Back in late April/early May, partly with the help of Free Comic Book Day, I dipped into several new (or at least recent) franchises, discovering some awesome titles such as America, Ms. Marvel, and the Hildafolk comics by Luke Pearson. I spoke a little about the awesomeness of watching a lesbian Latina superhero punch Hitler, and the first Muslim American teen superhero fighting stereotypes and totally-not-bird-men-supervillains in not-quite-New York (Jersey City, NJ), and a stylish little girl adventuring across a “Nordic mythscape.”
Since then, I’ve delved deeper into the origins of America Chavez and Kamala Khan, and all the pre-FCBD adventures of Hilda, and have discovered several more awesome themes across this slice of the comicsphere.
Note: SPOILERS ahead for all of the comics discussed.
Ok, so I already mentioned LGBT themes in my last comics post, but America wasn’t actually the first or only LGBT character in her previous comics. The 15-issue Young Avengers series, in which America first came out as gay, features a nearly-all-LGBT cast — from the bisexual Prodigy, Marvel Boy, and maybe Kate “Hawkeye” Bishop, to the couple at the center of the story, Hulkling and Wiccan, who actually save the multiverse with the power of their True Love.
See what she did there?
The more recent issues of Ms. Marvel also feature a lesbian character — Zoe Zimmer, who started out as a concern troll/bully, but turned a complete 180 after an almost apocalypse made her reconsider her priorities and admit some things to herself she’d been trying to ignore. Her secret crush on Kamala’s best friend, Nakia, is a big plot point in the latest collection, Damage Per Second, in which a particularly nasty computer virus threatens to publish her not-quite-deleted love letters to the whole school if Ms. Marvel doesn’t do its evil bidding.
Oh, and ok, I know I already had a whole post on the awesomeness of Lumberjanes, but I just have to share this adorable Mal/Molly moment from the latest issue:
Family is not a hindrance
In one of their page-bottom notes in Strong Female Protagonist Vol. 1, authors Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag comment on the tendency for writers to make their superhero protagonists orphans so that family life doesn’t get in the way of their superheroing duties (and also to give their heroes a properly tragic backstory). This is certainly the case for America, whose mothers sacrificed themselves to save the multiverse when she was six years old. Most of the members of the Young Avengers team are also parentally-unencumbered, and in fact, the central plot of the series has them trying to fight/escape the possessed ghosts of their parents led by one soul-eating monster simply called the Mother.
Like Mulligan and Ostertag, the writers of Ms. Marvel subvert this no-family trend, making family a central component of Kamala’s life. She may be a superhero tasked with saving Jersey City from evil gerrymandering and “downtown revitalization” plots and well-meaning-but-totally-unethical Minority Report-style precrime-fighting endeavors, but she still has to make time for important family functions.
And Iron Man’s like, Of course you should hang out with your family, kid! That’s your real job!
The Hilda comics also subvert the trope of parents being oblivious to and uninvolved in their kids’ magical adventures (well, ok, that’s partly because Hilda and her mom live in a world where magic is just a part of life, like the constantly migrating bear heads that float past their house…they’re called woffs). Hilda’s mom knows exactly what’s going on every time Hilda claims to just be going out for some fresh air or to return a library book. Hilda’s mom wants in.
Social Media and other 21st century world-building
So, as I mentioned in my last comics post, characters like Kamala and America appeal to a modern audience by using modern vocab and technology. Young Avengers was billed as a comic for the Tumblr generation. Three months of superheroing are summarized in a page of Twitstagram posts. The members of America’s first teen superhero team in Vengeance text each other mid-battle and mid-night-clubbing. Ms. Marvel de-stresses by writing Avengers fanfic and playing an online RPG game, and fights that nasty virus I mentioned earlier by joining forces with her fellow players (in an admittedly not-advisable real-life midnight meet-up in an empty convenience store).
Only the Hilda comics resist this trend by focusing on a more timeless fairytale setting. Even in the big city of Trolberg, TVs are the most advanced technology they have, and Hilda would much rather spend her time outside, playing with salt lions by the sea and flying over the hills on giant thunderbirds. Honestly, I like both styles, the modern and the timeless; they’re both relatable in their own way. I like watching Kid Loki’s online banter with Marvel Boy and Hawkeye about the use of the word “smooch,” and watching Kamala (a.k.a. SlothBaby) fight giant boss battles in World of Battlecraft, but I also like stepping back into that “Nordic mythscape” with its nature-based adventures — hills full of rock trolls and mountain giants (like, giants that are also mountains).
One of the most fun parts of exploring the America and Ms. Marvel ‘verses has been meeting characters from other series, and having my interest in their stories piqued. Characters like Captain Marvel, Black Panther, Miles Morales!Spiderman, and the members of A-Force. I want to know more about Wakanda and what’s been going on with the Dora Milaje (I think it’s a super team led by King T’challa? Please feel free to make fun of my lack of knowledge, if you’re a Black Panther fan). I want to see how Civil War II went down in the other parts of the Marvel ‘verse.
And of course I’m totally waiting for the next Hilda collection, to see how the changeling story continues, with Hilda as a newbie troll and the troll baby stuck in Hilda’s home.
I like being a newbie comics nerd. I like going back to my local comics shop (and library. My local library system has the best comics collection, and if they don’t have something? Inter-library loan FTW!) every month for the latest issues, and discovering new characters to follow.
Fellow comics nerds, sound out! Who are your favorite characters? Has Free Comic Book Day introduced you to any new favorites? Want to school me on some of the story arcs and characters I briefly mentioned just now? Go for it!