It’s hard to imagine a time when Peyton Manning wasn’t a Hall of Fame caliber football player or when George Lucas wasn’t a sci-fi visionary. There are entire generations that only know their greatness and that of others like them. The same can be said for superheroes. It’s hard to imagine a time when Steve Rogers couldn’t take down a hundred armed Hydra assassins or when Batman couldn’t take down ten armed thugs with his bare hands. But like every master of every craft, they were a novice at some point and that’s exactly the position Kamala Khan, the new Ms. Marvel, is in.
Stories surrounding this novice period of a hero are often overlooked. Like fans of any professional sports team, few want to see the growing pains of their players. They want to see them get to a championship. It’s a lack of patience that feeds into the need for instant gratification from our famous heroes. If it can’t be told in a two-hour movie starring an actor with the charisma of Robert Downey Jr., then it’s not worth telling. That sentiment makes it difficult to explore the actual process of becoming a hero, which is a process that is every bit as tedious as becoming a Hall of Fame quarterback or an acclaimed director. That’s why G. Willow Wilson’s approach to making Kamala Khan the new Ms. Marvel was so risky, but so far that risk has paid off. And in Ms. Marvel #4, that payoff makes Kamala Khan a shoe-in for Rookie of the Year.
The first few issues defied convention by actually taking the time to show who Kamala Khan is, where she comes from, who her friends and family are, and what she struggles with as a 16-year-old teenage Pakistani-American in Jersey City, New Jersey. It shouldn’t sound like such a radical concept, exploring the life of a character so readers can actually care about her as a person and not just as someone with superpowers. Yet in an era where every great story has to have an epic battle on the scale of a Lord of the Rings movie, it might as well be the most absurd idea not pitched by Seth MacFarlane. Ms. Marvel has proven that there is some merit to actually exploring the more inane details of a character’s life before sending them to fight killer robots. That makes it all the more satisfying when that character finally gets around to fighting those robots.
It took her four issues, but Kamala Khan finally gets her first crack at fighting killer robots in Ms. Marvel #4. It might not be as epic as Wolverine battling a Sentinel or Hulk battling MODOK, but it’s the path that Kamala took to get to this fight that makes it so satisfying. Beyond the killer robots, this is the first issue where Kamala actually adopts the title, Ms. Marvel. It’s also the issue in which she adopts her own style and uniform. Before now, she has been running around dressed as Captain Marvel, trying to emulate her favorite superhero. In doing so, she learns the hard way that running around in heels in a one-piece bathing suit is not for everybody. So instead of trying to be someone else, she starts building her own persona and she does it in a way that only makes her more lovable.
This is the greatest strength of Ms. Marvel. The journey of Kamala Khan from awkward Pakistani-American teenager to hero is done in a way that makes it hard not to adore her. So much of what she deals with is very real and something that others can relate to. She’s not like Peter Parker in that she’s not a genius. She’s more of a nerd. She writes fan fiction, plays video games, and sneaks out to see Harry Potter movies. But unlike Peter Parker, she doesn’t have to lose someone close to her to become a hero. Just being from a good family that has instilled her with good values is enough. Again, that sounds like such a radical concept in an age when family values is basically a synonym for racist, homophobic religious indoctrination. Yet Kamala Khan makes it work.
That’s not to say she can go toe-to-toe with Galactus or rub elbows with Carol Danvers just yet. Kamala is still stumbling about in her journey to become a hero. She managed to get herself shot while stopping a simple robbery at a convenience store. And her ability to learn more about her first villain, The Inventor, is restricted to creative exploitation of smartphones. She’s hardly a Batman-level detective and she quickly finds herself in a tough situation she doesn’t fully understand, but that’s just another part of her journey. She’s bound to get a little nervous in encountering her first villain and destroying her first killer robot. But like riding a bicycle or baking the perfect cake, she has to start somewhere. However, at no point is it not clear that she’ll eventually be capable of beating up Nazis with Captain America.
There is so much to love about Kamala Khan and she doesn’t have to punch Galactus in the jaw to achieve that lovability. At times, it’s easy to forget that she’s a minority in a world where minority superheroes are few, far between, and not nearly as lovable. That might be the only shortcoming of Ms. Marvel #4 because it doesn’t explore that aspect of her character the same way previous issues have. Yet therein lies the radical nature of this narrative because had Kamala been a typical American blond, the personal struggles that make Kamala so compelling would probably have been glossed over. It’s not uncommon for minorities to struggle with higher bars, but thanks to the depth provided in the issues preceding this one, she has already exceeded that bar and keeps on raising it.
The journey of Kamala Khan becoming Ms. Marvel takes another important step in Ms. Marvel #4. She goes from just struggling to understand what she’s becoming to actually forging a superhero identity. She still has a long ways to go. Being Rookie of the Year doesn’t immediately make an athlete into a Hall of Famer, but it’s a good start. Fighting killer robots is basically Superheroing 101 and for now, Kamala Khan has more than earned a passing grade. It remains to be seen whether she’ll be able to handle the advanced courses, but she has already created a sizable fanbase that will be rooting for her.