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Marvel Comics has recently announced that the new Ms. Marvel will be a Muslim teenager living in Jersey City. Ms. Marvel will be Kamala Khan, a 16-year-old whose family hails from Pakistan. This will be the first time that Marvel has introduced a female Muslim superhero as a title character, meaning that she will star in her own comic book series rather than being a supporting character in an existing one.
Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel. #1 of Ms. Marvel to be released in February, while she will also feature in a special issue in January.
Kamala Khan takes on the name of Ms. Marvel from the previous Ms. Marvel, Carol Danvers – a blonde American member of the Air Force, whose genes had fused with alien ones to give her superpowers. From the initial images of Khan, we can already see a change in the physical female embodiment that traditionally presents itself on the covers of comic books. The exaggerated voluptuousness and shapeliness of the previous Ms. Marvel has been replaced with a more realistic depiction of the female body. Whether this is what comic book readers want is an issue that can be discussed for hours on end and it’s far too early to know how the new Ms. Marvel will be received by the masses, but any character that presents the positive aspects of being female, Muslim, young and human goes down very well, at least with me!
The previous Ms. Marvel was Carol Danvers. While Kamala Khan has taken on the name of Ms Marvel, Danvers is now Captain Marvel – a name inherited from a male superhero.
The move is part of Marvel’s continuing attempts to become more diverse, and I think it could work very well! We’ve had similar developments from Marvel, such as Miles Morales as Spider-Man, a teenager of African-American and Latino descent, and Miguel O’Hara as Spider-Man, who is of half Mexican descent. And Marvel is not alone in this. For example, DC Comics has also attempted to diversify its offerings with Simon Baz, a Lebanese-American, as part of the Green Lantern Corps.
But let’s not forget that Marvel has also offered us Muslim superheroines in other characters that have existed for some years in the Marvel Universe, although not in such major roles.
Sooraya Qadir is Dust, part of the ‘New X-Men’. Qadir was born in Afghanistan, where Wolverine and Fantomex rescued her from a slave-trading ring. She wears an abaya with a niqab for her face – not quite the superhero costume one would immediately expect, but one that certainly works a charm. She has the ability to convert herself into sand, has enhanced durability and is resistant to telepathy and magic.
Dr. Faiza Hussain (alias: Excalibur) is a British Pakistani from Chelmsford, Essex, appearing in the Marvel Universe on various occasions. She is a trained medical doctor, with the power to assemble and disassemble anything, including people. She also has the ability to perform paralysis on others. Hussain wears hijab but her religious beliefs are never discussed, nor is she intended to represent the entire British Muslim community.
To develop Hussain’s character, writer Paul Cornell was advised by a panel of Muslim women: Mona Bayoumi, Safiya Sayed Baharun, Farida Patel, and Sohere Roked.
These are just a few examples of the kinds of characters that Marvel Comics has introduced in order to offer more diversity. It is through moves like these that companies like Marvel can widen their readership community – female superheroes are not just about flirtatious, big-busted and slim-waisted women, but also more realistic representations of real-life women from real-life communities. It’s about having something that readers can relate to, and just the same is being done with many of the new male comic book heroes. It’s all about diversity and representation.
Zara is a PhD candidate at the University of Heidelberg in Germany, as a member of the Cluster of Excellence: ‘Asia and Europe in a Global Context’. Her research focuses on representations of India in British opera and painting during the long nineteenth century, with a particular focus on gender and sexuality. In addition, Zara teaches a course for MA students of Transcultural Studies at Heidelberg University and works for the Cluster’s Editorial Office. Her general interests encompass a wide range of genres of music, art, film and other artistic media, as well as various facets of history (particularly colonial), theories of transculturality and the act (and art) of representation. She also enjoys science fiction, video games, comic books and cricket.