I was introduced to the character of Kamala Khan pretty early, being intrigued by what I assumed was a replication of the Spider-Man formula for the character Ms. Marvel. Teen in New Jersey with relatable issues, gets powers through superhero plot device, great power and great responsibility by the end. And to a degree, I was right. What I did not expect was just how impressively writer G. Willow Wilson was able to make Kamala not only connect with this generation of comic book readers, but with the very mindset of someone growing up in the 21st century. The strength of her character doesn’t just come from being a kick-ass Inhuman morphogenetic from Jersey, but as a representation of changing times in both cultural identity and gender empowerment, something that a lot of readers can see as a positive role model. She might only have been introduced into the comic book world three years ago, but Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel has already proved herself as a hero that truly embodies the millennial perspective.

So before we analyze why Kamala embodies the best aspects of this generation so much, we need to ask ourselves what it means to be a millennial. To me, a millennial is someone who does not recognize the traditional boundaries in identity, class, and education that society has tried to uphold for so long. It took a very long time for our world to come to the realization that power and authority should not be restricted to a straight white man, and even still there are people pushing back against change. While progression has been made over the course of the past century, it is this new generation that has really come to accept the idea that boundaries and restrictions do not bring about a perfect system, but rather hinder us from creating one. In this sense, Khan is representative of a superhero that channels the desires and beliefs of the millennial generation into the superhero genre, being a Muslim-American female hero as well as a self-proclaimed geek/fangirl. These are identities that resonate with current comic book readers, no longer ashamed of being comic book/pop culture nerds but also more accepting of their own cultural and sexual identities. By renouncing these boundaries that have previously existed throughout the world, Kamala/Ms. Marvel rallies against an institutional thought process that has held us back, rather than push it forward towards equality.

Kamala Spidey

From the very first issue of her series, everything that makes Kamala such an interesting character is laid out in front of us. She is a Pakistani-American teenager from Jersey City (go Jersey!!) trying to figure out who she is and who she wants to be in life. She loves her family very much but still finds herself feeling like an outsider in her own cultural heritage, in contrast to her more orthodox and religiously-devoted brother. She is also an enormous superhero fangirl, writing fanfiction of her favorite characters while looking up to Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel as her greatest hero. After sneaking out and going to a party, in which she gets ostracized by her classmates, Kamala gets caught in an incoming Terrigen Mist, which transforms her into an Inhuman with morphogenetic powers. Originally using these powers to fight in the form of Danvers’ past identities, Kamala comes to the realization that she should not hide behind a false appearance, as it does not give her the sense of empowerment that she thought it would. So she decides to take on the past identity of Ms. Marvel while wearing an outfit that represents her real personality and identity, both physically and culturally. It’s a unique blend of old and new in a character: becoming the new incarnation of your personal hero for a newer and much broader generation of Marvel readers, not just the 7-13 male audience that society saw as the only target comic-reading audience.

Upon her character’s initial announcement, the thing that made Kamala stand out amongst other heroes was the fact that she was of Muslim-American heritage, something that has not always gotten enough attention in comic books. Now, Kamala may not have been the first Muslim superhero in this medium (that honor belongs to the X-Men’s Dust), but she’s the first to feel like a normal person in a superhero world that just so happens to be Muslim. All throughout the series, her religion has been portrayed as both a cultural heritage that she struggles to identify with as well as a source of knowledge that she takes inspiration from. Probably one of the best moments regarding this personal struggle that Kamala faces takes place within the Terrigen Mist itself in which she comes into contact with dreamlike versions of her favorite heroes speaking passages from the Qur’an. Here Mist-Carol Danvers tells her, “You are seeing what you need to see. You stand at a crossroads. You thought that if you disobeyed your parents — your culture, your religion — your classmates would accept you. What happened instead?” This is the bulk of Kamala’s personal struggle: she wants to fit in with her peers and friends while at the same time being true to her religious upbringing, and she thinks that being like Captain Marvel will make all that better. What she learns, however, is that fighting crime through Danver’s appearance doesn’t make her happy but is just an example of her trying to be something that she is not. If Kamala wants to make a difference, then she needs to learn how to do it as her own person. The gradual embrace of her Muslim identity over the course of her journey makes Kamala a true role model for this day and age, especially with the disturbingly growing trend of Islamophobia becoming more and more prominent.

READ: Want to hear more about Kamala/Ms. Marvel? Check out our review of MS. MARVEL #8!

If Kamala’s newfound powers are a physical representation of her character’s inner struggles, than the way in which she comes to accept her role as a hero gradually parallels the acceptance of her family’s heritage. She learns early on from her early shapeshifting as Captain Marvel that she does not want to lose herself and her religious/minority identity for the sake of acceptance and being a hero. Instead, she decides to make her new identity one which embraces the culture that she has grown up on, and nowhere else does this show better than in her costume. It serves as a physical representation of her mixed identity: a burin and red dupatta (scarf) mixed in with traditional red leggings and high-top sneakers of a traditional high school girl. This acceptance of one’s identity resonates with the millennial generation, who have come to see diversity as something that should not be condemned, but rather embraced and appreciated. And why not: humanity is unique because it is made up of so many different cultures and identities from around the world; to reject each other’s culture and focus on one identity that everyone must follow practically robs us of what it means to be human. By accepting who she is as a Muslim-American, Kamala sets an example to readers that you should not be ashamed of who you really are, and that giving up one’s identity is not worth fitting in with the in-crowd. It’s something that every millennial can relate to, as we are constantly striving to be well-“liked” by the world around us, quite literally if you include our desire for likes on Facebook and YouTube.

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The other thing that makes Kamala’s character stand out and relate to the audience on a personal level is just how much she loves superheroes. She writes fanfiction, looks up to one of the most kick-ass female characters in the medium, and practically geeks out at the very idea of a team-up. Looking back at how she reacted to iconic superheroes popping up right beside her, it is hilarious to watch Kamala pester Spider-Man with questions about him and Ms. Marvel going on a date, or trying to get a selfie with Wolverine of all people. It’s practically what we would do as members of the ever-growing medium that is the superhero fandom. But more than that, seeing a female superhero who adores superheroes to death is another example of Ms. Marvel breaking ground for millennials who push for equality between genders. Similar to video games, comic books for the most part have been aimed at a mostly-male audience, with the assumption that women cannot possibly be true comic fans/nerds whatsoever. Of course we know that this idea is complete and utter nonsense, but it’s hard for society to reject an idea that has existed for decades and only now is being criticized, and disproved, at great length. While progress has definitely been made in getting better representation, there are still signs of that annoyingly patriarchal, and slightly misogynist, movement in geek culture that wants to out women from the medium. Kamala is a symbol of girl power fighting back, rallying against all the dumb “GamerGates” and “Ghostbuster controversies” that, whether fans like it or not, are rooted to some degree around a group of guys who, for some reason, feel their masculinity threatened by the idea of girls being equally awesome at extreme nerdiness.

READ: Want more about diversity in comic books? Click here!

Kamala’s evolution into a full-fledged superhero allows her to reinterpret characters of the past and their ideals for a new generation of people. However, what truly makes her a hero for the millennial generation isn’t just being a representation of our goals and achievements, but also standing up for us in the face of the old world. Millennials are not like previous generations: we make more of an effort to accept one another in the face of conflict and are more connected to the world than ever before via the power of social media. And from all that social media we can see that the world…is still having trouble accepting that change is necessary. Certain countries are failing to recognize that diversity should be encouraged rather than be condemned, that events like global warming are happening due to previous man-made actions, and that people are being senselessly murdered in the name of some past viewpoint of the world. What’s more, the people who run these countries (i.e. politicians) are constantly dodging the real sources of conflict, choosing instead to pick some scapegoats that they can blame without acknowledging the real problems in order to boost their personal imagery. The 80’s had rock music, the 90’s had violent video games, and in the 21st century, millennials themselves are seen as what needs to change. They are seen as those kids and teens who just look at their cell phones all day, who see all the conflict happen and yet do nothing to help. Of course it’s all just a BS excuse for the adults to dodge real-world problems that they themselves cause, but there is some truth to this in what we as millennials think when we look at the world: how the hell can we make a difference when nothing seems to be getting better?

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This whole theme ties back into Kamala’s encounter with her first arch-villain, the Inventor: a clone of Thomas Edison who accidentally got spliced with bird DNA (not kidding here). Now his appearance is as ridiculous as you’d expect it to be, but it’s his plan that represents the real core of Kamala’s arc, seemingly taking kids/teenagers to be used as a clean and efficient battery power source. And this could have gone down as a generic bad guy plot, but things take a somewhat dark turn when Ms. Marvel learns that the kids were not kidnapped, but rather agreed to become human batteries because they saw it as a means to finally contribute something to the world. It’s Kamala’s response to their doubtfulness that not only elevates herself to one of the best superheroes of recent memory, but also shows just what she represents to our current generation. True, it’s that typical “we are the future and we need to fight for it” kind of speech you hear so often, but this one speaks deeper than most. It’s aimed at a generation that feels powerless to help anyone, as well as being hammered at by the previous generations for rejecting the lifestyle/patriarchy that had previously existed for so long. Of course the world still sees us as the kids and them as the adults who “know better,” but the fact is we are the next generation that will inherit the Earth next and thus are going to be the ones to solve the problems that they played a part in creating. I’m not saying that everything our generation does is not dumb, obnoxious, or an abuse of social media, but we are trying to be something different. A generation that is more accepting of change and diversity more than any other before it in order to fight for a better tomorrow. And Kamala is the face of what the millennials should strive to be: someone with the intelligence and ability to inspire others in hopes of protecting the future and making it a better place.

Kamala/Ms. Marvel is a symbol of hope for the latest generation, as well as someone who we can both relate to and strive to follow throughout our lives. She’s a teenager, a geek, a woman, a Muslim-American, and a New Jerseyan, and that is perfectly alright. These are characteristics that previous generations would be shocked to see flaunted in public, yet our current one sees it as something completely normal. Millennials are those who choose to defy the traditional gender/racial/sexual boundaries that the old world seems so fixated on clinging onto, wishing to create a world where such aspects of a person should not matter. It’s a slow journey, and the recent events throughout the world show that there is still a long way to go before we can truly feel like enough progress has been made. For the comic book industry, and for the world, Kamala Khan is a personification of the next generation: someone who represents the changing times for equality and diversity while fighting for a better future.

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