Muslim Heroine Shoots for Universal Appeal

Superheroine Kamala Khan, who's Muslim-American, will head a Marvel comic book series to be released in February. (Image from Marvel Comics)

Superheroine Kamala Khan, who’s Muslim-American, will head a Marvel comic book series to be released in February. (Image from Marvel Comics)

She may not be the first Muslim superheroine but as the main character of Marvel Comics’ “Ms. Marvel” series, Pakistani-American Kamala Khan, 16, of Jersey City, N.J. makes history as likely the first Muslim-American superheroine to headline her own series.

After noting the Jewish heritage of many superhero comic creators, Michael Kaminer, for The Jewish Daily Forward’s blog The Arty Semite, underscores the continuing appeal of comic books to a universal audience that can relate to superheroes regardless of their backgrounds, including the latest teenage character who happens to be Muslim.

Considering the heavily Jewish lineage of both superhero comics and Marvel itself — co-founder Stan Lee, né Lieberman, was the son of Romanian immigrants — the character’s appearance represents a turning point, according to Steven Bergson, whose Jewish Comics blog offers a Hebraic spin on the comics world. “We’re in an age where it’s not only much more acceptable but expected and highly marketable to give characters unique identities, whether it’s religious, national, sexual or physical (i.e. disability),” Bergson told the Forward. “In the past, Jewish creators have written non-Jewish characters and Gentiles have written Jewish characters like Marvel’s golems, DC stories with rabbis, Marvel’s Moon Knight.

The series’ editor, Sana Amanat, emphasized in a press release the intent to have Khan appeal to a wide array of readers. She just happens to be of a certain religion: “This story isn’t about what it means to be a Muslim, Pakistani or American. Those are just cultural touchstones that reflect the ever changing world we live in today.” Kaminer speaks with Amanat, first asking about parallels between Jewish and Muslim roots, as found in comic books.

Michael Kaminer: Many of the original superhero creators were Jewish; some of the characters came out of adversity Jews faced in the early 20th century. Can we draw any parallels between that and the birth of the Muslim Ms. Marvel today?

Sana Amanat: In some senses yes, we’re focusing on a minority group that may not have much screen time in the media — particularly in a positive light. We wanted to create a character whose story is representative of the world today and hopefully break traditional stereotypes.

Kaminer also inquired whether a character’s background affects readers’ ability to relate to them.

It can open you up to a whole new audience that may not have been reading comics before. People do want to see versions of themselves reflected in the media — but positive ones that they can be inspired by. And when a certain demographic that normally isn’t represented suddenly is, people respond. At the same time however, this story is universal because it isn’t about Ms. Marvel’s Muslim faith — that’s just one aspect of who she is. It’s about all of the facets of her identity, and how that affects the person she is and the person she will become. It’s about the struggle to forge your own path and identity — and that’s something everyone can relate to.

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