Marvel Comics played an important role in popular culture during the 20th Century. Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Stan Lee, and their cohort of collaborators reinvented the superhero genre as we know it and played into a rising wave of interest among college students and young adults. They created characters who lasted through the end of that era, and spin into television shows and movies. However, no one could have foreseen the cultural juggernaut that it would become after the year 2000. There is no larger franchise in Hollywood today than Marvel Studios, and many of their characters have become even more popular symbols for movements and identification. Marvel Comics continues to have an outsized impact on culture and society through its heroic characters. That’s why it’s no small assertion to state the following: Ms. Marvel is the most important Marvel Comics creation of the 21st Century.
Kamala Khan was created by writer and artist duo G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona, respectively, along with Marvel editors Sana Amanat and Stephen Wacker. She made her first appearance in 2013 in the pages of Captain Marvel #14 as one of a number of civilians inspired by the titular hero Carol Danvers. Her adventure as Ms. Marvel didn’t begin until the launch of her solo title Ms. Marvel, which recently arrived at its 50th issue. Looking back on the past five years of comics, crossovers, and adaptations, it’s clear that Kamala Khan is an essential part of Marvel Comics now and for the rest of the century to come.
A New Wave of Superheroes
Ms. Marvel represents a broader trend of invention and innovation at Marvel Comics from the past decade. Following the boom and bust cycle of the 1990s, the publisher had focused on core titles and characters during the early 2000s. Some significant rebranding was done under the Marvel Knights line, with new stories and creators reinventing core characters. However, all of these characters were classic figures, like Daredevil and The Punisher. When Ms. Marvel broke out she was one of a number of new characters targeted at readers beyond the stalwart comic book fans who helped Marvel Comics and the direct market survive the recent collapse.
New heroes, like Spider-Gwen, Miles Morales, and Silk, captured young adult readers by building on the legacy of a classic concept, like Spider-Man. They brought the new readers in with adolescent characters who reflected modern America and provided key connections to the core mythos of Marvel Comics, also allowing older readers to enjoy their adventures as they were integrated into events and crossovers. This interest in reinvention crossed over with existing, dormant properties as well. Squirrel Girl provides the best example, having been created in 1991 by Steve Ditko and Will Murray. She was updated for a new group of readers and offered a fun tone of discovery. This wave of growth and creation is symbolically led by Ms. Marvel. She is the character who has seen the most success and who served as a vanguard for many of these introductions and reintroductions to the core line of Marvel Comics. Her presence cannot be overstated as part of the publisher’s willingness to improve itself and update an aging collection of properties.
Reflecting the Changing Face of America
One essential element of this new wave of Marvel heroes is the diversity they introduced to the lineup at Marvel Comics. The great creators who invented the foundation of Marvel Comics were primarily white men, many of them from Jewish descent. That was reflected in the heroes from their time, and those heroes went on to inspire entire generations of readers from all backgrounds. Yet the lack of diversity within the line remained apparent, especially as demographic trends in America continued to change the face of society—not to mention that America has always been evenly split between women. Ms. Marvel represents a trend to make the superheroes we love and celebrate a democratic representation of those they protect and serve.
Kamala Khan represents many firsts and shifts within the lineup of superheroes with solo titles. She is a woman; she is a Muslim American; she is of Pakistani descent. She is also a teenager with superpowers balancing school, family, and extracurricular activities. Ms. Marvel is following in the colorful boots of Spider-Man and other iconic teen superheroes, delivering metaphors for big changes in life and relatable stories of early romance and school troubles. It allows the series to tell a very specific story that opens the door to many readers that Marvel Comics had not previously reflected while still engaging with an entire generation. This element of her character is undeniably important to so many new comics fans in the 21st Century.
Creating Great Comics for All Ages
That sort of representation is also part of what is boosting the entire genre of superhero comics today. In the wake of the 1990s it was clear that a collectors market and aging long term fanbase could not support the incredible market gains made, which led to a collapse putting many stores out of business and many people out of jobs. The remaining readership provided a market on which comics could subsist, but never thrive. Ms. Marvel is a true all-ages endeavor. From the very first issue to its fiftieth anniversary this week, every new installment has been a delightful blend of action, drama, and laughs. It is consistently one of the very best superhero comics on the market every year, and capable of sustaining an all ages readership.
Middle school girls and boys find it a great entry point into superhero comics, while fans of classic Spider-Man find an updated version of their favorite teenage superhero tropes. It is written in a way that every level of maturity can find some element appealing. This was what made the earliest inventions of Marvel Comics in the 1960s so appealing. Fantastic Four and Amazing Spider-Man were being taken home by kids in school, college students, and often being secretly read by both of their parents when abandoned in a living room.
Great superheroes present stories capable of inspiring us all. They display essential values in a mode of high drama, reminding us to treat every person well and fight for one another before ourselves. This is the essence of Ms. Marvel. She is the best representation of the superhero genre in comics today, and undoubtedly the most important creation at Marvel Comics this century.