The publishers of comic books are obsessed with the politically correct. Diversity and quotas are more important than dispatching evil. Spider-Man has been reimagined as a black Hispanic teenager. The Green Lantern is out of the closet. Early next year, Marvel Comics rolls out a Muslim superheroine.
Ms. Marvel is a teenage girl, Kamala Khan, with a shape-changing superpower. She will need it to dodge bullets in her new hometown of Jersey City, N.J., and assassins in her native Pakistan, where a real-life teen superheroine, Malala Yousafzai, was targeted for death by the Taliban for merely advocating sending girls to school.
Most comic-book readers are male, but this comic is different. Instead of the usual heroine with bust and gams, like Wonder Woman, Ms. Marvel is fully covered in a modest red-and-black costume (with a yellow lightning bolt). Her face is shrouded not by a Saudi-style niqab full-face veil, but by a mask similar to Batman’s sidekick Robin.
Ms. Marvel, unlike her paper-and-ink comrades, won’t advocate for “truth, justice and the American way.” If she wants to find a place on newsstands in Muslim countries, she’ll have to be careful not to anger militant Islam, even if she takes on the Great Satan. She can take her cues from Secretary of State John F. Kerry, who traveled to Saudi Arabia last week to mend fences and promptly climbed atop one. When reporters asked him what he thinks of the growing protests of Saudi women demanding the right to drive a car, he replied that he’s all for equality except when he isn’t. “We embrace equality for everybody, regardless of gender, race or any other qualification,” he says. “There’s a healthy debate in Saudi Arabia about this issue, but I think that debate is best left to Saudi Arabia.”
Ms. Marvel probably won’t appear in comic books in Saudi Arabia, anyway. In the storyline, Ms. Marvel’s mother is “paranoid that she’s going to touch a boy and get pregnant,” Ms. Marvel’s co-creator, Sana Amanat, a Muslim editor at Marvel, tells The New York Times. Her father thinks she should concentrate on becoming a doctor. Ms. Marvel’s most daunting challenges, however, might come not from supervillains, but from her brother, who the editor describes ominously as “extremely conservative.” Conservatives, extreme or otherwise, rare in comic books, are usually megalomaniacal industrialists and other bad guys.
Marvel Comics insists that it won’t evangelize for Islam, but the comic book industry promotes eerie lifestyles. DC Comics’ venerable Green Lantern came out as homosexual in June 2012, about five months after the Archie Comics’ character Kevin Keller wed his black “boyfriend.” DC’s Batwoman, a lesbian, was not so fortunate. Her writers quit in protest in September after the publishers told them Batwoman could never marry. This is odd, because a lot of fans have been trying for years to figure out the exact relationship between Batman and Robin.
But if love conquers all (which it rarely does), the publishers could allow Batwoman to marry Ms. Marvel, and they could argue over who converts to whatever. That might only upset Ms. Marvel’s “extremely conservative” Muslim brother, but comic books are just funny books for everybody else.