Oh, My Pop Culture Islam: Ms. Marvel’s Respectful Portrayal of Religious Characters

Comics and religion don’t often mix, and that’s why it was so surprising when the new Ms. Marvel burst onto the scene and became such a smash hit. Kamala Khan (i.e., the current Ms. Marvel) and her Muslim family and friends provide a respectful, realistic portrayal of a family of faith that anyone from a religious background—especially one grounded in a strong family and ethnic tradition—can relate to. Of course such a story could have been written about any religious family, because the same thing could have come across if the Khans had been Greek Orthodox Christians like my family, or Polish Catholics, or Orthodox Jews, or Indian Hindus, etc. etc. But it’s extremely important that the series instead chooses to normalize a family of darker-skinned Muslims, as they have been such a persecuted group in the Western world lately. Realizing that a group different from your own is, in fact, simply human Just Like You is the first step in encouraging empathy and in changing attitudes, and Ms. Marvel does a great job with that. Now, I’m not Muslim, nor do I know an awful lot about Islam. I’m an Eastern Orthodox Christian with a priest for a father, and I grew up hearing some very Islamophobic opinions from him. It took me a long time to get over that, but it wasn’t until reading Ms. Marvel that I realized that Orthodox Christians and Muslims might actually have a lot more in common than I thought. It’s also just lovely to have representation of a religious character in comics, in which faith is organically woven into the story without being preachy or just surface-level!

Note that I’ve only read through the latest trade paperback of the series (Volume 6, up to issue #12 of the current run). But Saika tells me these points still hold for the latest issues. Mild spoilers up to my current stopping point below!

MsMarvel2015cover1

(via Marvel)

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Trailer Tuesdays: Thor: Ragnarok

We’re lucky enough to be getting three MCU movies this year, even if I was a bit underwhelmed by the first one. The casting news about Thor: Ragnarok had me pretty hyped for this movie, but now that I’ve seen the trailer, I’m only about 40% hype. The remaining 60% is confusion.

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Fanfiction Fridays: The Chilling Crimes of Chinchilla Chick by Traincat

Squirrel Girl! @unbeatablesg
WHO EATS NUTS KICKS BUTTS AND JUST KISSED THE RADDEST ROOMMATE EVER idk but i bet she’s super cool and finished all her homework

Squirrel Girl! @unbeatablesg
LIKE A CHAMP #eatsnutskicksbutts #andassignments

Nancy W @sewwiththeflo
So glad Mew approves of my new relationship. That would’ve been awkward. #neithersinglenorreadytomingle

Squirrel Girl! @unbeatablesg
@sewwiththeflo Hahaha but it would’ve worked out anyway right Nancy

Squirrel Girl! @unbeatablesg
@sewwiththeflo Nancy?

Squirrel Girl! @unbeatablesg
@sewwiththeflo NANCY

Squirrel Girl! @unbeatablesg
@starkmantony aw you ol’ softie you! thanks for the edible arrangement!

Tony Stark @starkmantony
@unbeatablesg Don’t mention it. Really.

Squirrel Girl! @unbeatablesg
@starkmantony could’ve used more nuts, though

Tony Stark @starkmantony
@unbeatablesg What did I just say?

The first time Nancy kissed Doreen she tasted like acorn buttercream and New York City grit. Nancy had never thought of that as a winning combination, but somehow Doreen made it work. She also dipped Nancy, because Doreen kissed like she did everything else: with 300% enthusiasm and like she’d learned it off a pack of trading cards written by a maniac in a full-face mask.

The Chilling Crimes of Chinchilla Chick may not be an actual canonical Unbeatable Squirrel Girl comic, but it’s pretty much the next best thing. Actually, it’s got femslash, so it’s inherently better. Let’s do this.

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Magical Mondays: “The Smartest There Is” Takes on Magic

The recently concluded arc of Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, “The Smartest There Is”, opened on nine-year-old protagonist Lunella Lafayette learning that, thanks to her results on a test created by Bruce Banner, she is the smartest person. Not the smartest kid, or the smartest girl, or the smartest human, or the smartest being on Earth; she’s flat out “the smartest there is”, hence the name of the arc. The other people on the list (mostly adult men) are a bit salty about a little Black girl from the Lower East Side stealing their thunder, but none more so than one Victor Von Doom.

Doom sends robots to attack Lunella, and they’re unlike anything she’s fought before. Namely, they’re powered by Doom’s magic rather than by some kind of quantifiable science. So what does the smartest there is do when faced with something that defies scientific understanding? Attempt to explain it scientifically anyway.

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My Mom Doesn’t Know “Mr. Blue Sky” and Other Things I Had Feelings About During Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Well, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 sure was a thing I watched.

I should start with a positive, right? It had a great soundtrack. (Although I was shocked to discover that I recognized some of the songs and my music aficionado mom did not.)

Also, I’d definitely argue that it was better than its predecessor. If you’ll recall my review, I left Vol. 1 deeply disappointed, and I felt like this movie offered a lot of the character beats and emotional high notes that I wished the first film had hit. It also improved the representation on the team by giving us the first MCU team-up with some semblance of gender parity.

That said, I’m not sure what this story adds to the overall Marvel Cinematic Universe worldbuilding, and being a band-aid for the previous film’s issues isn’t necessarily a good look for a sequel.

Spoilers after the jump!

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Oh, My Pop Culture Deities: It’s Tough to Be a God

You’d think that a comic based on an actual god figure from real-world mythology would be rife with potential for this column, but most of the time The Mighty Thor, which stars the new Jane Foster iteration of the character, doesn’t actually deal with much that could be considered theological in nature. However, the last three or so months’ worth of issues (#15-17, to be specific) have featured a very interesting conflict that gets at a meaty question. What does it mean to be a god? More specifically, does ultimate cosmic power come with a responsibility to one’s worshippers? How ought gods prove their power to their followers? This conflict is addressed through a competition that is both fascinating and horrifying.

(via the Marvel wikia)

Spoilers for the aforementioned issues below the jump.

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Black Panther: World of Wakanda Rocks My World

world-of-wakanda-cover

via Marvel

Way back at SDCC when Marvel announced Black Panther: World of Wakanda, a comic spinning off of the popular and critically acclaimed new Black Panther ongoing comic, I was immediately pretty hyped. Then it was revealed that the major focus of the comic would be the history of Ayo and Aneka, the badass former Dora Milaje duo who fell in love and rebelled against what they saw as T’Challa’s misguided rule. Then it was announced that the series would be penned by queer Black feminist Roxane Gay, and my hype levels skyrocketed to unchartable levels. Add in an additional story co-written by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Pittsburgh poet Yona Harvey, and you have a recipe for my money.

The first issue in the new ongoing series was finally released last week, and it was everything I hoped it would be.

Spoilers for the first issue below!

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Fanfiction Fridays: but do i want to know? by iswearitt

The [locker] door bursts open with a metallic clatter, and an innocuous piece of paper flutters to the ground. Kamala reaches down and snatches it up, eyes already burning with righteous anger.

“Don’t people get sick of sticking mean crap in your locker because you decided to wear hijab? It’s been over a year, I wish they’d get over it already,” Kamla says, unfolding the piece of paper and scanning it.

“Some people have nothing better to do,” Nakia replies, turning to empty her book bag into her locker. “It doesn’t bother me, you know.” It does, of course it does, but Nakia has always had a thick skin, so she doesn’t let it show.

Kamala lets out a strangled noise of death in response. “Nakia,” she whispers reverently. “Kiki. Read this. Please.”

Nakia faces Kamala, but her retort dies on her lips at the expression on Kamala’s face. It’s two-fifths mischief and three-fifths unrestrained glee, which is a combination that Nakia’s afraid of, at least when it comes to Kamala. She reaches out and takes the paper from Kamala’s outstretched hand carefully, like it’s dangerous.

If the look on Kamala’s face is any judge, it might as well be.

Nakia sighs and begins to read what appears to be a letter.

And stops abruptly, eyes going wide, face flushing with heat, gaze flickering between the letter and Kamala’s face. “What.”

Kamala nods, bouncing up and down in place. “Yes. Yes, it is. “

“This is–” Nakia can’t say it. She can’t say it aloud, but Kamala evidently can.

“It’s a love letter,” she says with relish. “From some mystery admirer to you.” Kamala grins again, shutting Nakia’s locker for her and grabbing her arm to drag Nakia down the hallway to the open door beyond. “This is going to require a sleepover.”

The Marvel Universe has been a bit of a mess lately thanks to yet another all-encompassing event, but even Civil War II hasn’t been enough to drag Ms. Marvel‘s quality down below “pure awesomeness”. And yet, despite its protagonist’s love of fanfiction, I don’t often find myself reading fanfiction set in her Jersey City-shaped corner of the Marvel Universe. After a (semi-)recent reveal in Kamala’s series, however, I found myself racing to AO3 to see what fanfic I could find supporting my new Ms. Marvel OTP.

Spoilers through issue #9 of Ms. Marvel below the jump.

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Sexualized Saturdays: Worthy of the Name—Thor and Representation

It’s rare that I admit this, but I was way wrong about Thor.

When it was first announced that the new Thor was to be a lady, my initial reaction was “of all the heroes to genderbend, why pick one that is ‘supposed to be’ a guy?” I worried that it was a publicity stunt and would be set up for failure, setting back future efforts. Then I noticed all the comments about it and how they were almost uniformly of the rabid anti-feminist troll variety. Any time I find myself expressing an opinion shared by the “red pill” types, I immediately reexamine that viewpoint, and I’m so glad I did!

thor portrait 2When I started reading The Mighty Thor, I realized not only was I mistaken in my assumption that Thor was a poor choice for a high profile genderbend, but that Thor was in fact the perfect choice. I am glad I was so incredibly wrong because I am excited about the Thor quadrant of the Marvel universe for the first time since I was a kid. Judging by the fact that this run of Mighty Thor has been selling consistently well since its release, I am not alone in that opinion.

Very quickly, about two issues into the first arc, it became clear that not only was the choice to have Thor portrayed by a woman very deliberate, but it was a way to jump right into the midst of the pushback to inclusiveness and hit it squarely in the face with an all-powerful magic hammer. Not only does this series perfectly nail (see what I did there) the fallacy of these arguments against a more diverse base of main characters, it exposes their root: fear at the loss of “straight white male as default”.

Spoilers after the jump.

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Perfected Bodies: Superheroes and Gymnastics

The 2016 Rio Games are the first Summer Olympics since the Marvel Cinematic Universe took over the world: The Avengers was still in theaters during the London Olympics, and since then, we’ve had seven more movies and nine seasons of TV. The MCU has been joined by multiple DC universes, plus various Spider-men, X-Men, Deadpools, and yet another Fantastic Four. As never before, the superhero has been firmly lodged in our collective consciousness.

The Olympics offer a real-world counterpart to superheroes. Without radioactive spiders or super-soldier serums, Olympic athletes demonstrate impossible powers every four years. Each time a record is broken, the athlete exceeds the previous limit on human capabilities.

Neither happens in a vacuum—both superheroes and athletes complete narratives far greater than a list of records and abilities. They stand astride the existing fissures in society, especially regarding gender, which is particularly tied to the expectations placed on bodies. In many ways, they show us how far we have come and our hopes for the future, but of course, they reveal how far we still have to go.

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