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Ms. Marvel reboot features a new kind of superhero

Lena Shareef with her copy of Ms. Marvel. Photo by Caroline Ballard/Columbia Radio News

Lena Shareef with her copy of Ms. Marvel. Photo by Caroline Ballard/Columbia Radio News

HOST INTRO: Marvel Comics has a new superhero. The first issue of Ms. Marvel is on the stands right now and it’s a hot seller. In its first week it outsold popular titles like Hawkeye, The Avengers, and Wolverine. The series is a reboot, and this time around Miz Marvel is a Muslim teenaged girl. That has a lot of fans very excited. Caroline Ballard has the story.

On the morning Volume One of Ms. Marvel hit shelves there was a huge ice storm in New York City.

Fade up street noise.

It shut down the city’s one, two, three, four, five, and six trains. But even that couldn’t keep Columbia University graduate student Lena Shareef from trekking to a comic book store sixty blocks away.

SHAREEF: I checked it opens at eight. And this door is open.

Fade up walking up the stairs.

Shareef is Muslim, Pakistani-American, and grew up in Michigan. She’s a huge comic book and sci-fi fan. When she was younger she would steal her brother’s comics and read them before he could take them back. Today, she’s itching to get her hands on a copy of Ms. Marvel.

The person behind the secret identity in the comic book is also Pakistani-American and Muslim, like Shareef. Her name is Kamala Khan. But she happens to be a superhero.

SHAREEF: I never thought I would see anyone who looks like me in a comic book made by Marvel Comics. Like it’s Marvel, it’s not some indie thing. (0:15)

Ms. Marvel is the first Muslim superhero to get her own title at the number one comic company. Number two DC Comics already introduced their own Muslim superhero, a Green Lantern. However there are several Green Lanterns that form the Green Lantern Corps. There’s only one Ms. Marvel.

Kamala Khan starts out as a misfit teen. But after a strange mist envelopes her one night, it changes her from ordinary to, you know.

ROBINSON: It’s a great origin story. (0:02)

Michael Robinson is a communications professor at Lynchburg College in Virginia who studies comic books.

ROBINSON: Here they really took that classic marvel tale. Here’s a character who feels a little uncertain of where she is and has now suddenly found herself thrust into a world of super powers and amazing abilities. (0:20)

Robinson saw something else in the story, too – a snapshot of life as a teen Muslim girl in America. For example, her mouth waters over bacon she doesn’t eat and she gets asked by the school’s resident mean girl why she doesn’t wear a headscarf.

ROBINSON: It spent a little bit of time laying out some of the cultural issues in a way that was a little more organic and felt a little more real. We got a nice kind of experience from her perspective. (0:25)

That’s exactly what the author of this series has said she hopes the book will do. G. Willow Wilson is a Muslim convert who was looking to create a relatable Muslim character.

Some Muslims are critical of the series. They take exception to her uncovered hair. Others don’t like the fact that she uses super powers. They’re like magic, and only God has that power.

Khalid Latif thinks that’s all a bit silly.

LATIF: For Muslims, like we are at times our biggest opponents. (0:04)

Latif is the executive director and chaplain of the Islamic Center at NYU. He worries that the comic might bite off more than it can chew in taking on negative stereotypes.

LATIF: You know, do I think it needs to be a comic book that goes out and shows the world that Muslim women are not oppressed. No I think I hope that it doesn’t become that. (0:11)

He says there is value when popular culture describes what Muslims are not.

LATIF: But you got to start saying what you are. What do you actually believe. (0:17)

It’s hard to say what exactly Kamala Khan believes since there’s only been one issue. She’s just entering the world of spandex and capes. But comic book fan Lena Shareef can’t wait to find out what happens when the next issue arrives.

SHAREEF: And I’ll be right here. Coming through the snow and ice and rain. (0:11)

Shareef can do that March nineteenth, when issue two hits the stands.

Caroline Ballard, Columbia Radio News.

BACK ANNOUNCE:  The author of Ms. Marvel will be at Columbia University on February 22 to discuss the comic at the panel titled The Muslim Protagonist.


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