We have our own ‘Muslim’ Marvel super hero!

Published: November 6, 2013
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Kamala Khan is the second legacy Muslim character to show up in mainstream comics. Yes, it will be very controversial initially, but we need to start seeing the bigger picture.

As rumour has it, Marvel Comics, while endeavouring to diversify, will soon be introducing a series of comics whose lead character will be a teenage Muslim girl from Jersey City, named Kamala Khan. Code name: Ms Marvel.

ms marvel

Surprised? Probably a little bit. But was this expected after the success of the Burka Avenger chronicles? I think so.

As Kamala discovers her ‘shape-changing’ super powers, she has to face adversaries like her conservative family among others. Her family is portrayed as a typical (or so they claim) Muslim family with an extremely conservative brother, a mother who thinks Kamala will get pregnant the second she touches a boy and a father who has long hopes of her becoming a doctor.

family

The writer for this comic series, G Willow Wilson, said in an interview:

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

So how will Kamala be received? On one side, we have those who will condemn this concept left, right and center, while on the other we have people who will commend the basis of the concept.

Here is how I think Ms Marvel is likely to be dissected by her readers:

Her attire

We are all well aware of the reaction that Burka Avenger brought about when the series was first introduced. Jiya, the main lead, fights crime donned in a burka. Although this concept went viral and was applauded by many, there were many who criticised her attire altogether claiming it was reinforcing stereotypes and would set a bad example for children watching the show.

Kamala’s attire, on the other hand, includes a costume that covers her arms, leggings that cover her legs completely although her head and face are not covered at all. Interestingly enough, the one part that amused me the most was the scarf like garment tied around her neck.

What is that supposed to be? A dupatta?

marvel hand

If a section of the audience had an issue with Burka Avengers’ costume, boy, are they going to have a field day with Kamala’s!

Burka Avenger is portrayed as what is thought to be the idea of how women dress in Pakistan. Kamala Khan’s attire, however, is more like the modern take of how we are portrayed while fighting evil. What may come as a surprise to some people in the West is that a certain portion of the Pakistani population, albeit a minority, does in fact dress in this manner.

Before, however, you think of attacking our newest superhero, I urge you to think, is it really so bad?

Is it unacceptable for the west to think that the women in Pakistan are liberal enough to dress like that?

At least they were considerate enough to throw in a dupatta. Unfortunately, it seems they really do think we lack dress sense, but it is a great start.

Indian audience: A Pakistani super-hero, seriously?

On the other side, we have the question that not many Pakistanis but a lot of Indians will be asking. Why not have an Indian super hero?

Did I mention the fact that not only is she a superhero in the comic series, she is also the lead character?! I wouldn’t be surprised if Pakistan and India based the beginning of their fourth war on the nationality of this comic character.

The ‘Muslim’ effect

Kamala being Muslim will open a Pandora box of conspiracy theories and will become a fiery topic of debate that will go on until the end of time. ‘Maybe she is an ex-CIA agent who volunteered for a special military program’ or perhaps she has some links with Malala. Or maybe, we bribed the author. You can count on this to become the topic of many blogs to come.

The American angle

Is this America’s way of saying ‘let us work together and fight crime?’ or ‘hey, we put you in a Marvel’s comics. Can we have the NATO supply routes opened again?’

What every Pakistani will want to know is, ‘why now?’

Where did this sudden love or interest in Pakistan come from?

Either they are relating the character to Malala and how she represents Muslim women in Pakistan, and therefore create a Muslim teenage girl that will stand up for the ones who cannot stand up for themselves. Or, they’re just trying to further complicate matters by emphasising on the fact that she’s a Muslim girl.

After all, none of Marvel’s former characters’ religion has ever been mentioned, let alone highlighted, before. Why bring religion in to a comic character? Something that is so personal and considered taboo to be brought up at the dinner table is now going to be the topic of discussion between every child who reads the comic book.

None of the previous characters ever had their faith central to their character, so why give this to Kamala? In case after case, movie after movie, faith is brought up causing upheaval and resentment in certain religious segments. I hope that is not the case with Kamala.

As Sana Amanat, a Muslim-American and one of the editors of the series said,

 “I do expect some negativity, not only from people who are anti-Muslim, but people who are Muslim and might want the character portrayed in a particular light.”

I personally think it’s quite amazing. This isn’t just some random comic series we are talking about. This is Marvel; the most popular comic book company of all time. For them to include a fragment of us, Pakistanis, in their illustrations is humbling.

Kamala Khan is the second legacy Muslim character to show up in mainstream comics. Yes, it will be very controversial initially, but we need to start seeing the bigger picture.

This will hopefully be a modern take, a different and less ‘terrorist-like’ look on how we are portrayed otherwise. I do wish they had left it ‘Pakistani’ super-hero instead of emphasising on the Muslim bit. Hopefully, fans and comic book junkies will enjoy the series for what it is supposed to be, entertainment.

The mentioned Marvel comic series will be released in February 2014!

PHOTOS: PUBLICITY

Zoya Zaidi

Zoya Zaidi

The writer is an editor at a local daily. She tweets as @zozaidi (twitter.com/zozaidi).

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.