By Patricia Reaney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Move over Black Widow and step aside She-Hulk: Marvel Comics is introducing a new superhero - a 16-year-old Muslim-American girl named Kamala Khan, to reflect the growing diversity of its readers.
The character, who will be the new Ms. Marvel, lives with her conservative Pakistani parents and brother in New Jersey. She will make her debut in January and appear in a monthly series starting on February 6.
"It is so important that we tell stories that reflect the ever-changing world that we live in and being a Muslim-American is so much a part of that," said Sana Amanat, the series editor, who also worked on Ultimate Spider-Man and Ultimate X-Men comic books.
Although the inspiration for the new series came from a desire to explore the Muslim-American experience, she said it isn't about what it means to be a Muslim, Pakistani or American.
"It is about a young girl who is figuring out who she is and what happens when these really extraordinary things happen to her," she added in an interview.
Khan is a big comic book fan and after she discovers her superhuman power - being a polymorph and able to lengthen her arms and legs and change her shape - she takes on the name of Ms. Marvel. The title had previously belonged to Carol Danvers, a character Khan had always had admired.
"It pays homage to the legacy character," said Amanat.
The idea for the new superhero stemmed from a casual conversation Amanat had with her senior editor, Steve Wacker, about her own experiences growing up as a Muslim-American.
"He was interested in the dilemma I faced as a young girl and the next day he came in and said, 'Wouldn't it be great to have a superhero that was for all the little girls that grew up just like you, and who are growing up just like you are today, and to create a character they can be inspired by,'" Amanat said.
Writer G. Willow Wilson, a convert to Islam, and artist Adrian Alphona are the team working on the project, which started about 18 months ago.
Wilson said she wrote the character as a true-to-life person so that people, particularly young women, can relate to her.
Khan experiences the usual teenage angst, feelings of confusion and being an outsider, dealing with the expectations of her parents and problems at high school.
"It's for all the geek girls out there, and everybody else who's ever looked at life on the fringe," Wilson said in a statement.
Kahn is not the first Muslim-American character in the superhero world, which has been largely dominated by white males, but Amanat said she is being pushed to the forefront of the Marvel universe.
"People have been mostly positive about it," she said, adding that the real test will come early next year when the series begins.
Amanat believes the options for the new character, and others like her, are limitless.
"We are always trying to upend expectations to an extent but our point is to always reflect the world outside our window, and we are looking through a lot more windows right now," she said.
(Editing by Mary Milliken and Eric Walsh)