There’s a reason why Marvel’s Spider-Man is one of the most popular comic book super heroes on the planet. The bright costume and cool powers are part of the appeal sure, but the real reason he’s so popular is because he’s you.
Every single person in their lives has at some point or other felt like Spider-Man. Whether you’re keeping a secret, having money troubles, struggling with your social life, getting bullied, are stricken with regret and guilt, feeling lonely or trying to overcome impossible odds, Spider-Man is the character you can look to and say yes, that’s me. Any of those things apply to him. Peter Parker is a piece of all of us.
The only problem is that when it comes to the comics, Peter grew up. Marvel have clearly performed a few experiments over the last decade or so to try turn Spider-Man back into that loveable, nerdy, outcast that we can all relate to. Brand New Day, which erased years of continuity through a magical storyline, is one of the more forced and overt ways but there have been more successful attempts such as Ultimate Spider-Man, which launched Marvel’s alternative universe line which simultaneously rebooted and modernised their characters. Ultimate Spider-Man was a huge hit but it also showed the vast difference between the inexperienced teenage Spider-Man in Ultimate and the older, wiser modern day Spider-Man back in the main Marvel continuity. Clearly he was at his most relatable when he was a teenager and that just isn’t who he is anymore.
However I’ll agree Spider-Man is still relatable to an extent, even though he’s now well out of his teens. But the natural evolution of his character has continuously made him less relatable. How many comic readers are scientists, for instance? Peter’s also got more friends and allies these days than most real people do, by far. This isn’t a bad thing necessarily as it’s just the character’s evolution, but he has naturally lost a lot of that essence that let you feel like you were reading about yourself.
This is especially true for teenager readers. Spider-Man used to be the character that represented what it was like to be a teenager, but those days are over.
Enter Ms. Marvel, The New Spider-Man…
A new Ms. Marvel series, written by G. Willow Wilson and illustrated by Adrian Alphona, started this year and introduced Kamala Khan to the Marvel universe. A bit of a teenaged outcast herself, like Spider-Man was back in the day, Kamala struggles with prejudice from her peers and also often clashes with her parents. If you didn’t fight with your parents as a teenager then you were either raised by astonishingly accommodating people or you’re lying. Like with the X-Men, the struggles of everyday people make Kamala more relatable for readers when she faces her own problems, because of who she is and what she has to endure. Anyone who has felt victimised because of how they look or talk, what pastimes they enjoy, what sexuality they are, their gender identity etc. can see the sort of things that Kamala is going through and use it as a mirror for their own troubles.
It goes much deeper than those surface traits too. Kamala is adorably goofy, she writes fan fiction with hilarious enthusiasm. What comic book fan at some point hasn’t dreamt up silly scenarios about the characters in some form? I’m 25 and I still daydream about whom Hulk could handle in a brawl or if Captain Marvel would beat Iron Man at arm-wrestling (side note, she totally would). Kamala’s devotion to the Avengers as a fan, is completely familiar to all of us who are comic book fans ourselves.
Just like how Spider-Man was the comic book fan of the 1960s, Ms Marvel is us right now. The fans of 2014. Complete with hobbies that include surfing the internet, playing video games and just being a big loveable nerd in general.
Anyone can pick up Ms. Marvel and relate to her on some level, but especially teenage readers. For the first time in a while there’s a new Marvel series that’s nailed exactly what it’s like to be a teenager in today’s world.
I say that she’s the new Spider-Man in terms of how relatable she is, but I wouldn’t want to imply that’s all she is as she’s far more than that too. Kamala is completely her own character. Her cast of supporting characters, motivations, personality, powers, appearance etc. are all her own. Yes I believe she’s the Spider-Man for this generation, but she’s certainly not living in his shadow either.
There’s enormous potential for Kamala. We are literally only four issues into Ms. Marvel right now. It makes me practically giddy thinking about where this series is going. She’s still discovering how her powers work and what she’s going to do with them, she’s got plenty of growing ahead of her.
The satisfyingly fantastic sales of the first issue mean that she’s found her audience too. I’m going to keep fighting for this book like I do for all books that I think are worth reading, but knowing she’s already grabbed a legion of fans right out of the gate is a relief. It also affirms that Marvel are doing the right thing, there’s demand for heroes that aren’t simply just more straight white dudes. The comic book audience is so wonderfully diverse it’s a real shame that the output from the big publishers is dominated by a single combination of gender, race and sexuality. Meanwhile Ms. Marvel herself is showing that there’s demand for better representation while being one of the most relatable characters I have ever read.
I hope Marvel realise the true potential of her character, hell she’s even worthy of her own Ms. Marvel movie. As a big fan of Kamala I’m looking forward to seeing her develop as the next few years tick by and watching for where else she winds up. I don’t think she’ll be confined to just her own comic for long, there’s a big potential audience out there who’ll see themselves reflected in Kamala, and they deserve to.