Marvel unveils teen Muslim – American superhero

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Natalia Gevara, Staff Writer

Superheroes that fly, superheroes that shoot spiderwebs, superheroes that turn into raging green monsters — all are notable additions to the superhero family and are seen as some of the most iconic characters of this generation.  However, diversity isn’t at its strongest when it comes to renowned superheroes, and comic book companies have been taking big steps to change that.

In November, Marvel Comics introduced Kamala Khan, a teenage Muslim-American who will be the main focus of the comic book series “Ms Marvel,” beginning this February.

Khan’s story is set in Jersey City, New Jersey, where her mission is to put right the wrongs of the world.  While discovering her superpowers of growing and shrinking different parts of her body, Khan also grapples with cultural, religious and coming of age issues.

“Islam is both an essential part of her identity, and something she struggles mightily with,” G. Willow Wilson, lead writer of the comic, said in an interview on the Marvel website. “She wants to go to parties and stay out past 9 p.m. and feel ‘normal.’ Yet at the same time, she feels the need to defend her family and their beliefs.”

Kamala Khan joins the slowly expanding group of Muslim superheroes in the comic book franchise. Others in this group include Sooraya Qadir, the niqab-wearing heroine who first appeared in 2002 as part of the X-Men comic series. In 2011, DC Comics introduced the Algerian Sunni Muslim hero Nightrunner, and just last year, DC also rebooted its Green Lantern series, which focused in Muslim Arab-American Simon Baz.

Kamala, whose family is from Pakistan, aspires to  become like her idol, the blonde haired, blue-eyed Captain Marvel. With the discovery of her powers, Kamala then takes on the pseudonym Ms. Marvel.

“Captain Marvel represents an ideal that  Kamala pines for,” Wilson said. “She’s strong, beautiful and doesn’t have any of the baggage of being Pakistani and ‘different.’”

Comic book franchises such as DC and Marvel have a wide and ever-growing selection of superheroes. However, underneath the extravagant costumes, tights, and masks, is usually a white male. For people who grew up with comic books, the introduction of a Muslim female superhero is a huge milestone.

“We didn’t see people of other nationalities, ethnicities, or languages in comics,” Theatre Arts teacher Rich Harlow said. “We didn’t have diversity.”

Others who grew up collecting comic books recognize the lack of diverse superheroes in the comic franchise history.

“It seemed like heroes were cultureless,” AP Euro teacher Jason Johnson said. “I can see that superheroes were really your typical WASP; they were all white.”

Series editor Sana Amanat tells Agence France-Presse that her inspiration for Kamala comes from a “desire to explore the Muslim-American diaspora from an authentic perspective.”

“The story isn’t about what it means to be Muslim, Pakistani, or American,” Amanat told AFP. “This is ultimately a tale about what it means to be young, lost amidst the expectations bestowed upon you — and what happens when you get to choose.”

For BC students,  Khan’s diverse background doesn’t affect their perspective on her as a superhero.

“It doesn’t really matter what religion, gender, or race she is— she’s a hero for other reasons,” junior Golden Nguyen said.

Other students are looking forward to seeing a more diverse hero for a change.

“I honestly think it’s a nice change— a nice variety in the superhero franchise,” sophomore Ethan Natividad said.

With the introduction of Kamala, comes new hopes and change for comic book franchises everywhere.

“I think it’s important to expose kids [to diversity],” Johnson said, ”so they understand at a young age that it’s not only acceptable, but should be normal.”

Regardless of Kamala’s religious and cultural background, her story will still maintain the typical teenage superhero image.

“Kamala is not unlike Peter Parker,” said Marvel Editor-In-Chief Axel Alonso said on the Time website. “She’s a 16-year-old girl from the suburbs who is trying to figure out who she is.”

Kamala Khan’s diverse background is one that has not been shown in Marvel comics before, and in the eyes of many, she most certainly won’t be the last one to break new ground in the superhero franchise.