Reading “No Normal (2 of 5)”

I didn’t comment on it last week, but the first issue ends with Kamala emerging from a cocoon as the original Ms. Marvel in her iconic black swimsuit costume.  The reason I didn’t get into it then is because it was an ending splash page, and very typically, that final page in an issue serves as a sort of preview of what to look forward to in the next one by leaving things off on some kind of cliffhanger.  We get to see Kamala explore this turn of events more fully in the second issue.

Cover to Ms. Marvel #2. (Cover by Jamie McKelvie & Matthew Wilson)

Since this is the first full issue where Kamala has her powers, a lot of time is spent exploring how they work, what Kamala’s limitations are, and considering how she accesses them.  Essentially, Kamala is a polymorph; she can change her shape at will.  In this issue we see her making heavy use of her ability to change her appearance (she hasn’t developed her own costume yet, so she needs some way to hide her identity) and what will become her more signature ability of fluctuating the shape and mass of her limbs to accomplish various feats.  In time we’ll see Kamala disguise herself less and less, but it’s a great use of her powers in this first outing.  The core of Kamala’s character that was established in the previous issue was the tension between her heritage and her desire to fit in with other American kids.  Literally turning into her idealized version of her personal hero, a blonde white woman who saves the day in a swimsuit, is an excellent device for depicting that internal struggle on the page.  Throughout this issue Kamala switches between her normal appearance and Ms. Marvel classic a couple times when she is worried about being seen by other people.  The public situations are clearly tense for her (she specifically notes that when she sees Zoe she reflexively changes shape, like she’s throwing up a “fake smile”), and the default to her hero self-image is a way of coping (it’s telling that Kamala’s only able to resume her regular form when she’s alone and able to relax).  A detail about her Ms. Marvel disguise that I find especially charming is in the way Alphona draws her with the sash wrapped around her waist to cover her butt.  Even if Kamala’s shape-shifted to look like an adult woman, she lacks the confidence of Carol Danvers (and you just don’t sexualize teenage girls, jeez).  It’s a nice visual nod to the fact that Kamala’s still just playing a part here, and it’s one that she’s not really comfortable with.

This really is the best battle cry. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

Mixed in with the uncertainty are moments of clarity for Kamala where she visibly groks the potential of her powers to help people.  The central bit of action for the issue is Kamala’s rescuing Zoe Zimmer from drowning after her drunk boyfriend Josh accidentally drops her into the river.  This sequence is Kamala’s first Big Damn Hero moment and also develops characters who could have remained flat mundane antagonists.  Josh is a doofus, but he genuinely cares about Zoe and doesn’t flee when she falls off the dock (he’s actually preparing to jump in to save her when Kamala shows up to intervene), and Zoe, while still obnoxious, is genuinely grateful to her savior and promises not to drink anymore (she’s a teenager, so we’ll see how long that promise lasts, but at least the sentiment is nice).  This scene also gives us the first taste of how Kamala connects her drive to be a superhero with her faith (and her battle cry, which is objectively the best battle cry).

Imagine this panel being set to Ludacris circa 2004. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

The second half of the issue moves away from Kamala’s burgeoning superhero life to give us a bit more of her family life.  She’s in big trouble since she sneaked out to go to the party.  Aamir offers to avenge her when he initially thinks that her squirreliness about her night is because she was hurt somehow (he plays the overprotective big brother beautifully), but once he learns that she’s unharmed he changes gears quickly to let her know that their parents know what she did, and they are not pleased.  Kamala’s mother is especially irate, and in her scolding of Kamala she brings up some other old family tensions, like the fact that Aamir is practicing his religious devotion to the exclusion of actually getting a job and that the children are disobedient because Kamala’s father moved the family to America for his job in the first place.  Kamala’s father is much less incensed in this particular moment, expressing disappointment that Kamala is keeping secrets from him, but respecting her right to privacy.  He only tells her that she’s grounded until she proves to them that she’s trustworthy (a reasonable punishment for sneaking out of the house at night) and suggests that everyone get some sleep rather than having a big family argument in the middle of the night.

I just want you to tell me where I can one of those sweet shirts. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

I really love this scene with the Khans (I’m probably going to say this a lot; any time Kamala’s family is featured things are delightful).

Some other assorted notes of appreciation include the total awesomeness of the sweatshirt Kamala borrows from the homeless guy, the fact that Bruno was so concerned about Kamala that he called her parents (not snitching has its limits), and Kamala’s realization that the practical side of looking like Carol Danvers is much more aggravating than she anticipated.

ABCs

  • Sal’s Used Cheese
  • Free Range Maple Syrup
  • Fish that gets caught when Kamala saves Zoe and then wiggles its way back into the water
  • Random owl chillin’ on the pier
  • “HAIRCUTS!!  $5!  turnips -> $1 Keys – SOLD OUT”
  • Portrait of someone posing in front of a wicket with a cricket bat
  • “All Sorts of Math!”
  • “It was a stooone groove”
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