Ms. Marvel #1 has recently entered its seventh printing. Seventh! That’s practically unheard of in comics, especially for a total newcomer like Kamala Khan. As Marvel.com puts it: “Marvel Comics presents the all-new MS. MARVEL, the ground breaking heroine that has become an international sensation! Kamala Khan is just an ordinary girl from Jersey City–until she is suddenly empowered with extraordinary gifts. But who truly is the all-new Ms. Marvel? Teenager? Muslim? Inhuman? Find out as she takes the Marvel Universe by storm, and prepare for an epic tale that will be remembered by generations to come. History in the making is NOW!”
Hyperbolic, perhaps… but seventh printing. Meanwhile, the series is still going strong at nine issues and a collected first volume. The critics, including me in my monthly reviews, are about as excited as Marvel seems to be. Why do we love Kamala? Well, it would be a mistake to discount her minority status as a Pakistani-American Muslim. She provides a brand-new, yet long-awaited perspective on superhero comics. It would also be a mistake to reduce her to token status, though — there’s so much more to this comic and this character. The story, provided by G. Willow Wilson, turns a typical superhero origin story into something affecting and delightful. The art, usually provided by Adrian Alphona, is fabulous and full of sight gags. Kamala herself is funny, endearing, and brave.
All this is true, but there’s one more element that tends to get glanced over in reviews — Kamala is a geek like us, and I’ve got pictures to prove it!
Pics are screencapped from the comics, links go to my blog for more detail about particular issues and events. Spoilers!
First, and most obviously, there’s her name. She loves Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel so much that she takes her old name. Kamala’s fangirl status isn’t just flatly told to the reader, though: she also has a poster of Captain Marvel on her wall and interacts with it in a non-infodumpy way.
When you love a superhero that much — like most of us comic book nerds do — there’s one emotion I can almost guarantee you’ve felt:
(Naturally, Kamala’s very first shapeshifting experience is subconsciously making herself look like Carol. Her subconscious also manifests itself as Captain Marvel, Iron Man, and Captain America singing Sufi devotional music.)
Of course, Iron Man and Captain America are both in Kamala’s subconscious, too. Captain Marvel is Kamala’s favorite, not her fixation. In fact, Kamala writes what we might call “real person fanfic” about various superheroes, including (but not limited to) Captain Marvel.
There’s a fabulous team-up with Wolverine in issues 6 and 7, and this is her reaction:
What’s more, Kamala’s fandom isn’t limited to “real” people in her world. She’s got a general, overall geekiness too, and she takes some inspiration from geek culture and videogames. Here’s a selection:
(These two go together):
Hey, and she’s a regular at her local comic book shop! This exchange only takes up a few panels and doesn’t have anything to do with the plot, it’s just taken for granted that she’s recognized there:
Personally, I think her consistently-shown love of unicorns is a testament to how natural and unforced her geekery really is. Interest in World of Battlecraft and Magical Pony Adventures is totally in character, it means the creators didn’t need to make her prove she’s a “real” geek by only liking stereotypical media, and it means she has a lot in common with actual real geeks.
Lastly, the comic itself shows off some geek cred in its choice of villain — a cyborg cockatiel clone of Thomas Edison, an off-the-wall reimagining of geek-idol Nikola Tesla’s traditional nemesis.
Of course, Kamala feels like an outsider because of who she is, and most geeks can relate to that too. It may be the age of the geek now, but that’s a very recent development. Plus, Kamala is a member of an often-discrimated-against minority group. Judging from her sales numbers, we can relate to that too… The letters pages are overflowing with geeks of all ethnicities who’ve found they can relate to Kamala.
It’s been marvelous to watch Kamala succeed so dramatically, (pun absolutely intended). Her story is about learning to embrace herself as she really is, but it seems her audience is beating her to the finish line — we’re reading her story because she’s different, but by embracing her differences, we learn that she really is one of us.