Home » Book Reviews » Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol 3 #1 “Meta Morphosis”

Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol 3 #1 “Meta Morphosis”

WRITER: G. Willow Wilson

ARTIST: Adrian Alphona

COLOR ARTIST: Ian Herring

LETTERER: Joe Caramagna

EDITORS: Devin Lewis, Sana Amanat, Stephen Wacker, Axel Alonso

“Okay, yeah, but let’s face it … my chances of becoming an intergalactic super hero are even slimmer than my chances of becoming blond and popular.”

(Kamala Khan, Ms Marvel Vol. 3 #1)[1]

“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I don’t know who I’m supposed to be.”

“Who do you want to be?”

“Right now? I want to be beautiful and butt-kicking and less complicated. I want to be you.”

(Kamala Khan and Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #1)[2]

I enjoy superhero origin stories, and Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #1 begins to the origin story for our new superhero, sixteen-year-old Kamala Khan of Jersey City. I recently reviewed “Garden State of Mind”,[3] the preview story (which actually takes place later) to this new series and was very excited when I got my copy of issue #1.

Titled “Meta Morhposis”, this comic book is the official beginning of Kamala Khan’s series. This issue introduces us to Kamala, her friends, her family, and a couple of classmates of hers. She has two good friends: Bruno and Nakia. At the beginning of the story, Kamla and Nakia are at the Circle Q, the store where Bruno works. Kamala lives with her mother (who she calls “Ammi”, which means “Mom”), her father (who she calls “Abu”, which means “Dad”), and her older brother Aamir. We also meet two of Kamala’s other classmates: Zoe and Josh.

The issue shows us the circumstances leading up to Kamala gaining her superpowers. Along the way, we get to know more about her. It’s her origin story, and I love origin stories; it’s important to know about the character to understand their motivations, goals, and decisions. Unlike well-established characters who’ve been around for decades, for whose stories it may sometimes (though not always) be slightly forgivable to jump straight into the action, assuming prior knowledge on the part of most of the fan base, a new character needs an origin story. And Kamala’s story is both classic and refreshing at the same time.

Readers will be able to relate to Kamala and want to cheer her on. She’s funny and aspires to do great things. She feels different from everyone else and wants to fit in. She’s also a fan of superheroes and writes Avengers fan fiction. (There’s a point in the book when we get to see a bit of Kamala’s fan fiction and then read an interaction between her and her mother, which literally made me laugh out loud.) As much as I love superheroes who defeat the villains, it’s really the person behind the mask who’s more interesting than their powers, and Kamala’s story is endearing. She’s a hero that has much in common with her fans.

The interactions between the members of Kamala’s family were really interesting to read. Her parents are very strict, and her brother is very religious and prays frequently. At first glance, these seem like stereotypes, but the passages are handled well, with insight and humor; their descriptions are not presented as an endorsement of stereotypes, but as an acknowledgement of the experiences of the children of immigrants, who find themselves disagreeing with parents who may expect them to live according to certain cultural and religious beliefs that seem outdated or ridiculous to the child or teenager. More generally, a character having to deal with a very strict parent is a staple of fiction; it provides something to rebel against and also sets up a situation in which the character must decide in which situations it’s appropriate to rebel (in order to do something right) and in which situations it makes more sense to listen to parents’ advice. Readers from any background will be able to relate to Kamala’s interactions with her family, and readers from a Muslim family may find some specifics that hit close to home. (Kamala has a line, while explain some of her disagreements with her parents, in which she points out, “I grew up here! I’m from Jersey City, not Karachi!”[4] I recall having said incredibly similar things in my life.) Overall, I thought the elements pertaining to her family and their religious beliefs were handled in a decent way; there were some lighthearted moments and some serious ones as well (everything from not being allowed to eat bacon to being treated differently due to her gender) with a great focus on Kamala as an individual, rather than on a representative of her religion.

Kamala’s interactions with her friends and classmates were also interesting. Her friend Nakia is also Muslim, but it’s suggested that she and Kamala have some differing views on their religion; Nakia wears hijab and does not want to be called by the Anglicized nickname Kiki anymore. While they are at the Circle Q, Zoe and Josh walk in and Zoe makes a comment about Nakia’s hijab (expressing concern in an insulting way) and then inviting them to a party (with a comment about them not being able to attend due to their parents). Kamala’s friend Bruno is on Kamala and Nakia’s side, referring to Zoe a as a “concern troll”. Given some of my criticism of religious dress codes and the restrictive expectations of conservative religious parents, I do sometimes find the reflexive defense of hijab by Muslims to be frustrating, and this passage did remind me of that. On the one hand, including Nakia as an example of a Muslim teenager who made her own decision to wear hijab addresses a very important problem of people making assumptions about Muslim women. On the other hand, coercion in these matters is a very real problem faced by women, and so for concern about it to be expressed in the most insulting and discriminatory way struck me as an over-simplification to allow for a simple response. Overall, I do think it was important for this type of passage to be in the story, given the stereotypes that exist about Muslim women, and it is balanced by the fact that Kamala herself also criticizes her parents’ expectations of her. There seems to be room for Kamala to be herself, not completely going along with what either her family or her classmates expect of her, which I really appreciate. It’s a staple of stories with minority characters, especially stories about the children of immigrants, to show the experience of being “caught between two worlds” (as it’s sometimes phrased, rather oddly and somewhat inaccurately in my opinion); different stories have varying degrees of success with this, and I think this issue does a decent job of portraying that experience realistically and with understanding and compassion for those living it.

Both the writing and artwork are really wonderful, adding to each other beautifully. The dialogue seems realistic and relatable, and is often absolutely hilarious and enjoyable to read. Some of the boxes with Kamala’s thoughts and narration can be a bit clichéd, but they’re relatable clichés that many teenagers have probably experienced, and there’s important insight into her character. Her little side comments about certain situations are really amusing. I really love the artwork, especially the character designs, which have wonderful facial expressions. The cover is also really great and memorable, really appropriate for a first issue.

The letters page is quite heartening to read, with much support for the series, including a passage from reader Juliana Virani’s letter that makes me teary: “I am very much looking forward to this character, because it has never actually crossed my mind that someone like me could be a super hero. I can identify with other characters, but I never thought that a person like me could ever actually be a super hero, until now. So thank you. Thank you so very much for Ms. Marvel.”[5] What better endorsement could there be?

There’s part of me that wanted cheer as I read this comic. It’s an important thing to realize that the person behind the mask, the hero behind the superhero name, can actually be someone of any demographic—not just hypothetically, but actually. This book is definitely a good start to the series and makes me really excited to read more. I very much recommend it.

[Originally Written: 26 June 2014]

###

References

[1] Wilson, G. Willow; Alphona, Adrian; Herring, Ian; et al. “Meta Morphosis” Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #1. Marvel, 5 February 2014.

[2] Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #1.

[3] EAS. “Story Review: Ms. Marvel ‘Garden State of Mind’ (Vol 3. Preview)”. Homeworld Journal, 16 May 2016. https://homeworldjournal.wordpress.com/2016/05/02/story-review-ms-marvel-garden-state-of-mind-vol-3-preview/

[4] Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #1.

[5] Virani, Juliana. Letter printed in the “Holla @ Kamala” Comic Book Letter Column of Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #1 “Meta Morphosis”.

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