We are thrilled to welcome Dr. Margaret Robbins back to YA Wednesday this week! Robbins is a Humanities Educator at The Mount Vernon School. She is also a National Writing Project Fellow, avid reader and scholar of diverse comics and YA literature, and creative writer.
Margaret's reflection below is especially valuable because it weds world history, current popular television, and YA graphic novels.
As some readers know, I am passionate about the new Ms. Marvel comics featuring Kamala Khan, a teenage Pakistani-American girl from Jersey City. I’ve taught them, particularly the first Ms. Marvel: No Normal volume, and I’ve also written about them in academic articles and journals. I met G. Willow Wilson at the ICFA Conference in March 2019 and heard her speak. So at first, I had conflicting feelings about the fact that the TV show is so different from the comics. However, I’ve grown to enjoy the show, even though I see it as a separate entity from the books. The pace of the television show is much faster than that of the comics, which I think makes sense for the transition to television. A couple of friends and students who have read the comics have said they liked the story, but that the pace was slow, so I imagine that one reason behind the faster pace is to have wider audience appeal.
Some incidents in the tv show happen a lot more quickly and in more depth than in the comics. For instance, in Volume 1 of Ms. Marvel No Normal, Kamala attends a cousin’s Mehndi, or engagement party. In the television series, much of one episode is devoted to her brother Amir’s wedding, whereas the comic only mentions that Amir got married. Through the episode, though, the audience is able to learn about Pakistani cultural wedding traditions, which I found interesting.
The character of Red Dagger is introduced much earlier in the series, and Kamala makes a voyage to Karachi, Pakistan, much earlier in the story. We also learn much of Kamala’s family’s history involving the partition of India and Pakistan in the late 1940s earlier and in more depth than in the comics. Overall, the television series introduces us to more action and conflict and also more of Pakistani culture sooner than the comics, which I think invites more audience engagement and also more education about Middle Eastern history and culture.
Interestingly enough, Kamala’s close friend Nakia and her mother Muneeba both have more character development in the television show, and Kamala’s male best friend Bruno has less. I’ve written about Bruno and Kamala’s relationship because it’s fascinating to me not only because of their strong bond based on mutual interests and values, but also because of their racial and cultural differences. However, I know from the audience notes featured on the back of the comics that the romantic turn of their relationship got mixed reactions from readers, so that could be part of why it has been de-emphasized up to this point. Kamala has other potential love interests on the show, but so far, her relationship with Bruno has been purely platonic, even though Bruno seems to have unreciprocated feelings for Kamala.
Overall, I’m appreciating the Ms. Marvel TV show for its action and audience appeal, even though it diverts from the comics. I hope Kamala’s friendships with both Bruno and Nakia get more developed because I think both are important. However, I do appreciate the show exploring Nakia’s leadership and activism roles in more depth and early on, as her character gets less attention in the comics. Also, I love how the opening conflict with Zoe involves a popular culture convention instead of a more conventional high school party. It shows how important CONS have become to modern day pop culture. I’m enjoying the TV show and think it’s culturally important and relevant because of the representation of a middle easter Muslim teenage girl, along with the empowered female characters.