Five years ago, I picked up the first issue of G. Willow Wilson’s MS. MARVEL at my local comic store. I was vaguely familiar with the hype surrounding this new character — a Muslim-American teenager from New Jersey. As a cultural milestone, she was the first Muslim character to helm her own solo series. Plus it was nice to see my home state receive some fun superhero representation. Yet, no one could have predicted the impact MS. MARVEL and its newly created protagonist Kamala Khan would leave on the Marvel world.

Ms. Marvel in Action, Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

From her debut issue onwards, readers found Kamala both original and relatable. A millennial Jersey girl who adored Carol Danvers, wrote superhero fan-fiction, and grappled with her religious identity, she dealt with ordinary and geekdom problems alike. Even now, her popularity transformed Ms. Marvel’s into one of Marvel’s flagship characters. Truthfully, I don’t think a character has received this much praise, merchandise, and adaptations in a short time since Spider-Man.

MARVEL #38 marks the end of an era, with writer G. Willow Wilson, editor Sana Amanat, and other members of the original comic staff stepping down. In that time, Kamala has seen multiple animation adaptations, comic crossovers, and is even set to debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Thus, I think it’s worth taking a look back on this character’s growth and where it has taken her as a pop culture icon.

The Origins of MS. MARVEL

Kamala Khan was just an ordinary teenager until the Terrigen Mist washed over Jersey City. The mist awoke her Inhuman DNA, granting Kamala polymorphic abilities, enhanced healing powers, and the ability to shrink or “embiggen” her body mass. Eventually, she adopted the former title of her favorite superhero Captain Marvel and became New Jersey’s protector: Ms. Marvel.

Kamala’s Page 1 Origins, Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

However, it’s the emotional journey taken to discover this identity that let Kamala stand apart from other Marvel characters. She’s a 21st century, second-generation immigrant teenager torn between her parent’s religious upbringing and the Western “high school girl” image. Both individually and culturally, Kamala lacks a true identity or sense of fulfillment. The only place she feels most at home is as a fangir, obsessing over Carol Danvers and writing superhero fanfiction.

Upon receiving her Inhuman powers, Kamala performs acts of heroism in Carol’s older forms, shapeshifting herself into an image of “perfect” western femininity. But these alterations do not fix her identity crisis; instead, they deepen Kamala’s conflicted emotions and hinder her healing powers. Eventually, Kamala realizes that, rather than mimic other faces, she must develop an identity reflective of her own personality.

Terrigen Mist Religious Confessions, Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Hence, we get Ms. Marvel’s iconic outfit: a remodeled Pakistani bathing suit sporting Carol’s lightning bolt emblem. Combined with a compartment bracelet previously worn from her great-grandmother who fled India during Partition, Kamala merges her two heritages within this costume. Her powers too, while similar to Mr. Fantastic, are just different enough to give Kamala’s fights their own kinetic flair. We see these abilities evolve as the series progresses, both as a means of combat and an extension of Kamala’s personal evolution.

Building the Supporting Cast

In a rare subversion of comic book tropes, Kamala doesn’t have a dead family member. Her parents and brother Aamir are all important parts of her life, much like Peter Parker’s connection with Aunt May. More importantly, Kamala’s family dynamics have grown with her powers, further highlighting the character’s evolution over these past five years.

Sheikh Abdullah’s Words of Wisdom, Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Aamir is easily my favorite family member of the bunch. Where Kamala is reserved on her Muslim faith, religion is central to Aamir’s life. He dresses in conservative garb, prays daily, and eschews job-searching under the belief that God will lay out a path forward. Yet as the series progresses, Aamir gradually accepts more responsibility. He eventually gets married, has a child, and, as of issue 37, has become the replacement imam for Sheikh Abdullah at the local Mosque.

Kamala high school environment is equally compelling. Her circle of friends have all undergone changes since the first issue, both in relation to Kamala and themselves. Her childhood friend Nakia is close, but also distant, due to Kamala’s absence while superheroing and the pressure of Nakia’s immigrant upbringing. Zoe, formally a bratty mean-girl archetype, later abandons her rich girl status and emerges from a literal world-ending scenario a kinder person.

Kamala x Bruno, Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Of course, there’s Bruno, Kamala’s childhood friend who helps guides her into the superhero profession. Their “friends vs. love interest” dynamic is one of the best I’ve seen in any medium, with Bruno undergoing as many arcs as Kamala herself. This constant relationship evolution ensures that readers are never left bored or uninterested in the unfolding drama.

Meet the Kamala Corps

Kamala’s relationships have proven essential to her growth as both a superhero and a human being. In one issue, Kamala visits her relatives in Pakistan following the consequential fallout of CIVIL WAR II, hoping to gain some clarity with family. Yet even there she feels isolated and, after getting involved in a conflict with complex economic stakes, realizes she belongs back home.

Kamala Corps, Plus One Captain Marvel, Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Another storyline sees both Kamala and Ms. Marvel disappear from Jersey City, with not even Kamala’s family revealing her whereabouts. With no one to protect the city, the side characters –Nakia, Zoe, Bruno’s ex-gf Mike, and Kamala’s “step brother-in-law” Gabriel — step in as temporary heroes. They wear customized Ms. Marvel outfits, coordinate with one another, and even (almost) stop a supervillain scheme to weaponize the elderly.

Needless to say, Jersey City is as much a part of Ms. Marvel’s story as her friends and family. Just like Peter Parker (and half the Marvel universe) are products of the Big Apple, New Jersey is where Kamala grew up. Her school, her house, her Mosque, her after-school hang-out: it’s all there. It’s where she protects the local NJ townsfolk from imminent danger.

Granted, MS. MARVEL’s villains aren’t exactly iconic. If anything, they’re kind of weird. These include the Inventor, a Thomas Edison/Cockatoo hybrid clone, Doc.X, a sentient computer virus, and Lockdown, a redheaded proto-authoritarian. But they’re all products of Jersey City’s environment and, as a result, part of Kamala’s ongoing character saga.

MS. MARVEL is Everywhere!

Despite debuting in 2014, Marvel’s been quick to adapt Ms. Marvel into other mediums. These include video game cameos, action figures, and even animation debuts in AVENGERS ASSEMBLE and MARVEL RISING. Voiced by Kathreen Khavari, she’s still wildly lovable and her friendship with Squirrel Girl in MARVEL RISING is quite adorkable. Hell, Kamala’s the only reason I ever gave ASSEMBLE a second chance.

MARVEL RISING: SECRET WARRIORS, Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

In-universe, Kamala’s stardom is on par with Miles Morales. She briefly became an Avenger, then later stepped down and co-founded the Champions alongside Nova and Morales’ Spider-Man: a youthful, more idealistic team for like-minded millennial superheroes. She’s since become the team’s de facto leader, a fitting position for someone whose success inspired a new generation of heroes.

Ms. Marvel’s even seen her share of alternate future counterparts. In OLD WOMAN LAURA, she’s the future President of the United States. In Saladin Ahmed’s EXILES run, she’s a grizzled, battle-worn soldier who feels like a mashup of Sarah Connors and Cable. Amongst comic creators, Ms. Marvel is a character brimming with potential.

Future Vision, Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Even the MCU is preparing for Kamala Khan’s arrival. Kevin Feige confirmed her live-action debut just last year and BLOCKERS star Geraldine Viswanathan has been tossed around on social media as a potential casting choice.

Kamala Khan’s incorporation into multiple Marvel stories and non-comic mediums reflects how much she resonates with fans. Most new characters rarely achieve this type of media platform, especially those who’ve only been around for five years. She speaks to an audience that admires her optimism, energy, dual identity conflict, and utter fangirlism of working alongside other heroes. Like Spider-Man, average comic fans see a lot of Kamala in ourselves.

A Much-Needed Beacon of Hope

More importantly, however, Ms. Marvel emerged at the right time in American pop culture. With a rise in Islamophobia, particularly following the 2016 election, Kamala now serves as a superpowered embodiment of hope against religious persecution. She’s not just an example of positive representation, but an artistic face of resistance as well.

Fanartists, cosplayers, and protesters have used her face as a way to inspire unity and push back against bigotry and anti-Trump statements. In 2015, a San Francisco street artist painted Ms. Marvel’s image over local anti-Islam bus spread ads across the city. Now, she’s appeared in various Women’s March posters and protest signs, the modern-day equivalent of Captain America leaving a political statement on Hitler’s jaw.

Ms. Marvel: Political Icon, Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Representation matters in comic books, despite what the obnoxious “anti-SJW” YouTuber will say otherwise. Kamala does not adhere to a post-9/11 script of cliché “good Muslims,” “submissive Muslim women,” and “evil terrorists.”  She’s a hero who embodies the positive traits of Muslim and immigrant communities, something bigots conveniently leave out of their narratives.

What Kamala Khan Means to Me

One of my earliest ComicsVerse articles was about Kamala Khan being the quintessential millennial hero. Looking back on it now, the writing is slightly uneven and I was still mastering the analytical format. But, like my writing skills, Ms. Marvel has grown more self-confident overtime. Not so long ago she was struggling against mechanical spiders and bird-inventor clones. Now she’s leading teams of young heroes across the globe to help humanity rediscover its faith in superheroes.

Ms. Marvel’s Generational Advice, Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Yet, one bit from that article continues to stand out: Kamala confronting a group of teenagers about their generational worth. Originally attempting to rescue teen test subjects kidnapped by the Inventor, Kamala is shocked to learn they’re here voluntarily. Turns out years of older generations brushing us millennials off as lazy phone-flipping freeloaders left enough people feeling disillusioned. The Inventor used that disillusionment to convince these teens that, by powering his machines as human batteries, they’d be contributing something to society.

Ms. Marvel, however, doesn’t buy that crap for a second. She rejects this nihilistic fairytale and lectures the teens on how they have worth beyond natural bioelectricity. Why serve your life as a Matrix battery when you can actually fix things with your natural talents? We can change the world and should do so, especially if no one else will take a stand.

That statement holds far more weight in our current political climate, with millennial activists stepping forward to implement lasting change. We’re vocal, we’re angry, and we’re not going to let the old guard define what can or cannot be done. We even got a couple superstar millennials in Congress now, and they’re rewriting the book on politics and representation.

In other words, my generation is finally taking Ms. Marvel’s advice to heart.

Anticipating MS. MARVEL’s Future

Willow Wilson might be stepping down from MS. MARVEL, but Kamala Khan’s future looks bright. Her story will continue in MAGNIFICENT MS. MARVEL next month, as well as a revival of MARVEL TEAM-UP alongside Spider-Man. These, plus CHAMPIONS and future episodes of MARVEL RISING, all point to an eventful 2019 and beyond.

A Blast from the Past, Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

MS. MARVEL #38 concludes G. Willow Wilson’s run, with Kamala and friends getting pulled into an RPG game dimension. There, she fights “boss” versions of her friends, their physical conflicts doubling as a metaphor for ongoing character growth. It’s weird and stylized, but also melancholic in showing how far everyone has come since 2014. As a final bow for Wilson, it feels rather poetic.

It’s funny when you think about it. What was originally conceived as a limited miniseries character has transformed into the poster child for Marvel’s next generation. Ms. Marvel’s now a hero, a political symbol, a fangirl, and a team leader. But, underneath all that, Kamala Khan’s still a Muslim-American girl from New Jersey stopping crime, writing fanfiction, and eating gyros. She’s staying with Marvel Comics for the long haul, and I can’t wait to see where it leads.

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