Celebrating Unsung Heroes: Iman Vellani Introduces the 2023 Superhero Issue
A letter from the editor of Inverse’s 2023 Superhero Issue.
Ever asked yourself what a Canadian high schooler can get for $20? Well, if budgeted correctly: one packet of drugstore sour candy, a McDonald’s junior chicken with a cup of water (the cup is actually free; what you choose to fill this cup with is no business of mine), two day-old cookies from the local bakery (three, if you’re friendly with the owner), one small bubble tea with no extra toppings, and two glorious issues of the latest Marvel comic!
I’m 21 now, and although I strongly believe that a $20 monthly allowance in this economy is absurdly little for a teenager, 14-year-old Iman clearly made do. After all, it was this modest bill that paved the way for me to connect with you, dear reader, and recount my deep affection for superheroes, the underdogs who fueled this passion, and my decision to abstain from working a part-time job in high school.
I was once proudly introduced as a “walking MCU encyclopedia.”
In ninth grade, I rallied a few friends to accompany me as we set foot in the local comic shop for the very first time. I remember them being reluctant about spending our lunch period in the store, which, up until then, seemed like nothing more than space filler in the “McDonald’s plaza.” I wasn’t a total rookie, mind you. In fact, I was once proudly introduced as a “walking MCU encyclopedia.” Nevertheless, even my expertise in the cinematic universe proved insufficient as I ventured (bravely, might I add) into the world of comics. I knew two things going in: First, look for the #1s of a series, and second, Iron Man. My first comic became Invincible Iron Man #1 (2016).
It wasn’t until I decided to shake things up by purchasing an Ironheart comic that my interest was piqued by the brown-skinned superhero featured on the issue’s cover. Indulging my curiosity, the man behind the counter handed me a copy of Ms. Marvel #14 and I whipped out the emergency bill stashed behind my phone case. Needless to say, Iron Man became a rare buy for me after that.
Ms. Marvel gave me security in my identity, not only as a Pakistani Muslim teenager but as an ardent nerd.
Ms. Marvel gave me security in my identity, not only as a Pakistani Muslim teenager but as an ardent nerd, and I needed to tell someone. For the first time, I stepped into the comic shop and engaged in a real conversation, not with the “guy who works there,” but with Andre. I can’t recall the specifics of our discussion, but I do remember this to be the moment that validated my fandom. I had graduated from being a fact-regurgitating encyclopedic robot to a bona fide fan! It was this simple exchange of thoughts and mutual appreciation with Andre that made me feel like I was a valued part of something far greater than myself. It gave me a community.
Andre now sells Ms. Marvel: The New Mutant in his shop, a story I co-wrote with the marvelously talented Sabir Pirzada this year. It was surreal, to put it mildly, as the same individual who initiated me into comics with my first purchase sold me a book bearing my very own name on its cover.
The value that my monthly LCS trips had on my life is impossible to quantify. Even now, regardless of the city I find myself in, I always make it a point to explore their comic book store. There’s a comforting sense of belonging that washes over me. Perhaps it’s the nostalgic smell or the sheer acknowledgment of decades worth of storytelling legacy that surrounds you. I would even argue that initially feeling intimidated with choices about where to look, what writers or artists align with your tastes, and whatever “back issues” are, actually adds to the distinctive charm these shops offer. It encourages you to partake in an interaction that, who knows, might just lead to a full-fledged career! The only requirement is your willingness to take that first step. And while I can’t guarantee that every comic shop will have an Andre — in fact, I know they don’t — such individuals are indeed out there, be it in online discussion threads, schools, workplaces, among family members, or even a serendipitous bump on the street that morphs into a chat about your X-Men graphic tee. These underappreciated fans form the very backbone of the superhero industry, making the community not only accessible and inclusive but also incredibly fun!
Now that you’re warmed up, the selections I’ve curated for this year’s Inverse Superhero Issue showcase the brilliant contributions of writers such as Becca Caddy, Kayti Burt, Lyvie Scott, Zach Schonfeld, and more. Additionally, you’ll discover a conversation between Sabir Pirzada and myself as we delve deeper into our own fandoms and the creative process behind our Ms. Marvel miniseries. These pieces are intended to emphasize the value of the unsung champions whose passion drives the superhero genre — the heroes behind the heroes — the indispensable “guys in the chair”! Today, we spotlight the Andres of the world, who, irrespective of recognition, consistently show up, day after day, because they love their job and they love superheroes.
Iman Vellani is the co-writer of Ms. Marvel: The New Mutant and plays Ms. Marvel (aka Kamala Khan) in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Born in Pakistan and raised in Canada, the 21-year-old is a self-described geek for all things comics, film, and RDJ.