While there is never a wrong time to talk about such luminary comic book creations such as Captain America, right now seems like a particularly vital time to talk about:
- Steve Rogers, and the fact that he is a first-generation US citizen whose father and mother were immigrants.
- Wolverine, one of the most popular US comic heroes, who hails from Canada.
- Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel, whose parents hail from Pakistan.
- Superman and Supergirl, quintessential immigrants to our planet.
- Wonder Woman, while a Greek demigod, a character that has long been linked with the US as an ambassadorial figure.
These characters are presently some of the most popular characters from their respective pantheons and they fall into these categories:
- Non-Americans who regularly assist the US in comics so much that they are mistaken for a native US citizen.
- First-generation US citizens (meaning their parents were immigrants).
- Characters who were not born in the US but who are now US citizens and/or cultural ambassadors to the US specifically.
The connection between comics and immigrants is not limited to characters alone. It also needs to be said, loudly, that Jack Kirby [co-creator of Captain America and like, a million other characters] was the son of immigrants from Austria. Joseph Shuster [co-creator of Superman] was born in Toronto and his family hailed from Rotterdam and Kiev. Stan Lee’s [co-creator of Spider-Man and more] parents were from Romania.
Some of the most important US comic creators and artist were/are immigrants or were/are first-generation Americans who are the children of immigrants. Will Eisner and Bob Kane? You guessed it. Sons of immigrants.
The entire foundations of the United States comic culture is, quite honestly, and immigrant-built art-form. I know, this isn’t new information. There have been plenty of books about this subject that have been published over the years and the particularly Jewish heritage present in the DNA of American comics cannot (nor, should it be) dismissed.
So, who are the next generation of immigrant heroes? I believe there is something spectacular about Kamala Khan and Nadia Pym. In the climate the United States exists in, at the dawn of 2017? How great is it that Kamala’s parents hail from Karachi. Nadia’s mother, Maria Trovaya, hailed from Hungary.
This content matters.
Nadia is fascinating since she is the daughter of the founder of the Avengers. While, true, her daddy is presently merged with Ultron and in a … precarious state … she is a first-generation American citizen. The fact that Nadia’s story in Unstoppable Wasp #1 uses the U.S. immigration office as part of the backdrop is important because, by showing Nadia and her attempts to join the US, comic readers become just a little more familiar with the process of HOW somebody becomes a US citizen.
While Nadia learns that her descent from Hank Pym makes her a U.S. citizen by default, her joy and happiness at wanting to be an American is part-and-parcel to her character. For many, the attempt to go from being a non-American to an American is a genuinely moving and exciting process. Nadia’s enthusiastic and optimistic nature seems very much part of what many people seeking entrance into the United States go share.
Nadia, as the inheritor of the Wasp mantle and as the daughter of the founder of the Avengers, is a great addition to the Marvel canon of characters, one built by men who were the children of immigrants.
Next, Kamala Khan. As I have written about previously here and here, Kamala is an extremely vital character for the development of the Marvel comic universe. Since 9/11, the relationship between the US and various countries with Muslim religious majorities has been fraught with complexity.
One of the things that is never going to harm the relationship Americans have with those who believe in Islam is showing them as people, as those who are part of normal families with common struggles. Kamala Khan’s family in the Ms. Marvel comic are, in my opinion, some of the more enjoyable depictions of a family in comics for a new character.
It is vital for readers to see views of Pakistani and Pakistani-American people that shows what most people go through: family drama, complaining, coming together, love, and just having a meal.
I plan on using future entries in this column series to explore and talk about immigrants and first-generation US comic characters, as well as how these characters align with US literature from immigrant and first-generation authors.
I hope that next time you see a Superman shield on a shirt, or a Wonder Woman logo on a purse, or even a Captain America shield icon? Remember that those symbols represent America, an America that was built by people whose ancestors came on the Mayflower, but it was also shaped by:
- citizens aboard countless ships from Ireland between 1820 and 1860,
- the Chinese immigrants in 1900,
- those who came from Mexico and abroad to settle the area that would become Texas,
- European Jews fleeing destruction between the 30s and 40s, and
- Syrian immigrants who even now are hoping for a better life.
We are a nation built by immigrants and refugees whose moral and spiritual betterment continually relies on new immigrants and refugees knowing they have a place within our borders. Almost every single comic you read exists because, at some point in time, men and women believed the US was their only hope.