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Marvel’s newest character has everything that you’d expect from a Marvel Comics Superhero: An eye-catching costume, outlandish powers, ties to other Marvel characters and — best of all — a complicated personal life. So far, so traditional, right? Well, there’s something that sets the new Ms. Marvel aside from her Avenging, Defending peers: She’s a 16-year-old Muslim.
The newly-announced Ms. Marvel series centers around Kamala Khan, a teenager who adopts the former super-heroic identity of her personal idol, Carol Danvers — better know these days as Captain Marvel — after discovering that she, too, has super-powers. The series is the work of G. Willow Wilson — author of the award-winning fantasy novel Alif the Unseen and The Butterfly Mosque, a memoir about her own conversion to Islam — and Adrian Alphona, an artist best known for his work with Brian K. Vaughan on the cult series Runaways.
“We have put a ton of energy and hilarity and pathos into this project,” Wilson told Marvel.com about the series. “The last thing I wanted to do was write some grim manifesto about a Muslim girl in America.” Despite that, Kamala’s faith will play an important part in the story. “Islam is both an essential part of her identity and something she struggles mightily with,” Wilson explained. “She’s not a poster girl for the religion, or some kind of token minority [but] she feels the need to defend her family and their beliefs.”
Kamala’s relationship with her family informs what kind of hero she’ll be, according to Wilson. “Like a lot of children of immigrants, she feels torn between two worlds: the family she loves, but which drives her crazy, and her peers, who don’t really understand what her home life is like,” she said. “When you try to straddle two worlds, one of the first things you learn is that instead of defending good people from bad people, you have to spend a lot of time defending good people from each other. It’s both illuminating and emotionally brutal. That’s what makes this book different.”
The new Ms. Marvel is part of an ongoing push from Marvel to feature female leads in its predominantly male-centric line-up; in addition to a relaunch of the Captain Marvel series, it’ll be accompanied by a new She-Hulk series and a title centering around Elektra, Daredevil’s ex and occasional assassin.
It also marks a move towards more diverse castings; with the exception of Ultimate Spider-Man and Mighty Avengers, Marvel’s series tend to concentrate on predominantly white leads. This kind of recasting of an existing superhero identity as a minority is hardly a new thing; in 2012, DC Comics introduced its own Muslim hero when Simon Baz assumed the mantle of Green Lantern to much fanfare.
Ms. Marvel launches in February 2014, although Kamala makes her debut in Captain Marvel #17, released today.
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