So, I’m sure y’all remember how I spent all that blog real estate last year worrying over the ethics of supporting a creative project that involves someone who makes really good art but has some serious personal problems. If you don’t, I guess you can go catch up on that whole issue here.
Fortunately for everyone, though, there really are no issues like that in regards to the new Ms. Marvel ongoing series. I have absolutely no reservations about endorsing this book. It’s a great read, and it’s doing something really significant in the comics industry: it’s acting as an outlet for underrepresented creative voices. While I really enjoy Rat Queens, and I think it’s doing some really great stuff in terms of how women are depicted in comics, it’s also written by a white guy (a pretty standup white guy, based on what I’ve read of Kurtis Wiebe) which means it’s not doing anything to broaden the spectrum of creator voices. Ms. Marvel doesn’t have that issue. You look at the creative team on this book, and you see represented two Muslim women (writer G. Willow Wilson and editor Sana Amanat, who was directly involved in Kamala Khan’s creation); Ms. Marvel isn’t just about a Muslim girl living in America, but is also voiced by people with that firsthand experience.
I think this is kind of a big deal.
Anywho, you probably came by to get my impressions of the book, and not just a polemic about how important it is to support creative works that promote diverse voices.
I’ve probably read the first issue of Ms. Marvel about five times since I first bought it last May (as someone who typically treats comics as something that you engage on about the same level as a television show, paying close attention the first time, and then not really going back for a long time after, this is an exceptional amount of attention for me to spend on a single twenty-page issue of a comic), and I still think it’s incredibly charming. First issues have a lot in common with pilot episodes of TV shows where there’s a lot of groundwork that has to be laid so the audience can understand the series’s concept, which often means that the actual plot has to be set aside while we deal with exposition. That was probably my biggest frustration with just having the first issue for most of the year; it sets up tons of really interesting stuff, but then it just ends (comic book cliffhangers are, objectively, the cruelest kind of cliffhangers). I wanted to read more about Kamala and her quirky superhero fascination (I don’t know why, but the depiction of superhero nerds in superhero comics is always just the slightest bit absurd; if you lived in a world where superheroes were a fact of life, don’t you think more people would be interested in them?) and her long-suffering family (Kamala’s parents strike me as eminently reasonable people who really do just want the best for their daughter; it’s kind of heartbreaking that she has to continue keeping secrets from them) and her stressful high school relationships (what high school relationships aren’t stressful?). Since I couldn’t get more of the story, I settled for going back and perusing the panels for all the strange little details that Adrian Alphona tucked into every drawing (Alphona’s style, which has this surreal, smokey quality to it, has everything I want in superhero art; his people range from being cartoonishly stylized in wide shots to having a really grounded reality about them on close-up; no two characters ever appear to be different heads stuck on the exact same body); I’m still trying to figure out what the deal is with Kamala’s winged sloth plushy.
And then, gloriously, I got the first trade for Christmas, and the entire first arc is just as wondrous as that first issue (but also more satisfying, because you get to see so much more about Kamala’s life, and you actually get to resolve some stuff). Kamala’s pretty much a total klutz with her new shape-shifting powers, and it’s incredible fun to watch her learn how her powers work (I hope Wilson never stops writing Kamala’s inner monologue of how she psychs herself up to activate her powers). Alphona’s art does a fantastic job of depicting Kamala’s go-to tactic of just making her hand huge so she can bash or move things as the situation demands; it’s exactly the kind of haphazard problem solving I would expect a sixteen-year-old with apparently unlimited shape-shifting powers to engage in.
And that’s probably the most outstanding thing about this book that I’ve noticed. For a superhero series, this first arc is exceptionally light on super-powered confrontations. Kamala’s pretty much the only metahuman around in the first arc, and the majority of her superheroics revolves around her just trying to avoid being noticed by someone who knows her or saving someone from dangerous situations. It’s really refreshing, as I’ve found that my brain just kind of shuts off when I’m reading other superhero comics and I get to the obligatory action sequence for each issue (either that, or I begin scanning the art for examples of women who can miraculously fight with broken spines and other deformities).
So, yeah. Ms. Marvel‘s first trade is really good. If you haven’t read it, and you have any interest in reading a superhero book that’s mostly not about superheroics, then you should pick it up.