Nobody Has Watched A Marvel-ous Show And Nobody Is Glad Nobody Did
Having been born and grown up in a land of marvelous and awe-inspiring mythological stories, I am no stranger to tales of beings with supernatural powers. These stories from my childhood featured immortal and mortal individuals with extraordinary abilities, their interactions with ordinary humans, their feats of great strength, endurance, love, loss, courage, and sacrifice. There were dramatic accomplishments, grim personal tragedies, political intrigue, internecine feuds, and epic battles—spanning personal fronts to cities and empires — fought with valor, sharp wit, and mind-boggling weaponry. Ostensibly about good vs. evil, these stories often involved multidimensional, good-bad-and-in-between, not-all-sweetness-and-light protagonists and had onion-like layers upon layers of nuance, my appreciation of which matured only with time and life experience.
In short, I was fully primed and prepped to be heavily invested in the genre of superhero fiction in, for example, the DC Universe and the Marvel Universe.
Already a voracious reader, I started with the printed comic books (“graphic novels” in Americanese) set in the DC Universe and soaked up the stories, avidly following characters, chronological plotlines, origin stories, anachronistic alternative timelines, the whole nine yards. I was so deeply immersed in the stories themselves that—I am ashamed to say this — I never even looked up the authors and artists behind the stories, some of the greatest storytellers of our times, until much, much later. (Brian Michael Bendis, Gail Simone, Grant Morrison, just to name a few. And the legend, Stan Lee.)
At that time in my birth country, we did not get any of the TV shows so familiar to people in the US and elsewhere (except for the cartoon Spiderman later), but I did have my fill of the Superman and Batman movies released theatrically during late 70s to late 90s.
All that changed, and I was forever transformed, with my introduction to the Marvel Cinematic Universe with its first movie, Iron Man, in 2008. This was the definitive mythology of my time. I have watched (in the theaters) and re-watched (at home via DVD/Blu-ray and/or streaming) every single one of the MCU movies—including some of the more unfortunate ones which shall go unnamed, as well as reboots and reiterations of same storylines necessitated by licensing legerdemains outside of Marvel — and TV shows on Netflix (and now on Disney+) set in the MCU. I have bought (or borrowed from our local public library) and read the graphic novels that narrated the stories of in-universe characters (even at times when they could not be portrayed in the same movies due to licensing strictures), celebrating whenever one familiar character in one storyline appeared, even briefly, in another; I am a sucker for cross-overs, hashtag sorry not sorry.
Through all this, I have even found the perfect descriptor for myself, something that I have been seeking for years and years in order to define my reading habits. I am a Completist or perhaps a Completionist. Because many of the MCU stories have been conceived and developed during my lifetime, I find such an affinity for them that it drives me to follow the characters, keep track of the timelines, and be current with the stories. Ah, so this is how things fall into place and Ooh! What happens next? are my guiding thoughts. I consider myself fortunate that I have completed the entire arc of at least a couple of pivotal characters, Tony Stark / Iron Man and Steve Rogers / Captain America, and I don’t think I’d ever be able to accept someone who is not, respectively, Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans as those iconic characters.
I have similar feelings toward the current DCU, especially the TV series under their aegis. I especially LOVE every one and everyone of the Arrowverse shows (and I am truly disappointed with The CW for having canceled most of them). These shows have featured a stunning cast of sterling actors who inhabited their roles with consummate skills and empathy; there are too many to individually name, but when I close my eyes and think of Oliver Queen, Barry Allen, Kara Danvers, and Nia Nal, I cannot simply see any face other than that of, respectively, Stephen Amell, Grant Gustin, Melissa Benoist, and Nicole Maines. Especially, Grant and Melissa will forever be the quintessential, straight-out-of-comic-book-pages Flash and Supergirl in my heart.
That brings me to the last bit of my cathartic rant, ironically the reason I took to the keyboard to write it out this morning, after quite a while. I just finished watching the 6-episode series Ms. Marvel on Disney+. I loved the previous one in the series, Moon Knight, set in Egypt, for multiple reasons I need not go into here now. But Ms. Marvel just blew me away. I won’t give away spoilers, but the raw power, heart, and vulnerability of the teenaged protagonist, as portrayed by Iman Vellani and supported by a top-notch cast, is straight as I had imagined when I started reading the eponymous graphic novels in 2014. It’s not only about the representational aspect of it; goes without saying that’s vital, but truly, everything about the TV show is beyond brilliant, including the onscreen graphics and visual styles. I LOVED it and am eagerly looking forward to Ms. Marvel’s cinematic appearance next year. (Because the images are copyrighted to Marvel, I cannot put up any photos here, but enjoy this tweet with a bit of back story from Marvel Studios.)
Which is why I was unusually irritated and upset upon reading on Twitter this morning that someone in the trade magazine Screenrant has seen it fit to characterize Ms. Marvel as a “show nobody is watching” (direct quote from the piece headline; I have taken a screengrab just in case the publication decides to change the headline later) with zero context.
We all know (even if some of us may not admit it to ourselves or others) exactly why a superb MCU show centering a brown-skinned Pakistani American superhero and her brown-skinned, Muslim family earns poor viewership numbers from the self-proclaimed MCU fandom. Some people with a particular mindset find transcending their urge towards Othering people of color too difficult to be able to enjoy the truly brilliant storytelling and visual spectacle of Ms. Marvel. For the same reason, the show which gets an incredible 98% in the Tomatometer at Rotten Tomatoes receives only 78% in audience score.
Well, I am proud to be counted amongst the “nobody” cohort of viewers (apparently nearly 8 out of 10 viewers) who have thoroughly loved and enjoyed Ms. Marvel as an outstanding superhero show.