Every Friday in Panel Discussion, Jeremy Writebol considers how the latest comic book releases intersect with the Good News of Christ. This piece may contain spoilers.
Does someone’s gender, ethnicity, age, and religious background define what you would receive from them? If a real aspect of God’s truth came to you from a (fictional) teenage Muslim girl from New Jersey, would you listen? Would a story created and written by Muslim women have anything to say about your life today? Would it at least get you to consider matters that are true and good and right? In our attempts to be discerning, we can often miss the conversations about deep issues occurring in our culture. And in missing those conversations, we may also miss where those issues intersect with our faith, even if they’re raised from within a faith system that isn’t our own.
Kamala Khan, aka Ms. Marvel, might just be the most important character in the entire Marvel Comic Universe right now. That may be a very bold statement to make, but follow the facts with me. In October 2014, the first volume of Ms. Marvel stories, which contains issues #1-5, was the month’s best-selling graphic novel, and ranked second in The New York Times’ “Best Sellers” list for graphic novels. When Marvel had to do a sixth printing of the initial issue, Ms. Marvel entered that rarefied air of comic publishing that only characters like Spider-Man and Superman have occupied. Over the last year it’s remained one of Marvel’s more popular series. ComiXology — the leading digital distributor — has indicated that Ms. Marvel is among their best sellers. A female character leading the way in sales, especially on a digital platform, is a huge statement.
Yet, it’s not just sales that make Ms. Marvel the most important Marvel character right now. With the new Ms. Marvel, the industry leader has left the safe social haven of white male characters who save the universe and instead, given us a female Muslim teenager who works to save Jersey City. If New York City represents the center of the Marvel universe, then New Jersey is “the other side of the tracks” and frankly ignored and forgotten. Yet the stories that G. Willow Wilson and Sana Amanat tell about this young Jersey heroine are engaging a whole new audience of comic book readers, and smashing stereotypes for long-time readers. Ms. Marvel may just be saving the entire comic book industry.The truth that Ms. Marvel presents is that we should live in such a way that our relationships with others hold the end in view.
Ms. Marvel #19 concludes Kamala’s latest arc as Marvel’s “Secret Wars” crossover comes to a dramatic end. In a dramatic reshaping of the Marvel multiverse, an apocalyptic, world-ending event takes several different Marvel realms (e.g., Ultimates, Earth-616, Marvel 2099) and brings their characters into one standardized universe. Kamala finds herself and her city in the apocalypse contemplating the end of their world, and possibly their very lives. The issue specifically asks the question, “What will you do with your last hours when you know they are coming?”
Wilson envisions the last day being one of reparation. Kamala moves from relationship to relationship mending what was wrong and saying what she didn’t have the nerve to say until the reality of mortality established itself. Interestingly, we never see the superheroine Ms. Marvel in this issue. Kamala never dashes off to save the world, much less her city; she doesn’t take on her secret identity to make things better. She merely does what any human should do — make things right.
This is where the powerful truth of reconciliation should sit for each one of us. Moses asked God to “teach us to number our days so that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). In saying this, he was reflecting on the reality that we live a fixed number of days. What will our last day bring? What will we say or do with the knowledge of the end in sight? Far too often, we live as if the end isn’t coming, as if there isn’t a final judgment or last day to be reconciled with. At the very least, it’s not at the forefront of our mind. Yet that day, if we are honest and sober-minded about our lives, is coming — and today could very well be it.
The beauty of Ms. Marvel #19 is how Kamala approaches that day. Instead of tension about her overprotective mother revealing her secret identity, she finds her mother’s blessing and approval. Her foil in the story — a white, blonde, precocious “friend” who has also realized that the last day is here — asks for forgiveness for the way she has treated Kamala. Even her best friend, who has been neglected and forgotten because of hero-work, has to be approached. Apologies must be extended. At every turn, that which was bent and broken in Kamala’s relationships is being repaired. With the future uncertain, and even unlikely, Kamala believes that any opportunity to fix a relationship might be her last opportunity to do so. Tomorrow may not come.
The finality and suddenness of death should push on us. The truth that Ms. Marvel presents is that we should live in such a way that our relationships with others hold the end in view. Paul states that we should be eager to “pursue what makes for peace” (Romans 14:19) and to “strive for peace with everyone” (Hebrews 12:14). Many of us seem far too content with being out of shape with others, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ, and we fail to seek reconciliation and forgiveness in our daily relationships with them. We would rather punt until the end when Jesus returns to get us back to the table at peace with one another.
Without trying to sugarcoat the damage that our sin inflicts on one another, the perspective of today as our last day causes me to reevaluate how I will regard and relate to everyone I come in contact with. Maybe, if Christians lived more effectively with that last-day perspective, we wouldn’t be known for our judgmentalism and condescension; maybe we would be able to lovingly get along with others better. Maybe Ms. Marvel points us to some perspective on how to live today as if it was our last.