You can’t always judge a book by it’s reviews.
So, as I mentioned in prior reviews, in the dreaded battle of DC vs. Marvel, I definitely more inclined to read DC comics. One of my first experiences with comic books was actually a Marvel hero, and it really let me down. It gave me a distorted view of what comics were capable of being. A few years have passed since then, and now I can’t get enough, but I’ve stuck largely to DC to avoid similar disappointments. I decided that Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel would be a good hero to try my way in Marvel waters again.
Ms. Marvel: No Normal had exceptional reviews online, but that wasn’t what first drew me to her. A common criticism of DC, especially with The New 52 controversy, is the lack of diversity and representation. I can admit to feeling that lack, so when I found out that the new Ms. Marvel was going to be an American-Muslim girl I was excited. Someone like me in a comic!
Have that dual identity of being American, but also being raised Muslim (although pretty secular), I love taking in media that features people like me. From funny YouTube series like “The Muslim Shore” to romantic memoirs like those featured in the book “Love, InshAllah” to the comedy of the book “Does My Head Look Big in This?”, I have largely not been let down by hearing diverse Muslim voices sharing unique stories that I can relate to in a way that my average reading list does not accommodate. I was hoping for a similar feeling in this, a subtle relatability with a strong story to back it up. I was unfortunately let down.
From the first line, something felt off. To start a book about a character who has lived her whole life as a Muslim with her pining over bacon, it felt wrong, and didn’t make sense. I understand immediately we are supposed to be pulled into Kamala’s struggle of existing in the in-between, where things that are normal for other people are forbidden for her, and she is supposed to be a girl who is struggling to balance both cultures, but it just didn’t make sense to me. As someone who was raised Muslim, I never craved bacon, or thought of it as a delicious treat I was depriving myself of. Like, sure I was curious what the hype was. but it’s not like I’d sit there salivating at it, because I had never had it, I didn’t know what I was missing. And everyone knows, if you really want to substitute bacon for something, you could always get halal turkey bacon (depending on the region you live in, but Kamala lives close to NYC, so she could definitely get it). It made me immediately prepare myself for a lot of the cliche to come.
On that front, I was right. The cliche bully, asking the cliche bully questions about being Muslim. Now I won’t deny, the types of questions she asks hijab-wearing Nakia, are not unusual, but at the same time, I think it felt like the reader was being beat over the head with the fact that Kamala was Muslim, instead of it being an aspect of her character.
One thing I did appreciate was the portrayal of Kamala’s family. Although greatly caricatured, as all characters are in comic books, they were well-rounded, consistent, developed characters, and felt the most realistic in the book, even more so than Kamala herself.
Despite this factor, I was really excited for the action to start and for Kamala to get her powers. I couldn’t wait to see how this was played out and was hoping that this could all be chalked up to an overzealous first few pages.
So, Kamala’s powers are basically rooted in her insecurities of not being white. Or at least, that what it seemed like at first. She received her powers after being sheathed in unexplained toxic gas and in a hallucination being asked what she wished for, which for her is to be Ms. Marvel. Oh, and this unexplained gas also covered the rest of the city but no one else seemed to be effected. Okay, right? That makes sense I guess.
Kamala physically (not only in ability, but also in appearance) becomes Ms. Marvel, and immediately is forced to use her powers to save the class bully. It quickly becomes apparent that her powers are rooted in her insecurities of being brown, and that when she gets anxious she becomes the white, blond-haired Ms. Marvel. Except not. Because in about two pages this conflict is relieved and suddenly, she is comfortable with being herself. Okay, right? That also makes sense I guess.
It’s established her powers are shape-shifting, which includes changing her appearance completely, but also can mean making her legs longer, so she can walk extra fast or making her fist huge so she can punch super hard. She also can heal very fast, but is not able to shape shift while healing. One of the abilities she does not have is the common reasoning ability to realize she’s really bad at concealing her identity, and if this was in any way realistic, she would have been discovered as Ms. Marvel by Issue 4.
By the end of the book, her main enemy is established as “The Inventor”, although he looks more like an overfed chicken than Thomas Edison. Basically a gang leader corrupting New Jersey’s youth. At this point however, I really didn’t care as much as I probably should.
The book ends with a full circle or over-capitalizing on the South Asian culture that Kamala is so badly trying to separate herself from, and her seeming like a whiny brat about it again.
I probably wouldn’t read any of the other volumes if I hadn’t already purchased them, but as they are quick reads, I’m going to try to give Volume 2 and 3 a try. Hopefully, I will encounter some of the wonderful aspects that this series has been garnering so much praise for. But honestly, I don’t have high hopes.