Critical Commentary: Islam and Comic Book Culture

Posted on December 11, 2013 by


Historically, the quintessential comic book superhero has been portrayed as a white, heterosexual male who seems to lack a distinct religious-cultural background. This trend has begun to change just recently, however, as more and more comic book companies have introduced superheroes that seem to be contrary to the traditional superhero archetype. The New York Times article “Mighty, Muslim and Leaping Off the Page” addresses this phenomenon, considering Marvel’s newest superhero addition to its universe as a way to acknowledge the controversial movement.

The article begins by noting the unconventional background of the new superhero: teenage, Muslim, and female. The article then begins to elaborate upon the origin of the superhero, named Kamala Khan, referencing two Marvel editors who brought the idea for Kamala to the author, comic book writer and convert to Islam, G. Willow Wilson. The article then provides a brief synopsis of the comic, emphasizing Kamala’s Pakistani heritage. After addressing the potential risk of introducing a character such as Kamala to a public that includes both Muslims and anti-Muslims that may disapprove of Kamala’s character, the article then went on to reference other comic book’s ventures into unconventional character material and consumer reactions to them. The comics considered, namely Batwoman and a Spiderman spin-off concerning a black Hispanic teenager named Miles Morales, were noted as receiving poor sales and generally negative reviews due to their relatively unconventional content. Batwoman received criticism for DC not allowing their writers to allow Batwoman, a lesbian, to marry her partner. The Spiderman series that included Miles received low sales because fans had believed that Peter Parker, the series long time protagonist, had been replaced. The article then concludes with Wilson stating that the series is supposed to connect with the universal experience of isolation and self-discovery that all teenagers encounter, only through the perception of a Muslim-American with superpowers.

My first impression of the article was that it was covering as well as defending a unique controversy. The language and image used provided an objective sense of where the controversy originated while still adding a vaguely subjective tone to the article; a tone that isn’t necessarily in favor of the comic but most certainly not against it. That is not to say that the author was biased in his writings; he delineated the concerns of his article objectively, without directly inserting any of his own beliefs into the explanation. What characterizes this article as slightly subjective is the evidence used to communicate the risk of introducing minority characters to any comic book fandom. The supporting evidence considered the possible discrimination against characters that belong to a minority culture, the writing expressing what seems to be disapproval over such behavior. I do not disagree with rejecting discriminatory behavior over race and/or religion, but I am required to analyze the motivation behind this article, and I feel that the author is urging the public to accept Kamala because of her background. Even so, the author refrained from indulging upon his opinion, which is still not necessarily present in the article. Overall, the article is informative, unbiased, and interesting to consider.

Posted in: Islam