by Drew Baumgartner
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, read on at your own risk!
Plenty of comics have come out over the past year or so commenting on the rise of Trumpism, but few are as equipped to position their protagonists as the target of growing racial and religious resentment as Ms. Marvel. Helmed by writer G. Willow Wilson and editor Sana Amanat, this series has never been afraid to tackle the issues that face muslims in America — particularly young women — but this issue places islamophobia front and center as the “Keepers of Integration, Normalization, and Deference” disrupt Eid al-Adha, the holiest of Muslim holidays. Artist Marco Falla makes that disruption literal, as the “K.I.N.D.” men obstruct Kamala and Gabe’s path.
Falla is always careful to position these men as at odds with our protagonists, most often placing them at the right-hand side of panels, obstructing Kamala and Gabe’s flow from left to right across the page. Falla also uses his camera placement to emphasize the power imbalance in this interaction — that first panel has us looking up at these men, while the later over-the-shoulder shots have them looking down at Kamala and Gabe. Falla puts a point on that imbalance in the final panel as we see that these guys are about half a head taller than the kids they’re questioning.
And then, of course, there’s the obvious racial power imbalance. These men view themselves as “keepers” of “normalization,” seeing fit to hassle the brown and black kids in their neighborhood for failing to comply with their “societal norms.” This is exactly the language white supremacists use to bully and terrorize minorities, whether it’s on the streets, on the internet, or (increasingly) in our national political discourse. Wilson and Falla goose that recognition by putting these dudes in self-styled “uniforms,” evoking the kind of zealous vigilantism that killed Trayvon Martin. Even without the mentions of Hydra, we understand that these guys really don’t have to fear any repercussions for their actions, which only makes them more dangerous.
And that danger comes to heartbreaking fruition as Aamir encounters these guys later that night. Falla approaches that scene in the same way, having them disrupt Aamir’s movement across the page, but it boils over in a sudden burst of violence and terror.
Boy, I can’t think of a more potent symbol of forced “Integration, Normalization, and Deference” than seeing a man being dragged away from his Eid biryani — a dish Wilson and Amanat take pains to show as a valued religious and familial tradition. He’s not just being taken from his dinner; he’s being taken from everything he knows and loves.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?
Oh to be on the phone call/email chain where it was determined that those trucker hats probably shouldn’t be red, after all.
Also interesting that they’re going after “unregistered superhumans” instead of explicitly racially profiling people. I mean, the metaphor still works wonderfully and it’s immediately obvious what Wilson’s going for, just seemed like a slightly strange choice.
I’m thinking Ms. Marvel might try, in general, not to be as explicit and on-the-nose with real life references like this since so many of its readers are younger.
That’s also kind of par for the course with superhero stuff, right? Like, the X-Men’s persecution has been used at various times to reflect the persecution of countless specific minorities. The Inhumans are in a very similar boat, particularly in Secret Empire, where they seem to have been corralled into internment camps. What the story’s really about isn’t hard to anyone that’s looking, but it’s ultimately a superhero story, so everything has to be heightened beyond reality as we know it.
The hard thing about discrimination of real racial minorities and inhumans is that Muslims don’t have possibly dangerous, possibly hard to control superpowers (in fact, there is always the risk of equating the two and suggesting Muslims are dangerous). Which is likely why Aamir is chosen. He is harmless. Never uses his powers. Between that, and the fact that Ms Marvel always approaches things like this with a skewed, fantastic reality (Last arc explored bullying with an evil AI), it manages to get the line just right. Most superhero comics, especially the X-Men (which often falls into ‘white people get discriminated on because they are too special’), could probably do with a bit less heightened reality when exploring discrimination, but Ms Marvel has always been fantastic at exploring the underlying motivations and methodology so well that we understand the reality of the situations, even when the in universe thing is silly and unrealistic. Like how it mixes contemporary ICE paralllels with HYDRA
Ms Marvel is a book that proudly teaches you about an important topic even when it is actually telling a story about something else, like evil AI or mad scientist chickens.
Also, love the new approach to the website. I’ll miss rich issues like this getting two perspectives, but I love the idea of have a single writer do a deeper dive into the comic and be very specific about what they talk about. Seeing the title and realising how you guys are going to commit to your analysis in a way no one else does put a smile on my face. Though I will miss having the Round Ups that provided a good place for me to discuss books I read that week that you didn’t, and to try and push you to read that you guys shouldn’t be missing (half the reason I discussed Omega Men in the comments was because it was a masterpiece, by half of it was that I really wanted to get you interested enough in it to write pieces on what was the best book on the market)
What made you choose this approach? I’m interested to know
Thanks, Matt! I do just want to point out that we’re still doing our longer, two-people discussions. Yesterday’s “Green Valley” article and today’s “Dark Days: The Forge” article are still the two writer crosstalks you’ve come to know and love, just with a different branding (the “Alternate Current” label was an ancient pun that was no longer applicable). There will be a few less Discussion pieces than normal during the summer just because we always slow down during the summer a bit in order to allow our staff time to recharge their batteries anyway, but those kind of pieces aren’t going anywhere!
The changes are 90% cosmetic — our approach to writing about comics hasn’t changed, we’re just tweaking with presentation in order to better highlight what makes the work we do on Retcon Punch unique. You’re right — the one thing I will miss is the opportunity the Round-Ups provided to discuss comics we didn’t cover or other comic related topics; I’ll have to see if there’s something we can do about that. We’re still a work in progress, so if there’s anything you like or don’t like, let us know! We appreciate the feedback and the kind words, and as always, your enthusiasm about the site and about comic books in general!
Yeah, I saw the Green Valley discussion yesterday. Just with all the changes, with the sheer number of these sorts of entries, the use of titles like ‘Perspective and Power in Ms. Marvel 19’ that give the piece a sense of importance that ‘Green Valley 9: Discussion’ and the way that the pieces feel a bit bigger than the round ups usually are (especially this one, because there is so much great stuff to discuss in this issue), there is the feeling that this sort of piece is now Retcon Punch’s bread and butter, instead of the discussions. In fact, that’s the best criticism I can give about the changes, I’d love to see you make a couple of cosmetic adjustments to the discussions so they feel more prominent. Maybe some sort of title that draws our eye as well as the title of this piece?
They are a strong and unique feature of the site, and I think the new approach to the rest of your work hides that a bit (again, this new cosmetic approach makes the round ups so, so much better. That’s certainly a real improvement. Love it, just don’t want it to shallow up and hide the discussions)
The other criticism? While the author’s name of these pieces is shown underneath the title, I always did love how you also have the names at the very beginning of the piece. In a site like this, that builds such strength from its personality-driven approach, I loved how starting each piece with the name of the author, like you still do for the discussions, and drew attention to which personality wrote the piece. Placing the author’s name is small grey letters under the title, separated from the actual piece by the giant banner, instead of right next to it hides one your best features. Don’t hide away who wrote the piece, brag about it! It is one of this site’s best features. The return of the bold name just before the first word would be perfect to draw attention to that fact, even if it is technically redundant
Got one more suggestion, and since I don’t know where best to put it, I’ll put it under my first set of suggestions.
How about you also mark which comics in your Upcoming Posts box are Discussions? Between doing that and giving them more impactful titles like the rest of your articles, I think they will help give the Discussions the attention they deserve. Cosmeticlaly, you should be doing everything you can to draw people’s attention to those pieces because they are the core of what Retcon Punch is
My nation has one of the better relationships between the indigenous people and the european colonizers than most of the world. We are by no means perfect. To say so would be laughable. But we are better. There is a sense of inclusion between us that I don’t see in America, with its Native American Reservations basically divide the country, or Australia, with the Stolen Generation. New Zealand’s government is designed to ensure Maori participate and have a voice. The haka is given such a key place in our culture that no young New Zealand boy, regardless of cultural background, has not dreamt of doing it. In fact, a key way that white people define our cultural background is with the word ‘Pakeha’, a Maori term for a Non-Maori New Zealander. Pakeha is the word that really gets to what I mean when I think of how inclusive New Zealand is (relative to the rest of the world. We still have plenty of problems). Even if the real history is messy and complex, defining ourselves using the terms of the indigenous people presents an idea of a community formed by inclusion, not conquest (again, even if the truth is much, much more complicated. We actually didn’t conquer our indigenous people, but signed a treaty. But between translation problems and the British Empire being the British Empire, the story gets vey complex).
This all came to mind because, as I was reading Drew’s piece and drafting my response in my head, I accidentally called Zoe Pakeha. She isn’t Pakeha, because she’s not from New Zealand. But as I was thinking about the way the Kahns always leave a seat at the table for one of Kamala’s white friends, the idea of Zoe and Bruno as people part of the greater, inclusive community while being outside this specific community came to mind. And while Pakeha only works when those communities are New Zealand and Maori respectively, it is the first thing that came to mind (Ms Marvel uses the word Gora, but at least according to the definition given, it isn’t exactly what I was thinking).
Because inclusivity v exclusivity is such a key part of this issue. Drew understates the power of the final panel. It isn’t just that biryani has important cultural and familial value. Eid itself is chosen specifically because of its inclusivity. Eid isn’t a holiday done by yourself. Kamala’s family don’t privately celebrate. Eid has to be inclusive. The whole purpose is share food with people would usually go hungry. Eid is a day where you open up your home. Where the community comes together and unites. Even someone like Zoe has a place, despite not being Pakistani or Muslim. Because Eid is about everyone in the community, even those that don’t celebrate. No better representation of an inclusive community.
Meanwhile, KIND are very quickly associated with exclusivity. ‘Bring Back Jersey City’ insists on the removal of unwanted elements, and we quickly get their strategy described as ‘Divide and Conquer’. To see KIND spill a dish made in celebration of Eid, a cultural event defined by inclusivity, truly is the final word. KIND doesn’t care about the values of Eid. Of togetherness. Of unity. Of helping people in need. Instead, they are positioned as the exact opposite. A powerful final page, truly bringing the story together.
Though the best thing is, there’s so much more in this issue, rich with meaning. Discord already feels like a fascinating villain. A villain representing the ordinary people who let people like Worthy and Becky do what they want. The ordinary people who want Worthy and Becky to do these things. It is easy to look at Trump and Bannjn and people like that and think they are the sole problem. But they aren’t the only problem. The problem is also people like Discord who voted for them. Trump is only a problem because he was chosen, and Discord looks to be the start of a fantastic examination of the Trump voter. The man in the crowd, but just as villainous as the man leading HYDRA
This is honestly one of the best issue Ms Marvel has ever done
Oh, this is a really good point. KIND claims they’re for integration, but they’re desecrating the symbol of the Khan family’s inclusivity. The Khans want to share their culture, but the KIND guys just want everyone to conform to theirs.