Last week I promised a post about my next completed task in the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge, and here it is!
Ms. Marvel: No Normal, written by G. Willow Wilson and art by Adrian Alphona
I chose to read “a superhero comic with a female lead” because my copy of Ms. Marvel: No Normal that I purchased shortly after it was published in 2014 recently turned up. I moved last year and many of my books were donated to Symposia Bookstore on Washington Street, gifted to others, or recycled (the latter was a painful but necessary choice in some cases) but Ms. Marvel made the cut of books I kept. The time was finally right to read it.
While I love graphic novels, I haven’t read many traditional comics from either the Marvel or DC Comics universes. As a kid I had comics about the late 1980s/early 1990s boy band New Kids On the Block (which can be purchased online!), but I don’t think comics purists would consider those legitimate comic books.
With Ms. Marvel I was intrigued by the concept of the heroine being a Muslim-American teenage girl living in Jersey City named Kamala Khan. Lack of diversity is a problem in books, but more effort is being made by publishers to remedy this. Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel is a step in the right direction. Check out the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign for more information on book diversity.
When we meet Kamala, she is a regular teenage girl whose religion prohibits her from eating pork, so she sniffs bacon egg and cheese sandwiches at her local deli while her friends roll their eyes at her. This is the first example of Kamala’s struggle with being part of two distinct but different cultures.
(Tangent: Where is the best bacon egg and cheese in Hoboken? I vote for Black Rail Coffee!)
Back to the topic at hand: The action starts one fateful night when Kamala sneaks out of her house to attend a party at the waterfront, where classmates she wants to be accepted by will be present. She is embarrassed by those classmates and her friend Bruno at the party and flees as a mysterious fog covers Jersey City. Kamala blacks out in the street, interacts with Captain Marvel, Iron Man, and Captain America (some of whom speak Urdu), and then awakens with superpowers.
She uses these powers to save the life of a classmate who is often unkind to her, but runs into trouble at home when her strict parents discover that she snuck out. The rest of the volume is the push and pull between Kamala trying to be a good daughter and friend while learning to harness her new powers and assuming her identity as Ms. Marvel.
I enjoyed the stories, and Kamala’s struggles feel authentic. The art was compelling and I liked the little details, such as the “Coma Chameleon” eye mask and “Nuclear Clean” for sale at the deli. I would purchase both, if those were real products.
My one gripe, as a Jersey City resident, was that the setting doesn’t feel like the real Jersey City. Sure, there were references to Grove Street, as well as a diss about the Greenville neighborhood, but the party at the “waterfront” reminds me more of Liberty State Park. Perhaps the intention wasn’t to topographically depict Jersey City and I am overthinking things. (I do that sometimes, I blame my English degree for training my brain to do that.)
Ms. Marvel was a fun read, and I look forward to reading the next volumes, which are available to borrow from BCCLS libraries. As for my found copy of Ms. Marvel: No Normal, I will pass it on to my comics-loving niece to enjoy.
What are your favorite superhero comics with a female lead? Don’t forget to shout-out your favorite bacon egg and cheese in Hoboken.
-Written by Kerry Weinstein