Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal
Written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt
Category: Best Graphic Story
Back in my Guardians of the Galaxy review I mentioned my long-standing disinterest in superhero comics. This is the one superhero book on the Hugo ballot, but it overcomes my biases against it in a couple of ways. First, it’s an origin story, so I don’t have to deal with years of canon. (There have been previous Ms. Marvels but the title is passed on in this book.) Second, it stays small-scale and character driven, avoiding the excesses that most titles in the genre seem to fall prey to.
The one thing I knew about the book going in is that it’s the poster child for the new wave of diversity in comics: the heir to the Ms. Marvel name is a 16-year-old, Pakistani-American named Kamala Khan. What makes this feel like a fresh take on the genre, and not mere tokenism, is that Kamala’s background and religion are integral to her character and to her heroism. The scene in which she receives her new powers has the feeling of a divine vision, and her philosophy in making use of them is clearly informed both by Islam and by her own upbringing in an immigrant family.
The story also leverages the metaphor at the heart of similar stories like Spider-Man or Buffy, in which the heroic conflicts parallel the difficulties of the teenage experience. This is given added depth by Kamala’s outsider status; already trying to balance her traditional home life with the pressure to fit in with her peers in school, she now has to juggle the additional problem of hiding her superpowered nature from the world while still being able to do good.
There’s no big supervillain face-off in this book, although it sets the stage for one. The focus is more on Kamala starting to develop confidence and proficiency with her new powers. This is a good move—Kamala is an incredibly appealing character, and her efforts to navigate her increasingly complex situation are much more interesting than the fight scenes that do appear. The supporting characters could be a little more fleshed out, but in a long-running series they’ll have time for that in future issues.
I think this does suffer a little from the somewhat arbitrary nature of comics collections; it cuts off rather abruptly at the end of the volume, since the story is written for the monthly issues and not for the book. I haven’t read further, but it feels like a story arc meant for at least a full year of 12 issues, meaning we’re just getting the beginning. Most of the other entries in this category clearly are written with one eye toward the collected editions, so that they wrap up at least some aspect of the narrative.
That said, it did its job in making me interested in the further adventures of Ms. Marvel. This was a great read and a worthy addition to the other stellar Graphic Story titles on the ballot. Give me more comics like this, and I might become a fan of superheroes after all.