Kamala Kahn, a normal 16-year-old from New Jersey, is a geeky brunette who wants to fit in with the cool crowd, but her strict parents enforce a 9 pm curfew and no-boys policy. She’s also a Pakistani-American Muslim, which provides an unique backdrop that includes infidel meat (bacon), Urdu speech bubbles, curry, mosque gender separation, and blingy Shalwar Kameez formal wear. After being exposed to a thick city-roaming mist, Kamala has a vision of Captain Marvel, her favorite superhero, who grants Kamala superpowers. With her new-found powers of elasticity, Kamala transforms herself into Captain Marvel, complete with blond hair and the classic, politically incorrect skimpy costume.
Ms. Marvel may have received a lot of attention because of the title hero’s religion, but Kamala is easy to relate to from just about any teenager’s perspective. Most of us struggle with identity throughout our high school years, and being Muslim is just another label against which Kamala is struggling to define for herself. She uses her culture as an excuse for being different, perceiving Captain Marvel as strong, beautiful, and not having the baggage of being Pakistani and different. I applaud the comic for helping to normalize the Muslim American experience, but in the first volume, some specifics feel too stereotypical, such has her father’s desire for Kamala to pursue medical school.
The character arc of Kamala is the heart of the story, as her friends, frenemies, and enemies are generally forgettable. As Kamala develops her superhero identity, I look forward to a more serious struggle against street crime or villain of choice. It’s a fun, fast-moving plot that centers around teenage angst, so it’s aimed toward a more juvenile audience. I wish I had a coming-of-age comic story like this when I slogging through my teenage years! Recommended for teenagers that don’t fit the stereotype of whatever is considered cool at the moment.