MS. MARVEL [No Normal and Generation Why]
I was initially unaware of the hype surrounding this particular title at first because I never considered myself a Marvel Comics fan in general. For a very long time, the X-Men are the only superheroes I love from the Marvel line and since I started my comics diet for this year that centers strictly around them, it's often unavoidable for me to encounter other current Marvel titles online as I do my research of specific X-Men series to read, particularly when they are included in crossover events. SO now I've expressed interest on four ongoing Marvel titles which are Thor: The God of Thunder, Loki: Agent of Asgard, She-Hulk and this one, Ms. Marvel. I don't know anything about the Captain Marvel character except that the last one was Carol Danvers and I think she used to be a pilot(?). That's really just about it but I did encounter the actual character when she made a cameo appearance in Chris Claremont's The X-Tinction Agenda storyline from The Uncanny X-Men.
Much like everyone else, I think what convinced me to pick up this series was because the titular heroine is a Muslim teenager (a Pakistani American, to be specific) which means she was supposedly created to offer something more culturally diverse than her predecessors. Honestly, I used to be such a big Spider-Man fan, and the idea of teenage superheroes has always been an alluring one for me (the realization of that fixation was something I found in the cartoon program, Young Justice which is all kinds of awesome). So, 2014 Ms. Marvel is something I instinctively wanted to read for those obvious preferences cited. When I did manage to get around it, I was pleasantly intrigued by a lot of its aspects in its first five issues as collected in this volume, No Normal.
Created by editors Sana Amanat and Stephen Wacker, writer G. Willow Wilson and artist Adrian Alphona, the character of Kamala Khan is notable initially because of her lineage and youth and for a time in the five issues compiled for No Normal, those qualities seem to be the only thing going for her as we follow her misadventures upon her own discovery that she possesses shape-shifting abilities. We can thoroughly argue that whatever made Kamala special as a superheroine in fiction is the fact that this is the first time we ever had a Muslim female character with her own solo title in comics and so everyone wants this series to succeed and meet the expectations and hype it was build up to become from the start. And much like anything hyped in a pop culture medium, it proved to be just another simple, quaint and charming tale about yet another teenager struggling to find her place in the world of adult responsibility and consequences.
But just in case you haven't been paying attention in my introductory remarks, then let me state it once again: I LOVE THE IDEA OF TEENAGE SUPERHEROES and it's mostly because they uniquely display qualities such as vulnerability, uncertainty and identity crisis until the eventual acceptance of their roles. We've all been in that age of trying to figure out what we want to be and if we even like what we were back then--add the burden of having superpowers and you get yourself a compelling coming-of-age story, and that's why I can't help but eventually fall for Kamala.
For me, the story of Kamala Khan is an uplifting journey. Eventually, this awkward, introverted yet defiant and shrewd teenage girl will learn that (in her very own words):
"Good is not a thing you are, it's a thing you do."
Given my sincere emotional attachment to the idea of teenage superheroes, I had no qualms going through the usual formula of such stories involving them, which typically followed Kamala as she copes and tries to control her transformative abilities and how that reflects her inner self. She steadily gains a sense of self-worth and confidence once she realized that she could use her powers to help people. She admits that being able to save someone from harm was a rush to her; her first rescue may be that of some spoiled, bratty schoolmate of hers whom she doesn't have any kind of relationship with, but Kamala treasured that experience anyway because it made her feel in control while she was able to keep someone safe. Since she idolized Captain Marvel, Kamala figured she could just shapeshift into that bombastic blonde heroine and no one will know better except for her.
But over the course of her trial and error, Kamala was also becoming less of a person by imitating another, and thanks to a conversation with her father where he explained why she was named "Kamala" (which means "perfection" in Arabic), our teenage heroine proudly reconciles with herself that:
"I'm not here to be a watered-down version of some other hero. I'm here to be the best version of Kamala."
Now how many teenagers her age can actually look at herself in both a critical and confident manner like she just had during that precise moment? I'm twenty-five now but I still remember being sixteen very well; to be that paradoxically scared and fearless all at once, and so reading Kamala Khan in No Normal has made me very nostalgic about my own issues and challenges as a teen. This was why I enjoyed seeing Kamala face her fears as she asserts herself during dangerous situations with a quick and agile mind and reflexes. She only had one friend to aid her in her quest and there was nobody else to help her figure out what she wants to do with her powers and how she can enhance them--it was all up to her to train and improve herself. It's like seeing your kid sister grow up and accomplish something worthwhile. With G. Willow Wilson's great writing and Adrian Alphona's dynamic illustrations, I can't help but root for Kamala to succeed every step of the way.
No Normal is a basic narrative about a likable heroine still finding her way and still at odds on how to best define herself, but it's a riveting read that you should all keep going forward with. Sure, she's catered to be a representation of a certain minority and that may come off as pandering to some but that's not all she is. She will grow over the course of the issues and for me that does happen in Generation Why, the second volume collection that proves to be a stronger installment of the series.
In Generation Why, Kamala learns more about the nature of her powers. It turns out she's not completely human. After her encounter with Wolverine during a rescue mission, she became more curious of her possible origins. Her newly formed role as New Jersey City's superheroine has called the attention of some other interested parties who want to safeguard her so they sent a super-powered watchdog named Lockjaw to protect and aid her in her missions. Of course, any superhero must have a villain to battle it out with, and for the second volume Kamala goes head-to-head with what she considers as the "boss" monster to fight (being a gamer herself, this is a reference Kamala is often fond of making; it's just a personality quirk of hers).
The choice of villain for this story was in line of the general forces Kamala faces in her own life as part of the youth which is the seemingly shallow adversity of how teenagers of her generation are discriminated against by the previous one because they are viewed as a self-entitled, lofty, unambitious flock who would rather numb or entertain themselves with their gadgets and other reclusive preoccupations. I thought this is a worthy theme to tackle for her series, seeing as generation gap is not a new thing by itself but a rather recurring theme we see in our own lives between parents and their children, so it's only natural to discuss this in a comic book series which stars a teenager who is also inquisitive enough to admit to the flaws of her generation but not necessarily condemn nor excuse them either.My favorite moment in the volume comes in issue #10.
In this issue, it was revealed that a horde of teenagers just volunteered themselves to serve as "batteries" to the villain's scheme, stating that it was the only way for them to make up for their simple crime of being your average teenager who is apparently perceived to be a burden who has wasted all of his or her potentials away. Understandably, this outwardly angers Kamala, and she passionately refuses to believe that she and her fellow teens are a lost cause; that they are as unimportant and as vain and neglectful as they are portrayed in media and such. She gives an unexpected yet rightfully timed speech, expressing her most earnest sentiments regarding the passivity of the other teens around her, and that she's no longer going to contribute to that number--and neither should they.
It's a great self-aware and crowning moment for Kamala's character which only solidified my growing admiration for her. I hope they keep this up because Kamala Khan is slowly but surely proving herself to be a wonderful, awe-inspiring role model. So go on and pick up Ms. Marvel and see for yourself what you've been missing out on. And you are missing out on a lot if you don't read this today!