I’ve been working this week on catch-up reading, piling through the works of G. Willow Wilson–in addition to a lot of her earlier works, I’m also having a look at her most popular series, Ms. Marvel.
Kamala Khan, the new Ms. Marvel, is one of the most important characters in modern comics. No Normal is compiles issues 1-5 of the series, introducing the Pakistani-American teenager and the major secondary characters in her life. G. Willow Wilson is possibly the best-known Islamic writer currently working in comics, and by far the most popular in North America.
In many respects, the new Ms. Marvel is a culmination of ideas and passions which appeared in proto-form in Wilson’s earlier works, including her autobiography The Butterfly Mosque, and her early independent comics, Cairo and Air (Volume 1-4).
Without giving away too many spoilers, I think that No Normal touches on some of the critical concepts that will define the ongoing series:
- Representation, and specifically the power of representation to define and evoke heroism.
- Youth culture, and specifically the modern tendency to denigrate millennials and teens–the campaign to make young people feel stupid, worthless, and bereft of any meaningful future.
- Community, and the sometimes uncomfortable jostling of international traditions in the new cultural environment of the modern USA.
- Heroism, and the qualities that define an extraordinary person–regardless of race, religion, gender, or age.
What makes this comic a triumph in terms of representation is the range of Muslim characters it offers. Kamala Khan is a beautifully written child of first-generation immigrants, and this window into her life depicts the people who surround her with warmth, sympathy and an eye for detail. Her conservative Pakistani father and mother, her willfully devout brother Aamir, her Turkish-American friend Nakia, the imam at her local mosque…even her best kafir friend, Bruno, are all very lovingly drawn here.
The ongoing engagement with these characters and the evolving relationships within her community are the real bread and butter of this book, but I appreciate the fact that the creators slather them liberally with fun, fresh connections to the larger Marvel universe.
These opening issues are a solid beginning to a series which gets even better as time goes on.