Marvel comics has some interesting priorities. It allowed Dan Slott to kill one of the most popular characters of all time — Peter Parker — and has been dragging its feet on bringing him back ever since. It recently announced an embarrassing new origin for Tony Stark. Tens-of-thousands of long time readers might be livid, but Marvel wants you to know that it’s all going to be okay because this February they’ll be introducing … a Muslim superhero who has the ability to look a lot like “Cock Knocker” from Kevin Smith’s ‘Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back’? Weird.
Marvel announced to the New York Times that G Willow Wilson (writer of the short-lived revival of the Crossgen series Mystic) will be writing a new Ms. Marvel series starring Kamala Khan, a Muslim American teenage girl with the ability to shapeshift. According to the Times, Khan idolizes Carol Danvers and takes up her original codename after discovering her powers.
Okay. Fair enough. Marvel gets to put out a press release and pat itself on the back for being “diverse.” Sure. But questions remain: Is this going to be a book on how all Americans are apparently fearful of Muslims, or will the superhero use her powers to save Muslims like Malala Yousafzai before they’re shot in the face and left for dead by Pakistani Taliban psychopaths? Or, will the book primarily just be about the struggles of a teenage girl?
The New York Times sheds some light on the issues:
Kamala will face struggles outside her own head, including conflicts close to home. “Her brother is extremely conservative,” [Marvel editor] 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.
The creative team is braced for all possible reactions. “I do expect some negativity,” Ms. Amanat said, “not only from people who are anti-Muslim, but people who are Muslim and might want the character portrayed in a particular light.”
But “this is not evangelism,” Ms. Wilson said. “It was really important for me to portray Kamala as someone who is struggling with her faith.” The series, Ms. Wilson said, would deal with how familial and religious edicts mesh with super-heroics, which can require rules to be broken.
It’s really hard to comment on the book before it’s come out. I want to give Marvel the benefit of the doubt, but how can I? History indicates that they’ll go the politically correct route. Remember when Marvel wanted Spider-Man readers to know that Muslims are safer in Iran than New York? I do.
Let me set the stage. Something is very wrong in New York City. Citizens have been taken with fear, and they’re acting out in irrational ways. Spider-Man is working overtime (what else is new?) to keep the city from tearing itself apart. Cue Naveed Moshtaghi, a taxi driver and Iranian immigrant. Naveed’s vehicle is hit by an angry white guy, who then blames the accident on Naveed: ”He’s one of the terrorists. He wants to kill us all!”, says the aggressor. A mob is swarms around Naveed, swallowing him whole until Spider-Man saves the day.
At this point I’m willing to give writer Chris Yost a break. Maybe the “God of Fear” is really behind it all. I’m even willing to shrug off a narrator who begins, “Naveed Moshtaghi is afraid of the same thing he’s been afraid of for ten years,” (i.e., Americans are just itching for an excuse to bum rush Muslims post-9/11 to infinity and beyond), right before the story unfolds that way.
But then something interesting happens. All alone on a rooftop, Spider-Man tells the man he’s dealing with the crisis very well. Naveed responds: “I’m a second generation Iranian in New York City. Living in fear, that’s what I’m used to. What is happening down there, sometimes I think it was only a matter of time.”
Those darn white guys. Indeed, it was all just a “matter of time.” Maybe they were the same white Christian guys the Pentagon fears these days. Who knows.
Regardless, the point is, Marvel wonders why fans roll their eyes every time there is a new character seemingly invented for the sole purpose of throwing a diversity parade. Usually, those creations have less to do with adding an interesting new personality to the universe and more to do with beating readers over the head with a particular worldview. Don’t believe me? See DC’s Muslim Green Lantern.
Will I check out Ms. Marvel when it hits shelves? Perhaps. Although, quite honestly, it seems as though Marvel should get right with Spider-Man and Iron Man fans before it starts asking readers to fork over cash for teenage shapeshifters.