For a long time, mainstream comic book characters of ethnic origins were consistently reduced to cultural stereotypes. Think of the Mandarin with his evil exoticism or even Shamrock, a cartoon of an Irishwoman who wears a four-leaf clover and sports good-luck powers. Later attempts to include characters who were anything but white men (or busty women) have often smacked of patent tokenism and turned readers away.
But, Marvel editors Sana Amanat and Steve Wacker are over the classic caped crusader and the crudely drawn stereotype. Instead, Wacker and Amanat, who is Muslim-American, have dreamed up a different kind of comic book superhero: a teenage Muslim girl named Kamala Khan. (As our readers have helpfully pointed out, this is not Marvel's first Muslim superhero. She is predated by Faiza Hussain and Monet St. Croix.)
Amanat and Wacker have teamed up with comic book writer and Muslim convert G. Willow Wilson to craft the story. Kamala's family is from Pakistan but resides in New Jersey. ("Kamala," it should be noted, means "perfection" in Arabic.) She is an acolyte of a female version of Captain Marvel, after whom she initially names herself: Ms. Marvel. "Captain Marvel represents an ideal that Kamala pines for," Ms. Wilson told The New York Times. "She’s strong, beautiful, and doesn’t have any of the baggage of being Pakistani and 'different.'"
Kamala has the ability to shape-shift and will be forced to reconcile her religious beliefs with her superhero duties. What that means, however, is not exactly clear yet. By all appearances, Kamala is modern and moderate; her parents and her brother, however, are conservative, family-focused Muslims. "Her mom is paranoid that she’s going to touch a boy and get pregnant," Amanat tells the Times. "Her father wants her to concentrate on her studies and become a doctor."
It's a politically sensitive subject, and one that will surely inspire vehement reactions both in favor and in opposition, from Muslims and non-Muslims alike. We can't wait to see how finely her character is drawn when the series debuts in February. (NYT)