It's easy to root for Kamala Khan, but that also means it's easy to feel the impact when her emotions get the better of her.
Ms. Marvel #14Publisher: Marvel
Writer: G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa
Publication Date: 2015-06
Marvel has achieved some remarkable accomplishments in making Kamala Khan the new Ms. Marvel. It’s a concept that really shouldn’t have worked in the real world or the world Fox News would have everyone believes is real. How could giving the title of Ms. Marvel to a 16-year-old Pakistani-American teenager from Jersey City possibly work? That sounds more like a failed sitcom from Michael Moore’s fantasy world than a bold new direction for the Marvel Universe. But it’s worked in ways that defy the physics of both the real world and the comic book world.
Kamala Khan’s life and story has become one of the most compelling narratives Marvel has to offer. Seeing Captain America beat up Hydra or watching Peter Parker break up with his girlfriend for the 52,281th time might be classics, but Kamala’s story is just so refreshing and novel. And what makes it all the more remarkable is that it has been able to tell her story without resorting to one too many cultural stereotypes. She’s still a Muslim girl in a Muslim family that takes their religion seriously, but it doesn’t dominate the narrative. The character of Kamala Khan never becomes secondary to the culture in which she comes from.
In doing so, Ms. Marvel has shown that different cultures are more alike than anyone on Fox News will ever admit. There’s nothing culturally unique about parents wanting their children to marry successful, respectable spouses. Whether it’s Karachi or Cancun, parents are going to be nervous whenever their teenage daughter lets her hormones draw her to a cute guy. And Kamala Khan’s family has embodied this sentiment in ways that every parent from every culture not associated with hippies can understand.
Their concerns about Kamala’s infatuation with a new boy end up being justified, but not because he has a neck tattoo or a tongue piercing. In Ms. Marvel #14, this new love interest that supercharged Kamala’s teenage hormones proves that no amount of culture or religion will keep teenagers from making mistakes when dealing with the opposite sex. But it’s the impact and nature of the mistake that makes this more impactful than a Saved By The Bell rerun.
Kamala Khan’s teenage melodrama doesn’t follow the same formula that every teen drama has tried to mimic since 90210. This new love interest, Kamran, hits all the right emotional chords. She doesn’t sweep Kamala off her feet like some guy with a French accent and the body of Channing Tatum. He’s actually able to relate to Kamala on a personal level and not just because he also happens to be Inhuman.
Even though he comes off as the kind of guy her parents would want her to make wedding plans for by the end of the week, Kamala’s interest in him feels truly genuine. It isn’t just teenage hormones urging her to be irresponsible in ways that would horrify her parents. She actually feels genuine affection for this boy. On some levels, it’s a red flag. Kamran feels like one of those tantalizing offers that usually ends up being a Ponzi scheme, but it’s tantalizing to the point where Kamala doesn’t want it to be a red flag.
It’s a big part of what makes Kamala Khan such a compelling character. Her story resonates so well that it’s hard to not care about her and her personal life. She’s lovable to the point where you really do want to root for her, especially when it comes to finding happiness with the opposite sex. As the negative fan reaction to One More Day showed with Spider-Man, fans really do care about the personal lives of these characters, sometimes to a disturbing level.
In addition, this genuine emotional connection between Kamala and Kamran also leads to some very relevant discussions about Kamala’s culture and the clashes that often come along with it. There’s a very candid discussion between Bruno, Kamala’s best friend who finds himself locked in the friend-zone, and Kamala’s pious brother. It’s a discussion that is usually either glossed over or grossly stereotyped, dating in between cultures. But there’s a reason for this taboo and it has nothing to do with making for bad reality shows.
There’s a real and sincere interest among parents. They genuinely want to preserve their culture and their family for future generations. It’s something parents have been doing for as long as culture has been relevant. It’s not just Pakistani immigrants either. Other religions and ethnic groups want to continue their cherished traditions, even if it causes conflict. When Bruno and Kamala’s brother talk about it, neither one of them comes off as insincere or mean about it. That’s what makes it meaningful. That’s also what gives the turning point in the story its impact.
Like every other failed Ponzi scheme in history, those red flags about Kamran turned out to be true and Kamala Khan’s hormones wouldn’t let her see it. Kamran, a guy who was so easy to root for, turns out to have an ulterior motive. And it puts Kamala in new Inhumans-level conflict. However, it’s not the conflict itself that gives the story its strength. It’s the emotional impact of seeing this boy that Kamala clearly felt for turning against her.
It really shouldn’t be surprising, a handsome new guy turning out to be another caricature from a Revenge of the Nerds movie. But it still has an emotional impact because Kamala Khan is just so easy to root for. Seeing this promising love interest blow up in her face has more of an impact than watching her fight killer robots or giant crocodiles. The impact of Ms. Marvel #14 is a testament to just how much we’ve come to care about Kamala Khan. Like so many other teenage girls, she learned the hard way that cute boys will take advantage of them if they let their hormones overshadow their judgment. It’s a lesson she’ll probably learn more than once, but one that’ll make her stronger and more lovable in the long run.