Kamala Khan is a normal sixteen-year old teenage girl in Jersey City who happens to be Muslim and, you know, a superhero, and in fact an Inhuman, like Skye/Daisy on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The first book begins with her latent superpowers being activated by the Terrigen Cloud or Mist or whatever it is (It’s a Marvel universe thing, just go with it) and her learning what those powers are and how to use them.
She also has to figure out a costume and what to do with it when she’s not wearing it, and how to handle her loving but conservative parents, her mystified but supportive brother, and her equally mystified friends and high school faculty. Her best friend Bruno is the only one who knows her secret identity, and there are lines like “Dude. You’re from a galaxy far, far away.”
There are Marvel character cameos, including Wolverine (Ms. Marvel snaps a selfie with him, natch) and Loki, who seems to have suffered either a character change or his mom is watching (I don’t keep up with the whole Marvel universe, and really, how could anyone?), and Coulson and Simmons and Captain America and some redhead who appears to be in charge of the Inhumans. Kamala battles giant robots and giant alligators and has a giant teleporting dog, so it’s good her superpower can embiggen her into a giant, too, or just makes her a giant foot or a giant fist when she needs one.
The series is a cross cultural story of epic proportions, it’s a coming of age story, and it’s a story about those essential life lessons in finding help and support in places you never expected. Her imam, Sheikh Abdullah, is a wonderfully written character. Her parents send Kamala to him so he can straighten her out back into that perfect daughter they named her for. She tells him
Nothing’s wrong with me. It’s not like that…It’s–I don’t want to lie, but I’m afraid you wouldn’t believe me. I–I help people.
And when she says she’s not very good at it (and she isn’t, yet), he says
Well, if you’re not very good at it…perhaps you need a teacher…do what you are doing with as much honor and skill as you can.
She’s expecting a verbal beat down and the religious boom lowered and instead she finds a sensible friend.
Ms. Marvel is also a window on what teenagers are thinking these days, which makes it a revelatory read for adults as well. The second novel especially was a real eye opener for me. The messaging can be a little on the nose, but the rush of the plot sweeps all before it, and the next thing you know her archnemesis-es, the Inventor, who, yes, does remind me a little of all three of the Trio, is back in the game, and look out, it’s clobbering time.
Here is your perfect gift for that teenager or Marvel nerd (forget it, they’ve already got it) or, heck, anyone who enjoys a good adventure story.
And, mirabile dictu, Ms. Marvel is coming to Disney+ at the end of this year (2021)! All good things come to those who wait.
Author and founder of Storyknife.org.