Heroes Never Rust #70 by Sean Ironman
The Next Great American Hero
Many decades ago, comic book creators figured out certain characteristics a comic book superhero needs to attract an audience. No matter how much power a character has or how many successes they earn, a superhero is an outsider. Superman is popular, but Clark Kent isn’t. Bruce Wayne is rich and successful, but he doesn’t fit in as Batman, who is even an outsider in superhero groups. The Fantastic Four are celebrities, but they constantly have money problems and stay in the tower. Peter Parker is bullied, and even as Spider-Man, he is hunted by the police. I don’t know whether the outsider characteristic is because creators have found most people who read comics think of himself or herself as an outsider, or if everyone just thinks of themselves as outsiders. Whatever it is, when a new character is created, he or she is usually an outsider.
The specifics of being an outsider change, though. Showing readers a billionaire who kicks ass at night might not work as well today as it did with Batman because of the ever-increasing class inequality. Even Peter Parker wouldn’t be an outsider today. Yes, he’s a nerd, but that’s not too bad anymore with computer nerds getting rich. I mean, c’mon, he was married to a model for many years. Peter Parker has become cool. In the mid-twentieth century, outsiders were people who were to themselves. They were people who had few friends, if any, and weren’t interested in the same things as their peers. Loners. Now, though, the culture has gotten so diverse. I don’t know whether it’s the rise of Psychology or the internet or whatever, and I don’t really care. But being a loner doesn’t mean as much as it used to. (Or perhaps that’s just me, a loner, no longer caring). So what’s the outsider of today that a comic creator can use for a new character?
Let’s face it, women are outsiders. It’s how the world is. Just look at this whole controversy with Bill Cosby. Nineteen women have come forward, at the time of writing this post, since 1965 and accused him of sexual assault. And what has he suffered? Production on his new show shut down? The “controversy” has devolved into whether these women are truthful or not. Women are not respected by our society. In a personal essay I recently finished, I used a character called Dr. Smith, a woman. After introducing the character by Dr. Smith, I used “her” to refer to “her gloves.” A person who agreed to critique the essay, a woman, said she was confused for a moment because the doctor was female and suggested that I say she’s a woman before referring to “her gloves.” I did not make that change. I don’t see why a doctor has to be specifically introduced as a woman, as if it’s an oddity for a woman to be a doctor.
There are other female characters, however. But, what about Muslim superheroes? I guess Grant Morrison introduced Dust in his run on New X-Men. But, a Muslim woman as a main character for a superhero comic? I can’t think of any. And, let’s face another fact. Ever since the September 11 tragedy, many Americans have not thought fondly about Muslims. Even recently, actor Ben Affleck (the former cinematic Daredevil and future cinematic Batman) got into a heated disagreement with Bill Maher on Maher’s HBO show, Real Time, because Maher argued that Islam is too often a religion of violence.
Now, sometimes, to be honest, I get tired of the effect political correctness has on storytelling. If the comic just focused on Kamala’s gender and religion, there would be a problem. That, to me, would be offensive. But, it doesn’t. Of course, the comic refers to her religion and she is clearly drawn as a teenage girl, those characteristics are used the same as Peter Parker’s nerdy traits—she is made to be an outsider. But, from that point, she is depicted as a capable young woman who is good at heart. Her religion and gender make her a real person, but the comic doesn’t rely on them to keep the reader’s interests. Honestly, this is the best new comic I’ve read since Hawkeye. Kamala is written to make her accessible to the audience. Everyone, or at least comic book readers, feel as if they are outsiders. In the first issue, Kamala deals with her bossy parents. She sneaks out of her house to go to a party. She loves superheroes. And when someone is in trouble, Kamala goes to save them, not thinking of herself. She reminds me of early Peter Parker. The cover of the first issue allows readers to hold it up to their own faces so that they too can be Ms. Marvel. I have seen countless photographs of children (and even adults) of all backgrounds doing this. The specifics of her character make her interesting, but her thoughts and desires make her relatable. Readers don’t have to have the same background as the character to follow that character on an adventure.
As you can probably tell by my photo below, I am a white male. I have heard other white males say that they don’t believe a superhero could do certain things because the superhero is a woman. I shit you not. Maybe companies like Marvel and DC think that all white males think that same way.
I guess I can only speak for myself, but I want my heroes like Kamala. Her character is a perfect balance between emotions I can relate to and a story that is not my own. In my creative nonfiction workshop, I tell my students nearly every week that they don’t have to agree with an author’s thoughts on life. I tell them that agreeing does not make the essay good and having a different opinion does not make the essay bad. I prefer to read about lives other than my own. I don’t want to read about my life. I live it. Why would I waste time reading about me?
Sean Ironman (Episode 102) earned his MFA at the University of Central Florida. Currently, he teaches creative nonfiction and digital media at the University of Central Arkansas as a visiting professor. His work can be read in The Writer’s Chronicle, Redivider, and Breakers: A Comics Anthology, among others.