Kamala Khan’s journey as a Muslim American Fangirl turned superhero is the best thing about Marvel’s Avengers.
Lately, there’s been outrage about inclusivity in entertainment in both movies and gaming. Yet, while Kamala Khan could’ve easily been a mere token checkbox off a representation list, it’s evident mere minutes into the gameplay of Marvel’s Avengers how that’s not that case whatsoever. Because Kamala Khan is not only the player’s eyes into this Avenger’s world, she’s the heart of this team of Avengers too. A hero who stumbles into her powers with an innocent but endearing grace. A fangirl who loves these heroes as much as we do. Someone who never asked to be a hero. As an inhuman, she can change the size and shape of her body, stretch to almost limitless potential, and also heal wounds. Though she does, on occasion, awkwardly pass out when she embiggens herself too large.
I talked only briefly about its importance in my review of the game, but I’d like to talk about her importance more here because Kamala Khan is also a Muslim American girl. The first to get her own comic, and now, too, the first to be the lead in a AAA video game. An Avenger from my home state of New Jersey, what’s startling is that I knew so many girls like Kamala growing up. She’s a tremendously sweet and geeky voice representing a set of Asian Americans, such as myself, who are real people, which is why her performance and storyline felt genuinely surprising because it felt like, for once, an authentic representation.
Embracing Culture. Fair warning, there will be significant spoilers here on out.
Immediately, hearing Kamala call her father Abu, and he, in turn calling her Beta, connected with the culture. It grounded the game in its roots in such a subtle way that it didn’t feel stereotyped whatsoever. Instead, we jump right into Avenger’s con while being introduced to a simple cultural convention. It felt real. And cool. A-day really brought out the family sentiment, which we then see translated into Kamala’s adaption of her superhero persona, using a burkini as part of her costume.
As a superhero, Kamala goes through the wringer, Encountering A.I.M., surviving a terrifyingly angry Hulk, and even locating and aiding a rock-bottom Tony Stark. Interestingly, it isn’t her religion or background, but rather status as an inhuman, which begins Marvel’s talk of prejudice. But Kamala rises above it. Finding the anthill resistance and joining the cause. She’s the face of a new type of superhero in the fight against the oppression of A.I.M. An organization that wants to put away all the Inhumans. A group revealed to be supported by a secret US Senator.
The main lesson Kamala takes out of this game is a tried-and-true one we’ve seen Marvel do again and again: always to be true to yourself. An excellent lesson for every American teen growing up in a divided and confusing world with its myriad of problems.
Is Captain America Unamerican?
The answer is no. But I do believe the game did some maneuvering to uplift the representation and undermine some of its characters. Where I think a more extended campaign mode would’ve done service to every Avenger; I believe that it’s no coincidence that both Captain America and Thor, the two Aryan-Cis-White-Males featured in this game, are unlocked only towards the end. It does seem a tad pandering, and I do think there was plenty of space to have us see Kamala interact with these two beloved heroes. Personally, I’m irritated that they didn’t fit in all the Avengers in terms of the grander story.
Though on the positive side, I also found it endearing that Captain America is the technical superhero daddy of all Inhumans, including Kamala Khan, thus proving that Inhumans are about as All-American as can be, with Captain’s super-soldier serum bloodline being the game’s technical catalyst (as it is in many Marvel videogames, but I liked how clever the writing went in this one). And so, there should be some sort of larger arc between Kamala and Captain that the story seemed to have just missed.
Women Who Get The Job Done
On the positive sides of female representation, our two female characters get their moments. Black Widow kill-shots M.O.D.O.K. before Kamala goes full God Of War in the game’s climax. Though it should be noted, the killing blow delivered by women was in many ways, a way to ignore the fact we just played most of the final levels as the big four: Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, and Thor, while Widow and Kamala were nowhere to be seen.
But they get their moment… albeit, separately from the core crew.
I do hope the DLC has something for the ladies when Captain Marvel arrives. Now that the Kree sentry launched at the end of the game, it’ll be interesting to see if this instigates the Kree and Skrull War, not unlike Captain Marvel and the first Avenger’s movie. Likewise, I’d love to see Captain Marvel, Black Widow, Kamala, and Kate Bishop have their own Avengers moment just like the boys had.
Why Kamala Ties It All Together
Kamala works in a way Spider-Man works in the MCU. The only difference is that she’s a Muslim-American teenager. But it works all for the same reasons. She’s the voice of a new generation of superheroes. And with Marvel’s next phase and upcoming comic lines, it’s impressive that the gaming industry chooses Kamala’s story. But unanimously, from almost every reviewer, without a doubt: it worked. She’s the best thing about the story.