Why I read Ms. Marvel to my 5-year-old daughter
“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I don’t know who I’m supposed to be. . . . I want to be beautiful and awesome and butt-kicking and less complicated.” —Kamala Khan
When I picked up the first two issues of the new run of Ms. Marvel, they were in a stack of “kid stuff” for my daughter. I think we also had a Super-Pets book and a Scooby-Doo comic in there. The cashier made a point to ask if these two were for me (and not, presumably, for my daughter who was beside me). After a hesitant “yes?” on my part, he simply said, “good.”
I took another look at the covers. Rated T+. I hadn’t noticed anything really offensive during my initial flip through either. Maybe I missed something? After we got home, I read both and instantly fell in love. And, nope, I hadn’t missed anything offensive. I’m assuming they’re rated T+ for some drug and alcohol references. I don’t think ratings are given based on cultural references.
At this point, there’s really nothing I can say about the new Ms. Marvel or Kamala Khan that hasn’t been said (better) elsewhere. This is not meant to be a synopsis or review of the books. This is an explanation for why I think this might be the perfect character for my 5-year-old daughter.
Kamala is a young woman who, from the outset, feels trapped and conflicted by her culture—she desires to respect her heritage and religion, yet she also yearns to escape what she perceives to be its shackles. She’s a Muslim woman living in New Jersey and facing the trials of high school. In other words, she’s human.
None of the characters here is a stereotype. It would be easy to paint Kamala and her parents in broad strokes—the former as a rebellious teen and the latter as strict religious zealots. Thankfully, that isn’t the case. In reality, her parents aren’t much different from most parents. They just want their daughter to be safe. In short, I can relate to them.
The issues and conflicts we’ve seen Kamala face in just the first two issues create a wholly unique character for mainstream comics—one who is as deep and complex a character as any I’ve seen after several dozen (or hundred) issues.
These issues and conflicts are also those that I presume my daughter will likely face in some form as she grows up. All teenagers will feel the tug of rebellion, but—no matter how hard her mother and I will try to avoid it—I’m sure Zoey will eventually face some form of self-identity dilemma. She’s a product of two cultures. She’s exposed to dual (sometimes competing, sometimes congruent) sets of beliefs, ideas, and worldviews. She has two languages. She’s immersed in two very different worlds. In short, she can relate to Kamala.
Even at 5, I could sense that Zoey was identifying with Kamala more than usual—and not simply because she’s a “girl character.” From page 1 of issue 1, Zoey was enthralled. She certainly doesn’t “get” all of the issues at play here. But we’ve found a ton of great conversation starters. She gets that Kamala’s parents have rules she doesn’t like. She gets that Kamala’s “friends” at school tease and make fun of her. She gets that Kamala wants to be someone else in order to “fit in.” She gets that a “perfect” superhero identity is appealing. She gets that the reality of that new identity is going to cause problems.
This might be a superhero comic put out by Marvel, but this is not wish fulfillment. And it’s certainly not boobs-in-spandex fanservice. So, personal note to the cashier at my favorite comic shop: There’s no need to keep this book out of little ones’ hands. In fact, you should be trying to do the exact opposite!
Kudos to the creative team behind the book. They’ve created a compelling character that challenges expected norms, breaks stereotypes, is truly likable, and is someone I’m genuinely excited to share with my daughter. It’s not every day I can say that about a product from The Big Two. We’re on board this train to the end.
“Being someone else isn’t liberating. It’s exhausting. I always thought that if I had amazing hair, if I could pull off great boots, it I could fly. . . that would make me feel strong. That would make me feel happy. But the hair gets in my face, the boots pinch . . . and this leotard is giving me an epic wedgie. . . . Maybe putting on a costume doesn’t make you brave. Maybe it’s something else.”