of person we are or who we want to be. I get it. Diversity should be celebrated. I get it. I believe in it.  I advocate it. Can we move on?

Besides some minor frustrations (such as Kamala getting constantly grounded. She keeps getting grounded then she goes out. Then gets grounded then goes out. Then gets grounded then goes out. Then gets grounded then goes out. It's like the author and all of the characters forget Kamala was just grounded), I enjoyed this unconventional comic and I will most definitely be picking up Volume 2: Generation Why (get it? Generation Y?) which comes out in March 2015.

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