Buffy the Vampire Slayer debuted on US television 18 years ago yesterday. It was first shown on British TV a few months later, and I was immediately hooked; my cat Spike was named after the cynical blond vampire.
It is widely reportedwidely reported that the character of Buffy came to Whedon the horror film fan after watching yet another expendable blonde young woman scream and die. What would happen if that screaming blonde turned out to have the power to fight back? And thus Buffy, Willow, Xander and the gang were born.
Teenage girls have an anomalous position in popular culture; culture marketed to them is routinely mocked (One Direction, Twilight); they face ridicule and bullying on social media for expressing these interests and they see their “role models” sexualised, brutalised or erased on the screens, whether in the cinema, TV or in gaming. However, there are positive figures- in the neoliberal, individualistic world of Hunger Games, Divergent and other dystopias, and in the comic book world of Kamala Khan, Ms Marvel.
Volume 1 of Ms Marvel: No Normal (Wilson and Alphona, 2014) introduces Kamala, a 16 year old Pakistani American woman from Jersey City. She develops shape changing powers when a mysterious fog engulfs the riverside party she has sneaked out to and she meets Captain America and Captain Marvel. She then rescues a classmate who has fallen in the river.
Initially Kamala adopts the persona of the previous Miss Marvel (blonde, busty and skimpily dressed) but feels uncomfortable. She adapts the costume of a superhero so that it is modest, but still totally kick-ass.
Like Buffy, Kamala may have the duty to use her powers for good, but she is still a high school student and a daughter, and for Kamala the stakes are higher- as well as parents, Kamala also has a highly religious brother to contend with. Further, Kamala may feel frustrated by the restrictions placed upon her by her family and community culture, but she has no desire to leave it. She is a Muslim, and a key conversation with her friend Nakia takes place at her mosque.
Buffy is underestimated because her blonde cheerleader appearance leads society to both objectify and despise her. Kamala is underestimated in hers because society, in the guise of “concern troll” Zoe (p. 2), sees her as a potential victim of her culture.
Volume 2 of Ms Marvel is published at the end of this month. I’m very excited to see where G. Willow Wilson takes her next, and I do hope that at future ComicCons and other fantasy and SF cons there will be fans cosplaying her. Who knows? Perhaps there will be little Ms Marvels at future World Book Day events.