kamala: right now? i want to be beautiful and awesome and butt-kicking and less complicated. i want to be you.
…ummm …is it too late to change my mind?
This is the scene of the new Ms. Marvel that I’ve seen the most varied reactions to, today. But after some thought, I’ve decided that this is my favorite scene in the comic hands down—and here’s why:
Ms. Marvel is telling a decompressed origin story in 5 parts, if interviews and solicits are to be believed. So what we know about Kamala so far—her ethnic and religious background, her personal conflicts of identity, and her exposure to the Terrigen mists—are only the very beginning of her origin. If we look back on the classics, there’s usually a premise and then a twist. Boy gets bit by spider, loses his uncle. Billionaire loses parents in tragic mugging, falls into a batcave. (There’s a cryptic theme here, and I hope it doesn’t play out in Ms. Marvel to end up with a dead parental figure, but that’s a discussion for another day.) The point is, superhero origins introduce character, powers, and motivations. Kamala’s got two out of three, by the end of this issue.
So, the big question—what is Kamala’s motivation going to be? What’s going to prompt her to put on a mask and dupata-cape and try and save the world?
I suppose we’ve seen a little of it already, in the form of her idolization of and interest in superheroes. But that kind of inspirations only goes so far. You can like someone without wanting to be them—I can admire Olympic athletes without wanting to go through the years of training that they have to.
I think Kamala’s motivation is going to come, at least in part, from issues of identity. In this issue, we see her struggle with the conflicting pressure and expectations of her family and then the outside world of her friends and peers. She’s clearly not entirely part of one world or the other, and she’s still negotiating how much she’s Pakistani or Muslim or a daughter and how much she’s an American student or friend or teenager. I think that entire puzzle is one to be unpacked in tens of issues—it doesn’t need a clean answer, or even the same answer all the time.
But in this issue, Kamala tries to give herself an easy out. She tells the Captain Marvel hallucination: “I want to be you.” Because Carol Danvers might just be everything Kamala admires but can’t be—“All-American” in the way that only comes from being blonde-haired and blue-eyed, and raised on the East Coast in a nuclear family, with a history of military service and crime-fighting in patriotic colors. Kamala may be able to capture aspects of that, or the spirit of it, eventually—but let’s be real here, she can never be Carol Danvers.
She thinks if she could be, it would uncomplicated her life. Maybe if she was wholly “American” or white and blonde, she’d feel less conflicted about everything. And that’s why her powers manifest as they do the first time.
I don’t think Kamala actually wants give up her looks or her identity or her religion or her ethnicity. But I can see, from her vantage point, the appeal of being the default. Anyone who’s ever read a Captain or Ms. Marvel comic knows that Carol’s life is nowhere near that simple, however. And I think Kamala’s going to come to realize that, too.
The thing of it is, we kind of know the end of this story. We’ve seen Kamala wearing a uniform that honors both her culture and the heroine she so admires. She looks like herself—wavy hair and brown skin—and tells us she wears a mask instead of changing her face, even though she can. We know Kamala’s going to get to a place where she doesn’t want to be the default, but still wants to be a superhero.
I for one can’t wait to see how she gets there. And that’s why I don’t see her manifest desire to be Carol as any kind of rejection of who she is—she just needs to work through her very valid troubles as someone of more than one world, and approach heroing and her life from her own unique vantage point.
And that, to me, would be a starting point as powerful as a dead body or a destroyed planet, an island of sisters left behind or a world that hates and fears you.
from ms. marvel #001 (g. willow wilson & adrian alphona)