My friend Josh still laughs about the time I said I didn’t like the first Avengers film because ‘it had too many superheroes in it.’
What I meant was: it had too many white guys ready, willing and able to save the world.
For me, the best superhero stories – X-Men, Runaways, Hellcat – have always been about people struggling to come to terms with who they are and what they’re here for. Less superheroics and splash pages, more internal drama with the odd bit of allegorical whacky monster knacking.
There have been a lot of diverse teens with super powers in the last couple of years – and more on the way (I really enjoyed the first issue of Marvel’s Moon Girl) – but Ms Marvel has been the stand out.
With diversity narratives, it’s the done thing to say the character’s protected characteristics don’t define who they are – ‘he just happens to be gay!’, ‘she just happens to be Muslim!’ – but that feels disingenuous.
Yes, stories that feel like after school specials are boring, but those kind of stories tend to come from the point of view that being a minority is a source of constant sadness, that we are all aspiring to be part of the mainstream.
Spoiler alert: we’re not.
For me, it’s important to tell stories that incorporate a character’s identity, something that informs who they are and where they come from. It’s important that kids see diversity in their stories, and that kids see themselves reflected in the stories they read or see.
It’s important that people other than straight white guys ready, willing and able to save the world are celebrated.
Kamala Khan’s identity as a Pakistani American is integral to who she is as a character, and her Muslim faith is front of centre of her journey; a couple of times, she even outright quotes the Qu’oran (‘Whoever kills one person it is as if he has killed all mankind’), which shouldn’t feel as brave as it does in 2015.
Ms Marvel is as interested in exploring Kamala’s identity as a young Muslim and a second generation immigrant as it is her identity as a superhero; it’s not an accident that – after being hit by an alien mist that gives her shapeshifting powers – she chooses the busty, blonde Carol Danvers as Ms Marvel in her old thigh high boots costume.
Rather than obvious slurs, the first couple of issues introduce Zoe Zimmer, a frappe-drinking basic white girl ‘concern troll’, who disguises her discomfort and ‘Othering’ of Kamala and her friends as an interest in her culture.
It’s in these sort of specifics that Ms Marvel finds it’s strength.
Kamala’s constant iteration that she’s ‘Kamala Khan from Jersey City’ is one of the most interesting ongoing explorations.
Kamala is a second string superhero in a second string city, and that informs as much of her story as anything else.
Ms Marvel exists slightly outside of the rest of the glossy, shiny skyscrapers of the rest of the Marvel Universe – this is Jersey, not Manhattan – and Adrian Alphona brings a stylised griminess in his art that makes Ms Marvel one of the most distinctive comics of 2015.