Last year, the crew at Marvel Comics rebooted Ms. Marvel — formerly a scantily clad blonde superheroine — as a teenaged Desi Muslim high school girl living in Jersey City. Reboots of old, familiar characters are always complicated, and they are all the more so when the reboot seems suspiciously like politically correct pandering.
But Kamala Khan, the new Ms. Marvel, is a huge hit. And she’s not a hit because she’s some kind of mouthpiece for popular pieties. She’s a hit because she’s a great character, a believable teenager, and — in the style of the best superheroes — a symbol that lets us rethink our own identities while we watch her learn to balance hers.
Always, she is equally a teenager, a Muslim, and a superhero.
When Kamala’s story begins, she is the mildly rebellious 16-year-old daughter of parents who have immigrated to America from Pakistan. While she chafes at some of their restrictions, she is a “good kid” — a girl who may sneak out to a party, but who spits out alcoholic punch when someone tricks her into trying it. On her way home from the forbidden party, Kamala is caught in a strange chemical mist that gives her visions of her favorite superheroes — Ironman, Captain America, and her idol, Captain Marvel, the superheroine formerly known as Ms. Marvel. (If you’re picturing the guy who says, “SHAZAM!” and turns into the Earth’s Mightiest Mortal, that’s a hero from another comic book company. Marvel Comics has a different history using the same name.)
The dream avatar of Captain Marvel asks her, “Who do you want to be?”
Kamala replies, “I want to be you.”
Captain Marvel promises her “the kind of total reboot most people only dream about.”
When Kamala wakes, she has transformed into the 1970s-style Ms. Marvel — blond hair, skimpy costume, thigh-high boots, and all. As she morphs uncont…