Marvel's new super power: Growing the market

Superheroes in comic books know no boundaries. They might fly into space or visit the bottom of the ocean. But one boundary they generally don’t cross is religion. Until now. Marvel Comics is coming out with a very different kind of superhero.

Ms. Marvel will be a rarity -- a female superhero who is Muslim.

The theme of identity is central to her character.

"'Ms. Marvel' is Kamala Khan -- a young, Pakistani-American teenager living in Jersey City, who literally wakes up with superpowers. And then has to figure out why she has them and how that fits in to her day-to-day life," says author G. Willow Wilson, who wrote the comic.

Ms. Marvel’s superpower is the ability to shape-shift -- even taking on different identities.

Marvel editor Sana Amanat didn’t read superhero comics growing up. So she wanted to create something that Muslim girls, like herself, could relate to.

"It’s for the little girls out there who feel like they’re outsiders. And they don’t feel like they fit in," says Amanat.

But the character and her superpowers were designed to appeal to a broader market too.

"All teenagers at some point or another wish that they could be someone else. Even if just for a day, to sort of get out of all of the drama and struggle that goes into being a teenager," says Wilson.

Reaching a broad audience is important for financial success. The industry mostly caters to young white boys. So there is a risk in diversifying.

But Marvel might just boost its audience and profits too.

Albert Ching is senior editor of ComicBookResources.com, which covers the comic book industry. He believes there is a market for Ms. Marvel.

"Already, it’s getting a lot of buzz. I mean, I’ve seen people sharing items about it on Facebook and Twitter who I wouldn’t normally expect to think about comic books at all," says Ching.

A successful comic book will sell between 80,000 and 100,000 copies per month. We’ll have to wait until the Ms. Marvel debut in February to say whether she’s got superpowers at the cash register.

About the author

Jeff Tyler is a reporter for Marketplace’s Los Angeles bureau, where he reports on issues related to immigration and Latin America.

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