Today, I’m going to wrap up my discussion of identity in G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona’s Ms. Marvel: No Normal by looking at some panels from the issues #3 and #4 of the volume. Specifically, I want to look at the scene with Kamala in the girls’ locker room at her school and the scene when the police arrive at the Circle Q. Each of these scenes continue to show Kamala struggling with her identity and the perceptions that others place upon her.
During class, Kamala’s hand starts to grow, so she runs to the locker room to keep anyone from seeing. She grows, bumping her head on the ceiling, and her size increases her strength, breaking a bench. She stops, concentrates, and asks, “Now, can I look like anybody? Or just Carol Danvers redux?” To this point, Kamala has morphed into Carol Danvers, placing her own perceptions of beauty and what a superhero looks like onto herself.
She struggles to change, and she asks, “Like, for example, could I look like . . . ” The next panel finishes her question, and she states, “Ammi?!” Kamala did not mean to morph into her mother; instead, she “was totally going for Taylor Swift.” The fact that Kamala morphs into her mother is important, and the panel highlights this with the framing.
Instead of having Kamala look at her hands, clothes, and appearance from her own perspective, she sits in front of a mirror. Thus, she has a reflection staring back at her. This framing echoes the earlier scene in issue #1 where she sits in front of the mirror and contemplates why she is not “normal” like her classmates. The mirror serves as a projection of herself, and a projection of how others view her. In this case, Kamala sees herself through her mother’s eyes. The transformation doesn’t last long, only about three panels, but the positioning drives home the point that Kamala, throughout the volume, is dealing with finding her own identity amidst the various ways that people perceive her and project onto her.
At the end of issue #3, Kamala heads to the Circle Q and sees Bruno’s brother, Vick, attempting to rob the store. She does not realize it is Vick. Here, again, she morphs into Carol Danvers, enters into the store, and Vick ends up shooting her. In the next issue, Bruno discovers that Ms. Marvel is in fact Kamala because she morphs into her own image on the floor.
Bruno tells her that he doesn’t understand, and Kamala replies, “The police, they can’t know it’s me. My parents will freak, the NSA will wiretap our mosque or something, and then they’ll sell me to science.” Within this panel, Kamala brings another dimension into her search for identity. Is her appearance as Carol Danvers safer for the community than her appearance as Kamala Khan, a Pakistani-American teenager? This goes in to the discussion I had last post about the whiteness of superheroes, and it comes up again when the police arrive.
Immediately before they arrive, Bruno ask Kamala why she hides behind Danvers’ facade. She tells him, “[E]verybody’s expecting Ms. Marvel. A real super hero. With perfect hair and big boots. Not Kamala Khan from Jersey City.” To Kamala, they expect a white super hero. Bruno responds by telling her, “Who cares what people expect? Maybe they expect some perfect blonde, what I need, I mean, what we need, is you.” Bruno’s assertion undercuts the whiteness of super heroes. He knows that Jersey City needs someone like Kamala.
Jersey City’s diversity appears in various ways throughout the volume, and this is why Bruno makes the statement he does. We see the community’s diversity in the people gathered outside the Circle Q after Kamala saves Zoe. We see it when Nakia and Kamala leave the mosque. They walk in front of a Vietnamese grocer as the owner sweeps the front steps. We see it in the food Kamala grabs from the refrigerator in issue #5. Kamala represents the diversity of Jersey City, Carol Danvers does not.
As the police pull up, Kamala tries to morph back into Carol Danvers, but when she does, the gunshot wound still hurts her. When she is Kamala, it doesn’t affect her. To hide her identity, Bruno finds a sleep mask that Kamala uses to cover her eyes. When the police enter, she stands, arms at her side, in her street clothes, and proclaims, “I’m Ms. Marvel.”
One of the officers asks if this is prank “[c]ause,” as he tells Kamala, “you don’t look like Ms. Marvel to me.” The framing of this panel shows the officer and Kamala both in profile with a solid yellow background. His face is close to hers. She touches her mask and asks, “What’s Ms. Marvel supposed to look like?” Here, Kamala flips the script. She has been the one viewing Ms. Marvel as Carol Danvers; now, though, her perceptions have changed. She sees herself as Ms. Marvel.
The next panel continues this shift, showing the officers head on, as if from Kamala’s point of view. We look over Kamala’s hat as the officer replies, “You know. Tall, blonde, with the big powers.” Kamala listens then tells them, “I’ve got big powers,” as she grows and smashes her head into the ceiling. It is this moment, the robbery, where Kamala comes into her own self. She does not base her identity on how others view her.
Over the next couple of issues, she transforms into Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel. She repurposes her burkini as part of costume, uses her headscarf as a cape, and fashions the rest of her outfit. After battling with the Inverntor’s crew, people gather outside the Circle Q to look at an effigy of Ms. Marvel, and effigy meant to send a message.
Kamala arrives, in full costume, hands on her hips, scarf flowing in the wind, with a bright light shining on her back. The image invokes super hero iconography. She tells the crowd, “This guy thinks he can threaten us where we live? Ms. Marvel has a message for him. This is Jersey City. We talk loud, we walk fast, and we don’t take any disrespect. Don’t mess.”
Kamala becomes the super hero for the community, not the super hero that pops in every now and then when nothing happens across the water in New York. She becomes the super hero that Bruno mentions. She represents the diversity of Jersey City. She represents the struggles of the community. She represents herself, and her own identity.
What are your thoughts? As usual, let me know in the comments below, and make sure to follow me on Twitter at @silaslapham.
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