The Arc of the Moral Universe Bends a Bit Further Towards Justice

“They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

“The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.

It is so ordered.

(Justice Anthony Kennedy, majority opinion on Obergefell v. Hodges)[1]

For the past several days, I’ve been listening to The Battle Hymn of the Republic, and on 26 June 2015 I felt like singing the refrain “Glory, glory, hallelujah!”[2] The Supreme Court of the United States of America, in their decision on Obergefell v. Hodges, declared that same-sex marriage is a Constitutional right, due to the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.[3] (The opinion is available on the Supreme Court website.)[4] This case will go down in the history books alongside Loving v. Virginia, the decision that did the same thing for interracial marriage in the United States in 1967.[5] I feel such joy that this day has come and honored that it has happened in my lifetime.

Marriage has been redefined and redefined and redefined throughout history, and it is a step forward when it is redefined for the better, as it has been with this ruling. I have always been ambivalent on the subject of marriage in general, due to its long history (up to and including today) of being an oppressive institution in many ways, but I am cheered by progress in marriage equality. I know what it’s like to grow up in a culture and community in which many people expect not only heterosexuality but also arranged or semi-arranged marriages with little to no chance to date. These types of expectations, along with marriage restrictions based on characteristics such as race and religion, place unreasonable limits on relationships; they place too much power in the hands of parents and community leaders to interfere in people’s personal decisions, while demonizing those who do not conform. A just society should take the side of those who are being discriminated against by their families, not with the families that hurt them. This ruling tells people: It doesn’t matter who you want your children to marry. They get to marry whom they want to marry. The law of this country sides with the people who want to marry someone of the same sex or gender, not with those who would stand in their way. Progress in marriage equality is not only beneficial for same-sex couples specifically, but is a step forward in the redefinition of marriage, romance, family, and love as concepts that should be about equality and mutual respect.

Almost immediately after the announcement, people started discussing the work that still needs to be done to advance LGBTQIA+ rights and human rights in general. One of the things I love about social justice advocates: They do not rest on their laurels. This battle is won, but the war is not over. Celebrate, and then move forward. March on. Bend the arc a bit further. I would not have the rights I do today if not for the many people throughout history and today who raise their voices for equality on all fronts, and they have taught me that justice is something that must constantly be fought for and defended. There is much more progress still needed to make my country, and this world, a more just place for everyone. In the courtroom, we appeal to the law. And of course, outside the courtroom, there is a need for a change of hearts and minds, because the views of the people in one’s community have a great impact on equal rights. Human society must change and improve if we want to see a better future. Spare a thought, a moment of silence, for those who and for all those throughout history and even today who face injustice, and then commit to fighting that injustice.

The arc of the Moral Universe does bend towards justice, but only as long as there are people here to bend it.

It bent a bit further on 26 June 2015.

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Recommended Reading

James Obergefell, the man whose name is on this historic case, wrote a moving open letter “My Husband” regarding the ruling.[6] The case that legalized same-sex marriage started with Obergefell and his husband John Arthur attempting to make sure that Obergefell would be listed as Arthur’s surviving spouse on Arthur’s death certificate. At the time, John Arthur was terminally ill with amyotrophic lateral sclerois (ALS) and has since died. Obergefell can’t celebrate this historic moment with his husband, but because of him and because of the many others who fought tirelessly, this moment has come.

Greta Christina wrote a great essay “Same Sex Marriage a Constitutional Right!” about the ruling, discussing the great jubilation and the work still to be done.[7]

Chelsea E. Manning wrote a great article about continuing the fight for equality “Same-sex marriage isn’t equality for all LGBT people. Our movement can’t end”.[8]

Glenn Greenwald wrote “Today’s Court Ruling, Though Expected, Is Still Shocking – Especially For Those Who Grew Up LGBT In The U.S.” discussing the history that lead to this historic decision.[9]

Kristen Hare compiled front pages announcing marriage equality from every state in Union from the Newseum’s collection.[10]

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References

[1] Supreme Court of the United States of America. Obergefell et al. v. Hodges, Director, Ohio, Department of Health, et al. Docket 14-556. Posted 26 June 2015 at http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/14-556_3204.pdf.

[2] The Battle Hymn of the Republic”. Wikipedia entry. Retrieved on 27 June 2015 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Battle_Hymn_of_the_Republic.

[3]Obergefell v. Hodges”. Wikipedia entry. Retrieved on 27 June 2015 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obergefell_v._Hodges.

[4] Supreme Court of the United States of America. Obergefell et al. v. Hodges, Director, Ohio, Department of Health, et al. Docket 14-556. Posted 26 June 2015 at http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/14-556_3204.pdf.

[5] “Loving v. Virginia”. Wikipedia entry. Retrieved on 27 June 2015 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loving_v._Virginia.

[6] Obergefel, James “Jim”. My Husband. Posted at Medium on 26 June 2015. Retrieved on 27 June 2015 from http://medium.com/@WhiteHouse/my-husband-69362c9d63df.

[7] Christina, Greta. “Same Sex Marriage a Constitutional Right”. Posted on 26 June 2015 at Greta Christina’s Blog. Retrieved on 27 June 2015 from http://freethoughtblogs.com/greta/2015/06/26/same-sex-marriage-a-constitutional-right/.

[8] Manning, Chelsea E. “Same-sex marriage isn’t equality for all LGBT people. Our movement can’t end”. Posted on 26 June 2015 at The Guardian. Retrieved on 28 June 2015 from http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jun/26/same-sex-marriage-equality-all-lgbt-people-our-movement-chelsea-manning.

[9] Greenwald, Glenn. “Today’s Court Ruling, Though Expected, Is Still Shocking – Especially For Those Who Grew Up LGBT In The U.S.” Posted on 26 June 2015 at The Intercept. Retrieved on 28 June 2015 from http://firstlook.org/theintercept/2015/06/26/todays-supreme-court-ruling-though-expected-still-shocking/.

[10] “Front pages from all 50 states on the same-sex marriage ruling”. Posted on 27 June 2015 at Poynter. Retrieved on 27 June 2015 from http://www.poynter.org/news/mediawire/353539/front-pages-from-all-50-states-on-the-same-sex-marriage-ruling/.

Storming The Intersection: Improving Inclusion of Muslims and ex-Muslims

Introduction

As my previous writing should make obvious, I have issues with Islam.[1] Among other things, I’ve written about my experiences in Islamic Sunday School[2] and about the importance of including ex-Muslims in discussions about Islam.[3] Recently, I went on a mini-rant on Twitter about people who claim arguments regarding the oppression of the hijab are made up by white feminists and forced onto Muslim women.[4] I then went on another mini-rant about how seeing Muslim women’s writing about sexism they have experienced can be inspiring to those who have had similar experiences.[5] During this time, a few others discussed these topics (and other related ones) and there was some interesting conversation. This post is a result of those posts and conversations. Hopefully, there will be more, but this is a start. I want to address the issue intersectionality as it relates to my experiences as an ex-Muslim woman and my experiences in discussions about Muslim women, specifically some of the problems I’ve seen with the way intersectionality is put into practice.

Alliances and Commonalities

There are those who claim that when ex-Muslims speak out, we are claiming that Islam is especially bad and advocating for discrimination against Muslims. There may be some who do this, but there are many who do not. For myself, I would argue that it’s quite the opposite. When I ask that non-Muslim liberals be allies with liberal Muslims and ex-Muslims, it’s because I believe we have a lot in common and that we have similar goals. I’ll use some examples to illustrate my point. Liberal non-Muslims in the United States and other Western countries know that conservative Christians sometimes make disingenuous statements in apologetic arguments. These statements do not match up with reality, and often minimize the real harm that is done. When conservative Christians say that “gender complimentarianism” (as opposed to gender equality or egalitarianism) is not sexist, because god loves everyone, but has just assigned different roles to women and men, many liberals see through this deception. When conservative Christians say that they “love the sinner, hate the sin” in regards to LGBTQIA+ people, many liberals see through this deception. Advocates for equality know that there is harm being done, even though religious leaders and apologists claim everything is fine; these advocates also know that when religious leaders can find a handful of women or LGBTQIA+ people to say they agree with the discrimination, that is a way of silencing the criticism of the harm being done to many more people. They know that much of the coercion and harm goes on behind closed doors, with a nice front presented to the public via the arguments that sexism and anti-LGBTQIA+ bigotry are “not real discrimination”, while many people who are hurt are too afraid or intimidated to speak out.

If you understand all this, it should not be surprising to hear a Muslim or ex-Muslim say that we experience very similar things in our religion and community. We also experience sexism, anti-LGBTQIA+ discrimination, and other types of bigotry from fellow Muslims. We also see religious leaders make up apologetic arguments for why it is “not real discrimination” (as opposed to racism and anti-Muslim bigotry, which these religious leaders do consider real discrimination). We also have relatives like Kamala Khan’s brother Aamir (in the wonderful Ms. Marvel series),[6] who tells Kamala that (unmarried, unrelated) women and men should not be alone together[7] and that Muslims should not marry non-Muslims.[8] (And many of us, like Kamala, do not agree with these relatives.) There are both similarities and differences between and among various demographic groups; we are all humanity, and we contain multitudes.

Some non-Muslim liberals realize that they might not know about the experiences of women of color or of Muslim women, so they decide to share what women or color and Muslim women have written and said. This can be a good thing. The problem is that, all too often, they selectively only support those who stand up for socially-conservative interpretations – those who make arguments that liberals realize are disingenuous when conservative white Christian women make them. They end up accidentally supporting the Muslim equivalents of Christians who they vehemently disagree with. When conservative Christian women make such arguments, liberals may sometimes defend them if they are being discriminated against (out of principle) but they are not usually allies on most social issues. When conservative Muslim women make such arguments, they are treated as the authentic voices of Islam. Liberal Muslim and ex-Muslim women who actually have much more in common with non-Muslim liberals in our values are either thought to not exist or are accused of being allies with anti-Muslim bigots.

Misquoted By The Opposition, Silenced by Allies

That brings us, yet again, to the issue that often comes up in these discussions: the concern that criticisms of Islamic sexism might be motivated by anti-Muslim bigotry and/or that someone else may misuse valid criticisms (such as a Muslim woman’s personal story) of to justify anti-Muslim bigotry. This certainly does happen, and I’ve seen it happen in discussions myself. People make a valid point about problems with Islam, but then follow it up by advocating profiling, torture, drone strikes, or other discrimination or abuse against Muslims. People references stories of Muslim women to advocate against immigration. However, this is not the only way that these topics can be misused or discussed in a way that is exclusionary.

What I’ve also seen happening (in discussions among liberal equal rights advocates) is this: a Muslim or ex-Muslim woman writes something about sexism she has faced in the Muslim community. Someone else misquotes her to advocate bigotry against Muslims and/or people assumed to be Muslim based on race or nationality. From there proceeds a deluge of essays, videos, and lengthy comment sections that predominantly focus on criticizing the person who advocated anti-Muslim bigotry. (Sometimes, this deluge occurs even without the misquoting, in anticipation that someone might misquote her, based on prior experience.) The original point about sexism is forgotten in all of this, to focus on racism and anti-Muslim bigotry almost exclusively.

Here’s the thing: Any human rights or equal rights movement can have backlash or be misused by those with bad intent or harmful goals. When well-meaning liberals focus only on racism and anti-Muslim discrimination, that can also have unintended consequences. It can allow socially-conservative Muslims to continue their sexism and anti-LGBTQIA+ bigotry while maintaining that any criticism is bigoted, even criticism coming from Muslim women and queer Muslims themselves. There is certainly backlash when white women discuss gender equality or men of color discuss racial equality, but that does not stop them. Why, then, should those of us who are part of multiple marginalized groups remain silent due to possible backlash?

I have always believed in being thoughtful and taking the time to express oneself clearly to try to prevent misunderstanding (as much as possible, as we all make mistakes and misunderstand sometimes). I also believe that the best way to advocate for equality is to actually advocate for it, not remain silent until another equal rights issue is perfectly solved. We do not live in a perfect world, and the only way to make it less bad is by actually discussing these topics instead of arguing that we shouldn’t talk about them.

Human Rights, Not Just Partially-Intersectional Feminism

One of the larger issues here is a well-intentioned, but problematically-implemented, attempt at intersectionality. Liberals often discuss “intersectional feminism”. I consider myself an intersectional feminist, in that I believe in fighting for gender equality (against gender discrimination) and I also believe in a version of feminism that acknowledges and fights against other types of oppression as well. At the same time, intersectional feminism is not sufficient the way it is currently put into practice.

Intersectionality, ideally, is supposed to acknowledge that people can simultaneously be part of privileged groups and marginalized groups in society. In too many of the discussions I’ve seen, there’s an imbalance in that people expect certain advocacy groups to be intersectional while giving a pass to others. The phase “white feminists” or “white feminism” often comes up in discussions regarding the racial privilege of white feminists and the problems of institutional white feminism. There’s a valid reason for this, I know; there is a long history of white feminists being the most vocal in discussions and focusing only on issues that affected them, while either actively supporting or ignoring racism and other equal rights issues. Certainly, feminism should be intersectional. However, intersectional feminism should not mean that white feminists have to support socially-conservative Muslims almost exclusively to prove they’re not being bigots.

Intersectionality should be expected of all human rights advocacy movements, and it should include the right to people to discuss how they have been discriminated against along various axes of oppression, even by people who might also be in a marginalized group that they are also a part of. Too many people have given special treatment to discussions of religion, in that they expect (for example) feminist movements and LGBTQIA+ equality movements, to include people of different religions and races, but are not willing to criticize religious oppression (sometimes with the exception of religious discrimination against other religions). People label any untrue or harmful teaching as ‘not real religion’ so that even as they may criticize individual religious people, the religious institutions remain free from blame.

Why is this?

Some liberal equal rights advocates may believe Muslim bigotry is a minor issue. It’s minor in a certain context, specifically in the sense that Muslims in the United State and other Muslim-minority countries have much less institutional power to discriminate against the Christian majority in comparison to the great amount of power the Christian majority in these countries has to discriminate against Muslims. It may also be a relatively minor issue in that the United States, one of the most powerful countries on Earth with the largest military on Earth, is majority-Christian and has done many wrong things to Muslims internationality. In other contexts, Muslim bigotry is far from minor. It is a major issue. Muslims may be a minority in certain countries, but Muslims can still have other types of privilege. Being a minority in certain countries does not prevent Muslims from saying and doing things that are sexist, racist, anti-LGBTQIA, prejudiced against other religions or denominations, classist, ableist, and so on. Additionally, Islam is the second largest religion on this planet. There are a great many countries were it is the majority religion and Muslim privilege does exist, with Islamic religious leaders able to influence the government policies to create (de jure or de facto) theocracy. In an international context, while the governments of majority-Christian countries like the United States have done much wrong, that does not erase the wrongs done by the governments of majority-Muslim countries (both internationally and within their own borders). Religions have a lot of power in people’s lives, affecting their beliefs and decisions. Leaders can teach bigotry using religion (sometimes quoting it to support pre-existing prejudice, but sometimes also specifically teaching a type of bigotry because the religion endorses it). Religions can become powerful institutions within communities and gain the power to oppress.

Part of the problem is that socially-conservative Muslims, like social conservatives in many religions, try to maintain hegemony to claim they are the ones that society has to listen to as representatives of the religion. Agreeing with them becomes considered equivalent to defending the rights of Muslims. Giving them a pass for other types of discrimination, defending them all the time “on principle” (while never or rarely defending the people they hurt) becomes a prerequisite for being considered inclusive. Like anyone who says that people should tolerate their intolerance, their aim is to prevent human rights, not advance them. As I already stated, people who believe in human rights should realize this and seek out Muslim and ex-Muslim allies and who actually do believe in equal rights for all, not just rights for conservative Muslims.

The result of this for me, and perhaps for other Muslim and ex-Muslim women, is that we find allies among liberals only when we discuss how we have faced racism and anti-Muslim bigotry. We may find allies when discussing sexism and anti-LGBTQIA discrimination we have faced from non-Muslims, but when we discuss discrimination we have faced from fellow Muslims, we are told that we’re siding with anti-Muslim bigots. (Meanwhile, these anti-Muslims bigots who we actually disagree with misuse our words and want us to agree that our families deserve to be discriminated against by non-Muslims. We are unfairly held responsible for their actions.) Our attempt to find allies among non-Muslims is seen as bigotry against Muslims. Conservative Muslims accuse us of being brainwashed by non-Muslims if we disagree with them, as if we couldn’t come to the conclusion that we don’t like the way they treat us all on our own. Meanwhile, conservative Muslims, while calling themselves “moderate”, can find allies and claim intersectionality and inclusion. Liberal Muslims and ex-Muslims are expected to give up gender equality, LGBTQIA+ equality, and other equal rights issues within Islam while focusing on racial and religious freedom (especially for conservative religious people). This is no better than giving up racial equality and religious freedom in a feminist movement dominated by white Christian women. There are already international human rights groups that do include and work together with liberal Muslim and ex-Muslim women, and more people should realize that this is possible and a good thing.

I don’t believe in giving any equal rights group a pass on not being more inclusive, and that inclusivity has to mean being allies with minorities within minorities as well. Someone who discusses facing discrimination for being part of a marginalized group within another marginalized group is not the same as someone pretending they were discriminated against because someone didn’t tolerate their intolerance. Having these discussions requires thoughtful consideration, something that should be a core part of equal rights advocacy anyway, as we give consider the possibility of a better world.

Many people, I think, may find this all a very complicated issue to discuss. They do genuinely care about bigotry among Muslims, but they do not know how to bring it up or how to discuss it accurately. Well, life is complicated, and equal rights discussions are complicated as well.

Conclusion

I hope that more people will be inclusive of people who belong to multiple marginalized demographics and people who are minorities within minorities. There needs to be more thoughtful discussion in which people can share their experiences of discrimination within their communities, even if more powerful people in their communities may not want them to. People who may be part of marginalized demographics themselves shouldn’t assume that they can’t discriminate against others, and experiencing discrimination in one way is not an excuse for ignoring or supporting other types of discrimination.

One of the reasons I write about these topics is because I have found that I cannot count on someone else to speak up for me, and so I have to write about these topics if I want to be heard. I hope that more people are heard so that more people are included.

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Acknowledgements and Recommended Reading

Much thanks to Kiran Öpal (@KiranOpal),[9] Maryam M.-C. (@MaryNeedsNoHail),[10] Eiynah (@NiceMangos),[11] and the others who discussed some of these issues with me on Twitter.

Kiran Fatima Öpal was kind enough to quote me when posting some thoughts on the issue in “Double standards of white feminists towards dissident women of colour from Muslim backgrounds”.[12] Her post expresses some of the same frustrations that I’ve felt as well. She has previously written some other posts that are relevant to this issue as well, including the following: “Should Brown/Muslim Women Be Sacrificed to Save Culture? The Case of Malala Yousafzai.[13] and “Gender segregation and rape culture”.[14]

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References

[1] My writing about Islam can be found at https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/category/islam/.

[2] Sharmin, Ani J. “Dressing For (Divine) Success: A Shallow God and Coercion”. Posted on 19 November 2013 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 13 June 2015 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2013/11/19/dressing-for-divine-success/.

[3] Sharmin, Ani J. “On Discussing the Hijab and Including ex-Muslims”. Posted on 29 March 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 13 June 2015 from

https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/03/29/on-discussing-the-hijab-and-including-ex-muslims/.

[4] The five tweets can be found here: http://twitter.com/AniSharmin/status/609112319570931712.

[5] The six tweets can be found here: https://twitter.com/AniSharmin/status/609355188734984192.

[6] My essays and reviews about Ms. Marvel can be found at https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/category/ms-marvel/.

[7] Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #13 ‘Crushed, Part One’ (By G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa, Ian Herring, et al)”. Posted on 24 May 2015 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 13 June 2015 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2015/05/24/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-13-by-wilson-miyazawa-herring-et-al/.

[8] Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #14 ‘Crushed, Part Two’ (By G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa, Ian Herring, et al)”. Posted on 24 May 2015 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 13 June 2015 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2015/05/24/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-14-by-wilson-miyazawa-herring-et-al/.

[9] Kiran Öpal’s Twitter can be found at http://twitter.com/KiranOpal.

[10] Maryam M.-C.’s Twitter can be found at http://twitter.com/MaryNeedsNoHail.

[11] Eiynah’s Twitter can be found at http://twitter.com/NiceMangos.

[12] Öpal, Kiran Fatima. “Double standards of white feminists towards dissident women of colour from Muslim backgrounds”. Posted on 11 June 2015 at Kiran Öpal’s blog. Retrieved on 13 June 2015 from http://kiranopal.com/double-standards-of-white-feminists-towards-dissident-women-of-colour-from-muslim-backgrounds/.

[13] Öpal, Kiran Fatima. “Should Brown/Muslims Women Be Sacrified To Save Culture? The Case of Malala Yousafzai.” Posted on 6 November 2013 at Kiran Öpal’s blog. Retrieved on 13 June 2015 from http://kiranopal.com/malala-yousafzai-should-brown-women-be-sacrificed-to-save-culture/.

[14] Öpal, Kiran Fatima. “Gender segregation and rape culture”. Posted on 16 December 2013 at Kiran Öpal’s blog. Retrieved on 13 June 2015 from http://kiranopal.com/gender-segregation-and-rape-culture/.

Book Review: FCBD 2015 “All-New, All-Different Avengers” (By Mark Waid, Mahmud Asrar, Frank Martin, et al)

“Our point is, the Avengers exist to protect people. To preserve innocent life. That is job one.” (Sam Wilson/Captain America, FCBC 2015 “All-New All-Different Avengers”)[1]

Free Comic Book Day (FCBD) is a yearly event held on the first Saturday of May. As the name implies, it’s a day when free comic books are available at participating comics shops. Comics publishers often release specific free comic books for the event.[2] This year, one of Marvel’s FCBD books was an issue that contains two short preview stories for upcoming series: The All-New, All-Different Avengers and The Uncanny Inhumans.[3] Since I plan to read the former, I decided to review the first preview story.

Our new Avengers team features seven main characters: Sam Wilson/Captain America, Jane Foster/Thor, Iron Man, Vision, Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel, Miles Morales/Spider-Man, and Sam Alexander/Nova. (Whether or not the person inside the Iron Man armor is Tony Stark is unknown and has been the topic of fandom discussion. There’s a side comment in this issue that suggests it may not be him.) The story begins hilariously with Kamala Khan issuing the command “Avengers Assemble!” – followed by Miles Morales wondering if they’re allowed to say that yet. It’s Kamala Khan, Miles Morales, and Sam Alexander’s first day as Avengers.

Our heroes are investigating an attack on Manhattan’s Federal Reserve Bank. Sam Wilson sends the three teenagers inside to find the criminal while the four more-experienced Avengers fight the dragon outside. Unfortunately, things do not go as planned, and the villain Radioactive Man escapes. Initially, Sam is furious at the teenagers, but then they explain that the villain escaped while they rescued a civilian from falling to his death. After hearing this, Sam says that he knows he recruited the right people to join the team, because they gave first priority to saving a person’s life.

It’s a short but sweet story, and one that nicely sums up what it means to be a superhero. It will likely appeal to readers like myself who like superheroes who are trying to be idealistic and do the right thing – characters who are flawed and have seen horrors, but who still believe in good. The younger characters are clearly excited to be Avengers, and the adults are trying to give them advice and train them. The writing is funny and the artwork is bright and colorful. The creators efficiently used the limited space they had (half an issue) to tell a story that does what it’s meant to: get fans excited for the upcoming story about this new team.

The All-New, All-Different Avengers series is going to start after the Marvel Multiverse is finished crashing, burning, and reforming.[4] Despite the fact that the long title makes me laugh, I’m really looking forward to this story. This team consists of characters I’m excited to read more about. I tend to like superhero teams with some adults and some teenagers, because it provides the opportunity for a lot of heart and humor as the older, more experienced superheroes mentor (or try to mentor) the younger ones. This FCBD story has already caused me to start imagining possible stories in my mind.

Avengers Assemble!

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References

[1] Waid, Mark; Asrar, Mahmud; Martin, Frank; et al. Free Comic Book Day Vol. 2015 “The All-New, All-Different Avengers”. Marvel, 2 May 2015.

[2] “FCBD Site FAQs”. Free Comic Book Day. Retrieved on 24 May 2015 from http://www.freecomicbookday.com/Home/1/1/27/984.

[3] “Free Comic Book Day Vol 2015 Avengers”. Marvel Database. Retrieved on 24 May 2015 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Free_Comic_Book_Day_Vol_2015_Avengers.

[4] “Secret Wars”. Marvel Database. Retrieved on 24 May 2015 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Secret_Wars.

Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #14 “Crushed, Part Two” (By G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa, Ian Herring, et al)

“I’ve broken more rules in the last twelve hours than in the previous sixteen years of my life combined…and it feels pretty great.” (Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #14)[1]

“My parents love you, Bruno. You’re like their adopted gora nephew or something. They think you’re upstanding and hardworking and smart. They trust you. But they’d never be okay with you and Kamala – you know.” (Aamir Khan to Bruno Carrelli, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #14)[2]

At the end of issue #13, Kamran revealed to Kamala Khan that he is also an Inhuman.[3] Kamala is excited to find that there’s someone like herself in the universe – another “nerdy, Pakistani-American-slash-Inhuman”.[4] In this issue, Kamran shows up outside Kamala’s bedroom window, in a cute scene out of a romantic comedy, and they go out together. (He even puts her shoe back on, like she’s Cinderella, when her feet shrink back down to their usual size after her jump out of her bedroom window.) Kamran shows Kamala a spot that gives them a great view of the city, and then shows her his Inhuman powers as well. Kamala is incredibly awkward during what might unofficially be her first date, and we cringe and laugh along with her as she tries to find the right words to say and the right way to interpret the feelings that she’s having.

The next morning, Kamala is tired from her late night out with Kamran. Noticing her feelings towards Kamran leads to a conversation between Kamala’s friend Bruno Carrelli and her brother Aamir Khan, while Aamir is waiting at the bus stop for a ride to his job interview. (His father’s been trying to get him to find a job since issue #1).[5] Readers already know that Bruno loves Kamala, and it’s revealed that Aamir knows how Bruno feels. Aamir is quite insistent that a relationship between them will never work, because the Khan family is Muslim and the Carrelli family is Catholic. Aamir’s views really struck a nerve with me, because I have heard people in the real world make the same argument. People will argue that they are trying to preserve their culture as their reason for opposing romantic relationships between people of different religions, cultures, and races. It’s implied that mixing with others would somehow ruin the wonderful nature of their culture, and the culture of a person’s parents and ancestors is placed above individuals’ rights. People from a minority group (such as Muslims in the United States) can make it sound hypothetically reasonable, an attempt to preserve their traditions despite being a small group, but the real world effect on people can be very limiting and discriminatory. In this case, Kamala has not expressed a romantic interest in Bruno, so Aamir is not breaking up an actual couple, but Bruno comes across much more sympathetically to me, even as someone coming from a Muslim family. Though Aamir bothered me, the way the conversation was written was very realistic, and I appreciate that the creative team was willing to address this very contentious issue directly in the series.

The ending of this issue reveals another surprise about Kamran. He believes Inhumans are better than everyone else, and he kidnaps Kamala (tricking her by offering her a ride to school) to bring her to the group he’s a member of. The issue ends on another cliffhanger, as Kamala finds herself facing the trio of Lineage, Kaboom, and Kamran. It’s a fitting surprise, given the setup. There was a lot of focus in the beginning and middle of the issue on Kamala’s religious and racial background, and superficially, it would seem as though Kamran is very much like her. Superficially, she also has a similar background as the other Inhumans. However, the most important thing is what a person’s values are, and it turns out that Kamran doesn’t share Kamala’s views of helping others; he instead supports the idea that a group he’s a part of is superior to everyone else.

This was a fun middle issue, building on themes introduced in the previous issue and serving as a bridge to the conclusion of the story arc. Readers get to see Kamala trying to do regular everyday things, like going on a date and talking with a boy. Like anyone would be, she’s both excited and awkward. The story also addresses some experiences, both funny and serious, that many teenagers have while growing up.

###

References

[1] Wilson, G. Willow; Miyazawa, Takeshi; Herring, Ian; et al. Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #14 “Crushed, Part Two”. Marvel, 15 April 2015.

[2] Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #14.

[3] Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #13 (By G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa, Ian Herring, et al)”. Posted on 24 May 2015 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 24 May 2015 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2015/05/24/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-13-by-wilson-miyazawa-herring-et-al/.

[4] Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #14.

[5] Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #1 Meta Morphosis (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al)”. Posted on 26 June 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 24 May 2015 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/06/26/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-1-metamorphosis-by-wilson-alphona-herring-et-al/.

Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #13 “Crushed, Part One” (By G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa, Ian Herring, et al)

“You know those days you sometime have? The days that seem totally ordinary when you wake up, but by the time you go to sleep that night, your whole life is divided into before that day and after that day? This is one of those days.” (Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #13)[1]

“Just when I was starting to get comfortable with the idea of being Inhuman…I find out that even aliens have their fanatical extremists.” (Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #13)[2]

After some Valentine’s Day superheroics,[3] Kamala Khan does some training in New Attilan and then goes home to find out that Bushra Aunty and Irfan Uncle (old family friends) are moving back to Jersey City with their teenaged son Kamran, who is apparently a very impressive young man (according to her parents). Kamala initially doesn’t have a very good impression of Kamran (based on her memories from when they were five years old) but when she sees him, she immediately develops a crush on him. He’s handsome, plays the same MMORPG video game (World of Battlecraft) that she plays, and likes Bollywood films (such as Sholay, which is an actual movie).[4] He seems perfect. What could possibly go wrong?

During the story, Kamala convinces her parents to her go to the DVD store with Kamran by insisting that her older brother Aamir will go with them. During their outing, Aamir tries to keep them from getting too close together, insisting that, “When a man and woman are alone together, the third is Shaytan!”[5](This is something I’ve actually heard people say in the real world, by the way.) While Aamir is trying to give Kamala a lecture, a villain called Kaboom shows up and Kamala has to sneak away to transform into Ms. Marvel. Kamala has a cool Superman moment as she reveals that she’s been wearing her uniform under her clothes in order to be better prepared to face villains. Kamala wins the fight (after telling Kaboom to “take your new world order crap back to Manhattan, where it belongs”),[6] but feels conflicted about it, since she seriously injured Kaboom. The issue then ends with a surprise regarding one of the characters.

This issue, like many others in the series, contains some passages that address what it’s like to be a first-generation child of immigrants – specifically a first-generation daughter of immigrant parents with some socially conservative views. Kamala’s parents are hesitant to let her spend time alone with Kamran, even for a trip to the store, and only relent when Aamir agrees to go along. This is an experience that many girls and women can relate to, when male family members are given more freedom and even given authority over their female family members. The story also shows how teenagers try their best, given the beliefs of their parents, to find a way to maneuver around their parents’ expectations, to find their own identity, and to make their own decisions. Both unquestioning obedience of parents and total rejection of the family are not usually the option that people take (though the second one may be needed in certain situations). Usually, kids and teenagers try to find a way to make their own decisions despite their parents’ disapproval while also trying to stay close to a family that they care about. As I’ve mentioned previously, I appreciate that Kamala’s decisions are her own.[7] Her story is not an apologetic tactic for either Muslims or those who would discriminate against Muslims. She’s trying to be herself, just as her fans are trying to be themselves, in a world that tries to stop them.

This issue also continues Kamala’s journey to figure out the best way to be a superhero. Related to her conversation with Logan/Wolverine in issue # 7 about whether it’s possible to help people with hurting others,[8] Kamala again finds that being a superhero is not as easy as it may seem. It may be easy (especially with superpowers) to punch someone as hard as possible, but it’s not as easy to see an ambulance take them away and still think of oneself as a hero who fights for justice. Superhero fans know that with great power comes great responsibility,[9] as Benjamin Parker said to his nephew Peter Parker/Spider-Man,[10] and Kamala Khan is learning that as she tries to figure out how to be the best superhero (and the best person) she can be.

Both the artwork and writing in this issue were really fun. G. Willow Wilson’s writing was wonderful, as usual. She can make the readers laugh, roll their eyes, and feel shocked along with Kamala all within a few panels. Takeshi Miyazawa and Ian Herring’s artwork was really great. I really like the way the characters are depicted in this issue; the feeling and themes of the book are really portrayed well. The cover art by Marguerite Sauvage shows Kamala looking different than she usually does, which surprised me (especially due to proportions), but I liked the little touches like mehndi on her hand and older comics issues of Ms. Marvel in the background.

This was a fun issue that’s setting up a three-part story arc. At this point, issues #14 and #15 have already been released, so I know what happens later in the story (to be discussed in the reviews of those issues). I will say here that this issue does a good job of foreshadowing later events in addition to being yet another really enjoyable installment in a great series. If my reviews are repetitive on this point, it’s because the series really is that good, and I highly recommend it. The first two trade paperbacks (collecting the first eleven issues between them) have been released so far; new fans have a great opportunity to join in the fun.

###

References

[1] Wilson, G. Willow; Miyazawa, Takeshi; Herring, Ian; et al. Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #13 “Crushed, Part One”. Marvel, 11 March 2015.

[2] Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #13.

[3] Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #12 ‘Loki in Love’ (By G. Willow Wilson, Elmo Bondoc, Ian Herring, et al)”. Posted on 10 March 2015 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 24 May 2015 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2015/03/10/book-review-ms-marvel-3-12-by-wilson-bondoc-herring-et-al/.

[4] “Sholay”. Wikipedia. Retrieved on 24 May 2015 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sholay.

[5] Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #13.

[6] Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #13.

[7] Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #9 ‘Generation Why, Part Two’ (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al)”. Posted on 15 December 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 24 May 2015 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/12/15/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-9-generation-why-part-two-by-wilson-alphona-herring-et-al/.

[8] Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #7 ‘Healing Factor, Part Two’ (By G. Willow Wilson, Jacob Wyatt, Ian Herring, et al)”. Posted on 26 September 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 24 May 2015 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/09/26/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-7-healing-factor-part-two-by-wilson-wyatt-herring-et-al/.

[9] “Uncle Ben”. Wikipedia. Retrieved on 24 May 2015 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncle_Ben#.22With_great_power_comes_great_responsibility.22.

[10] “Benjamin Parker (Earth-616)”. Marvel Database. Retrieved on 24 May 2015 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Benjamin_Parker_(Earth-616).

“Being A Mutant And Gay”: Thoughts on All-New X-Men Vol. 1 #40

“That’s one of the good things about being here as opposed to back where we came from. I don’t think anymore here cares.

“You think?”

“Not like back then.”

“That’s probably true.”

(Jean Grey and Bobby Drake, All-New X-Men Vol. 1 #40)[1]

I picked up All-New X-Men #40 expecting an enjoyable, hopefully well-written and well-illustrated, story that would provide a conclusion to the story arcs that had been happening to the time-displaced original five X-Men. I figured there would probably be some mildly fun mini-adventure before the Marvel Multiverse crashes and burns iridescently leading into Secret Wars.[2] I hadn’t seen the leaked pages and couldn’t have known about the surprise revelation.

Bobby Drake, the X-Man known as Iceman, is gay.

This revelation made me incredibly cheerful. One of the reasons I love the X-Men is the metaphor for marginalized demographics, but one of the unfortunate realities of many stories with this type of metaphor is that they often don’t include real-world diversity with characters from real-world marginalized demographics. There have been efforts to make improvements in media representation, and there has been progress made. There have been a lot of new X-Men characters over the years, and several creators have tried to be more inclusive in their stories. In this case, though, Bobby Drake is an established character who’s been around for more than fifty years at this point. He’s been an X-Man since X-Men Vol. 1 #1 in 1963.[3]

I’ve often wanted my favorite characters in stories to be LGBTQ+, even when I was younger. I’ve written before about wishing that the Power Rangers were queer.[4] Regarding Bobby Drake specifically, I’ve actually written (admittedly amateurishly-written) slash fan fiction with him as a gay character.[5] For this reason, the fact that it was Bobby specifically who came out made me smile. It may seem like a silly thing, but it’s incredibly rare for a queer fan to find out that a long-standing character they imagined was queer is actually queer in canon. We go into the story and into fan fiction knowing it’s never going to happen in canon. Sometimes, it’s good to be proven wrong.

There’s a line of dialogue in this issue that I think captures what this is, what it means. Warren Worthington III/Angel says to Laura Kinney/X-23, “This is my do-over.”[6] Though he says it for himself, I think that applies so much to the revelation about Bobby and to this series. All-New X-Men is basically a do-over for the original X-Men. Telling a story that’s a retelling or set in an alternate universe or (in this case) involves classic characters who’ve been picked up from decades past and moved forward in time is an opportunity to makes things better, make things right. It’s an opportunity to recognize that the story could be improved. Giving though to the societal issues that have occurred since the publication of the original and taking that into account when creating a retelling can help create a better book. While All-New X-Men has had its ups and downs, I definitely think that the decision to reveal that Bobby is queer was a good decision. In the quote at the beginning of this essay, Jean tells Bobby that things are better in the time period they’re currently in than they were back in their original timeline. It’s nice to have some canon acknowledgement that there was a problem with stories that never included any queer characters.

I sincerely hope that the increase in diversity continues, including more characters that are from all the parts of the queer community. I know that there has been disagreement and discussion regarding the way that this story was told, including the way that Jean confronts Bobby about his sexual orientation and the dismissing of the idea that Bobby might be bisexual rather than gay. What I hope, though, is that there will be more LGBTQ+ characters coming out of the closet in the future, showing a wide variety of experiences. Because the world needs superheroes, and queer superheroes shouldn’t have to hide in the closet. Hopefully, someday, none of their fans will have to, either.

#

Recommended Reading/Viewing/Listening

Rachel Edidin and Miles Stokes host an excellent X-Men podcast called Rachel and Miles X-Plain the X-Men. They also post book reviews and essays. Their review for last week’s X-books included a discussion on issue #40.[7] Rachel Edidin also wrote a great essay regarding this topic titled “On Coming Out, Queer Identity, and Continuity in All-New X-Men #40”.[8]

###

References

[1] Bendis, Brian Michael; Asrar, Mahmud; Beredo, Rain; et al. All-New X-Men Vol. 1 #40. Marvel, 22 April 2015.

[2] Secret Wars. Marvel Database. Retrieved on 26 April 2015 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Secret_Wars.

[3] X-Men Vol 1 1. Marvel Database. Retrieved on 26 April 2015 http://marvel.wikia.com/X-Men_Vol_1_1.

[4] Sharmin, Ani J. “Queer Power Rangers”. Posted on 18 January 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 26 April 2015 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/01/18/queer-power-rangers/.

[5] Geek Squared 1307. Of Fire and Ice. FanFiction.net. Retrieved on 26 April 2015 from http://www.fanfiction.net/s/3259185/1/Of-Fire-and-Ice.

[6] Bendis, Brian Michael; Asrar, Mahmud; Beredo, Rain; et al. All-New X-Men Vol. 1 #40. Marvel, 22 April 2015.

[7] Edidin, Rachel and Stokes, Miles, “Rachel and Miles Review the X-Men, Episode 34.” Rachel and Miles X-Plain the X-Men, 24 April 2015. Retrieved on 26 April 2015 from http://www.rachelandmiles.com/xmen/?p=3495.

[8] Edidin, Rachel. “On Coming Out, Queer Identity, and Continuity in All-New X-Men #40”. Rachel and Miles X-Plain the X-Men, 25 April 2015. Retrieved on 26 April 2015 from http://www.rachelandmiles.com/xmen/?p=3503.

Book Review: S.H.I.E.L.D. Vol. 3 #2 “The Animator” (By Mark Waid, Humberto Ramos, Victor Olazaba, Edgar Delgado, et al)

“I lurk on every super-hero fan site there is. I admin on two. I know my stuff.”

“Clearly.”

(Kamala Khan and Phil Coulson, S.H.I.E.L.D. Vol. 3 #2)[1]

“It’s all right. Don’t panic. I can guess what you were about to say, anyway. Your family doesn’t know about your…other life, right? I can respect the position that puts you in.”

(Jemma Simmons to Kamala Khan, S.H.I.E.L.D. Vol. 3 #2)[2]

Our intrepid young heroine Kamala Khan makes a guest appearance in yet another book, after her visit with Peter Parker/Spider-Man[3] and her time teaming up with Logan/Wolverine in issue #6[4] and issue #7[5] of her own book. This time, Kamala teams up with Agent Jemma Simmons[6] and Agent Phil Coulson[7] of the Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement Logistic Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.) when they are on a mission at Coles Academic High School, where she is a student. This volume of the S.H.I.E.L.D. comics,[8] though set on Earth-616 (the Mainstream Continuity of Marvel Comics),[9] is very much inspired by the television show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.[10] set on Earth-199999 (better known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe).[11] Issue #2 “The Animator” was released on 14 January 2015, technically in between Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 issue #10 and issue #11. Since Ms. Marvel was in the middle of a story arc at the time, this seemed a better time to review it, since issue #12 (the topic of my previous Ms. Marvel review)[12] was a one-part story and issue #13 begins a three-part story arc.

Agent Jemma Simmons goes undercover as substitute teacher Ms. Stenanko in Kamala’s AP Biology class. It becomes apparent rather soon that there are some mysterious things going on at Coles Academic High School, involving supervillain gadget contraband, including animated pizza dough. There’s plenty of action, but the best parts are the character moments, which are both hilarious and touching, as Kamala interacts with the agents. Kamala gets to use her nerdy superhero knowledge and superheroics to contribute to the mission after the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents are initially reluctant to let her participate in the fight due to her age. Readers also find out some more about Jemma Simmons, whose Earth-199999 counterpart[13] is one of my favorite characters on the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television show. She and Kamala have a touching moment at the end of the issue, regarding their need to hide their secret jobs from their families. I love it when new superheroes meet adults who have had similar experiences, and when the adults can provide some advice to their younger counterparts.

The writing and artwork in the book are fun. It’s enjoyable to see Kamala having a chance to explore some more of the Marvel universe in which she lives, earning notches in her belt and having the opportunities to meet with other heroes. There were certain parts that resonated due to my familiarity with the television show with alternate-universe versions of the S.H.I.E.L.D. characters, but I don’t know how this issue ties in with the other issues in this series. We don’t get to see how this story might influence the overall storyline or other relevant information; I’m especially curious about S.H.I.E.L.D.’s knowledge regarding Kamala, which Agent Coulson mentions briefly. Overall, it was a fun side story.

I’m really enjoying reading about Kamala meeting different characters in the Marvel Universe. I’d recommend this issue to fans of Kamala Khan, even those who may not be reading the rest of the S.H.I.E.L.D. series. I’m looking forward to reading the books Kamala visits next.

###

References

[1] Waid, Mark; Ramos, Humberto; Olazaba, Victor; Delgado, Edgar; et al. S.H.I.E.L.D. Vol. 3 #2 “The Animator”. Marvel, 14 January 2015.

[2] Waid, Mark; Ramos, Humberto; Olazaba, Victor; Delgado, Edgar; et al. S.H.I.E.L.D. Vol. 3 #2 “The Animator”. Marvel, 14 January 2015.

[3] Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 3 #7 ‘Ms. Marvel Team-Up; and #8 ‘Ms. Adventures in Babysitting’ (By Dan Slott, Christos Gage, Guiseppe Camuncoli, Cam Smith, Antonio Fabella, et al)”. Posted on 21 December 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 19 April 2015 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/12/21/book-review-amazing-spider-man-vol-3-7-and-8/.

[4] Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #6 ‘Healing Factor, Part One’ (By G. Willow Wilson, Jacob Wyatt, Ian Herring, et al)”. Posted on 13 September 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 19 April 2015 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/09/13/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-6-healing-factor-part-one-by-wilson-wyatt-herring-et-al/.

[5] Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #7 ‘Healing Factor, Part Two’ (By G. Willow Wilson, Jacob Wyatt, Ian Herring, et al)”. Posted on 26 September 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 19 April 2015 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/09/26/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-7-healing-factor-part-two-by-wilson-wyatt-herring-et-al/

[6] Jemma Simmons (Earth-616). Marvel Database. Retrieved on 20 April 2015 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Jemma_Simmons_(Earth-616).

[7] Phillip Coulson (Earth-616). Marvel Database. Retrieved on 20 April 2015 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Phillip_Coulson_(Earth-616).

[8] S.H.I.E.L.D. Vol 3. Marvel Database. Retrieved on 19 April 2015 from http://marvel.wikia.com/S.H.I.E.L.D._Vol_3.

[9] Earth-616. Marvel Database wiki. Retrieved on 19 April 2015 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Earth-616.

[10] Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Marvel Database wiki. Retrieved on 19 April 2015 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Marvel’s_Agents_of_S.H.I.E.L.D.

[11] Earth-199999. Marvel Database wiki. Retrieved on 19 April 2015 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Earth-199999.

[12] Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #12 ‘Loki in Love’ (By G. Willow Wilson, Elmo Bondoc, Ian Herring, et al)”. Posted on 10 March 2015 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 19 April 2015 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2015/03/10/book-review-ms-marvel-3-12-by-wilson-bondoc-herring-et-al/.

[13] Jemma Simmons (Earth-199999). Marvel Database. Retrieved on 20 April 2015 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Jemma_Simmons_(Earth-199999).

Book Review: Siddhartha Mukherjee’s “The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer”

“In a sense, this is a military history—one in which the adversary is formless, timeless, and pervasive. Here, too, there are victories and losses, campaigns upon campaigns, heroes and hubris, survival and resilience—and inevitably, the wounded, the condemned, the forgotten, the dead. In the end, cancer truly emerges, as a nineteenth-century physician once wrote in a book’s frontispiece, as the ‘emperor of all maladies, the king of terrors.’” (Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Emperor of All Maladies)[1]

There are some books in each reader’s life which leave a great impression, touching various aspects of the reader’s life and becoming entwined with certain experiences and memories. Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer is one such book for me. A non-fiction history of science book about cancer, it’s a volume that gives one of the most dreaded diseases that humans face its due. I decided I absolutely had to write a review of this.

Mukherjee covers a very long range of time and a variety of topics. For the most part, the book focuses on the history of the scientific research and discoveries made about cancer, but there are also sections focusing on political discussions about cancer, the War on Cancer, and advocacy by various groups. Interspersed throughout are stories about Mukherjee’s oncology fellowship and some of his patients. The book is just as much about the actions of human beings as it is about the disease. These illnesses, after all, affect and are fought by human beings. We see how people have been greatly motivated to figure out this mysterious group of illnesses over the years. We see how human fallibility affects the decisions of all humans, even those who are incredibly intelligent. There are triumphs and failures and the human ability to persevere. There’s also a generous amount of epigraphs throughout the book, at the beginning of each part and chapter. Mukherjee manages to make all of these passages fit together beautifully. I became teary several times while reading this book, both due to sadness and happiness, grief and inspiration.

One of the things conveyed well in this book is the way that science progresses, with people making discoveries that build upon the discoveries of the past. The book covers the efforts to understand the causes and characteristics of cancer as well as the efforts to invent treatments for it, including explanations of how these are all intertwined. There are also explanations of how scientific discoveries in other areas, from clothing dyes to weapons of war, inspired scientists to look into topics that led to discoveries related to cancer. Humans have been affected by cancer and trying to figure it out for a very long time, and the book gives an appreciation of this lengthy struggle, from thousands of years ago today.

Mukherjee’s writing in this book is absolutely amazing; it is of that quality that makes me despair of never writing anything equal to it. The many topics discussed in the book are tied together beautifully, with one section leading to the next in a way that obviously required a lot of planning and work but seems inevitable due to the way it’s written. It’s a wonderful thing, to read a book that discusses such an important topic and that is also so beautifully written that I wanted to keep reading more. It’s also great to find well-written books that discuss non-fiction topics, such as science or history, in a way that is as enjoyable to read as literature as it is educational. It’s my hope that books combining non-fiction topics with good writing will increase interest in and knowledge of important topics.

This book is moderately accessible to a lay audience. There is a glossary of scientific terms at the back of the book; readers may or may not need to refer to the glossary depending on their background knowledge. One need not be an expert in oncology or even a healthcare professional to understand the book, and the author knows he’s explaining a subject that he knows a great deal about to those who are not experts in it. However, having some basic understanding about science, especially biology, is helpful in understanding some of the content and may help add some depth to some of the passages. Those with a passion for science or history should definitely read this book, and even those who may not have a prior interest may find that this book inspires them to read more.

To be human is to be faced with our mortality, and one of the most feared causes of death is cancer. In this book, Mukherjee writes about cancer in a way that shows an appreciation of its complexity and its affect on humanity.

This book is fantastic, and I definitely recommend reading it.

###

References

[1] Mukherjee, Siddhartha. The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. New York: Scribner, 2010, Author’s Note, p. xiv.

Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #12 “Loki in Love” (By G. Willow Wilson, Elmo Bondoc, Ian Herring, et al)

“Friendship is something real and good and anybody who doesn’t understand that needs a dictionary.” (Bruno Carrelli, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #12)[1]

“I can’t believe I let you drag me to this patriarchal capitalist display of fake affection.” (Nakia Bahadir, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #12)[2]

Contrary to the title of this Valentine’s Day issue, the story actually does not focus on Loki being in love with anyone. After the end of the previous story arc,[3] Freyja, the All-Mother of Asgard, sends Loki to Midgard (Earth) to investigate and find out if any of the students at Coles Academic High School are still allied with the Inventor. (There’s a hilarious bit of dialogue about New Jersey having been “too long neglected by the gods”.[4] I think this is likely related to G. Willow Wilson’s comments about Kamala feeling like she’s a second-string superhero from Jersey City, NJ which is in the shadow of New York, NY.[5]) Loki shows up in Jersey City right before the Valentine’s Day Dance at the high school and proceeds to interfere in people’s love lives rather than working on the mission he was sent there to complete.

This issue was hilarious. From Kamala claiming she should get extra credit for physical education (which she’s failing) because of her superheroics to Bruno calling Loki a “Hipster Viking” to Kamala and Nakia’s conversations,[6] this issue kept me smiling all the way through. Despite my enjoyment of the previous issue of the series, I genuinely wasn’t expecting this and was pleasantly surprised. There’s always the issue of how to handle a Valentine’s Day story without being too cliché – either by creating a bland love story without anything to distinguish it from the many other similar ones or by being so cynical that even some people who don’t celebrate the holiday will think it’s a bit much. On top of all of this, in a story with a Muslim protagonist whose parents don’t let her date, there are a lot of ways the story can go wrong. I was kind of nervous about how this would be handled.

The creators deal with this by situation by focusing a great deal on friendship in this story. There’s lots of interaction between Kamala and Nakia and Kamala and Bruno. Although Bruno likes Kamala and wants to ask her to the dance, he still defends friendship when his brother Vick brings up the “friend zone” argument. Kamala and Nakia are hanging out together and discussing the mysterious love letter (written by Loki on behalf of Bruno, despite Bruno’s protests) that Kamala received. We get to see these two friends talk about boys and dating in a relatable way, their experiences obviously influenced by their families’ religious beliefs but also similar to teenagers of other religions as well. When they sneak out to the dance, Loki is spiking the punch with truth serum, and Kamala has to become Ms. Marvel to fight him. I feel I should add that there are also a nice couple of panels showing a same-sex couple at the dance, which I thought was nice; as always, I hope that there are more LGBTQ+ in more stories. My only criticism of the way the story in this issue is handled is that the issue of Kamala’s differences with her parents regarding relationships cannot be put off forever. However, it does seem like the upcoming story may deal with this,[7] and I hope that it’s addressed well there. Overall, I really liked the creators’ approach to this issue, because they took what could have been a boring or frustrating concept (a holiday issue) and made it fun.

This issue has artwork by Elmo Bondoc, and I really liked the way that the artist drew the story. Though I often get used to seeing the characters drawn a certain way by the main artist, the artwork in the issue immediately pulled me into the narrative and fascinated me. The coloring was by the usual colorist for the series, Ian Herring, so the artwork still had similarities with the previous issues. I wasn’t as big a fan of the cover art by Kris Anka, mostly due to the way that the characters’ faces are drawn. The writing was lots of fun, and G. Willow Wilson’s work continues to be among my favorites.

This issue was a one-shot holiday story, and as far as holiday stories go, it was rather impressive. I enjoyed the focus on character development, fun moments between friends, and a storyline that was connected with previous development. I’m definitely looking forward to the next issue, which is due out tomorrow.[8]

###

References

[1] Wilson, G. Willow; Bondoc, Elmo; Herring, Ian; et al. Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #12 “Loki in Love”. Marvel, 18 February 2015.

[2] Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #12.

[3] Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #11 ‘Generation Why, Part Four’ (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al)”. Posted on 9 March 2015 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 9 March 2015 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2015/03/09/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-11-by-wilson-alphona-herring-et-al/.

[4] Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #12.

[5] Arrant, Chris. “G. Willow Wilson’s New MS. MARVEL – Teen, Muslim, Jersey Girl, Fan Girl!” Posted on 6 November 2013 at Newsarama. Retrieved on 9 March 2015 from http://www.newsarama.com/19488-g-willow-wilson-s-new-ms-marvel-teen-muslim-jersey-girl-fangirl.html.

[6] Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #12.

[7] “Ms. Marvel Vol 3 13”. Marvel Database. Retrieved on 10 March 2015 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Ms._Marvel_Vol_3_13.

[8] “Ms. Marvel Vol 3 13”. Marvel Database. Retrieved on 10 March 2015 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Ms._Marvel_Vol_3_13.

Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #11 “Generation Why, Part Four” (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al)

“It’s handy to have friends who are as weird as you are.” (Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #11)[1]

“The world comes at you fast. You gotta stay light on your feet. Know who your friends are. And never be afraid to ask for help. Nobody has the right to give up on a whole generation before it’s even had a chance to prove itself. We’re all in this together, and we gotta remember that.” (Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #11)[2]

In this, the last chapter of the “Generation Why” story arc, Kamala Khan and her crew of teenage allies (recruited to her cause in the previous issue)[3] face off against the Inventor in order to save the teenagers he has kidnapped and tricked into joining his cause. Readers find out with Kamala that her friend Nakia Bahadir is one of the teenagers who have been kidnapped by the Inventor, and Kamala must think of a clever strategy to fight against the Inventor’s robots. This issue was mostly a fight scene, but with lot of quiet moments as well.

I’ve been enjoying the way that the creators of Ms. Marvel handle the fight scenes. There’s an emphasis on coming up with a clever way to fight the villains, including teamwork and strategy, not just going in punching everybody. Kamala uses the strategy she learned previously, making herself smaller instead of making herself bigger, in order to fight the robot from the inside out.[4] As with the previous issue, there’s a nice message of people working together. Kamala and the other teens work together and also get assistance from the police and paramedics in the end. I love superhero stories in which it’s not all about the main character always saving the day and instead about people and their choices. Most important is people’s decisions to do the right thing. It’s more about helping people instead of about detailed and lengthy fight scenes. Personally, I do sometimes enjoy the longer fight scenes in other books, as long as the book also has an actual story with character development,[5] but I also enjoy books like Ms. Marvel that focus moreso on other aspects.

This issue also continues to show the difficulties in the life of a superhero. There’s a heartbreaking moment when the paramedics are taking the captured teenagers to provide them the medical care they need. In a panel with a close up of Nakia unconscious on a stretcher, Kamala realizes, “I can’t go to the hospital with my best friend. She’ll recognize me. And that’s when it hits me. This isn’t just a costume anymore. This is a parallel life.”[6] Superheroes with secret identities always have this problem of having to live two lives, keeping secrets from the people closest to them. It’s a very touching moment that acknowledges this theme with a young character for whom this is a new experience.

One of the things I love about the Ms. Marvel series is how unabashed and thoughtful it is in its inclusion of positive messages for readers. There will be moments in the story that are obviously intended to have a positive message, especially for teenaged readers. This is done in a way that seems true and relatable, with Kamala’s internal monologue narration containing many observations that are similar to things that I remember thinking as well. The reason I love superhero stories is because of those positive messages, and so I appreciate that they are delivered in an effective way in a good story.

The ending of the story suggests that (of course) there will be more stories to come – because as any fan of stories about heroes vs. villains knows, evil never dies. There’s always another fight, another obstacle to overcome, and another chance to do the right thing. This book was a nice ending to this story arc and tied together various elements that were set up earlier in the story. As always, I would definitely recommend reading this series.

###

References

[1] Wilson, G. Willow; Alphona, Adrian; Herring, Ian; et al. Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #11 “Generation Why, Part Four”. Marvel, 4 February 2015.

[2] Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #11.

[3] Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #10 ‘Generation Why, Part Three’ (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al)”. Posted on 19 January 2015 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 9 March 2015 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2015/01/19/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-10-by-wilson-alphona-herring-et-al/.

[4] Wilson, G. Willow; Alphona, Adrian; Herring, Ian; et al. “Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #5 ‘Urban Legend’ (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al)”. Posted on 8 September 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 9 March 2015 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/09/08/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-5-urban-legend-by-wilson-alphona-herring-et-al/.

[5] Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Uncanny Avengers Vol. 1 #1-5 (By Rick Remender, John Cassaday, Oliver Coipel, Laura Martin, et al)”. Posted on 25 November 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 9 March 2015 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/11/25/book-review-uncanny-avengers-vol-1-1-to-5-by-remender-cassaday-coipel-martin-et-al/.

[6] Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #11.

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