Moving Day

Today is what Rachael and I have affectionately termed “Pod Day” when we get all our remaining possessions loaded up into a big crate to be shipped across the country while we get ready to go galavanting at a much slower pace in the same direction.  It’s a pretty big deal because once we finish getting everything loaded up we’ll be down to just the stuff we’re taking with us in the car on our road trip.  If everything goes according to plan, we’ll check out with our landlord in the morning and then take off for Atlanta to spend the holiday weekend with my family before we start traveling in earnest.

A street in downtown Athens as the sun’s setting.

It’s a bittersweet occasion, because we’re really excited about our move, but Athens has also been our home for six years.  That’s the longest either of us has lived in a single place as adults, and it really feels like we’ve put down some deep roots here.  Still, we want an adventure (and to live in a state with actual social supports for its residents), so we understand the trade off we’re making.

While we’re on the road, I don’t expect I’ll have much time for writing, similar to how I’ve not been doing any work on the blog for the past month while we’ve been doing moving preparation.  A cross country road trip is a really big deal though, and since I don’t know the next time Rachael and I’ll have an opportunity to do something like this, I want to document the occasion in some small way.  My hope is that I can post a picture or two of our travels every day for posterity.  They’ll be going up on Instagram and Twitter initially, but when I do have time I’d like to round them up with some thoughts about what we’ve seen here on the blog.  If you have any interest in following our road trip, then go check in on my Twitter account; that’s where I post all my pictures along with brief thoughts that aren’t full enough to take up a blog post.

Anywho, that’s that.  Let’s kick this thing off.

Goodbye, old home.

Reading “Healing Factor (2 of 2)”

The move is coming along nicely (we’re out of our current place as of Saturday morning!), and since most of what we’ve needed to accomplish to make everything happen successfully, I want to take a little bit of time to continue looking at Ms. Marvel.  I don’t think this will be an especially long or detailed review, but the fact that I went on hiatus in the middle of a two-part story has felt immensely itchy for the last month, and I want to do something about it.

Wolverine’s not really this grumpy in the issue itself, though I do wish Kamala actually got a selfie like this. (Cover by Jamie McKelvie & Matthew Wilson)

In terms of major plot developments, Ms. Marvel #7 is relatively light.  The entire issue revolves around her adventure in the sewer with Wolverine with a short stinger at the end that involves Medusa finally getting involved in Kamala’s development as a superhero since the girl is actually an Inhuman and not a mutant like Wolverine initially believed  (I’m a few years behind on current Marvel events at this point, so I don’t know what happened with Inhumans vs X-Men, but I sincerely hope that Kamala avoided all that hullabaloo).  There’s no family stuff (I am disappoint) or mention of high school drama, which makes this issue extremely conventional superhero fare.  We do learn that the Inventor is actually doing something with the teenagers who have been disappearing from Jersey City: he appears to be using them as energy sources for his experiments like in The Matrix (complete with nutrient baths and fetal positions).  That thread will get spooled out in more detail in the next arc, but that’s for another time.

This advice is a little skewed, but it fits in with Wolverine’s lived experience. (Artwork by Jacob Wyatt, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

The centerpiece of this issue (besides Kamala punching out a giant alligator) is the impromptu mentoring that Wolverine bestows on her during her first official team-up.  This sort of dynamic is a really delightful one because it plays on one of Wolverine’s greatest strengths as a character: his affinity for acting as a mentor figure to young up-and-coming female superheroes.  Yes, this trope typically applies to newer members of the X-Men (this might be why Wolverine assumes that Kamala must be a mutant; the meta-story of his mentorship always follows a certain pattern), but it’s mostly a story that he knows well, and he gets what his role is supposed to be.  It’s kind of funny to realize that Wolverine is the answer to the need that Kamala expresses to Sheikh Abdullah in the previous issue, but it works really works in a four-color book like this one.  Experienced Marvel readers know that Wolverine is a character who has a remarkably varied portfolio of stories in his background, including stories that go to very dark, very gruesome places.  Seeing a character with that kind of background interact with Kamala, who is a very inexperienced, very idealistic young hero is so much fun just because you can see Wolverine trying to balance between teaching her about the harder realities of life and shielding her from the ugliness of it (I love the moment when Wolverine catches himself from cursing in front of Kamala; it’s exactly the kind of thing an adult like him would do).

Kamala gets Wolverine’s point. (Artwork by Jacob Wyatt, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

Wolverine’s general advice to Kamala comes down to a single important notion: to be a hero, you have to understand that someone will usually get hurt when it comes to conflict, and your job is to try to make it sure it’s you whenever you can handle the pain (of course Wolverine’s basic philosophy of superheroics revolves around pain management).  The underlying principle of self-sacrifice is classic superheroing, and Kamala takes to the lesson admirably.  Wolverine stresses that it’s about knowing your limits as well (since he’s working without a healing factor in this story, he has his own struggles with slowing down and letting Kamala do the heavy lifting at different points in the adventure); if you’re going to try to generalize life lessons from a superhero book, it’s worth emphasizing that point.  Superheroes go above and beyond in their missions; regular folks just trying to be better people shouldn’t kill themselves over it.  Kamala gets it pretty well, and that’s a satisfying end to this little outing.

Pardon Our Progress

I’ve been on summer break for two weeks now, and what I have discovered in that time is that the process of preparing for a cross-country move and the need to recover from that preparation really eats into my time.  Given that, this is notice that my blogging schedule is going to be extremely sporadic over the next month-and-a-half-ish.  The hope right now is to be settled in Portland by the end of July, but there’s still a few details that are unsettled regarding when we’ll have access to our apartment which keeps me from knowing a definite date.  Nonetheless, I wanted to mention this because I didn’t want it to seem like I was just falling off the face of the earth this summer.

For anyone curious about more specific updates, I can say at this point that Rachael and I have both secured job offers in school districts where we think we’ll be happy working next year.  Our expected income looks like it’s going to be pretty comfortable for the two of us, and we expect that we’ll spend this first year in Portland just getting to know the city and figuring out what areas look like good places to live long term.  We’re excited about the prospect of the cooler climate, and we’re hoping that the abundant natural beauty in Oregon will be incentive enough for us to go enjoy outdoor activities more (we both like being active outside, but the climate in Georgia makes the outdoors uncomfortably hot in the summer when we have the most free time).  There’s a gorgeous city park in walking distance of where we’re planning to live that we hope to frequent regularly.  We’re also just excited at the prospect of doing actual city living for once; we’ve lived in the suburbs pretty much our entire adult lives, and while we’re comfortable with that sort of community setup, we’d like to see what it’s like in a more concentrated community.

Of course, moving to an urban setting involves a lot of downsizing since the apartment we’re renting is probably about half the size of our current home.  The last two weeks have been largely preoccupied with sorting through our belongings, determining what we want to keep and what we want to get rid of (we have runs to the local Goodwill for donation drop offs down to a science).  We’re also in the process of figuring out what to do with the furniture that we can’t bring with us.  If things go well, we expect that we’re going to be living in significantly sparser environs for the last two weeks of our current lease as we give a lot of furniture to members of my family.  This broad umbrella of figuring out how to dispose of items in our house has been the single biggest time sink of the last two weeks (we thought that might be job hunting at first, but then we both got offers that we liked within the space of a week).  There’s also all the logistical planning that goes into pulling off a move as well (I’m really looking forward to getting our apartment lease settled this week so I can schedule end dates on our utilities).  It’s a lot of stuff, and days are often very full as a result.  By the time we stop working, Rachael and I both typically just want to veg in front of the TV watching The Office (we’ve binged through nearly four seasons in a week now, and we’re planning on continuing right on into the show’s final seasons which are, to be polite, not as good as its heyday).  So that’s why so much radio silence on the blog.

It’s not all drudgery though; part of cleaning house is finding stuff that you’d forgotten you still had and enjoying the memories that come with it.  This weekend Rachael and I cleaned out our cabinet of Dungeons & Dragons materials from a campaign that we ran for each other about six years ago.  It’s super geeky, because we set the whole thing in a fantastical version of Anglo-Saxon Great Britain around 800 CE.  We had this whole grand scheme to follow the adventures of the characters who were meant to be the ancestors of some big epic heroes we had vaguely imagined.  There were maps and adventure notes and mounds of character sheets (I think we created about ten unique player characters for this campaign that was just played by the two of us, plus characters for some friends of ours that we attempted to bring in on one very ill-fated gaming night; there were dragons and curses that prevented folks from not being able to get drunk and more than a little bit of petty thievery; unfortunately, we didn’t get to carry on that gaming group).  It’s a big pile of old papers, and it doesn’t make sense to take all that stuff with us to Portland, but I am a softy for that stuff (I wrote four NaNoWriMo novels set in that universe), so I spent an afternoon scanning all the documents into a massive PDF that is now safely nestled on one of my archival hard drives.  I might never look at it again, but it’s there in the event that I get the itch to review old campaign stuff for another round of tabletop gaming.

Anyway, that’s the sort of stuff that’s been going on around here while I have not been blogging.  I’ll try to drop updates when I can, but in the meantime, know that I have not given up on this space; I’m just trying to get my meatspace in order first.

So I Just Saw Wonder Woman

Let’s skip all the context today regarding Wonder Woman’s history and why it’s absurd that we had to wait until 2017 for her to star in a feature length live action movie, and let’s just get to the movie itself.  Wonder Woman is pretty good (in some ways I’d say it echoes the tone of Captain America: The First Avenger, but those comparisons are inevitable when you have a film that flashes back to one of the World Wars) all around, and it is a far less dour movie than what Warner and DC have been putting out in the last few years.  There’s certainly a heavy amount of pathos (this is, again, a movie about World War I, which traumatized an entire generation), but it feels earned given the subject matter.  The film’s weakest point is probably Gal Gadot herself, which is disappointing since she’s the only woman on screen for two thirds of the movie.  Beyond that, most of the plot is very by the numbers stuff, which is fine; action sequences are entertaining, and the few comic bits hold up well enough.  My general opinion is that if this were another male superhero movie, I’d say just catch it on streaming later, but because this is the first major woman-led, woman-directed superhero movie you should go see it in theaters if you can afford to; the movie business only pays attention to dollar signs, and what will determine whether they begin to realize they can make more woman-driven superhero movies is the box office take, not critical praise.

Wonder Woman Poster

Promotional poster for Wonder Woman. (Image credit: IMDb)

Alright, that’s the quick-and-dirty out of the way.  Moving forward I’ll be discussing spoilers for Wonder Woman, though most of the story beats aren’t surprising if you’re roughly familiar with Diana’s mythos and have seen your share of action and war movies.

Let’s start with Gal Gadot as Diana.  In action sequences, she works perfectly well.  She can do the poses and hit all the marks that communicate her superheroic awesomeness, but there’s just something off about her in any scene that isn’t about stopping bullets and jumping into buildings (seriously, Diana wrecks so many buildings just be crashing into them–intentionally).  Rachael described it as a lack of presence; Gadot carries herself like a woman accustomed to inhabiting a world filled with men, which is the exact opposite of what you want in a character who has never been forced to make herself smaller to accommodate others in her life.  Even after you forgive the fact that Gal Gadot looks like a runway model rather than an Amazonian warrior, you can’t overlook how her body language fails to convey this sense of owning her space when she’s around other people.

On the subject of the other Amazons, things are a little mixed.  Overall, they look the way you expect DC Amazons to look; the women are all big and imposing and have athletes’ bodies (Robin Wright particularly stands out as Diana’s aunt Antiope), and when they get their big battle scene they come across as total badasses.  It is kind of weird that they all have perfect makeup and impeccably coiffed hair (that doesn’t seem like the sort of thing that would be high on the priorities list for battle-ready warriors), but I’m going to chalk that up to Hollywood being Hollywood and the massively difficult lift that is completely subverting the male gaze.  Rachael and I agreed that after two more sequels with this continuity we want to see a gritty reboot where the Amazons are basically clones of Furiosa because she and the motorcycle grannies are the true Amazons that this world deserves.

Outside of Themyscira, the supporting cast is overwhelmingly male (like, seriously, besides Diana there are precisely two other major female characters off the island, and both of them are off screen for a vast majority of the film).  It’s a good cast as far as it goes, but it would be really nice if they had included more women in roles that didn’t consist of mother-clutching-her-baby-in-the-midst-of-abject-desolation on the Front.  Still, letting that go, DC’s version of Steve and his ragtag, multi-ethnic commandos is remarkably charming (it probably helps that this group is much smaller, so there’s time to actually develop everyone’s character beyond broad ethnic stereotypes).  The film does a neat trick where it uses the supporting cast to illustrate Diana’s gradual realization of how complex the world outside Themyscira is.  All of Steve’s buddies do morally questionable things, but time is given to explain how their roles in the war have been informed by the limitations imposed on them by outside factors.  Sameer wanted to be an actor, but when the war started he decided to be a soldier instead; because he’s not white the Allies wouldn’t let him.  Charlie is a sniper who prefers to kill his targets at a distance, which Diana thinks is the height of dishonor; we learn that Charlie’s desire for detachment from his victims stems from his PTSD (also, he never fires his rifle, let alone kills anyone in the course of the movie, effectively subverting his role as expert marksman).  The Chief (I really wish he’d been given an actual name) is a war profiteer who sells contraband to both sides, but this is the only way he can make a living after his tribe was cheated and murdered out of their land by the Americans in a previous war.  Even Dr. Maru gets an implied tragic backstory with her facial disfigurement that she hides under a ceramic mask (it’s the emotional climax of the film when Diana chooses not to kill Maru after realizing that she must be reacting to some trauma of her own).

The action sequences are a lot of fun to watch, but they rely heavily on the old Snyderian trick of shifting into slow motion to emphasize the moment just before an impact (it was cool when 300 did it, but you’d think we could get some variation in this visual language more than ten years on).  There’s also a weird sort of uncanny valley thing going on with the CG where anytime they slow-mo a moment that captures a character’s face, the actor’s scanned image just doesn’t mesh with what’s happening in the moment.  Too many times you have an Amazon doing something awesome, and her face is just a serene mask as she’s about to loose a bunch of arrows at once or cut down a swath of enemy soldiers.  It’s slightly unsettling in a “why didn’t they have the actors emote, like, at all for this stuff?” way.  Thankfully, this is really only a minor complaint.  The climax’s battle between Diana and Ares is particularly standout in my mind–before Ares gets mad and does his Ultimate Final Form ™.  I like the nonparallel imagery of Diana facing off against a frumpy English dude with telekinetic powers; something gets lost when he puts on the traditional Ares armor and it turns into more of a standard slugfest (though I am thankful that David Thewlis’s face is mostly obscured during this part of the fight; his head on Ares’s body would probably be too much to bear).  These are small nitpicks though; the action sequences are eminently watchable once you get over the uncanny valley bits.

One last minor observation relates to how DC seems to be developing a pattern of implementing messianic imagery with their superheroes.  Diana’s an effective conduit for this stuff since the movie continuity establishes that she is a literal god who was born specifically to save humanity from its worst impulses, but the Christian overtones feel a little forced to me.  I recall at least two instances towards the movie’s climax where Diana strikes a cruciform pose just before she does something impressive, and given that her character arc revolves around her learning to let love overcome the impulse towards punishing imperfect humans, you can’t help but feel like things are getting a little Jesus-y (I don’t personally have a problem with Christ parallels in pop culture, but given that Zack Snyder explicitly did the same thing with Superman in Man of Steel, I can’t help but wonder if part of it is a cynical grab for those evangelical movie dollars).  I get that Superman and Wonder Woman are very typical of the messianic archetype, and this sort of trope mapping is totally unextraordinary, but it feels like they could have been a little less on the nose about it.

So that’s Wonder Woman.  Go see it in theaters if you have the money, and enjoy it for being a perfectly solid superhero film with mostly the same flaws you’d see in any other typical superhero film of the last decade.

Reading “Healing Factor (1 of 2)”

This issue of Ms. Marvel has the good fortune of being the first issue after the conclusion of Kamala’s origin story (we can split hairs over what beats necessitate an origin story, but I’ll maintain that the origin isn’t over until the superhero has developed their costume and beaten at least one bad guy; things which Kamala doesn’t succeed in doing until issue #5), and that status allows it to begin by giving us a sense of what Kamala’s life is like now that she’s settled into her role as Jersey City’s local superhero.  She discusses how she’s been managing the influx of spiderbot attacks since her showdown with the Inventor’s hooligans, and we get to see that Kamala is growing more comfortable with her powers (though she still makes mistakes and gets caught in an explosion for her trouble).  We also hear that she’s continuing to sneak out of the house (it’s tough keeping super villain crime in check), and so her father is making good on his promise to send her to speak with Sheikh Abdullah.

Kamala taking a selfie while punching out a bank robber is delightful, though probably a little bit advanced for her skill level in this issue. (Cover by Jamie McKelvie & Matthew Wilson; image credit: Comic Vine)

Way back in the third issue, I made some observations about how I liked that Sheikh Abdullah entertains discussion in his youth group even when he obviously disagrees with the points that Kamala is trying to make.  It’s probably fair to recognize here that my positive disposition toward Sheikh Abdullah was colored by this scene where he gives her advice on superheroing (without her ever actually telling him that she’s superheroing).  It’s fair to say that Abdullah comes across as stuffy in his first appearance, and he is annoyed with Kamala there, but I totally get that annoyance; he’s trying to give a lecture and Kamala’s questions, while certainly important, aren’t quite on topic.  If you’ve ever taught a class where you had students who would just go off on tangents, you can relate to that annoyance.  It’s the feeling of an impending headache as you must explain for the nth time that you need to stay on topic because this is important.

Anyway.

I do love this drawing of Kamala; it’s very much her, but in a way that’s distinctly different from what Adrian Alphona would emphasize about her. (Artwork by Jacob Wyatt, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

Sheikh Abdullah’s advice is incredibly compassionate and understanding; he knows how teenagers are, and he recognizes the futility of telling them not to do something they’re dead set on doing, so instead he encourages Kamala to try to do her extracurriculars in the most upright fashion possible.  This is… not the message you would expect from Abdullah given what we previously knew about him.  Still, it fits; when you work with kids, you tend to absorb what approaches are more effective to positively influence them, and you figuring out very quickly that coming down hard against a thing that they’ve been doing consistently isn’t going to get you very far.  Abdullah trusting that Kamala is telling the truth when she says she’s helping people goes a long way towards building the rapport that he needs to have with her if he’s going to be an effective mentor figure in the future.

Of course, if you’ve read the issue you know that the Abdullah conversation is just a way to segue into the actual meat of this story, which is that Kamala is going on an adventure and she’s going to get to team up with Wolverine.

This is original recipe Wolverine for anyone following along at home; this issue was published in that weird intermediary period between Logan burning out his healing factor permanently (and consequently adopting an armored costume with its own claws built into the gauntlets so he wouldn’t hurt himself) and his death by adamantium dousing.  This is a significant plot point since the cliffhanger at the end relies on Wolverine being incapacitated so that Kamala finds herself facing off against a giant sewer gator alone.  It also sets up the emotional arc that was foreshadowed earlier in the Sheikh Abdullah conversation: Kamala needs a mentor, and now she has one in the form of the grumpiest, most ubiquitous character in Marvel’s publishing lineup of the last couple decades.  It’s obviously a standard play with a new comic book to have guest appearances by more popular characters in order to entice new readers, but I have to respect the way this story is constructed.  Wolverine’s appearance is sort of random, but he fills a central role in the plot, and he’s not inserted in obnoxious ways (you don’t have him featuring on the cover of this issue, and he doesn’t steal the spotlight from Kamala).

The best part of this panel is the Inventor’s smile while explaining his convoluted backstory. (Artwork by Jacob Wyatt, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

Besides Wolverine’s guest spot, this issue also gives us the first face-to-face meeting between Kamala and the Inventor (well, it’s via alligator-mounted hologram, but whatever), and it’s suitably weird.  What we learn about the Inventor here is that he is a clone of Thomas Edison who was contaminated with cockatiel DNA when his assistant Knox was making him (the fact that Knox created the Inventor should be a pretty big tip off that something’s weird about this whole set up, but Thomas Edison was a glory hog and an idea thief, so we’ll let it pass for now because it makes a weird kind of sense; still, keep an eye on Knox).  What I love most about the Inventor’s concept is that all the individual parts are bonkers enough to be a little too out there (a clone of Thomas Edison? a genius humanoid cockatiel? a sewer dwelling super villain with trained alligators that are decked out with assorted technology accessories?), but when you throw them all together the end result is so absurd that you just throw up your hands and go, “Comics!”

I have to make a note about the art on this issue just because it’s the first one with an artist besides Adrian Alphona.  All the Ms. Marvel I’ve read impresses strongly on me that this is a book that takes its unique character from the combination of G Willow Wilson’s writing and Alphona’s art; he’s such a quirky artist that he makes Jersey City seem weird in the best way.  Given all that, I tend to subconsciously compare other artists doing arcs on the book with Alphona, which isn’t really fair to them because I’m not sure of another artist that has a style comparable with his.  Still, if you can manage to set that aside, Jacob Wyatt’s art on this issue is really good.  He favors really clean layouts (contrasted with Alphona’s love of just letting panels overlap each other haphazardly on the page) that help you focus on the central subject of each panel.  His backgrounds aren’t as jam packed as Alphona’s, which works fine for this more action heavy issue where you want to be focused on the motion and poses of the figures (there’s a panel where Wolverine flips himself over Kamala’s shoulders to keep from hurting her that’s particularly nice).  Wyatt’s mode of expression for characters focuses much more heavily on body language over detailed faces (when he zooms out to show Kamala geeking out over getting to team up with Wolverine, she looks adorable, and Wolverine looks befuddled).  Bits like Kamala worrying over an alligator that just tried to eat her hit their story beats perfectly, and can easily elicit a laugh.  Wyatt’s art succeeds in being different enough from Alphona’s that it doesn’t ever feel like he’s trying to imitate a style poorly.

Kamala looks super cartoonish in this panel, and I don’t care because it totally sells her dismay at having injured a giant sewer gator. (Artwork by Jacob Wyatt, colors by Ian Herring)

Another Year Over

Today is my last day of work at the school where I’ve been teaching for the past year.  While this post sits and accrues the modest number of eyeballs from people that care about the goings on of my personal and professional life, I’ll be off at work doing last minute packing and sorting.  These activities will honestly not take that much time, so I expect most of the day will be spent enjoying the company of my coworkers (this is generally the way that post-planning always goes; you just don’t have as much to do in the time given as you think you will).  I think this is a fitting way to spend the last day of the school year, especially since I won’t be returning to this job in the fall.

How the last professional year began for me: with a trip to the local jail to get my fingerprints taken so everyone knew it was safe for me to work with children. Forgive the goofy face; I have a lot of trouble with selfies.

It’s no real secret among my friends and family that Rachael and I are in the process of organizing a move across the country to Oregon.  She just graduated from her degree program, and we find ourselves, for the first time in eight years, not bogged down with the need to live near a university and get by on a single income.  We’re ready to go on an adventure like we’ve discussed doing ever since we got married, and this is the moment to do it.  Rachael has always loved the Pacific Northwest, and I’m up for seeing something new (I’ve lived in Georgia my entire life and only ever traveled significant distances on a few special occasions), so that’s where we’re setting our course.  It’s a happy turn of events for us, and we grow more excited as each step in our plan comes to fruition.

For me there is some sadness mixed in as well.  After five years working at my last school, I was very much approaching burnout, and the transition to the school where I’ve been was a happy one.  I’ve made friends and done well professionally in this latest setting; in many ways it feels like a good fit for me.  As I’ve said many times to many people, if the plan were to stay in Georgia then I would absolutely want to stay where I am; that’s not the plan though, and I can’t.

If I had to sum up the last year of work briefly, I would have to describe it overall as restful.  My previous job was very high stress with a challenging student population and limited professional resources; I can’t say that it was a bad experience, but it’s definitely not the sort of environment that most people can work in for an extended period of time.  I’m perpetually amazed by the folks I know who had been working there longer than me and who are still going strong a year after I decided I’d had enough.  In contrast, I’ve felt incredibly supported in this most recent job, and I could easily continue doing this kind of work for many more years.

I’ve found the co-teaching model quite agreeable all around.  I understand that there are potential pitfalls if you don’t get paired with a co-teacher who meshes with your classroom style and personality, but I was lucky enough during this year to not run into those issues.  All of my co-teachers were wonderful, and they did a lot to help me navigate this transitional year into a new paradigm for classroom work.  I hope that I was equally helpful in making their classrooms welcoming places where our students learned stuff that they wouldn’t have learned otherwise.

That’s all for today, I think.  I’m entering another transition, and there are a lot of feelings mixed up in it; it’s probably better to just sit with those feelings for a bit for now.

Reading “No Normal (5 of 5)”

The conclusion to the first arc of Ms. Marvel is a really strong one with all the parts of the series that I love represented.  We get to see more of Kamala’s personal relationships developing, Kamala finalizes the look of her costume, she learns some more about how her powers work, the action climax is relatively short (I am apparently so not here for the bof and the pow), and we finally get the reveal of the super villain that’s going to be Kamala’s first nemesis.  There is a lot to like, and it more than makes up for the relatively thin feeling of the fourth issue.

I really like the empty space on this cover. It feels very contemplative. Also, I love any scene where Kamala is just hanging out. (Cover by Jamie McKelvie & Matthew Wilson. Image credit: Comic Vine)

Because the last issue left off with a cliffhanger involving Kamala being trapped by a kid, Doyle, with a mohawk and a laser gun, this one has to start off with a rapid resolution of that conundrum.  Kamala has her first real setback as she realizes that she’s outmatched by Doyle’s sharpshooting and spider drones, so she needs to retreat, leaving Vick still held captive the Inventor’s henchfolk.  I like this decision because it underscores (like the rest of the arc) that Kamala is still just learning about her powers (total time that’s passed within the story is about four days) and becoming a superhero doesn’t automatically confer expertise in rescues and big battles and such.  Kamala’s infiltration of the gang’s hideout, which is pretty haphazard on its face when you consider how she handles the overwhelming numbers of the drones (that is, she doesn’t), doesn’t really involve an exit plan for getting both herself and a non-powered person out.  Her retreat is smart, and it teaches her that she needs planning as well as powers.

Kamala GTFOs after her rescue attempt goes sideways. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

Kamala’s parents have different approaches to encouraging her not to be reckless. They both love her a lot though. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

Before we get to the obligatory training montage that shows Kamala spending the afternoon with Bruno figuring out how to do things like run faster (she grows longer legs), hide (she makes herself look like a mannequin in a dumpster), shrink (she hangs out in Bruno’s pet hamster’s cage) and whatnot, Kamala has to have one last run in with her parents in this story.  Continuing with the motif of her last few interactions with her parents, this one involves Kamala getting caught coming home late from being out against her parents’ wishes and her having to run the gauntlet of parental questions.  Kamala’s mom continues to be flustered with her disobedience and demands an explanation for why Kamala is dressed in her burkini and coming home after one in the morning.  Her mother makes such a fuss that she wakes Kamala’s father, who calms his wife and tells her to get some sleep.  This is a replay of the dynamic we saw on display back in issue two where Kamala’s mom is typically the more hotheaded of the parents and her father tries to be the levelheaded one.  I really like this portrayal because it shows Kamala’s dad respecting his daughter’s autonomy.  He doesn’t like that she disobeys her parents, but his first impulse is never to react angrily; he wants to understand what she’s going through.  In this moment, Kamala takes advantage of her dad’s relative leniency to explain that she can’t tell him what she’s dealing with.  He doesn’t freak over the secrecy, but instead tells Kamala about how her parents named her and why they worry for her safety.  His final judgment is that she needs to speak with Sheikh Abdullah at the mosque, which is really reasonable; I like it especially because it highlights how Kamala’s father wants to give her space to deal with her problems in a mature manner.  It’s this family dynamic where Kamala’s parents don’t just punish her for disappearing at weird intervals that I find really appealing, but it wouldn’t be unreasonable for them to just declare her grounded all the time given how bad she is at sneaking out.

Kamala fires a well aimed laser pew off panel. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

Following all the family togetherness, Kamala persuades Bruno to help her train for a second run at the rescue mission; Bruno feels obligated because she is trying to save his brother from hoodlums with laser guns and spider drones.  We see Kamala finalize her costume (I am a sucker for explanations of how superheroes put their costumes together) and then the issue’s key action sequence happens super quickly (it’s four pages total, which is a really good pace to emphasize that Kamala has a plan to rescue Vick, executes it, and then hightails it out of there).  Kamala appears to know what she’s doing here; this is probably the first time that she’s fully prepared for what she’s doing, and it shows.  It’s a lot of fun with cute moments like Kamala riding on the back of one of the drones while miniaturized so she can use its laser to disable Doyle (by shooting him in the crotch; presumably the drones’ lasers aren’t nearly as powerful as the one from Doyle’s pistol that very clearly burned Kamala when it grazed her).  It’s a compact sequence that underscores that Kamala is just trying to get Vick out safely this time; she’s not trying to do anything fancy like apprehend Doyle and the other kids.

The issue ends with Kamala taking ownership of her new role as Jersey City’s local superhero (in front of the Circle Q, which is probably the absolute best unofficial base of operations you could imagine for a teenager superhero) and the big reveal that the Inventor is a dude named Mr. Edison who is actually a humanoid cockatiel who wears a waistcoat.  It’s not the strangest super villain to ever appear in comics, but it’s pretty out there.

Ms. Marvel makes her public debut to the citizens of Jersey City. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

ABC’s

  • Fight Loser II
  • Custom spider drones with different decorations including a flower print casing, a gray wig, wraparound shades, a viking helmet, and a bandana
  • Olive Oil?
  • Nanana Bat Milk
  • Cobra Halalala Hot Sauce: Yoga Fire
  • Yoga Flame or Yoga Fire
  • Cromulant Crunch
  • “Hey kids try a maze”
  • “LoL -> Life lesson”
  • Low Hanging Fruit Juice: Adequate Apple
  • Pedestrian Pear
  • Radoslav’s Fantabulous Hakka
  • GM-O’s
  • “Frook Toes Freddie’s FAQ for the Kiddies”
  • “Q: (Billy) Can we – A: No.”
  • “Ingredients are on a need to know basis”
  • Thugs at Brunch 2014 Calendar: October
  • McDude
  • Radoslav’s Outrageous Pakistani Cuisine
  • “Pardon our dust, friend!!  We’re Renovating! – Circle Q”
  • blue print: [picture of an outhouse]
  • Gigawatts 1.21
  • Eau de Super Snot by Bruno
  • The owl living at the dock reappears!
  • Blerf World Famous Alley Boxes
  • Ralph’s Fashion
  • Shakes!
  • “Introducing the Poison Dart Frog Burger: As seen on the news”
  • Bullet Ant Shake: $4
  • The Birdman Cometh