Almost a year ago, Marvel Comics announced that a new Ms. Marvel would be joining the heroes of the Marvel Universe, taking up the mantle previously carried by current Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers. But unlike her predecessor, this version of the character made waves for being a teenage Muslim shape-shifter named Kamala Khan. While the “Ms. Marvel” creative team — writer G. Willow Wilson, artist Adrian Alphona and editor Sana Amanat — braced for wildly opposing reactions, when the book arrived it was met with almost universal acclaim, and Kamala Khan has gone on to greater Marvel Universe success, most recently appearing in “Amazing Spider-Man.”
At last weekend’s New York Comic Con, writer G. Willow Wilson joined John Weiland in the CBR Tiki Room to discuss the reaction to the book, “Ms. Marvel’s” place in the current crop of ‘female-friendly’ comic book titles and more. Wilson also explains how Kamala’s adventures will remain easy to follow even as she enjoys an increased presence in the greater Marvel U, how it feels to see her written by another writer and whether the book’s success and hopeful tone have eliminated some of the fear that surrounded its launch.
On whether the book helped influence the rise of female-friendly comics or simply benefited from a culture that now welcomes them: I think the wave started before “Ms. Marvel” became a thing. I think we have the Carol Corps, the relaunch of “Captain Marvel” and the great work that Kelly Sue DeConnick and her team are doing to thank for that. Gail Simone has been doing a lot of the same kinds of things and pushing this conversation. And also the editors. I have to say that a lot of this momentum and support is coming from the editors. They’re the ones who greenlight these projects, so if they’re not on board it doesn’t happen. So I think it was really a matter of this conversation becoming important to the comics industry. Again, driven by the fans because the readership is diversifying, the attendees of the conventions are diversifying, which we can see right here in New York. It’s really the zeitgeist. We’re at a time when we are bringing more people into the conversation and exciting things are happening and I think “Ms. Marvel” has been a part of that. I think what we have done, which particularly pleases me, is that we’ve sort of disproven a lot of industry math: New characters don’t sell; female characters don’t sell; minority characters don’t sell. When you can sort of break that down and show that these kinds of characters can be marketable, that there can be audiences for these kinds of stories, then that’s a good thing. That holds the door open for hopefully more stories that speak to a broad range of people.
On keeping Kamala accessible while she increases her presence in the greater Marvel Universe: I think what makes it work is that Kamala is not a legacy character in the sense that she’s born into this world. She’s a fangirl like a lot of people who read the books, like me. To her, these super heroes have been a part of her life. She would have seen them on the cover of “Time” magazine; she would have seen them flying around the skies of Manhattan. They’re her heroes in a very real sense but she doesn’t know a whole lot about their world. She’s not sort of on the inside track about what’s going on and that helps us introduce these sort of wider Marvel U themes in a very reader-friendly way because it’s new for Kamala as well. She’s asking the questions that the reader would ask. I think even with Wolverine, in that whole arc he’s ill, he’s dying, and he knows that, but she doesn’t know that. So you have that poignancy there that was obvious to readers who knew, but you didn’t have to know that in order to appreciate the story is something I’d like to sort of keep doing because Kamala has that freshness. She has that kind of eagerness to learn. She doesn’t know all of this wider — the implications of her powers and what that all means. She’s going to be finding out all of that stuff in the same way that the reader does.
On whether the book’s hopeful tone has pushed away any negativity surrounding it prior to release: On the outset before the book was launched, there was a certain amount of negativity or negative anticipation from a couple of different points of view. On the one hand you had people who are sort of more right wing and maybe a little Islamaphobic and see this as the liberal, gay, sharia socialist takeover of America, who are ruining comics one book at a time. They’re sort of always around and whenever anything changes, whenever you have a character of color or a gay character or anybody outside the mainstream they make noise. You can’t take it personally. It’s sort of its own little industry.
On the other side of the spectrum there was a lot of fear in some quarters of the American Muslim community that — every time you hear there’s going to be a positive representation of a Muslim or whatever it ends up being kind of like a twist of the knife. It’ll either get a lot of stuff wrong, or “positive” ends up meaning, you know, sort of just accepts the narrative and just sort of nods and smiles and does not represent sort of the day-to-day struggles of American Muslims. Or it’ll be just more of the same and she’ll end up being a fundamentalist or a terrorist or whatever. There was a lot of fear surrounding that, which I totally understood, because I see that same thing. I watch “Homeland,” I know how this stuff goes, and I knew that there was really no cure for that but to wait until the book came out and people saw what was actually going on on the page. And I knew that once that happened that fear would go away. And that is what’s happened.
I’ll occasionally get very, very conservative Muslims who are like, “Why isn’t she in hijab?” And the answer is because the vast majority of young Pakistani-American girls do not wear hijab. I am in the minority. A minority of American women wear a headscarf, so I want to represent truthfully the experiences of these young girls and not make some cardboard cutout, model minority, you know, who never has any problems and everything’s great, and the only difference is her Christmas is different from our Christmas. That’s not what we wanted to do with this book.
There is no book that will ever please everybody, but what makes me very happy is that Kamala has been taken up and is very beloved by such a wide range of readers and that tells me that we did hit some sort of note of authenticity, that we did do our job, and that’s a great feeling.
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