There are two things of great import in Ms. Marvel trade volume 3. The first is that Loki guest stars in an issue and gets called a hipster Viking, which is, objectively, the best thing. The second is that this is the first time since I started reading Ms. Marvel that the guest star story feels like a bigger draw than Kamala’s solo adventures.
Don’t get me wrong; I still enjoyed the story in this volume immensely. Stories that delve into the turmoil that teenagers feel over complicated relationships tend to hit me in the nostalgia feels because I was a mopey teenager myself at one time (despite what my students say, I am thankfully not so old that I’ve forgotten what it’s like being that age). Kamala has to navigate her first serious romance in this book (I don’t care if it’s a relationship that only lasts, like, three days; remember, we’re talking about teenagers), and in parallel with that story (which passes through some really interesting territory) we get to see her best buddy Bruno cope with the fact that he’s totally crushing on Kamala and there’s not any realistic way they could date that would be healthy. This is all really engaging stuff.
All I’m saying is that it’s just not as awesome as Loki the hipster Viking.
Part of my preference for the Loki issue in this collection is probably very directly related to the difference in artists. Issue #12, which features Loki, is illustrated by Elmo Bondoc, whose style features delightfully distinct faces that are at their best when they involve a character being smug about something. The rest of the trade (excepting the bonus issue of SHIELD #2 in the back where Kamala guest stars) is illustrated by Takeshi Miyazawa. Miyazawa’s style is highly reminiscent of manga, which isn’t intrinsically bad, but has connotations of blandness for me (I went through a manga phase when I was a teenager, and honestly I don’t think I ever came across anything that stayed with me the way many Western comics have). I want to reiterate that I’m not knocking Miyazawa’s style; his run here is really engaging with some good action sequences and fun character expressions, but in comparison with Bondoc’s single issue, I find that I prefer Bondoc’s art.
Setting aside the art (when it comes down to it, Ms. Marvel has had a phenomenal run of artists in the issues I’ve read, and comparisons never really come down to a matter of individual quality), I want to talk a little bit about the story arc in this volume. I’ve read through the book twice, and my general impression is that this arc presented a few narrative challenges. No Normal and Generation Why (the first and second trades, respectively) were arcs that could be seen as two halves to the larger origin story of Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel. The first trade involved Kamala adopting her superhero identity, and the second was about her growing into that identity as an inhabitant of the larger Marvel universe; all of these personal developments had the luxury of being framed by a macro story about her ever escalating confrontations with her first supervillain, the Inventor. No Normal ends with the Inventor still terrorizing Jersey City, which gives extra narrative momentum to Generation Why. Because Crushed (the volume I’m discussing here) begins after the Inventor’s been apprehended, this arc has to start from a place with no narrative urgency. Kamala’s established herself as a competent superhero, and we’re just awaiting the next major threat that inevitably comes along in superhero stories.
It’s probably the lack of momentum that left me feeling slightly less excited by this arc than the previous ones. Fortunately, that feeling didn’t really last; where Crushed is lacking in the intrinsic excitement of a new superhero’s origin story, I’ve realized that its handling of topics related to group identity, young romance, and trauma in a way that’s accessible for young readers makes it a particularly good story. The look at trauma in particular stands out to me, since Wilson manages to offer a pretty strong parallel to a rape story without actually delving into sexual assault, a subject that’s too heavy for an all-ages book. Without giving away too much for anyone worried about spoilers, Kamala finds herself in a situation where she’s been taken prisoner by the arc’s new villain, and it’s pointed out that because of her own actions preceding her capture, no one will realistically think that she’s been victimized. This thread doesn’t get fully resolved in Crushed (it ends before Kamala gets back to her regular life where we can see the potential fallout of what’s happened), but great care’s taken to explore how Kamala’s impacted by this spin on her situation.
Overall, while I was initially not as taken with this collection of Ms. Marvel as the previous ones, time has helped me come to the conclusion that while it starts from a disadvantage compared to the previous trades, the meat of the story that’s contained here is a lot more satisfying on a thematic level. It’s definitely worth a read, and not just because of the hipster Viking.