My affixation with your superheroes began when I was seven years old.
I remember sitting crisscross applesauce in my parent’s bedroom during Saturday mornings, watching the newest episode of “X-Men: The Animated Series.” Something about your superheroes fascinated me. Their sparkly, neon-bright costumes. Their sheer spectacle of powers. Above all, their camaraderie, their jokes, as they fought black-masked evildoers.
As I grew older, I started devouring Wikipedia articles of my favorite superheroes after their cartoons ended. I was heartbroken when I learned Jean Grey lost control of her powers and became the Phoenix. I was delighted when I learned that Professor Xavier and Magneto did become friends, sort of.
I was ecstatic when I learned that there were Muslim X-Men.
At 10, my favorite superhero became Sooraya Qadir, otherwise known as Dust. Dust is a mutant. Dust is an X-Men. Dust is a niqab clad young Muslim woman from Afghanistan. It did not matter that I only knew her from her brief page on Wikipedia. It did not matter that I’d never read her comics or seen her in a cartoon. She was Muslim like me, and she was a superhero. Even as a third grader, I realized that meant something.
Marvel, at the age of 10, you gave me my first Muslim superhero. Now, at 17, I have Kamala Khan, the first Muslim superhero of yours to headline her own comic book. As a Pakistani-Muslim teenage girl living on the East Coast, Kamala – and her superhero identity Ms. Marvel – resonates with me.
If comic books sales and awards are any indication, she resonates with a lot of your consumers: according to Sana Amanat, Ms. Marvel’s creator and editor, Ms. Marvel is your #1 digital seller. Additionally, Ms. Marvel Volume One: No Normal is currently in its seventh printing while most comic books don’t even have second or third reprints.
Marvel, I have to commend you, at least a little.
Your editors, writers and artists have created a comic books series that has won “Best Series” in the Angouleme International Comic Book Festival and “Best Graphic Story” in the Hugo Awards. They have penned a character who has been used to combat anti-Islamic rhetoric on Sans Francisco buses. A character who shatters stereotypes about Muslims, about teenage girls, and about immigrants all in one swoop. A character who has been described as “this generation’s Spider-Man.”
Marvel, you’ve done great with Kamala Khan. (So far.)
But what about your other Muslim superheroes?
What about Monet St. Croix? Or Faiza Hussain?
What about Sooraya Qadir?
All three superheroes are still technically a part of your universe, but they have faded into obscurity. Although they have existed for years – Monet specifically has been in many incarnations of the X-Men since 1991 – none of them have yet headlined their own comic. Faiza, despite having many of the same characteristics as Kamala’s quirky, fan-favorite self, has been roped into a supporting role that truly limits her potential. And Sooraya...well, I suppose I can consider myself lucky that she’s still in your universe.
Marvel, you’ve done good. You’re doing good. (Again – so far.)
But good can be better. One Pakistani-Muslim superhero lead isn’t enough. Maybe now it is, but it won’t be later.
Currently, only 45 percent of Americans are White Christians. This is still a sizable population, but it’s also a shrinking one. And in just two decades, the Muslim population in the United States is expected to double. The fact is that the United States is changing. It’s growing more religiously, racially and ethnically diverse.
Marvel, if you want to reach out to these new audiences, if you want to continue to draw in more readers and fans, it’s imperative that your fictional universe resembles the world we currently live in.
This means giving Faiza, Sooraya and Monet a greater voice in the universe. Let them collaborate with more well-known superheroes. (Cameos in Ms. Marvel can be a good place to start.) Include these superheroes in some of the Avengers team-ups, or the X-Men ones.
Give them a chance.
The payoff will be worth it for you as a company. And for me – and for other young Muslim girls (and fans in general) – the payoff will be worth more than just money.
A 17-Year-Old Comic Book Fan
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