Are girls too weak to be super heroes? Are girls not ripped enough to be super heroes? Do girls needs to be blonde, white, and busty to be super heroes? Ms. Marvel: No Normal, an inspiring book from beginning to end, answers this question with a giant NO. In this beautifully illustrated comic book by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona, gender norms and racism is brought to light. This book was published in 2014 and consists of 120 full color pages. Although that might sound like a lot of pages, the entire book can be read in one afternoon. Marvel sells this issue for $15.99 US. This week I delved into this book to get a better understanding of gender, intersectionality, and social constructs from a unique perspective: that of a Pakistani-American teenager.
The story centers around Kamala Khan. As the title suggestions, Kamala is everything but normal. Although she wants desperately to fit in, being a Pakistani-American who’s also Muslim made Kamala feel like she didn’t fit in anywhere. Her family is very strict and would only let her hang out with her best friend Nakia. Zoe Zimmerman, one of their classmates, invited them to a party one night. When Kamala’s parents told her she couldn’t go, she snuck out anyway. While at the party, people made fun of her for going, smelling like curry, and tricked her into tasting alcohol. She left angrily, then was caught in a strange mist that gave her powers. Since she wanted to be anyone but herself at that moment, she wished to be Captain Marvel. As Kamala learned to control her powers, she realized that she didn’t need to change her face to Captain Marvel to be a super hero. With the help of her best friend Bruno, she creates a costume and persona that is entirely her own with the hopes of vanquishing crime from her city.
I loved this book from the beginning to end. Not only was its’ art incredibly appealing and fun to follow, the book was loaded with powerful imagery and thought-provoking perspectives. In the book, Kamala is stuck at a crossroads. The intersectionality of her life has left her confused and full of self-doubt. Being in a Muslim family she deals with sexism and heteronormativity every day. At one point she stating while talking to her parents “if I was a boy, you’d let me go to the party.” Outside of her family, she also deals with racism on a daily basis. Her classmate Zoe, who seems nice but is actually offensive due to her lack of cultural knowledge, doesn’t want to stand around Kamala at the party because she “smells like curry”. Zoe represents a huge chunk of Americans; they may not intend to be offensive and rude, but simply lack the information to gain a full understanding of other cultures. Zoe’s character has the possibility of ringing a bell in the reader’s mind, causing them to be more aware of their own personal actions.
Kamala is a dynamic character full of fresh thoughts and emotions, but often feels like she’s not good enough to act on them. Actual international and/or culturally diverse teenage (and adult) populations deal with many of the same issues Kamala does. Their daily lives are incredibly similar to their classmates: they go to school, hang out with their friends, do homework, and have family dinner. The little things in Kamala’s life sets her apart, like her religious brother, the types of foods she has in her lunch, and attending lectures at the Mosque. Despite these differences, this book does a good job of showcasing her culture in a positive light, hopefully reducing the severity of the intersectionality many Pakistani-Americans face.
When Kamala is in the mist, Captain Marvel appears to her speaking Urdu. This invites Kamala in, showing her you don’t have to just speak English to be a super hero. Despite that, she still feels the need to look like Captain Marvel to fulfill her super hero duties. Even though she looked different, Kamala still stayed true to her values. When trying to save Zoe, Kamala thought, “There are always people who rush in to help. And according to my dad…they are blessed.” Kamala begins to see her powers as what she was destined to do. Still, she looked like Captain Marvel. When she saved Bruno at the convenience store he told her, “Who cares what people expect? Maybe they expect some perfect blonde, what I need – I mean, what we need – is you.” This causes Kamala to fully embrace who she is: a Muslim, Pakistani-American, badass super hero. Unlike Captain Marvel’s suit, Kamala creates a conservative suit (only leaves her face and hands exposed) with Bruno, designed to stay true to her identity. She can also “embiggen” now that she has empowered herself. She no longer feels small and like she belongs in the corner. Instead, she can make herself huge and be the star of the show. Near the end of the book her dad sums up everything she just learned, saying “You don’t have to be someone else to impress anybody. You are perfect just the way you are.”
This comic book would be a great read for anybody, no matter age, gender, or culture. It expertly brings into light the struggles of intersectionality and social constructs, also while showing us that deep down we’re all the same and deserve to be treated so. Although anyone could learn from it, this book would probably be most beneficial for a teenage audience. It puts into perspective the feelings of growing up and finding your place, all the while empowering culturally-diverse groups to believe they’re perfect just the way are.