Inspiring Vulnerable Populations in Ms. Marvel 26

By Patrick Ehlers

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Kamala Khan is such a good kid. She get’s these stretchy-growy-shrinky superpowers and the very first thing she does is try to protect the vulnerable people in her community. Of course, that doesn’t mean helping impoverished families navigate the SNAP program or helping people with job placement or anything like that — it means punchin’ bad dudes with her temporarily over-sized fists. It’s an inspiring thing, both to read and for the characters within Kamala’s orbit. Issue 26 continues the ‘Teenage Wasteland” story arc by showing us just how thoroughly Kamala has inspired her friends to act as nobly and selflessly as she did when faced with roughly the same threat.

Of course, the difference is that Zoe and the rest of the Kamala Korps (I know no one is calling them that, but let me have it!) do not have super powers. I love this as a real world analogue for how regular people are supposed to deal with societal problems. We see all kinds of heroic stances on in the media (both social and otherwise) that may embolden us Joe Schmoes to speak up next time we witness some kind of injustice in the world. That’s what women like Rose McGowan helped do for the #MeToo movement: raise its visibility, and sort of give the general population permission to address the issue. I’m oversimplifying, of course, but it’s fascinating to track how McGowan’s status can protect her now in ways that non-famous women who are speaking up are not protected. That’s Kamala: she was certainly courageous when she stood up for the kids being exploited by The Inventor, but at least she had her powers to protect her. Like the women and men empowered to share their own #MeToo experiences, Zoe is herself vulnerable.

Writer G. Willow Wilson and artist Nico Leon demonstrate this actively, pairing Zoe with a senior citizen sidekick, and repeatedly drawing attention to the fact that Zoe doesn’t have super powers (“Don’t you have lighty-uppy powers or something?” “No, that’s the other Marvel.”). And because it’s Leon drawing these two, it’s adorable:

I love how much their limitations are highlighted here — Harold has problems with mobility and has to use a scooter to get around, and Zoe’s in that now-classic Mr. Marvel pose, only her legs aren’t elongated to cover more ground quickly. It’s a cool visual cue that plays off the reader’s very specific expectations of the character.

So good on Zoe and Harold for putting themselves in harms way without a superpowered safety net. The end of the issue suggests that Wilson really believes the strength of the common man is in their numbers, as the remaining members of the Kamala Korps team up with the Red Dagger to rescue their friend. That’s where inspiration comes from: not the most power among us, but from the most vulnerable.

The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?

5 comments on “Inspiring Vulnerable Populations in Ms. Marvel 26

  1. To be fair, I think Kamala does help impoverished families navigate the SNAP program or helping people with job placement as Ms Marvel. But that doesn’t make a superhero comic.

    And I love the idea of this arc being about the normal people that Kamala has inspired. And I think it is very important that for these past two issues, the lead has been Zoe. The rest of the cast started good, but Zoe was initially the bad guy. Clueless, racist etc.

    Because the important thing isn’t just that the Kamala Corps follows Kamala’s example in bravery. They also follow her in the more important ways – the values. The Zoe of the very first issue would never have cared enough to realise that the elderly are ignored. She would have ignored them. But in following Kamala’s example, she is now demonstrating Kamala’s most heroic attribute. Not Kamala’s bravery, but her empathy.

    • Totally. And that speaks to the overall strength of the younger generation of Marvel heroes. The breadth of my Marvel reading may not be wide enough, but I’m not really aware of other creators emphasizing empathy as much as Wilson. That sure FEELS like it should be a common characteristic across all of the youngsters, but I can’t really pinpoint where I get that impression.

      • Whitley’s work on Unstoppable Wasp would certainly compete with Ms Marvel when it comes to the empathy compartment. Nadia breathes empathy and love with everything she does. And Squirrel Girl is another example where empathy is such an essential attitude.
        Meanwhile, Hawkeye has a real strong empathetic vibe – the way it integrate feminist issues into the cases is essential to its make up. It has been a key part of the Riri led Invincible Iron Man (at least, until Legacy’s really bad current storyline). Not to Ms Marvel/Wasp/Squirrel Girl levels. Champions would have a strong empathetic vibe if it was written by a writer who could actually take advantage of the supposed premise. Gwenpool has… an interesting relationship with empathy, but it is a book with empathy crawling through every panel, even when the character itself isn’t. So yeah, I think it is a fair way to look at Marvel’s younger generation.

        ANd it does feel right for the Millennial generation. While it would be stupid to say that it is the defining attribute of Millennials (Millennials deserve key credit for the alt right, unfortunately. They are a key part of the way that the alt right manifest), I think it is also fair to say that empathy is the key element of a heroic look at millennials. I think part of it is growing up with the internet – while a key problem with the internet is how it reduces empathy, it also has the ability to easily distribute information and empathetic movements like feminism have gotten greater ability to influence than it has for a long time. Part of it is the generational cycles – of course the generation after the 80s defined Generation X was going to be fighting against the excesses of the 80s. And part of it is a survival instinct. Millennials are fucked, a generation that has been screwed by the Baby Boomers, trapped with everlasting war, a financial crisis, Donald Trump on a macro level, and a world where they have lost the opportunities that their parents had, like affordable housing and education, on a microlevel. Empathy is a survival mechanism, because millennials need empathy to fight the injustice they face. Insectionality isn’t just morally right, but the only way to get a coalition big enough to actually fight. Intersectionality is good strategy.

        Of course, not all Millennials resort to empathy. I’ve already mentioned the alt right, and there is also the egotism that many have turned to. And not every ‘heroic’ millennial has empathy has their heroic attribute. But I think it is fair to say that while the Greatest Generation has Sacrifice and the Baby Boomers has Hard Working as their heroic attribute (I’m not sure what I’d say the Generation X attribute would be. Generation X has suffered from being the forgotten generation, never given a chance by Baby Boomers until Millennials had already taken over), Millennials have empathy. So it is fitting that Marvel’s bench of young heroes focus so much on empathy

  2. I’ve been doing CrossFit for about six months now and I absolutely love it, have lost weight, and am probably more fit than I’ve ever been in my life. I also have a lot of friends joking about how I’ve joined a cult.

    Anyway, this means that whenever Zoe talks about using her CrossFit knowledge to fight crime (and it fails miserably), I absolutely lose it. It’s a great running gag that feels almost tailored to me personally.

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