Marvel and Me
I have recently started to read more Marvel comics. This is not the first time I have tried to get into superhero comics, but I’m pretty sure this is the time it will stick. This is for two major reasons; digital comics and girl power. I’ve written before about my love for webcomics, however, I have had difficulty getting into “classic” superhero comics despite being interested in taking up the hobby for a long time.
As a book nerd, I found it difficult to jump into the middle of a storyline and a universe. I kept wanting to go back to the beginning but as most of these stories began in the 1960s there was no clear spot to begin. This changed a few years ago when I picked up Marvel’s Civil War trade paperback from San Diego Comic Con. I was able to read a full story with characters I recognized (mostly from the MCU) and as it was a crossover story I was ok with not being familiar with the full history of each of the characters. This full story served as the cleanest entry point for me and afterwards I dove headfirst into comics. Setting up a pull list at my local comic store I was spending about $70 on weeklies and quickly found myself swimming in more comics than I had time to read. The same feeling of being overwhelmed quickly returned, coupled with being poor from all the weekly comics and so the habit did not stick.
So why will this time be different? I have recently committed to reading digital comics and the comics I am currently reading have connected with me in the way I have not connected to comics since Octopus Pie. Black Panther, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, and most importantly, Ms. Marvel with Kamala Khan are all gripping stories with diverse characters and, in the case of Black Panther and Moon Girl, SO MUCH Black Girl Magic.
Moon Girl stars the adorable preteen New Yorker, Lunella Lafayette, a brilliant super genius who reminds me of what my baby cousin Aminata will inevitably grow up to become, a handful. Bored and unchallenged at school, Lunella is committed to having one successful experiment that will give her entry into a prestigious private school. Lunella doesn’t want to go to a new school for prestige, she wants to go to finally be challenged. Lunella found out that she has a latent Inhuman gene and terrified of Terragenesis, she is determined to find a way to prevent the change. Lunella is the perfect entry to me into the character of Devil Dinosaur who has been the star of comics since the 1970s. I may never go back and read old issues of Devil Dinosaur and Moon Boy, but I am getting to know them through the eyes of a girl I recognize and I love every page of this comic so far.
Black Panther is having a moment in pop culture that makes him impossible to deny. T’Challa made his debut in the MCU during Captain America: Civil War and stole the show (in my opinion) but Marvel also got famous writer and “Black Intellectual” Ta-Nehisi Coates to write his newest story arc. Like most active members of Black Twitter, Ta-Nehisi has been a mainstay on my timeline. After his amazing article in The Atlantic beautifully arguing the case for reparations, how could I miss his take on Wakanda? While Black Panther has been a popular superhero for the past 50 years making his debut in a 1966 appearance in the Fantastic Four, I have only known him through popular culture. As the first mainstream Black superhero, it's great to see T’Challa getting his moment in the spotlight and this current storyline is full of great moments. For me, however, the star of Coates story is not King T’Challa but the former members of the Dora Milaje; Ayo and Aneka. These two are going through Wakanda with Lemonade blasting in their headphones and I am so here for it. Strong, stubborn, and in love, I need them to have their own spinoff titled Black Girl Magic.
Finally, Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan, the GOAT. If I identify mostly with Luna Lovegood in Harry Potter, Kamala is my Marvel Universe equivalent. She’s an unapologetic Marvel fangirl who feels unsure of herself and stuck between two worlds. She is not ashamed of her race, religion, or her parents. She doesn’t want to be someone else, she just wants to be all of who she is and doesn’t know how to. I grew up an awkward girl in the suburbs who didn’t quite fit into either world and, unlike Kamala, did not have latent Inhuman genes. Once she is exposed to the Terrigen mist she tries to be Carol Danvers but quickly realizes she will only be successful if she accepts herself as Ms. Marvel. She also quickly looks to help deal with her new identity from people she trusts and respects in all the different communities that are important to her. Her best friend Bruno helps with her costumes, Shiekh Abdullah, the youth Imam at her mosque, and Wolverine help give her advice as she takes on this new and dangerous responsibility. While the Avengers are traveling worldwide, Kamala stays in Jersey City trying to help people before curfew and in between family obligations. Kamala makes mistakes but remains a good person full of joy and nerdy enthusiasm. While she comes from a different background than I do, I relate to this level of intersectionality and love writer G. Willow Wilson for creating Kamala. I never thought it would be possible to have a hero I could love more than Peter Parker’s Spider-Man who was funny, flawed and human while also being super, but Marvel did it with Kamala Khan’s Ms. Marvel.
I don’t want to pretend as if there is still not a problem with diversity and representation in comics. While I believe Marvel does a great job and has shown tremendous improvement in their representations it’s a recent development and they have further to go. The comics still trade in hypermasculinity and overly sexualized female characters but I appreciate their attempt at a new, more inclusive portrayal of what it means to be super and I will continue to follow these stories as long as they entertain and reflect who I was and who I want to be.