You'd never know it from Marvel's (white)
sausage-fest movies, but the comic-book company has reinvented itself in recent
years as Team Diversity. Vulture noted last month that, "in a cheeky bit of
ironic titling… X-Men was recently relaunched with an all-female cast of six
X-characters -- half of whom happen to be women of color." The same piece notes
that Marvel has also made strides in inclusivity by throwing a same-sex wedding
for Northstar, its first gay superhero, and revealing one of the three female
members of its current Fantastic Four team to be transgendered.
Given Marvel's track record, then, perhaps we shouldn’'t be too surprised by the company’s announcement that it will debut a teenage Muslim girl from New Jersey as its newest superhero. "Ms. Marvel" will be the alter ego of Kamala Khan, a Pakistani-American girl with conservative parents who will undergo "the universal experience of all American teenagers, feeling kind of isolated and finding what they are," according to series writer G. Willow Wilson, a convert to Islam.
According to The New York Times, Kamala was the
brainchild of Marvel editors Sana Amanat and Steve Wacker:
I was telling him some crazy anecdote about my childhood, growing up as a Muslim-American, Ms. Amanat said. He found it hilarious. Ms. Amanat and Mr. Wacker noted the dearth of female superhero series and, even more so, of comics with cultural specificity.
The New York Times provides a few more details:
Kamala, whose family is from Pakistan, has devotedly followed the career of the blond, blue-eyed Carol Danvers, who now goes by Captain Marvel, a name she inherited from a male hero. When Kamala discovers her powers, including the ability to change shape, she takes on the code name Ms. Marvel -- what Carol called herself when she began her superhero career.
"Captain Marvel represents an ideal that Kamala pines for," Ms. Wilson said. "She’s strong, beautiful and doesn’t have any of the baggage of being Pakistani and 'different.'"
Ms. Amanat said, "It’s also sort of like when I was a little girl and wanted to be Tiffani-Amber Thiessen," from Saved by the Bell.
Kamala will face struggles outside her own head, including conflicts close to home. "Her brother is extremely conservative," Ms. Amanat said. "Her mom is paranoid that she’s going to touch a boy and get pregnant. Her father wants her to concentrate on her studies and become a doctor." Next to those challenges, fighting supervillains may be a respite.
Kamala will make her debut in February.