New heroes are born every day – and this week we learned of comics’ newest hero, Kamala Khan – aka the all-new Ms. Marvel. Announcedin a New York Times article, this brand-new Ms. Marvel will make her debut in January’s All-New Marvel Now Point One #1 anthology before launching her own series in February. One of the aspects that the press has gravitated towards since this new character’s announcement is the fact that Khan is Muslim. Kamala Khan hails from a Pakistani family who are all devout Muslims, which adds in some interesting elements outside your typical superhero origin story… but like any hero, that’s only part of her story.
Khan takes up the mantle from the current Captain Marvel – Carol Danvers – who carried the name Ms. Marvel for decades before acquiring the name of her mentor, the original Captain Marvel. But this new Ms. Marvel’s ties aren’t as close to her inspiration as Carol’s – Kamala is like you and I, a fan. A self-professed member of the Carol Corps (a real-life online group of fans who cosplay, promote, and share in their love of Danvers), Kamala is a card-carrying Jersey girl struggling between a restrictive family life and the needs and wants of being a teenager until she wakes up with superpowers. Never one to say no, Khan takes to the powers – and the name Ms. Marvel – as Marvel’s newest hero.
Newsarama spoke with series writer G. Willow Wilson about introducing this new character in the world of Marvel Comics, and discussed the long history the publisher has with their stylized origin stories, as well as the evocative and unique work of her collaborator, artist Adrian Alphona.
Newsarama: Willow, what can you tell us about the new Ms. Marvel series?
G. Willow Wilson: The new Ms. Marvel series is about a young girl in Jersey City named Kamala Khan. She’s a high school junior and the daughter of a loving but very conservative Pakistani Indian family. She’s juggling school, friends and what she wants to do after graduation with the unique expectations of a Pakistani family: be a good Muslim daughter, get good grades, and don’t go out with boys. Thrown into that mix is Kamala waking up after a long night out at a party. Ms. Marvel is about how that changes who she is, and how she grapples with that.
It’s a really interesting mix because not only do we have the superhero angle of the classic origin story of a young kid who is kind of on the outside getting superpowers, but here the main character is also the child of an immigrant family and has all the baggage that comes with it; there’re some parallels to Miles Morales in Ultimate Comics Spider-Man.
Nrama: And readers will get their first look at Kamala as Ms. Marvel in January’s All-New Marvel Now! Point One #1, correct? What’s that story about?
Wilson: That story takes place later on in the series after Kamala’s got her powers; you’ll see her beginning to flex her muscles kind of literally, while at the same time concealing her powers and her identity from her family. In the story she’s literally coming from a big fight with an enormous trash monster and having to run and change to show up at a Pakistani wedding for her cousin. She ends up being late and has to deal with the fallout from that. So in that story and the Ms. Marvel series itself, readers will see both sides of her life, from the flash boom bang side of being a superhero but also the family drama going on.
Nrama: Kamala Khan is taking up the name Carol Danvers went by before she became Captain Marvel. What are the ties between Kamala and Carol?
Wilson: Kamala is a die-hard fan of the Carol Corps variety. She looks up to Carol because she’s saved worlds with her bare hands – literally. She really idolizes Carol, and is an ideal she looks up to. So when she gets powers of her own, it makes sense for her to take that younger Captain Marvel role up.
Nrama: Will we see Captain Marvel in Ms. Marvel, or vice-versa Kamala inCaptain Marvel?
Wilson: There’s definitely that possibility. Carol will at least have one cameo in Ms. Marvel, and possible others as well; it’s not set in stone. Defintiely at least one.
Nrama: Kamala is also said to hail from Jersey City – can you describe her life outside of being a superhero, and being based not in the superhero mecca that is New York City?
Wilson: She’s very much the kind of girl who grew up staring wistfully at Manhattan, thinking “If only I could make it to the big city.” Jersey City is not just the backdrop of the series, but very much a part of Kamala’s own journey. She becomes kind of defiant and defensive; Jersey is her turf, it’s where she grew up and she’s not an apologist about it. Jersey City oftentimes seems to plays second fiddle to New York City, with all of the action taking place across in NYC and Jersey City being where people go to dump stuff or discard things. A huge aspect of Ms. Marvel is a “second string hero” in the “second string city” and having to struggle out of the pathos and emotion that can give a person.
Nrama: Correct me if I’m wrong, but you were born in New Jersey, correct?
Wilson: Yes! I grew up in Colorado, but I was born in Morris County and spent my first ten years there.
I consider myself a Coloradoan; that’s where I call home, and when I’m back in the states I go there to visit my parents. I’m secretly from New Jersey though. The landscape there made a huge impact on me; it’s so incredibly diverse, but very suburban and living there you spent a lot of time driving around in cars from strip mall to strip mall. The landscape is part of my childhood, and something I look back on with fondness. I thought it would be the perfect setting for Ms. Marvel because it’s so down to earth and has huge immigrant communities. It’s a really appropriate place to set a story about a character that is the child of immigrants.
Also, there is a particular culture in New Jersey. It’s defiant against being seen as where you live when it gets too expensive to live in New York City. I really tried to do homage to New Jersey through references to Kevin Smith films I grew up with, as well as all sorts of cultural references of Jersey worked in. Ms. Marvel is a love letter to an overlooked state.
Nrama: You’re working on this series with Adrian Alphona; I know it’s still early on in the production of the book, but given Adrian’s work on Runaways and Uncanny X-Force how do you feel about having him transforming your scripts into comics?
Wilson: I have been so blow away by his early sketches; he’s taking things to the next level with his unique design sense. We’re very much on the same wavelength; he calls Ms. Marvel “an off-kilter story about an off-kilter character,” and that’s exactly right. It’s not classic, shiny sparkly stuff. It’s a little bit weirder, a little bit grubbier, and a lot more complicated – and Adrian totally gets that.
He also adds background details, which are awesome and amazing; tiny little details not in the script but adds atmosphere to the story we’re telling. So I love that his illustrations are kind of stylized. One week he sent me sketches he had been doing during New York Fashion Week; he was sitting around sketching models as they walk around in high-end clothes. He’s a wonderfully unique artistic with a great background.
Nrama: Few people would argue that it’s a positive for Marvel (or anyone else's) line to feature a more real world selection of characters. But do you have any trepidation about the introduction of Pakistani-American Muslim character being turned into, or qualifying as a media mainstream event?
Wilson: That was a concern for me in a sense that when you do a story like this you have to get it exactly right; there is a real danger for it slipping into tokenism, sort of slapping a new face on the cover and saying “Look…Diversity! Hooray!” That’s not what I wanted to do at all, and not what editor Sana Amanat wanted either. We really wanted to tell the story of a true-to-life young Muslim growing up in the United States. There’s a lot of humor in that, but at the same time we didn’t want Kamala do be a poster child for religion or something. She’s very conflicted in some ways about her faith, like a majority of American Muslim women. She does not cover her hair, and does not wear a headscarf. She’s not a token character, and that’s’ what I really appreciated about the feedback I got from Marvel editors; they’re not interested in a token story about female Muslim characters.
At the end of the day, Kamala is a born and bred Jersey girl who’s very American, but she has other aspects to her life that’s not typical to an average kid. It’s important we get the details right and show a fully fleshed out character and not a stereotype. The journey she goes through is in many ways so universal; everyone who picks up Ms. Marvel is going to recognize the adversity of being a teenager trying to fit in. Everyone has gone through that in some way or another, and that’s a big part of our story.
Nrama: Lastly, can you talk about a specific scene or moment in Ms. Marvel #1 you’re proud of that people should look forward to specifically?
Wilson: How do I pick just one? There’s a couple, but I don’t want to spoil the action. There’s one scene with Kamala lusting after forbidden bacon people will find funny. And there’s another scene in which Kamala, who never drinks, takes a swig of what she finds out is Vodka and Orange Juice by accident. Details like that should really pop for people. It’s not at all a serious reckoning on religion in the U.S. or a clash of civilizations. I’m not interested in that. It’s the little details that I think will be really popular.