Last November, news broke of Marvel relaunching their Ms. Marvel title with a new protagonist: Kamala Khan, a young Muslim teen from New Jersey. Kamala inherits her persona from the original (white) Ms. Marvel, Carol Danvers. This is a pretty hefty departure for the series; Carol debuted as Ms. Marvel in 1977, and only in the last year took on the mantle of the original (male) Captain Marvel, leaving a vacant post for the introduction of Kamala.
In the comic, Kamala discovers she has the powers of a polymorph (a being who can change their size and appearance), which she naturally uses to fight crime and intergallactic evil. Much like other teen superheroes, however, she has to balance her newfound powers with the responsibilities of being a teen. In this case, her teen life is a balancing act between her conservative Muslim family, her American school friends, and her desire to keep her superhero identity a secret from both her parents and her peers.
Marvel’s investment in the franchise has been impressive; they’ve hired an all-star team and dropped a fair amount of marketing moolah. As a result Ms. Marvel #1 has been performing very well both financially and critically. Suffice to say, Ms. Marvel’s new identity has been quite a success.
Coincidentally, in the lead up to Ms. Marvel #1’s release, Marvel’s Editor in Chief was quoted as saying, “Kamala is not unlike Peter Parker,” in reference to her dual life as both teen and super hero. Kamala, however, could more easily be compared to Miles Morales, the half-Hispanic, half-African-American teen who replaced the original (white) Spider-Man, Peter Parker in 2012. While Morales only exists in Ultimate Spider-Man (an offshoot from the primary Marvel universe), he is another recent example of Marvel moving (or killing off) an established classic (white) character to allow the entry of a character that better represents the diversity of their market share.
Marvel has not been alone in doing this, nor is it a recent strategy. For instance, DC Comics, Marvel’s largest competitor, did the same with their original (white) Green Lantern character, Hal Jordan, when they introduced John Stewart as the Green Lantern’s “back-up” in 1971. In recent years, however, this movement has created a number of divisions within the fanbase. Some believe that these decisions have led to long-needed diversity within the Marvel and DC comic canons. Others believe that while more diversity within the two universes is needed, the steps taken thus far have not been large or radical enough. And unfortunately, there are retrogrades who think that comics canon should be left sacrosanct in all its white, pasty glory.
The financial success of these titles is an indicator that we’ll likely be seeing more franchises reimagined with more diverse casts in the near future. Judging by the reaction to this year’s Superbowl Coca Cola ad, there eventually may be some outcry if a popular hero like Captain America is replaced, but such a change certainly would make a great deal of sense, all things considered.
-Contributed by Dan Seljak