Do you know what super villains Ms. Marvel fought in her latest issue? She fought Gerrymandering and apathy. FOR REAL. I put the comic down as convinced as ever that G. Willow Wilson is one of the most important comic book writers of our modern age. I promise I’m not being hyperbolic. Rather, this issue is a perfect example of why we need her writing. I wanted to spotlight the four comics I could never cut from my pull list as I count down to my 100th post. I literally just finished Ms. Marvel #13 a moment ago (I know, I’m behind) and knew I had to start here. How could I ever stop reading a comic that leaves me so inspired??
I hope this doesn’t sound cliché or contrived but I felt a rush of empowerment and joy as I came to the end of this issue. This experience is (beautifully and thankfully) part of my regular experience of reading Ms, Marvel and it’s one of the reasons I could never imagine reading comics and not reading this book. But it felt especially relevant and important now. G. Willow Wilson regularly dares to have Kamala Khan tackle not only the dangerous and troubling issues of our time (racism, Islamaphobia, governmental corruption) but she has the courage to envision and present optimistic and practical solutions to the problems. If reading this as an adult is so life affirming and energizing, I can only imagine what it’s doing to the developing perspectives of the children who read this comic.
Imagine growing up with superhero stories that didn’t just show good (a superhero) defeating evil (some crazy bad guy, monster, etc.) but ones that showed good (superheroes and “ordinary” people, often high schoolers themselves) challenging and triumphing over evil (bad guys sure but also systemic corruption, apathy, ignorance, and hatred). This is the age in which we live! Comic books are doing this now thanks to G. Willow Wilson. THIS is art that refuses to talk down to its audience. Rather, it challenges us all to rise up to see – and ACTIVELY ENGAGE – the world as it does. In so doing, it makes us believe in our very real potential.
The issue finds Kamala in English class when she learns her new brother-in-law Gabe has been transferred into her school as a result of a sudden, surprise redistricting…on the eve of the mayoral election. Kamala senses something’s amiss so, as Ms. Marvel, she contacts her friend Mike. Mike explores the most likely effects of the Gerrymandering and tells Kamala that it could help the mayor’s opponent – Chuck Worthy – in the election. Kamala immediately recognizes him as the “Hydra Hipster” who was behind the Hope Yards program to “revitalize” Jersey City by raising rents, forcing local residents out of their homes and businesses, and whitewashing once thriving ethic neighborhoods.
“And that’s when it all begins to fall into place,” she thinks. “Hydra lives up to its name…cut off one head, it grows two more.” Kamala stopped Hope Yards but the forces behind it have returned to try and claim public office and, with it, do far more damage. With that in mind, the idea of the Hydra becomes the perfect allegory for governmental corruption and social sin. When we understand the nature of one problem we see the many, many other corruptions that allowed it to exist in the first place…and then we see the greater number of corruptions flowing from it. To defeat even one is complex, as corruption and systemic injustice exist in a web woven through our society. And even if we can begin to solve one problem, there appear to be a near infinite number to replace it. The odds of success, of triumphing over these systemic sins, seem practically nonexistent.
Personally, I live in Pennsylvania’s Third Congressional District. In the 2008 election that brought President Obama into office, Kathy Dahlkemper (D) defeated the six term Republican incumbent Phil English. She would lose her re-election bid to Republican Mike Kelly in 2010…and shortly after the 2010 census the districts were redrawn, cutting the Third in odd angles to separate the Democrats’ voting population while grouping far more traditionally conservative, Republican areas together. Mike Kelly’s been in office ever since. This is just one example of hundreds that exist in our country’s history. Personally, I have no idea how Gerrymandering is still legal (or ever was legal for that matter) but I love that G. Willow Wilson is teaching kids what it is!
It is very, very easy to become defeated in the face of the systemic corruption in our country. Gerrymandering is but one, tiny little issue. When we look at how those in power have the legal ability to redraw voting districts to maximize their ability to stay in power it can feel frustrating at best and soul-crushingly overwhelming at worst. But then you add on how we have a president-elect who’s choosing a Cabinet reeking of cronyism, nearly devoid of qualifications save wealth and patronage; a media that normalizes everything from corruption to fascism; and a government and American public that is either okay with or carelessly ignorant of Russian interference in our presidential election (to name only a few problems flickering through our current events) and the setting of anything right seems infinitely more impossible than anything poor Sisyphus ever had to deal with.
It begins to feel hopeless. And, without hope, no action will ever be taken and, as a result, nothing will ever change. We need hope to transform the world. In a time when hope seems to be in short supply, Ms. Marvel shows us again and again how hope exists and change is possible. In this issue, after Mike explains what’s happening Kamala tells her, “Thanks, Mike. I’m gonna go knock some sense into a few people.” Mike quickly corrects her by saying, “Wait! You can fix this without knocking sense into anybody!” She goes on, “Worthy’s actually doing really badly in the polls. People still remember that Hope Yards mess. Hyrda’s counting on the fact that only 36% of registered voters actually turn up for local elections. If everybody votes, the cracked-and-packed districts won’t be enough to give Worthy a major victory.”
So, how do we save the day? We don’t hit people. We vote. Some may say this message is too-little-too-late given the fact that the election was last month. But if you’re thinking that then you’re missing the point. As those of us who champion progressive values struggle with what to do next, G. Willow Wilson is reminding us we change things by mobilizing and voting in local elections. It’s not an accident that this narrative focuses on the mayoral election. Too often, as a nation, we focus on the presidential elections and little else. But if we want a progressive future we must make sure our government at all levels is fighting for those values. If we all come together at every level to make our voices heard then we’ll win in the end.
The plan for battling corruption, for truly triumphing over systemic sin doesn’t end there though. It’s not that easy to do. Kamala tells Mike, “Okay, okay. I get it. New plan. I’m gonna make a few calls. And do some research. If we need a massive get-out-the-vote campaign overnight…I know of exactly one person who can make that happen.” G. Willow Wilson adds layers and depth. We mobilize and we vote in all elections, especially local ones. But we also need to do research, be well informed, be organized, and seek the help of those who know what they’re doing. It’s more than simply going out and voting. We need to be informed. Reading the news, being aware of local, state, national, and international politics and events is not a luxury or a hobby. Rather, being informed is the responsibility of everyone living in a participatory democracy. We must read the news and we have a responsibility to seek honest, factual news – not opinion driven/ratings obsessed propaganda.
Of course Ms. Marvel encounters all the apathy we normally see from our voting public but she challenges it and educates as to why voting is important.
This is essential! We complain about the shape of our country and our world…and then so many of us do so little about it. We say that all the candidates are bad or that government can’t work or that nothing will ever change…and as a result nothing does. The deep, haunting truth is that America isn’t the way it is, with systemic oppression and corruption defiling us in so many ways because the government isn’t doing its job. Rather, oppression and corruption reign because we don’t demand otherwise. It is we, the people, who are failing. Government just reflects our apathy. In a democracy, the government works for the people. When we abdicate our right to be involved – when apathy, ignorance, and selfish desires hold sway – we reap what we sow. I’m not simply talking about last month either. People have fought and died in the quest for voting rights, equality, justice in this country for centuries and we’ve failed to honor that for a looooong time.
But Ms. Marvel doesn’t throw her hands up and give up! Rather she educates, empowers, and inspires! She shows us the real power we all hold and the potential for a brighter future that exists if we rise up and commit to the cause. For this, Ms. Marvel will always be on my pull list. For this, G. Willow Wilson is one of the most important authors – not just of comic books but literature in general – we have writing right now. We need her. And we’re lucky to have her. Now we just need to have the courage to follow her advice.
To close this piece, I’ll borrow the words G. Willow Wilson used to end Ms. Marvel # 13. I can say nothing better. The closing lines of the comic book are something I’ve needed to hear and I don’t think I’m alone there. When we face the lengthy, exhausting fight against systemic corruption and social sin, these words can help light and warm the dark nights of the soul that follow. G. Willow Wilson assures us, “Revolutions don’t happen overnight. They’re long and complicated and messy and sometimes disappointing. But sometimes, if you hold out long enough, they work.”