It’s no secret that I think the new Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan, is an amazing character. If I could afford to buy her book on a monthly basis, I’d absolutely do it, but there are all those other factors to take into consideration like groceries and rent and utilities bills, so I have to satisfy myself with buying the trade paperbacks on special occasions instead.
For my birthday this year, I decided to indulge myself and buy the second trade of what’s now Kamala’s first volume of Ms. Marvel (I really miss the days when Marvel didn’t reboot a series every couple years just to have a new #1 to put out on shelves keyed to major company events, but that’s not likely to change as long as it makes for good marketing, so whatever), which is entitled Generation Why. It contains the second story arc featuring Kamala’s continued fight against the Inventor, a clone of Thomas Edison who got some cockatiel DNA mixed in by accident so that he has a bird’s head (comics!). There are a bunch of guest appearances by other major Marvel characters (Wolverine shows up for two issues because it’s not a Marvel book until the Canucklehead features, and the Inhumans’ giant teleporting dog with a tuning fork on his head, Lockjaw, becomes Kamala’s sidekick/pet/guardian because Medusa decides that Kamala’s special), which are generally a lot of fun and don’t feel wedged in for the sake of cross promotion.
The broader arc is broken up into two smaller stories, with the first being the two-part adventure with Wolverine in the sewers below Jersey City. Kamala finds herself in need of a mentor since she’s growing more committed to the superhero thing, and it’s tough being isolated from the larger community (particularly since she was already a superhero fangirl). When she’s investigating a pothole that growls (does Jersey really have bottomless potholes?), Kamala finally meets the Inventor in a habitat that he’s constructed for cybernetically modified alligators. By coincidence, Wolverine is also down in the sewers trying to track down a runaway mutant girl. The two team up since the girl’s disappearance seems to be connected to the Inventor, and so Kamala has a grand time learning about the joys and difficulties of being a grown up superhero from one of her biggest idols. Both of these issues are illustrated by Jacob Wyatt, and they provide some of the most charming moments in the book, as we get to see things like Kamala’s dismay at having to injure a full grown alligator and Wolverine’s embarrassment that he needs Kamala to carry him piggyback through the sewers because he’s too injured to swim. The action scenes are a lot of fun and easy to follow thanks to Wyatt’s more minimalist style (of course, compared to the regular artist Adrian Alphona, who packs tons of details into every panel he draws, most people have a more minimalist style).
The second, longer mini-arc has Kamala finally learn the secret plan that the Inventor has been working on since he first came to her attention in issue three. It has to do with using teenagers as human batteries in a scheme to create free energy for the world. Thematically, there’s a lot of conversation here about the tension between older and younger generations, as the Inventor (who is literally a grumpy old bird man) persuades runaway teens that they’re only a further burden on the world and the best way for them to help out is to become part of the Inventor’s Grid (yes, this whole scheme has shades of The Matrix to it, and it’s equally as absurd here, but just go with it). Kamala presents the runaway kids with an alternate vision where they have useful skills that they can cultivate to help deal with the world’s problems in the future. The whole thing strongly echoes the persistent tension between Millennials and Baby Boomers that people have been discussing for a couple decades now, but with a much more optimistic tone that’s appropriate for a book targeted at YA readers.
This book’s only flaw is that the plot feels a little thin on the back end. The last three issues included in this collection are one continuous action climax as Kamala confronts an ever escalating series of robots against the background of the Inventor’s various lairs with the rescued teens lending support. I’m guessing that it’s largely just a symptom of action fatigue and decompression; the big fight feels like it could have been resolved over two issues instead, with more space for character moments, which is really where G. Willow Wilson shines as a writer. Combined with Alphona’s extremely detailed art (which, paradoxically, often fails to give a sense of location during the final fight with the Inventor’s biggest megabot), the climax is a little wearying.
Nonetheless, I think this is a strong book, and I’m still totally on board with reading more of Kamala’s adventures in the future.