By Arturo R. García
There’s a lot to root for in Marvel’s new Ms. Marvel series, which is already garnering buzz for starring a Pakistani-American Muslim teenager in her own solo series.
But, the book won’t formally launch until February 2014, which opens it up to a recurring problem with Marvel: history shows that the company’s efforts stop at gathering that buzz when it comes to its young superheroes — particularly those of color.
The problem is not that the book will be penned by a Muslim, G. Willow Wilson, or that it will also be edited by a Muslim in Sana Amanat. The problem is that Marvel has protected and promoted its existing Muslim superheroines so well that some media outlets believed the new Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan, is the company’s first.
Remember Dust? Or Monet St. Croix? Or Faiza Hussain? The Mirror sure didn’t, and it’s not as simple a matter as a journalist skimping on the research. As gaming blogger Muaz Zekeria told NPR’s Gene Demby:
We’re not portrayed positively in most media, so comics can’t be expected to be much different. … Any Muslim superheroes I’ve seen introduced goes through the same cycle: introduced; heavily featured in one book; book either gets cancelled or wraps up; character fades into the background; and is rarely, if ever, heard from or featured again. This also goes for most minority characters. I think Luke Cage, Black Panther, Cyborg, and John Stewart are the only ones who have bucked this trend and even they don’t get as much attention as your Iron Man, Captain America, Batman, Superman, etc.
Zekeria’s critique especially rings true in light of the similar hoopla Marvel attracted for debuting Latin@ heroes Araña in 2005 and Miles Morales — who took over the mantle of Spider-Man in the Ultimate Comics line — just two years ago. In each case, the company patted itself on the back for its stabs at diversity, while conveniently forgetting to give each character equity in its larger plans. Because even if Miles had the benefit of Brian Michael Bendis writing his adventures, the Ultimate Spider-Man animated series still had Peter Parker under the mask. And let’s not forget the company’s attempt to shed the spotlight on longtime gay Mutant hero Northstar last year by devoting an issue of Astonishing X-Men to his wedding to his POC partner. Since then the company has turned right around to building entire storylines around hauling the same five white cis-het X-Men who started the team from the ’60s into the present day. (This, of course, on top of their other diversity-related X-fails.)
Again, the blame for this shouldn’t be pinned on Amanat and Wilson, but on an industry model that will often shove characters like Kamala into a marketplace built more than ever on “events” and comics tailored to fit the television and movie marketplaces. While Amanat should be lauded for starting the #KamalaKorps tag to rally the new character’s fanbase online, William B. West makes the case over at the Nerds of Color that this series calls for a more creative publishing approach:
I don’t get why this has to be an ongoing. If they wanted to be groundbreaking, they’d announce this as a maxi-series, give it the 12 issues it would normally have, and commit to actually releasing all 12 issues. Test the waters a bit. Nobody wants a Ms. Marvel comic, let alone a Muslim one. That’s not the desire of the core, comic-buying audience. By doing it this way, it lets Marvel off the hook with a “well, at least we tried,” which simply isn’t good enough. Ms. Marvel always feels like Wonder Woman, in that they have to publish a series every so often just to keep the trademark. I don’t know anyone who has ever said, “Man, what’s Ms. Marvel been up to? I used to LOVE that book!”
I do disagree with West’s point regarding Kamala’s predecessor and inspiration, Carol Danvers; as we have mentioned in the past, Danvers was the beneficiary of years’ worth of protection, enough so that she should be in line for an appearance in the company’s movie series. While Danvers getting the nod over Monica Rambeau can be traced at least partially to the company’s desire for yet another white headliner in a stunningly non-diverse Avengers film franchise, it also speaks to the existence of a very real Carol Corps.
However, how do we know that Marvel will pay the same kind of attention to the Kamala Korps, even on Twitter? Will the new Ms. Marvel get her own curated t-shirt line? (For that matter, how does Rambeau’s stunning new costume design not have a shirt yet?) And what happens after, say, the first year of Kamala’s series? Will she be allowed to grow both in terms of her personal development and profile within the Marvel hero community, or will she be shunted off to be a side player like Araña in another Young Allies relaunch? (I’d mention Miss America and the recent Young Avengers series, but history might well remember it as the vessel through which the Tom Hiddleston fanbase received its own comic, and that’s just sad.)
Again, this new series is worth rooting for and supporting, if only so it means we can rub Conan O’Brien’s nose in this Islamophobic joke forever:
But it’s not enough anymore for Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso to compare Kamala Khan’s experiences to those of Peter Parker; the company needs to show that it cares about her brand just as much as it does Peter’s, without resorting to hostage-note marketing tactics (Buy this book or diversity gets it!). Otherwise she may end up being a footnote during the next round of self-celebratory press.