Until recently all superheroes from the creative minds at Marvel and DC Comics were white, straight men. But over time — albeit very slowly — we have seen the arrival of greater diversity: an Amazonian Wonder Woman, an African-American Green Lantern, a lesbian Batwoman. Now, comes Kamala Khan, a shape-shifting Muslim girl, from New Jersey (well, nobody’s perfect).
Author Shelina Janmohamed chimes in with some well-timed analysis.
From the Telegraph:
Once, an average comic book superhero was male and wore his pants on the outside of his trousers. We’ve been thrown some female heroines along the way: Wonder Woman, Lara Croft and Ms Marvel. The female presence in comics has been growing over the years. But the latest announcement by Marvel Comics that a 16-year-old Pakistani Muslim American girl from New Jersey will be one of their lead characters has been creating a stir, and for all the right reasons. Kamala Khan is the new Ms Marvel.
The series editor at Marvel, Sana Amanat says the series is a “desire to explore the Muslim-American diaspora from an authentic perspective”. Khan can grow and shrink her limbs and her body and ultimately, she’ll be able to shape shift into other forms.
Like all superheroes she has a back story, and the series will deal with how familial and religious edicts mesh with super-heroics, and perhaps even involve some rule breaking.
I love it.
As a teenager, I wish I could have seen depictions of struggling with identity, religion and adolescence that reflected my own, and in a way that made me believe I could be powerful rather than confused, marginalised and abnormal.
Kamala Khan will create waves not just for teenagers though. Her very existence will enable readers to see past the ‘Muslim’ tag, into a powerful and flawed multifaceted human being. Fantasy, paradoxically, is a potent method to create normalisation of Muslim women in the ordinary mainstream.
Usually, Muslim women in the public eye including fictional ones, are cast in a long tradition of one-dimensional stereotypes, meek, submissive, oppressed and cloaked females struggling to escape from a violent family, or too brainwashed to know that she needs to escape.
Instead, Marvel Comics has created the opportunity to investigate the complexity of a Muslim female character to the backdrop of a different history: the tradition of superheroes. Fraught with angst in her daily life, we can now explore Muslim women’s relationship with power (and in Khan’s case, with giant fists). She is contextualised not through politics but through the world of superheroes.
Comics and cartoons are increasingly giving space to Muslim women to be explored in new contexts, offering the opportunity for better understanding, and ‘normalisation.’ Yes, I’m using the word again, because sometimes that’s all we long for, to be seen as normal ordinary women.
Just yesterday, the hashtag ‘#AsAMuslimWoman’ was trending on Twitter, offering mundane self descriptions from Muslim women such as: “Early mornings irritate me & I enjoy chocolate”, “I hate the District line in the morning. It’s cramped. And it smells funny”, and I’m “running my business, enjoying motherhood and living my Dreams”.
Read the entire article here.
Image: Kamala Khan, Marvel’s new Muslim superhero, on the cover of the new Ms. Marvel comic. Courtesy of the Marvel / Independent.