Why Ms Marvel is our new favourite superhero
Does Marvel have a diversity problem?
Let's ask the Avengers, or as I call them: five white men (okay, one of them is green) and Scarlett Johanson.
Yes, Marvel has long had issues with proper representation in its films, something that the Disney-helmed studio has been trying to change in recent years.
Women superheroes and those of colour were rarely featured in standalone films until the last 18-months, when Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel and Chadwick Boseman/Black Panther proved diversity could be a critical and commercial hit.
But now Disney is stepping up a gear; and Marvel is finally giving its first Muslim superhero - the 16-year-old Pakistani-American known as Kamala Khan/Ms Marvel - some well-deserved time in the spotlight.
Next month sees the character's first big screen debut, fighting alongside the Avengers in a videogame adaptation by the makers of Final Fantasy. Then in November, she will make history again as the first Muslim character to front a Disney+ show. But while avid comic book readers might be familiar with Ms Marvel, many mainstream Marvel fans still aren't.
Here's why Kamaka Khan is our new favourite superhero:
So who is Kamala Khan?
Teenager Kamala Khan is a Pakistani American girl, who lives with her parents and older brother in New Jersey.
Like every teenage girl, she goes through life dealing with the many insecurities of hitting puberty, including being a "geek" in high school, homework, boys, obsessing over invites to parties.
But her multi-culturalism adds another side to Khan's story: her classmates can't relate to her religion and very different upbringing, while her very "Desi" parents find it hard to understand her newfound Americanism.
One night as she seeks to sneak into a popular kids party she encounters a mysterious green mist. It embibes her with her powers: the ability to change size like Ant-Man, stretch like Mr Fantastic, and take on another person's likeness similiar to X-Men's Mystique.
Inspired by her favourite superhero, she decides to use her powers for good - and Ms Marvel was born.
Where did the character come from?
The character was originally written by G. Willow Wilson and drawn by Adrian Alphona (better known for his work on Marvel's Runaways series).
According to Wilson, who converted to Islam when she was 20, it was important that Khan was as relatable to young muslim girls as possible.
Speaking to the New York Times ahead of Ms Marvel's comic book debut, Wilson said: "A huge aspect of Ms. Marvel is being a 'second string hero' in the 'second string city' and having to struggle out of the pathos and emotion that can give a person."
"This is not evangelism. It was really important for me to portray Kamala as someone who is struggling with her faith."
Wilson continued, "Her brother is extremely conservative, her mom is paranoid that she's going to touch a boy and get pregnant, and her father wants her to concentrate on her studies and become a doctor."
Wilson is now no longer penning stories for Ms Marvel (instead, she's responsible for Wonder Woman's comic book revival) the writing has now passed on to Saladin Ahmed, who helped realize Miles Morales as the new Spider-Man.
The superhero big leagues
Last year the studio behind the iconic Final Fantasy series announced it was making Marvel's new Avengers videogame. The game - which features all your favourite white (and green) characters - would stand seperate from the film universe, but involve several storylines inspired by both the movies and the comics.
Fans rejoiced at the notion of getting to play as their favourite Avenger, and waited excitedly for its April 2020 release date. Then, at last year's New York Comic Con, news broke that the main character would not be Iron Man, Thor, or Captain America. They would be playing as a little girl. And worse, a Muslim one.
Predictably, upon hearing that Kamala Khan would be the main character in the new Avengers game many comic book nerds lost their Infinity Stones.
There were calls to boycott the game, prompting the developers and Disney to release statements backing decisions of diversity.
Kamala Khan wasn't the only thing the internet didn't dislike. Fans flocked to twitter to lambast the character model of Black Widow as being ugly.
In response, Square Enix announced it was pushing back the release date of the game, citing development reasons not internet trolls.
What's the game about?
The game’s version of the Marvel Universe, differs from the Cinematic Universe, Kamala gains her powers during the ‘A-Day’ disaster that leaves San Francisco ruined and starts off the new game’s plot and leads to the Avengers disbanding.
In one of Ms. Marvel's earliest missions, she wore a makeshift costume to take to the streets of Jersey City. We're throwing back to her comic origins with our pre-order Greater Good Outfit. All heroes start somewhere! #EmbraceYourPowers #Reassemble #BringBackTheFannyPack pic.twitter.com/iV6NdmOEYI— Marvel's Avengers (@PlayAvengers) February 26, 2020
Then the Avengers all get outlawed by evil organisation A.I.M., a network that hates superheroes and believes the world can be saved with science and tech. What we now know is that at A-Day, Kamala, Captain Marvel's number-one fan, gets exposed to a mist, which gives her powers. Kamala then proceeds to work to reunite the Avengers and take down A.I.M.
In the video game, Khan's story line merges into the present day In the five years since A.I.M. took over, Tony Stark lost his fortune (and most of his robotics), Natasha Romanoff went back to working as an international agent, Thor left Mjolnir on earth to make ammends for A Day as a servant of Asgard, and Bruce Banner went into self-imposed purgatory and lost the ability to transform into Hulk. Kamala is the one who reassembles the team when she finds out that A.I.M. is poised to unleash the greatest threat the planet has ever faced.
Did you hear the big news out of the @MarvelGames panel at NYCC 2019? @CrystalDynamics is ecstatic to reveal that Kamala Khan will join Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow, Hulk, & Captain America as a playable character in an original Avengers story. pic.twitter.com/DIf6F8GczM— Marvel's Avengers (@PlayAvengers) October 4, 2019
Esquire.com got their hands on a preview of the game and wrote:
"Aside from the promising origin story, Ms. Marvel plays great in the video game. Actually, the whole game plays great. I got hands-on time playing with all six heroes—Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Hulk, Thor, and Ms. Marvel—and I’m honestly blown away. The amount of depth with each character feels nearly as flushed out as it was with Insomniac's excellent Spider-Man game from last yet. And in addition to these six, Square Enix plans on adding more DLC heroes, all for free, post-launch, along with further customization options, including a Joe Fixit Hulk costume and retro Avengers outfits."
Ms Marvel's Disney+ debut
Ms. Marvel is promised to be set in the MCU and therefore we’re seriously hoping to see some cameos from Captain Marvel herself, Khan’s mentor and inspiration. Yet another comparison, think of it similar to the dynamic between Tony Stark and Peter Parker in the MCU. Khan is even an awkward, nerdy teen just like Peter Parker is.
It's not yet been announced when the series will launch, nor who will star in the cast, but it will be helmed by screenwriter and comedian Bisha Ali, Marvel president Kevin Feige revealed at the D23 Expo in 2019.
Does Marvel have a diversity problem? The short answer is yes. But things are slowly but surely heading in the right direction. With Ms Marvel, Black Widow, and Thor: Love and Thunder, we'll have to see if their big diversity push will pay off with their fans. But for now, the only thing we can say for sure, is that the MCU will be a whole lot less white in the coming years.
Middle East Comic Con. March 5 to 7. Dubai World Trade Centre, Dubai. mefcc.com