I, For One, Welcome Our Teenage Islamic Jersey City Superhero
We came to these broad shores of New Jersey not for refuge to practice our religion or to escape persecution from a narrow-minded despot. Bloomberg could have taken it down a notch. But it wasn’t that. We were broke. And what do broke people do? Complain about being broke all the time. And then, eventually, they move. Our shift from Brooklyn to Jersey City, N.J., was not without its difficulties. But apparently it is OK to hit every cone in the Holland Tunnel, torch a Uhaul, and take a big dump in the glove compartment if you have purchased the insurance for said Uhaul. And we’ve lost friends along the way. Friends who look down their noses at us. “They moved to New Jersey. They have broken some kind of invisible, uncrossable line that only matters to the most shallow of people. It is a line in the middle of the Hudson and once you have pierced it and no longer have eye-rolling tales of weekends without the L Train you will henceforth be strangers to us who live in fancy places like Bed Stuy.” And it’s all been leading up to this day. When I could crow loudly and proudly that I have moved to a place five minutes before it got cool. And I am here now to tell you just how cool Jersey City got this week. And you will be in awe of the coolness. And we are both just breathlessly getting to that next paragraph.
Marvel Comics announced yesterday that their latest superhero, Kamala Khan, a.k.a. Ms. Marvel, calls Jersey City her home.
Let that wash over you. New Jersey clearly needs a superhero. And now it has a superhero. Wonder Woman, in her long-running DC Comics series, was allegedly from “Boston.” But it was like alternate Bizzaro World Boston where a tall, fierce, beautiful Amazonian Warrior could blend in and live anonymously in a crowd of people headed over to a Boston Pops concert. Boston and New England will always be the place that bore me and clearly rejected the shit out of me, but there were no Amazonian warriors with invisible jets hanging out on Newbury Street that I ever saw. Ms. Marvel, on the other hand, is very believably from Jersey City. She is a 16-year-old woman who just happens to be a shape-shifter.
The comics I read as a kid offered little to no diversity. My favorite Marvel Comic was Alpha Flight, about superheroes that protected Canada from over-sized nuclear penguins and terrifying weather patterns. Their main foe was the correct pronunciation of the word “about,” if memory serves, and they were all various shades of sunless pale—except for the Purple Girl, who was purple and could make people do whatever she said. She was my favorite. And purple! She had normal-sized boobs, for example. I imagine they were purple, too, but they never busted out of her shirt like superhero boobs always do. Giant breasts make me nervous, like they’re pointing right at me. Not unlike the new photo of Smokey the Bear. I think to myself, why is he pointing right at me? What does he want me to do? This is what I think of when I see giant superhero boobs. What is one supposed to do with all those boobs? Whatever it is, I never had any idea. And it sprains my hand to even try to come up with things I am supposed to do to giant boobs.
My other favorite comic was New Mutants, which featured a younger version of the X-Men and was very diverse. The evil Magneto was their teacher for a while, because Professor X was dead or hiding or just got sick of them—I can’t remember why he was gone so long. But they had people from different countries. And a hick who could turn into a cannonball, who I always felt was underrated. But I don’t remember any Muslim characters of any kind. And considering that Marvel’s mutant titles were always a metaphor for the misfits of American society over the past half century (gays, commies, secret comic book geeks) it’s a little startling that the rampant Islamophobia of the past Half Century never really found a place in Marvel’s Mutant pages. That a Muslim woman could be a superhero strong enough to carry her own book—well, only in New Jersey.
Jersey City, I am happy to report, is more than just a place with much cheaper rents and much more affordable everything. (Cigarettes are $7! I might take up smoking again! It’s really bad for you, but so cheap!) We ditched a drunk, naked mayor in May and got an ex-marine Iraq veteran mayor who can swim across the Hudson and not die. Talk about super-heroic acts! Since then, they passed a minimum wage hike and a sick leave bill. New Jersey got Marriage Equality. Yes, we still have that governor guy, but whatareyougonnado? I am typing this from a room with just a dining room table in it, which is connected to a room that has a TV and a bunch of books in it, which is connected to a room with a giant kitchen, which is connected to three bedrooms and two bathrooms. Which costs us $1,650 a month and is a 10-minute walk from a 10-minute train to the World Trade Center. So that is pretty good. I wouldn’t care if Nosferatu was the governor of the state that allows for that kind of spread. And he’s not. (Nosferatu is actually a pretty nice guy once you get to know him.)
People do treat me like a kind of plague victim for living in New Jersey. But I lived in Brooklyn for 10 years and I did feel like a plague victim. And the plague was rent and why are you doing that to yourself? Now we have our own superhero. And Neutral Milk Hotel is playing up the street at a beautiful old movie house. (Brooklyn has a Marvel superhero, too. It is that mascot for the Brooklyn Nets. Let us not speak of him. Can he make his fist as big as a beach ball? I don’t think so.) I always dreamed about living in Hell’s Kitchen as a youth, watching Daredevil blindly navigate the rooftops of that tough luck part of New York. Now even Hell’s Kitchen is gentrified! So I think place is a very important thing for a superhero. Without Gotham to protect, Batman and Robin and Batgirl would just be weird cosplayers looking for kicks by beating up people in warehouses. And Jersey City definitely needs protecting. I’m sure the writers of the new Ms. Marvel have plenty of good ideas for Jersey City villains, but that won’t stop me from suggesting a few.
PARKING: I don’t have a car. I don’t like cars. Cars are boring. Stop killing the earth with cars. Most cabs in Jersey City cost like $5 to get you pretty much anywhere. Suckers. But everyone is always complaining about parking. There is never enough parking. Building a new building? Will there be parking? Is there enough parking for everything? We don’t even have enough parking for people to turn themselves in to the police. The Doubleparker would be the villains who hog up all the available parking spots. Only Ms. Marvel can stop them by turning into one of those car-eating machines and, I don’t know, eating all the cars and then puking them out into the Hudson. Thanks for saving us, Ms. Marvel! She gets a cab home for $5 and then goes to a Neutral Milk Hotel concert with her other tuned-in 16-year-old pals.
TAX ABATEMENTS: They give you giant tax breaks for decades to build giant things in Jersey City, which pisses off other people in Jersey City who feel like their taxes are too high. I guess you ought to build a giant building then? But everyone here complains about property taxes like practically constantly. So the Abater would make a good villain. He blocks out the sun with his crazy downtown properties! And never has to pay enough taxes for everyone else. Screw you, Abater! And Ms. Marvel could transform herself into a really giant Kangaroo that works at the IRS and like totally kick the Abater’s buildings down and then tax them super-fairly or something. Still working on this idea.
DISCO FRIES: Disco fries are fries spun one way with delicious nacho cheese and then spun the other way with gravy. No one can resist them, even Ms. Marvel. They are so good but at the same time so evil! She should try and defeat them at least once an issue.
WEEKEND PATH TRAINS: Oh, man, these suck. Please defeat them, Ms. Marvel!
I do have some concerns about this Jersey City hero. First of all, she’s a kid. It’s a lot of responsibility to keep us all safe when you’ve got homework to do and the homecoming dance and stuff. Plus zits. Zits suck. Someone should defeat zits. I feel bad that Ms. Marvel has to go around saving us from like the Journal Square Bike Thief or the Drunk, Naked Former Mayor when she has a big chemistry test the next day and I am totally just at home watching Brooklyn Nine Nine on my fat ass. But I guess this is the world you’ve inherited, kids. I have totally blown my chance to make the world a better place and it will be totally up to you to inflate your fist to the size of a mack truck and punch the future right in the frigging jaw. And punch zits! Zits are awful!
The old Ms. Marvel never interested me very much. She has been promoted to Captain Marvel, which used to be the name of an African-American woman who used to be in charge of the Avengers. Ms. Marvel isn’t the greatest name for a hero, and Jersey City isn’t the greatest name for a city. What are you gonna do? Now that Cory Booker won’t be around to save kittens from trees, Newark will need a new superhero. So someone should get on that. I do hope that other Marvel lady superheroes will have Ms. Marvel’s back. It can feel so lonely when you’re alone, and it would be nice to know that Wasp or She-Hulk was going to make sure that you not only survived being a superhero, but a teenage girl, which seems really rough. I can’t imagine what pressures a young Muslim lady must go through, and thankfully I won’t have to. I can just read it in a comic book, and hope that she lives on my side of the hill below Journal Square. I feel safer already.
I worry that every one of Ms. Marvel’s villains will wait until Ramadan and then totally tear Jersey City apart like the whole Batman Knightfall thing, but: Let’s have more heroes with all kinds of backgrounds! I am tired of white dudes in tights fighting other white dudes in tights. If Ms. Marvel needs a little help patrolling Jersey City some night, I am totally ready and have a costume that you should definitely not look at if you don’t want to never be able to unsee it. It is great to think that young women will have another hero to look up to. I expect half the kids in Jersey City to dress as Ms. Marvel next year. And I tweeted the mayor about having a parade and he tweeted back that they were on that.
That’s what we’re dealing with here in Jersey City, people. Mayors that tweet back, and a teen girl superhero. The streets are paved with gold! And disco fries. When you break down and want a tour, give me a tinkle. Especially you, She-Hulk.
Jim Behrle tweets @behrle.