The connection between adulthood and violence is a well-established trope -- think of "Full Metal Jacket," or any number of war films where the fresh-faced, innocent protagonists goes through fire and combat to become a man who understands. But even if it's ratified by Kubrick and Hemingway, the fact is that there's nothing especially realistic or mature about violence, per se. Why is having your parents shot more "real" than going to a movie with them and not having them get shot? Why are piles of dead bodies more real than spending time with your kids? We've collectively decided that violence is more real than peace; that shooting someone in the head is more real, or more important, than exchanging pleasantries. Without trauma, the superhero genre seems to say, your stories don't matter.It sure is fascinating how a series depicting a character who isn't motivated by trauma happens to be one that whitewashes a bad religion and won't be transparent about any of the Koranic verses like Sura 3:151, which says "soon we shall cast terror into the hearts of unbelievers", and Sura 4:89, which calls for murdering apostates. And how about these women working for ISIS who tortured mothers for breastfeeding in public? Is that helping?
Which is part of why I love G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona's "Ms. Marvel." Kamala Khan doesn't become a superhero because she's traumatized; there are no dead Thomas Waynes or Uncle Bens in her origin story. Instead, she stumbled into superpowers, and then, inspired in part by her family and in part by her Muslim faith, she decides that she wants to use them to help people. And most of that helping is not especially violent -- her first super-act is to save a drunk girl from drowning, and it takes her several issues to actually fight anybody. The first battle is with a confused fellow student who is sort of, kind of robbing a store; he ends up shooting her, which is presented both as low-key and as a big deal. Ms. Marvel isn't permanently hurt (she has stretchy super-powers and is invulnerable) but the one accidental shot is still presented as terrifying and wrong. Violence here isn't truth, but aberration; a fissure in real life rather than real life itself.
Now it may be true that some parts of western society have collectively decided violence is better, and more "real" than spending time with family & friends. But that's what the Koran's violence verses preach too, and if Berlatsky turns his back to that, then he's rejecting reality in turn. Failure to be honest about the Koran's content only destroys whatever point Wilson's supposedly making, which I'm guessing could be pacifism, as the following hints:
Ms. Marvel does go on to fight more and more dangerous opponents, and to use greater levels of violence. In issue #7, illustrated by guest artist Jake Wyatt, she teams up with that avatar of grim, gritty violence, Wolverine, and the two do battle against a giant alligator. Ms. Marvel holds the alligator back, and Wolverine does what she calls his "claw thingee," putting an end to the giant critter off-panel. Wolverine (who had lost his regenerating power) thanks Kamala for saving him, but she isn't so thrilled. "I don't like hurting stuff," she says, "Even giant sewer alligators. I mean… is it possible to help people without hurting other people. Or, you know… reptiles?"Gee, that sure does sound pretty ambiguous, making no distinctions between good and evil. It sounds like Wolverine was written to talk as though he's brainless. I thought it was a case of where, if you don't fight back against a violent criminal or a bully, you'll be the one on the receiving end of violence. But Wilson and company probably don't.
Wolverine, predictably enough, doesn't think it is. "It all circles around," he says, "The hurt, I mean." He argues that if you don't hurt others, you'll get hurt yourself. "The pain's gotta go somewhere." As he makes that speech, he leans over, massaging his aching back — the old guy who's been there, done that, and knows how violence works. "You're young," he tells Ms. Marvel.
It's not exactly clear whose side we're supposed to take in the discussion between Wolverine and Kamala. Wolverine is the voice of age and experience; you could see him as telling hard-earned truths. But he's also, maybe, just old -- Wyatt draws him weirdly out of proportion, with a giant torso and spindly legs; he looks ridiculous, bulky and stiff next to Ms. Marvel (when she's not stretching). Like Wolverine says, Ms. Marvel is young -- both in the sense that Kamala is still in high school, and in the sense that the comic she's in, featuring a young, Muslim, Pakistani girl, can be seen as a different kind of effort at relevance. Rather than making reality a function of body count, "Ms. Marvel" suggests that you can be more real by including the experiences of folks whom superhero comics has largely ignored.Is he serious? Until the recent miniseries chronicling Logan's demise for a sales stunt, he was not ignored at all. Wolverine was practically Brian Bendis's prime choice for the "New" Avengers along with Spider-Man as a cast member a decade back. The characters who were really ignored for several years are folks like Scarlet Witch. Even Wasp was bumped off and ignored a few years after the Avengers: Disassembled embarrassment. Until now, I had no idea Berlatsky, who's written on occasion for The Atlantic, was so sloppy.
And in doing so, it seems like the comic provides a more realistic take on violence, too. Wolverine's hard-boiled, world-weary, kill-the-alligators-and-let-the-sewer-sort-them-out sounds like that old comic book realism. But if you had to kill someone, or even an alligator, wouldn't you be upset? The superhero genre is one where realism is often defined in terms of death and carnage, but in "Ms. Marvel" it's the gentleness that seems genuine.And if he knows what the verses in the Koran are like, he'll know why it's not. In fact, his whole take on violence is very misleading, alluding more to the modern crises with violence in comics than to the pre-1990 era, when you didn't have as much of this as seen today. And all this from somebody who probably isn't even asking for Marvel and DC to reverse much of their mess and do more character drama with already established heroes and co-stars like Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson. Berlatsky is just a joke.