I have to admit that when I ordered the fourth volume of Ms. Marvel I didn’t have super high expectations for the story. This volume is titled Last Days, and it marks the end of the series leading up to the company wide event Secret Wars (don’t panic, the series continues after that). All of Marvel’s major books had a “Last Days” storyline just before they were suspended for the event built around the 616 universe ending as a result of the “Incursion” where all the dimensions of the multiverse were colliding with one another. Typically, any story that’s editorially mandated is going to carry with it some baggage that will weigh down the book’s ongoing narrative (especially considering that these stories were designed to be explicit endings to all of the ongoing series). G Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona manage to take that concept and turn it into something really endearing.
The way they pull this off is that they take the end-of-the-world narrative that’s standard in pretty much all of the “Last Days” stories (at least, it is in the ones that I’ve read elsewhere), and they set that as a backdrop. It’s established up front that Kamala isn’t going to be doing anything to directly help fight against the Incursion; she’s just going to be managing the chaos in Jersey City, and at the end the universe is going to disappear. Game over, no more continues. As readers who have meta-knowledge of the event that’s happening, we already know the ending, so the narrative tension of that question is immediately removed so that we can focus instead on watching Kamala cope with the news. Over the course of this arc she transitions from assuming it’s a major threat that the Avengers will be able to handle to wondering if she can do anything to save the world to accepting the possibility that her time’s almost up and deciding how to spend her last few hours alive. It’s not necessarily a unique story, but it’s a good direction to go with a young hero who’s still learning about how she’s supposed to do the hero thing. Consequently, this story becomes about Kamala engaging in a kind of heroism that isn’t centered around punching things. More importantly, which Kamala is our focus character, there’s so much going on here that’s more about her community coming together in the face of a crisis; it’s nice.
Part of what really makes this story shine for me is the way it highlights Kamala’s relationships with all the people around her. We get to see developments between Kamala and all of her family (Aamir’s subplot might be my favorite; I love how he simply refuses to let anyone dictate what he should want for himself based on his identity as a young, devout, Muslim man), an exploration of the way Kamran’s kidnapping of Kamala is still messing with her head (it’s a great look at how trauma can impact a person without delving into the lurid aspects of severe traumas like violence or sexual assault), and the setting aside of differences among Kamala’s classmates during the crisis (Kamala’s reconciliation with Zoe in particular is pretty touching; Zoe was the first person Kamala rescued as Ms. Marvel, even though Zoe had bullied her just before the Terrigen mist gave her her powers, and even though Zoe doesn’t realize that, it’s nice here to see her recognizing how mean she’s been). Even Bruno, whose unrequited love for Kamala has had the potential from the beginning to be a little icky, gets a nice resolution here where Kamala finally acknowledges that she does have feelings for him, but she can’t do romance right now because she’s so focused on learning how to be Ms. Marvel. It’s a good resolution that sidesteps the cultural problem that Aamir points out in the previous arc, and doesn’t leave Kamala in an awkward position where she has to manage knowing her best friend is in love with her and she doesn’t feel the same about him. This approach shows a lot of maturity and growth on Kamala’s part, especially as a follow up to the Kamran plot.
The one relationship that’s of particular note is the one that Kamala establishes with Carol Danvers, Captain Marvel. This team up is one that’s been anticipated since the inception of Ms. Marvel. Out of all the superheroes that Kamala fangirls over, Carol Danvers is her idol; she was the inspiration for Kamala to take up the Ms. Marvel name in the first place, so there’s a lot of expectation that comes with the two finally meeting. If the team up with Wolverine back in Generation Why was nonstop adorable, then this one with Carol is nonstop feels. Kamala gets affirmation from her personal hero that she’s doing well as Ms. Marvel, and she gets to learn with Carol’s guidance about the burden that having power places on you when it’s not enough to take care of everyone. All this is even more poignant with the subtle implication that Kamala’s meeting the Carol from the universe that’s in process of colliding with 616. It’s not hard to figure out when you know the context of the story, but little things like the pendant with the combined emblems of Captain and Ms. Marvel and the fact Carol’s uniform is all in dark grays and blacks (like she’s in mourning) go a long way towards suggesting what’s going on. The Kamala in the other world was probably Carol’s partner or sidekick, and she must have died recently; the visit to our Kamala is this Carol trying to get closure. That this is never explicitly stated (and Kamala never seems to figure it out) makes the whole thing more heart wrenching. Carol’s primary appearance is in issue 17, and I think it’s hands down the most outstanding issue in a really superb arc.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t spend a moment squeeing over Alphona’s art in this book. He draws the best expressions on Kamala, and when you can tear yourself away from looking at how adorable she is, you can get lost looking at the background details that he nestles into every panel. Kamala is very proud of her hometown, and with Alphona on the book Jersey City becomes especially weird and quirky. You have a variety of strange locals like the little people who are always wearing hazmat suits, the bald hipster guy with shrapnel sticking out of his head, and the police who are busily dumping evidence (including a skull with a knife sticking out of it!) into the river. Alphona’s art makes this book just as much as Wilson’s writing.