In an age where computers can create comic panels that saturate the viewer’s eyeballs with color or render scenes that only existed within one’s imagination, a more simplistic art style can be seen as an artist doing the bare minimum of artwork. But that viewpoint completely ignores the story being told. One such example of a story buoyed by its minimalist artwork is Anthony Del Col and Fahmida Azim’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning book I Escaped a Chinese Internment Camp.
This graphic novel tells the harrowing ordeal of Zumrat Dawut, a mother of three who is arrested and detained by the Chinese government simply for being Muslim. Tortured, beaten, and even sterilized, Dawut’s only recourse is to escape her captivity, and does so with the help of her husband. That escape, however, is hard earned, and readers will accompany Dawut throughout her harrowing time as a prisoner.
Perhaps most harrowing about this particular story is the fact that it’s true. The source material uses testimony Duwat herself gave to the United Nations Human Rights Council. Writer Del Col created a very clear character arc to Duwat’s story, beginning first by exposing her quiet life as a wife and mother before going into her nightmare. Readers are there for every beating, every degradation, every time her hope of someday leaving her cell is dashed. By the time Duwat is free, that freedom feels both well-earned and ephemeral, not sure that she is really safe until the final page is closed.
Azim’s artwork for this story is minimal, mostly in black and white, which makes sense, considering that Duwat is incarcerated. Life in prison is lacking in color and vibrance by design, so as to break a prisoner’s spirit. That lack of color eventually feels like a physical weight for the reader, who is forced to imagine what that experience is like for Duwat. Color only returns when Duwat, along with the reader, is assured of her freedom.
This novel is a great addition for librarians who want to show the capabilities of graphic novels to tell realistic, human stories. It doesn’t take place in space, or in medieval times, nor does it feature hyper-detailed human figures ready to leap off the page. It depicts the action without indulgence, shunning a color-saturated sheen for honest emotion. Patrons who love biographical works and the comic format, while able to appreciate a more serious tone in their stories, will find Duwat and her story worthy of triumphant cheers.
I Escaped a Chinese Internment Camp By Anthony Del Col Art by Fahmida Azim Lev Gleason, 2023 ISBN: 9781988247960
Publisher Age Rating: 12 years and up NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) , Character Representation: Chinese, Muslim
Identity crises have long been a staple of teen stories and Huda Fahmy’s debut YA graphic novel gives us a fresh take on trying to find out who you are and where you fit in. While fans of Fahmy’s autobiographical webcomics and previous books, Yes, I’m Hot in This and That Can be Arranged, will recognize some of her family members, this story is fiction inspired by her high school years.
Huda’s family moves to Deerborn, Michigan, an area with a large Muslim population to get beyond the troubles one of Huda’s older sisters encountered in school. Huda realizes she can’t rely on her identity as “hijabi girl” anymore. As she takes stock of her interests, tries new things, and examines the teens she hangs out with in school, an easy identity continues to evade her. When the school overreacts to a student bringing a homemade clock to school Huda is reminded that in addition to finding herself she has to fight off the prejudice heaped on Muslims in America.
Fahmy’s writing brings her usual brand of zippy humor tinged with self deprecation and candid vulnerability, perfect for tackling teen subjects from getting your period in class to asking out a boy to facing bigotry from a teacher. She reminds readers in the beginning that she’s telling the story of one Muslim teenage girl, not all Muslim teenage girls. As she moves among her academic-focused family full of sisters, Muslim girl classmates with a variety of interests, and begins going to halaqa, a group focusing on Islamic studies, she shows readers a diverse world of Muslim women and their ideals, a subject too many people have too narrow a view of. Current and past teens (like myself) will laugh or cringe in familiarity with Huda throughout the story. Her mother’s constant support and suspicion are a great running thread.
The visual format of Huda F Are You? makes it immediately clear that Huda cannot be contained. It’s a messy story about finding your identity and the vibrant, cartoonish art often takes up the whole page, no panels, no margins. There’s a complete break with the webcomic strip format daily Fahmy readers are familiar with. Her complex visual play with panel size and placement introduces a great sense of energy and motion. It feels like the jumble of high school life. Full page splashes often establish settings with comparatively lush backgrounds to carry over for paneled scenes that follow with mostly blank backgrounds. The use of color is spare and flat in most character interactions but features splashes of brightness and texture at just the right moments to land a gross event, such as a wave of menstrual blood. Huda’s family and school feature a wide variety of skin tones. Every graphic tool is used for maximum expressive impact, giving a lot of life to the simple drawing style. It fits in next to Raina Telgemeier’s style but is its own thing.
I am unfortunately writing this review when a vocal minority of people are trying to get stories that show the diverse experiences of American youth thrown out of schools. I haven’t seen Huda F Are You? join this list, but since it makes clear the impact of Islamophobia in a high school I wouldn’t be surprised to see it targeted. Teens (and tweens) should read this because it’s hilarious and true to what many teens experience as they test out their identities, and also because it centers strong, smart Muslim girls. It shows the prejudice they face in everyday casual situations and in bigger institutions.
Huda’s age and concerns in the story will place this in the teen section over juvenile, but most middle school readers can enjoy it as well and it should have a place in middle school library collections. I’ve had girls that young coming to the info desk for Fahmy’s other collections for the last couple of years. Readers who’ve aged up from middle grade realistic school stories will love this book, in particular there are a lot of parallels to New Kid. I’d really just like to hand this one to everyone that walks into the library, it’s a fun read and it makes you think about high school from a perspective that doesn’t have a lot of representation in the media in general.
Huda F are You? By Huda Fahmy Dial Books, 2021 ISBN: 9780593324301
Publisher Age Rating: YA
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13) Creator Representation: Muslim, Character Representation: Muslim ,
Three teens named Sam (Samuel, Samir, and Samantha) go for a walk in the woods and discover a gooey cocoon hanging from a tree, in Alienated by Simon Spurrier. When they take a classmate, Leon, to see their discovery, one thing leads to another and Leon vanishes. The three Sams learn that the cocoon is an alien creature they name Chip. Chip has feet, but tentacles for arms and he wears armor on his face and chest area. Chip syncs his brain with the teens’, allowing the teens to share their thoughts and feelings through their minds. Each of them is hiding secrets and Chip will be the one to bring them out.
The story appears as if it is telling a science fiction tale that will either turn out to be a version of E.T. or War of the Worlds. Instead, it turns into a story about teens struggling with personal demons and Chip being the catalyst to help them find closure. What I liked about the group was the diversity among the three leads. Samantha is Latinx and Samir is a Muslim Pakistani. Samir also struggles with being gay and coming out to his family. Samuel on the other hand was a character I had conflicting feelings over. I didn’t find him to have an issue that I related to. He seemed more like a misguided youth who felt that his views were the only ones that mattered. Another character, Chelsea, is an antagonist to the main three. She’s an influencer, always taking videos of herself and posting them online. There is the face she projects to her audience, that of being a concerned friend of the missing Leon, where in private she only cares about fame, attention, and how many clicks she will receive.
The artwork stood out and so many sequences popped for me. The artist, Chris Wildgoose, knows how to draw your eyes in and make simple scenes stand out. For instance, one scene has all the school kids hanging out in the quad. You have Chelsea in the foreground wearing purple and a greyish blue. In the background, you can see the three leads wearing orange, green, and blue. The trees and grass are yellowish-brown. I love how the artist mixes and matches colors to contrast the action that is going on in the frame. Another thing I like is that the teens look like real teens, not in an exaggerated form. In other graphic novels I’ve read you might have contorted body shapes or eyes. Realistic-looking teens are easier to identify with and it’s easier to believe the story is taking place in a more grounded world.
I can’t recommend Alienated enough. I think it’s one of the best graphic novels I have read this year. The artistry is amazing and the story is one that any teen or adult can relate to. I would rate this work for older teens 16+. This story features storylines about alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy, and suicide. These are heavy topics to grapple with individually, let alone all at once in one story. Trigger warning, there is a storyline that features a graphic depiction of self-harm. I found it quite unsettling and feel the artist lingered on it for way longer than I liked.
Alienated By Simon Spurrier Art by Chris Wildgoose BOOM! Studios, 2020 ISBN: 9781684155279
Publisher Age Rating: 16+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18) Character Representation: Hispanic, Pakistani, Gay, Catholic, Muslim
Kamala Khan’s keeping it together. Sure, she’s got high school, family obligations, moderator duties on her favorite site, updating her fan fiction, and Avengers training. She might be falling asleep during her classes and her body does keep randomly reshaping itself. But trust her, she’s got this.
Ms. Marvel: Stretched Thin, written by Nadia Shammas and art by Nabi H. Ali, is a stand-alone middle grade graphic novel from Scholastic Graphix about Jersey City’s resident teen superhero. It focuses on the pressures of being both a teenage Muslim Pakistani-American girl and one of the younger members of the Avengers. The story begins less than a year after the Terrigen Mist, the event that gave her the power to shapeshift.
Kamala is still learning how to navigate her body’s ability to embiggen and her secret identity as Ms. Marvel. She trains at Avengers Tower in Manhattan with fellow teen superheroes Squirrel Girl and Spider-Man under the one and only Iron Man; together, they’re Team Awesome Next-Gen Superheroes. In her regular life, she’s got her best friends Nakia and Bruno, as well as her increasingly worried parents on her case. She’s messing up at Avengers training, she’s napping through her entire school day, and one of her hands keeps randomly turning into a baby sized hand. At one point, she is literally stretched thin, as Nakia points out to her.
At least Kamala has babysitting her nephew Malik mostly under control, thanks to a weird rechargeable action figure one of her fellow website mods sent her. It might not hold a charge very long but it keeps him occupied while she updates her latest fanfic, the one she’s been getting lots of positive comments on. Things are somewhat more manageable until, while at an important party with her family, Malik’s new favorite toy turns out to be much more than just some random toy. Suddenly, on top of everything else going on in her already strained life, Kamala must focus on keeping her Ms. Marvel identity under wraps and protecting the people around her.
Throughout the book, Kamala faces the reality of being an overworked teenager. The stress starts to manifest in her physically, due to her sometimes uncontrollable ability to shapeshift. Her parents are brushed to the side and she hides in her bedroom, behind her computer screen, away from her family. She begins to recognize the impact this is having on their relationship and it seems like every conversation ends with someone’s feelings getting hurt. Kamala realizes her parents’ stress is actually out of concern and love for her and maybe she hasn’t been the daughter she’d like to be..
Kamala Khan is scheduled to make her official debut into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in late 2021 so be prepared for readers looking for more Ms. Marvel content. Ms. Marvel: Stretched Thin is a great introduction to the character and one only needs a basic idea of the Marvel universe to enjoy the story. The art is perfectly suited to the story being told, including slight changes in the color palette when the action ramps up. The shapeshifting scenes and the character’s excellent facial expressions will make readers laugh.
Readers who enjoy middle grade Marvel books like Miles Morales: Shock Waves and the Marvel: Avengers Assembly series will get to see some familiar faces and get to know Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel herself.
Ms. Marvel: Stretched Thin By Nadia Shammas Art by Nabi H. Ali Scholastic GRAPHIX, 2021 ISBN: 9781338722581
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13) Character Representation: Pakistani-American, Muslim
Legends are told across the universe of a blue box that shows up in times of great need. It can travel anywhere in time and space and is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Inside this blue box, which is known as the TARDIS, lives a being known as the Doctor. Sometimes the Doctor is old with young eyes. Other times the Doctor is young with old eyes. Sometimes the Doctor is a man. Other times the Doctor is a woman. At all times the Doctor is a champion of the downtrodden, never cowardly or cruel, who stands up against all tyrants, both petty and powerful.
Once, when the Doctor was a young and dashing man, he became stranded on the planet Earth in the city of London in the year 1969, with his companion; a human medical student named Martha Jones. The two had fallen prey to a quantum assassin known as a Weeping Angel; a curious being who displaced people in time and fed upon the potential energy released by that shift in spacetime. They were eventually saved by a clever woman named Sally Sparrow, who reunited the Doctor and the TARDIS… but for now they are still stuck in 1969 with no way out.
Now, an older Doctor, who is a witty livewire of a woman, has found herself in London in 1969 along with her current crew of companions; dyspraxic mechanic Ryan Sinclair, probationary police officer Yasmin Khan and retired bus driver Graham O’Brien. This is troubling, as the laws of time usually do not allow the various versions of the Doctor to cross paths, since this could cause a paradox that could destroy the universe. Unfortunately, a group of Weeping Angels are also now in 1969… and they are not the only alien menace with designs on London town!
A Tale Of Two Time Lords is the fourth collection of Doctor Who stories starring the Thirteenth incarnation of the Doctor published by Titan Comics and the first story to team the Thirteenth Doctor with an earlier incarnation; the Tenth Doctor. Despite this, it is a wonderful story for new readers of the comics and neophytes to the Doctor Who television series. The most fantastic aspect of this story, which is built around the classic Tenth Doctor episode “Blink,” is that Jody Houser’s script walks the reader through everything they need to know about the original episode, the concept behind the Weeping Angels and just how there are more than one version of the Doctor running around, in case you don’t already know. Established fans will not feel talked-down to, however, as there are also s a number of clever nods to the show hinting at the complexity of the Doctor Who universe that shouldn’t scare away newcomers. Indeed, it only encourages them to delve deeper into the lore of the show.
Houser’s script is brought to life beautifully by Roberta Ingranata, who perfectly captures the appearance of the characters from the show. More importantly, Ingranata shows amazing skill as a visual storyteller, and the fast-pace chase scenes that are part and parcel of the Doctor Who experience are well translated into an illustrated fiction format under Ingranta’s pencils and inks. The color art by Enrica Eren Angiolini also deserves praise, being suitably vivid and eye-catching.
This volume is rated 12+ and I think that is a fair rating, if only for the use of language. I am referring, in this case, to the use of advanced scientific terminology younger readers might not grasp and not curse words. There’s nothing inappropriate in the text or artwork, so advanced readers of a younger age should be able to handle A Tale Of Two Time Lords with little issue.
Doctor Who: A Tale Of Two Time Lords By Jody Houser Art by Roberta Ingranata and Enrica Angiolini ISBN: 9781787733107 Titan Comics, 2020 Publisher Age Rating: 12+ Series ISBNS and Order
Title Details and Representation NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16) Character Traits: Black, British, Pakistani, Mobility Impairment, Muslim Related to…: TV to Comic
Kismet was the first Muslim superhero in comics. From Algeria, he first appeared in 1944 in Bomber Comics to fight Nazis behind enemy lines in World War II. Created by the pseudonymous Omar Tahan, after four issues, he disappeared from the comics arena as abruptly as he arrived. The character was rediscovered in 2007 by Bostonian academic (and Muslim convert) A. David Lewis, who revitalized and reworked the character to reflect contemporary problems. These problems, unfortunately, are the same issues facing the original Kismet: discrimination, prejudice, ignorance, the newly labeled alt-right, and the upsurge of Nazism. Kismet reappears in Boston, fused with activist Qadar Hussein in a deadly fight, and allied with Qadar’s sister Deena and her friend Rabia. With the death of Qadar, Kismet continues to invest his energies to fighting these unremitting evils. His superpower is his ability to see momentarily and instantaneous into the future, only enough to dodge an attack but not long enough to delve into impending actions.
The city of Boston is an active character in this volume through the contemporary landmarks and activities. Along with the strong and proud Muslim identification of the protagonist, this Boston is filled with citizens that are principally minorities and/or female. This Boston is unapologetically interracial and filled with characters of varied religious and sexual identities coexisting to bring the city alive and operational. There are no stereotypes here. Kismet is a man out of the past, but soon, with the aid of his friends, becomes a fighting force for social and political activism.
I found the illustrations muddy with a distinct partiality to dark backgrounds interspersed with infrequent brilliant splashes of reds and greens. Facial expressions are often hinted at rather than clear and I had difficulty at times differentiating characters. At the same time, however, the story arc was easy to follow and the solid characters rose above the muddiness to deliver a strong picture of today’s American society through the eyes of the past. The graphic novel is action packed and very relevant—public libraries for sure and high schools as well would benefit from having it in their collections.
Kismet: Man of Fate By A. David Lewis Art by Noel Tuazon ISBN: 9781949518009 A Wave Blue World, 2018 Publisher Age Rating: Adult
Browse for more like this title Character Traits: Neurodivergent, Multiracial, Lesbian, Genderqueer
Think back to the 2008 election and the suppositions that flew about when a certain segment of the public found out Barack Obama’s middle name is Hussein and his father and paternal grandmother are Muslim. According to an interview with author Pornsak Pichetshote and artist Aaron Campbell, the seeds for Infidel were planted in 2008 when Obama stepped into the presidency and Islamophobia gained traction in the United States. Upon its publication ten years later, the story’s relevance has only multiplied, with the current administration’s multiple attempted bans against citizens from majority-Muslim countries entering the U.S.
Infidel is a horror comic that explores xenophobia and racism with a twist of the supernatural. Named one of NPR’s Top 100 horror stories, Infidel succeeds in the genre because many parts of its premise are just a little too real for comfort. The main character, Aisha Hasan, is a Pakastani-American Muslim living with her white agnostic boyfriend Tom and his daughter and mother. The family lives in an apartment building that recently experienced a bombing at the hands of a supposed terrorist. When Aisha begins having terrible nightmares and seeing spectres, she believes she’s just imagining things. But what she’s seeing proves altogether too real. As the plot unfolds, we find that parallel to our world is one filled with pure emotion, and the divide between our worlds can be torn by an event that creates an intense flare of emotion. After an immigrant is blamed for a bomb detonating in the apartment building, the veil is torn and the poltergeists of hatred and fear are unleashed.
The plot increases in complexity with each issue, and the trope of a haunted house is pushed to its limits. Characters project their own experiences of racism, sexism, and phobias onto the people who are different from them, failing to see when they’re doing what others have done to them. These fears and assumptions ask the reader not just to confront their own fear of people different than themselves, but also to ask where this fear stems from. Even if you’re unable to find an answer, the fact that you’re asking the questions allows for a dialogue when too often silence reigns.
In a digital age of horror flicks that vie to scare your pants off more quickly than the one before, it can be difficult to convey terror in a two-dimensional comic. However, Aaron Campbell creates suspense and horror with each panel. The deformed spirits leap from the walls and closets, gnashing their teeth and grabbing your ankles from under the bed. They scream filth at you, spewing slander that’s etched on the paper like carvings on a dead tree. Blood spatters, sprays, and seeps onto adjoining panels, reminding you that there is no real divide, no safety. In short, Campbell’s art renders Pichetshote’s story a living, rasping thing, even without cinematic tense music or the sound of wet flesh tearing.
By now, you’ve perhaps deduced that this comic is best saved for adult audiences. Older teens would probably do just fine with it. In fact, if memory serves me right, age 13 was when the pressure to watch terrifying horror movies first set in. However, the nuances of racism and xenophobia would perhaps be better appreciated by an older audience. Those who don’t fancy blood, demons, swearing, or general terror should avoid this book. Those seeking to create a more robust horror comic selection should purchase this right away. While a good horror story creates expectations, a great horror story like Infidel subverts them, leaving you with plenty to think about, long into the night.
Infidel By Pornsak Pichetshote Art by Aaron Campbell ISBN: 9781534308367 Image, 2018 Publisher Age Rating: M
Browse for more like this title NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+) Character Traits: Black, Pakistani American, Creator Highlights: BIPOC Creator
[Classic Fantastic is our series of features on the classics of the format—please check out our other picks for the most important titles, in terms of appeal, innovation, and storytelling, that every library should own.]
What’s it about?
Ms. Marvel is a window into the life of a Pakistani Muslim immigrant family. After a terrigen mist endowed Kamala Khan with superpowers, she became the new Ms. Marvel—a Ms. Marvel whose superhero outfit is a repurposed burkini. Kamala weaves between the worlds of the religious and the secular the same way she weaves between the world of the teen and the world of the superhero: she’s sometimes confident, sometimes uneasy, and never in one place for too long.
Within Kamala’s nuclear family and friend circle, we’re provided a variety of characters who express their faith in a variety of ways. Abu and Ammi, Kamala’s parents, are somewhat secular but strict. They disapprove of drugs, dogs, and dates. On the other hand, Kamala’s brother Aamir rebels through his piety by dressing in traditional dress with a kufi (skullcap). Kamala’s feelings about her faith are complex and contradictory. She’s quick to snark at Sheikh Abdullah’s lecture from the women’s section of the masjid, but she also remembers his wisdom at crucial moments.
Kamala expresses a similar ambivalence about being a supehero. The work takes takes her away from friends, sleep, and her beloved World of Battlecraft videogame, and she’s not thrilled about being treated like a kid sister in the Avengers. On the other hand, she gets to save the world.
What is clear, though, is that there are similarities between religious contemplation and serving as a superhero. Both require humans to think of the world beyond themselves, assess their courses of action, and work on behalf of the greater good.
Kamala’s “greater good” is Jersey City, New Jersey. Jersey City is drawn true to real life, with views of the Freedom Tower poking out from across the Hudson River. Jersey City is home to lots of working-class immigrants representing different waves of immigration. Kamala’s best friend, techie sidekick, and quasi love interest Bruno is white, but he also identifies as an Italian immigrant. Kamala’s and Bruno’s relationship faces its expected turns over the series, including a moment where Bruno reveals his love for Kamala and Kamala, despite being boy-obsessed, tells Bruno she’s not about relationships right now.
Even though Kamala and Bruno aren’t in love (or not really, or let’s not talk about it), their verbal sparring and references to nerd and gamer culture are delightful. There are references to RPGs, memes that have probably overstayed their welcome (doge, anyone?), and bitcoin, among others. These small moments don’t come across as gimmicky in the slightest, though I see how they easily could tire the reader—instead, they show an attention to craft.
What’s also notable in the Ms. Marvel volumes is the use of setting, color, and space. I have a hard time reading some superhero comics because I feel the action is too crowded on the page. In the interest of making superhero comics “exciting,” some artists lay in lots of scenes with BOOMS and THWACKS and character close-ups from torso up. Ms. Marvel goes the opposite direction. Instead of crisp colors, colorist Ian Herring gave the series a faded palette, and instead of lots of close-ups, we get scenescapes of a long-legged Kamala Khan making her way across Jersey City.
The two artists who drew most of the series, Adrian Alphona and Takeshi Miyazawa, have slightly different interpretations of Ms. Marvel. Alphona’s Ms. Marvel is leggy and gangly, and her poofy hair floats around her head defiantly. Alphona’s lines are sketchy and he attends to details around Jersey City like iron trellises and trash cans. Miyazawa’s Ms. Marvel, on the other hand, is sleeker with bolder lines and bigger gestures. The style feels more sci-fi than PATH train. All artists who have taken a hand to Ms. Marvel are keen on drawing her grimaces, pouts, and frustrations of daily life and superhero duty.
Ms. Marvel gives readers an opportunity to cheer for a heroine who looks like them and practices their faith. It takes the attention away from superhero duties as a white male act and shows how a woman of color can be a public servant who gets the bad guys, too. It’s not the only comic that portrays a non-white or non-male main character, but it does so with tremendous heart and openness. Wilson has developed a heroine who is so likeable and relatable to teens, because so many of her concerns are teen concerns and so much of her life is teen life. What teen on the planet hasn’t had to negotiate parent expectations, identity, and getting to class on time?
Ms. Marvel appeals to new graphic novel readers as well as graphic novel fans who are trying out a new genre. The intent in this series seems to be to find as wide a readership as possible. The plot lines are simple and somewhat modular: the core characters stay somewhat stable and there are new villains and characters in every volume who are introduced. If there are some story lines that carry over from previous volumes, they are contextualized and explained clearly.
I also see Ms. Marvel as a bridge between Japanese comics and American comics. There are times that Kamala’s actions and depictions seem more out of an anime comedy—for example, at times her eyes bug a little bit when she meets somebody famous, and when she gets defensive with a friend, her eyes become pin-like and small. Kamala can be endearing even when she’s at her most annoying.
Why should you own this?
The Ms. Marvel series introduced comic book readers to Kamala Khan, a teen in Jersey City who is just trying to balance school, friends, overbearing parents, and World of Battlecraft. Superheroes have never had this much teen angst before. It’s about time Ms. Marvel became a must-read for every teenager on this planet and on any other alternate universe planets, too.
Ms. Marvel Written by G. Willow Wilson Art by Adrian Alphona, Takeshi Miyazawa, and others Volume 1: No Normal ISBN: 9780785190219 Volume 2: Generation Why ISBN: 9780785190226 Volume 3: Crushed ISBN: 9780785192275 Volume 4: Last Days ISBN: 9780785197362 Volume 5: Super Famous ISBN: 9780785196112 Volume 6: Civil War II ISBN: 9780785196129 Volume 7: Damage Per Second ISBN: 9781302903053 Marvel, 2017 Publisher Age Rating: T+
Once again, the Ms. Marvel series introduces characters and plots that are relevant to contemporary teens. Kamala Khan isn’t just getting to know the Marvel universe, she’s figuring out the moral universe, too
Depending on how well you know Kamala, you may recall that she’s a pretty devoted gamer. Her vice of choice is online multiplayer games, where she is known not as Kamala Khan or Ms. Marvel, but as SlothBaby. I guess every alter ego needs an alter ego? Within the game, her guild friend, LeetSkillz, starts acting strangely and threatens Kamala by mentioning her address. If her online friends get wind of her true identity it could be bad news.
Meanwhile, photos have been going around of Clara, a classmate at school. Clara is humiliated and embarrassed about photos that were intended to be shared only with her boyfriend, who claims he kept them private. Ms. Marvel and her friends Mike, Zoe, and Nakia step in to support Clara and befriend her.
It turns out these events are related. Player LeetSkillz unintentionally downloaded Doc.X, a virus designed to spread quickly and take on the traits of its users. Doc.X has the power to control not only technology, but minds, too. Though Kamala can resist it’s control of minds, the virus has an unusual blackmail offer for Kamala: spread the virus into a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility or else the virus will release the love letters that Zoe wrote to Nakia but never sent. Ms. Marvel briefly considers making good on Doc.X’s order before she stops herself: “If I cave in to a bad guy, am I still one of the good guys?” Kamala’s guild meets up in real life and she hatches a multi-phase plan to defeat Doc.X once and for all.
It’s fun to watch Ms. Marvel’s fighting style develop over time from mostly physical force to a blend of strategic thinking, physical force, peer leadership, and a dash of techie know-how. This volume artistically celebrates Kamala’s special brand of dorky superhero in all sorts of ways, from the bags of chips that are by her side when she’s gaming to a physically unflattering depiction of her with her spidery elongated legs or sitting with her guild at a LAN party at the Circle Q. (“Are you nerds seriously having LAN party in a convenience store? Man, this is some peak Jersey right here…”) I always appreciate how the Ms. Marvel volumes buck the old-school trend of female superheroes with idealized and hyper-sexualized physical traits. Ms. Marvel is about kicking ass, not having one.
However, I felt that Doc.X as a villain and the volume itself presented some questions and issues that weren’t explored further or resolved. This seemed particularly rife for potential in a volume about secrets, surveillance, and how we use the internet, because we know Kamala’s weak for Bruno and we know she doesn’t always display the finest judgment when it comes to teen life. I would have liked to have seen Kamala’s personal life enter this volume more, particularly because she says “We all have secret identities. Secret identities, but no secrets, and it sucks.”
This is a terrific volume for those who are already fans, but I would encourage newer readers to start earlier in the series.
Ms. Marvel, vol. 7: Damage Per Second Written by G. Willow Wilson Art by Mirka Andolfo and Takeshi Miyazawa ISBN: 9781302903053 Marvel, 2017 Publisher Age Rating: T+
I’m pretty sure I know Kamala Khan. She’s that student who raises her hand to say something brilliantly wrong. She lets her enthusiasm override reason and common sense. She’s loyal to friends, but she acts before she listens.
Kamala Khan’s superhero self, Ms. Marvel, faces some of the same issues as Kamala Khan the Pakistani-American living in Jersey City. In one panel we see Ms. Marvel leaping from one building to another with the newly rebuilt One World Trade Center in the far distance. In the real world, some (most notably Donald Trump) accused Muslims in Jersey City—families exactly like Kamala’s—of celebrating the destruction of the original World Trade Center on 9/11. In the fictionalized world, this volume’s villains have a similar obsession with order and keeping the peace.
In nearly all of the volumes in the Ms. Marvel series, there are distinct and direct parallels to contemporary issues, and the muted tones and high realism of the artwork is meant to remind us that superhero life and real life aren’t so far apart. If Ms. Marvel were more…dare I say…heroic, these comics could come across as overly preachy and moralizing, as if Ms. Marvel were the Smokey the Bear of racism and classism. Instead, readers are invited to see Ms. Marvel work her way through issues, too. When Captain Marvel introduces Ms. Marvel to Becky St. Clair and her cadre of predictive crime fighters, Ms. Marvel is in awe of the ability to stop a crime before it has the ability to harm others. Tyesha, Kamala’s friend, tries to warn her that such a system could cause new problems, not resolve the problems that already exist. While Ms. Marvel’s evolution from stopping crime to stopping unnecessary oppression is swift and predictable, it is still satisfying to watch.
Characters who have made larger appearances in other volumes make a small showing here, and readers learn more about Kamala’s family life in Pakistan, setting the stage for future international adventures.
The Ms. Marvel series continues to be a refreshing delight for teen readers who are looking for a superhero who is as worried about fighting crime as she is getting a college scholarship.
Ms. Marvel, vol. 6: Civil War II by G. Willow Wilson Art by Adrian Alphona and Takeshi Miyazawa ISBN: 9780785196129 Marvel, 2016 Publisher Age Rating: (12+)