Reading “Generation Why (4 of 4)”

Okay, for that actual arc finale this week, we get a bunch of Kamala learning valuable hero lessons while deliberately trying to use her powers in a way that she’s not used them before.

If the last issue was about Wilson laying out the general theme and (for lack of a better word) moral of this story–that younger generations shouldn’t be judged unfairly by older ones, especially when older humans have a horrible track record of leaving social messes for their kids to clean up–then this one serves primarily to give the necessary heroic resolution.  The Inventor gets his comeuppance after being Kamala’s primary antagonist for nearly a year’s worth of issues, and we see Kamala have another epiphany about what it means to be a hero.

Also, this happens. This panel makes the whole issue worthwhile. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

To cover the relatively mundane stuff first, Kamala confronts the Inventor, who has kidnapped most of her classmates, including Nakia, and plugged them into his giant power grid for megalomaniacal reasons.  Because it’s been thoroughly established by this point that the Inventor knows Kamala’s major weakness (she can’t shape shift immediately after she’s been electrocuted), Kamala finds herself in a series of tight spots where she has to rely on the help of the teens she rescued from the Inventor’s safe house in the previous issue, Lockjaw, and ultimately Bruno and the police.  Given that the arc of Kamala’s first year of stories has been all about her growing into her Ms. Marvel identity and contemplating what it means to be a hero, this last lesson that she doesn’t have to save the day all by herself is a nice one.  Being okay with relying on your support network is a good skill to develop even outside superheroics, and given the generally positive worldview of the book, it makes sense with Kamala’s character that she would embrace this community oriented vision of doing good.

In a small parallel to that, it’s nice to see this last issue of the arc feature Bruno finally being included in Kamala’s plans.  Many issues ago the two of them established a code for how Kamala can call for help, and up to this point she’s not really made use of it.  Combined with Bruno’s small complaints about how Kamala gets to go do all the exciting stuff, it’s pleasant to see him finally being able to do the job he’s been trying to do for a while.  Maybe he’ll finally stop running headlong into danger to try to protect Kamala (yeah right).

Pictured: Lockjaw being adorable (also Vick helping save Kamala). (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

One other good bit of character development comes from Vick.  Bruno’s screw up brother has been Kamala’s sort of mascot through most of her adventures up to this point (even more so than Lockjaw; at least the dog actually does useful stuff in action situations).  He’s a bit of comic relief, often getting into trouble that requires Kamala to rescue him.  In this issue Vick comes into his own as the de facto leader of the teens while Kamala is busy fighting the Inventor’s machines.  He distracts the big robot of the issue for a while so Kamala is able to save Nakia from the Grid tubes, and then when Kamala needs to call for backup, it’s Vick who goes to get Lockjaw to bust her out.  He’s still a pretty big doofus, but Vick grows on me in this issue.

Like with other climax issues, I’m not super excited about everything that’s going on here.  What’s appealing about Ms. Marvel as a book are the character dynamics and Kamala’s growth as a hero.  She grows a little bit here, which is fantastic, but it’s a very brief part of a twenty-something page issue.

Wise words, teenager. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

ABC’s

  • Coin slot on the Inventor’s Grid tending robots
  • Dude wrapped head to toe in bandages
  • Skeleton with umbrella
  • “Dropkick Enthusiast”
  • “Bears Do It Too”
  • “Kamala is a calling”
  • “Bigfoot: Ghost Hunter”
  • “Top Dropkicks of 2014”
  • “Introducing: The Bangladeshi Nut Blaster”
  • “Dropkick a Bison in 3 Steps”
  • “School of Kung Fu Treachery”
  • “Roundhouse Cola”
  • The big splash page of Kamala winding through the robot gears is inverted
  • “Sal’s Used Cheese”
  • “Radoslav’s Soul Food”
  • “Bobby Beisbol”
  • Pixel Art Ms. Marvel inside the robot button label
  • “Nuke it”
  • Girl with hammers excitedly showing her hammers to the police
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Reading “Generation Why (3 of 4)”

So, I’ve been operating under the impression for the last few months that “Generation Why” was a three part story (moving will generally discombobulate anyone), and after reading this week’s issue, I realized that I was mistaken.  It’s totally a four part story, and nothing is resolved in the issue we’re covering today.

Like seriously, the entire purpose of this issue is to reveal the villain’s heinous plan and move Ms. Marvel into position where she can fight the Inventor in one last major showdown.  Perhaps I was so convinced this was a three parter because it has an issue that’s really thin on meaty plot bites.

That’s a total Charlie Brown face on Kamala. Also, go figure that it’s dog-stealing which turns the teens against their cult leader. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

The basic plot of this issue is that after rescuing the teens and discovering that they’ve been brainwashed to believe they have nothing of value to offer society besides their body heat, Ms. Marvel and Lockjaw get into another giant robot fight, and Lockjaw is kidnapped, prompting Ms. Marvel to persuade the just-released teens to help her beat the Inventor once and for all.

What we do get is a decently lengthy discourse from Kamala about how absurd it is to be down on a younger generation before they’ve had a chance to do anything.  There’s some rousing inspirational patter about how kids’ minor hobbies and talents now will eventually grow into super important jobs and skills in the future (and there’s a bit about how the ever shiftless Vick will someday be POTUS, which, let’s face it, is a wonderfully prescient dig at the current national embarrassment a full two years before he entered office), but the big takeaway is that you should not trust adults who steal dogs and try to make the youth clean up messes that they made (G Willow Wilson leans hard on climate change as an example of just such a mess, and considering the recent spate of hurricanes and wildfires, it’s really easy to see what she’s getting at).  This is the thesis statement of the story arc.  Every generation is terrible at judging the one that comes after it, often because the adult generation never considers how its own mistakes make life harder for its children.

Kamala still has Charlie Brown face, but she’s striking a delightfully classic-looking superhero pose. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

There’s not much to add to this point, really.  I think Wilson’s totally right in her assessment (I’ve argued the same thing regarding certain real world events in the past with a lot less levity), and she nails the tone that the story needs: somewhere between irritation that older folk are so full of themselves and firmly founded optimism that young people can and will make the world better given the opportunity.  This is an all-ages book, after all, so let’s leave the crippling cynicism out of it.

Beyond the core message, this is a light issue.  Adrian Alphona’s art is still delightful in all the ways that I find it delightful, but there’s virtually nothing of interest happening in the background (most of the events in this issue take place in a junkyard full of smoke following a big explosion, so backgrounds are pretty samey).  The big artistic draws are a few excellent panels where you get to see Kamala being heroic and Lockjaw being adorable and goofy.  I don’t think I can stress enough how well Alphona makes Lockjaw’s participation in the action sequences serve as a fine complement to Kamala’s heroics and still be adorably funny.  It’s a lighthearted book, and even while Kamala’s discussing the sad state of the world in the early twenty-first century, Alphona throws in silly touches like the bowler hat and the feet with sideways balancing prongs on the Inventors battle robot.

The best Lockjaw panel. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

The (actual) last issue of this arc should pack a little bit more punch than this one does.  I’m beginning to wonder, based on this arc and the first one of the series, if it’s just going to be expected that the penultimate issue in any long story arc will be a little less interesting than what pops up around it.

ABC’s

  • A goldfish caught in an explosion
  • A jackelope
  • A skull with aviator’s cap and goggles
  • SHIELD emblem on helicopter debris
  • “Mum”
  • A Virtual Boy by the Inventor’s chair
  • “Birdy Num Nums”
  • “Robomaker 3000”
  • “Choose Parts”
  • “Press to add love”
  • “Thomas Edison: Inventions and Fight Tips”
  • “Forward by Joe Louis”
  • “New Years ’89”

Reading “Generation Why (2 of 3)”

Issue #8 left off with Kamala in a tight spot as her high school is under attack from a giant robot that tracked her with the help of a smaller homing robot.  In the middle of the school day, Kamala lacks her costume, and she’s so exhausted from her fight with another robot that morning that she finds she’s unable to use her polymorph abilities to change her appearance.  Fortunately, Lockjaw is the guest star for this story arc, so he teleports in and provides a distraction so that Kamala can save the school without revealing her powers to anyone.

Lockjaw is such a bizarre character concept that even in-universe other people are immediately distracted from all other chaos to ponder the imponderable Lockjaw. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

What we quickly learn is that Kamala’s exhaustion doesn’t just extend to her shape-shifting; after a couple of rounds with the robot she finally defeats it, but she also collapses in the rubble where anyone could find her.  We get a moment with Bruno does a Nice Guy(tm) attempt at saving Kamala, but only succeeds in being close enough to go along for the ride when Lockjaw teleports Medusa, Queen of the Inhumans, in to save the day and get Kamala to safety.

Bruno’s attempt to help out his friend here is an interesting character moment; it tracks with the previous issue’s scene where he quietly grumbles that Kamala gets to do all the cool stuff while he’s just living a superhero-adjacent teenage life.  There’s a significant risk of Bruno becoming a little obnoxious, particularly with the ongoing subplot that he has a huge unrequited crush on Kamala; still, he’s generally written as someone who understands that he’s out of his depth when superpowers come into play.  Beyond that, we can forgive a little bit of whingeing from a teenage boy who just really wants the girl he likes to think he’s cool.

Kamala’s face tho. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

The middle act of the issue takes place in New Attilan, which is apparently located in the Hudson River, where Kamala is recovering from her exhaustion.  We get a lot of talking heads stuff in a vaguely futuristic clinic setting (which isn’t too boring because Alphona does wonderful faces) and there’s a huge data dump about things that the reader has already figured out, but which Kamala needs to catch up on.  Medusa explains to Kamala that she’s an Inhuman, not a mutant (bummer), and that she’s always welcome to come to New Attilan for help whenever she needs it.  Medusa also implies that Kamala is particularly special, though I can figure out if there’s anything to this line other than the fact that out of all the Inhumans created by the Terrigen Cloud, she gets her own solo series where Wolverine decided that she was special (in other words, because editorial said so).  There’s also a bit of clarification of Kamala’s powers (because a polymorphing hero without any limits isn’t very interesting); when she gets injured and has to use her powers to heal herself, Kamala can’t shape-shift.  The logic goes something like because she’s using her powers to make her body morph to a healthy state, her powers are already in effect, and so morphing into a different shape would undo the healing.  There’s a heavy dose of comic book logic at play here, so don’t think too hard about it.

“…It’s a dog.” “Why is it wearing a tuning fo—aaaggghh it’s gonna eat us!” (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

Following the data dump, Kamala decides that she needs to take the fight directly to the Inventor, and so she recruits the help of none other than… Vick, Bruno’s screw up brother.  We never get an explanation in this issue for exactly why Kamala needs Vick to come along back to the house where she narrowly rescued him before; things go weird too quickly for that (or for Vick to give any explanation at all of what’s going on with the Inventor’s plot to use teenagers as human batteries).  There’s some superhero action, including a fun sequence where Kamala gets trapped inside a bubble and so shrinks her fist down so she can reach through the force beam into the machine that’s trapped her and rip it up from the inside.  The day is saved, and the harvest is stopped, although there is a giant explosion (because what robot fight isn’t complete without a giant explosion), and we get the issue’s ending stinger where the teens that Kamala has just rescued explain that they volunteered to be turned into batteries.

This is a weird plot point that we’ll get more information on in the last issue of the arc, but I keep dwelling on the question of why.  The theme that Wilson’s exploring in this extended arc (including the two issues with Wolverine) is the question of how the younger generation fits into the larger plan of society.  She’s playing specifically with the ongoing conversation of the last decade that’s been centered around saying that Millennials are terrible and fundamentally changing the fabric of society in scary ways.  We’ve all read the tired think pieces complaining that Millennials don’t buy fabric softener or patronize certain restaurants.  The sources of these bits of intellectual fretting are almost invariably folks hailing from the older generations.  It’s “kids these days” redux, and most people who are targeted by this kind of stuff know better than to take it seriously.  Social trends change over time, and it’s asinine to blame a generation for not living exactly the same way as their parents.

Given all that, I’m just stuck trying to figure out what it is about these kids that the Inventor has recruited that makes them think being a battery is the best way to support society (and also why they trust the word of a clone of Thomas Edison with cockatiel DNA).  It feels like a really weak part of the overall story here, and it bugs me.  It will probably continue to bug me.  The good news is that after the next issue we’ll move on to a new story arc and will not have to think about these easily brainwashed youths again.

ABC’s

  • The kid in the “Relax” shirt who sleeps through the entire robot attack at the school
  • Pink Panther chilling on “Relax” kid’s desk
  • Hand sticking out of rubble directly behind “Relax” kid
  • A duck
  • “Free Wi-Fi”
  • “Ye Local News”
  • “Snow Mexico”
  • “Rainbow Toots”
  • “How to English”
  • “Coles Academ”
  • “Asbestos Removal”
  • “Scheduled For Mond”
  • “Volunteer Kids Neede”
  • Cop eating steamed dumplings while he’s on duty
  • Hand sticking out of rubble giving the victory sign
  • Medical displays all showing pixel art of Kamala in her Ms. Marvel costume
  • Dude walking a Lockjaw clone that has an eating fork on its head
  • Kamala sitting on Lockjaw’s belly while her parents lecture her about safety
  • “Olmec donald’s” fast food bags
  • “Toads Legit Cricket Club”

Reading “Generation Why (1 of 3)”

After the two issue arc that Jacob Wyatt illustrated featuring Wolverine, the return of Adrian Alphona to regular art duties is a very welcome sight.  Generally speaking I enjoy the guest artists that Ms. Marvel has when Alphona needs to break from the series, but his art does so much to define the feel of the book with its slightly surreal, wistful quality that I’m generally hard pressed to enjoy issues by other artists in quite the same way.

This issue continues the larger arc of Kamala’s struggles with the Inventor, a mad clone of Thomas Edison with cockatiel DNA (comics!).  Wolverine has gone off on his merry way, and we’re back to featuring just Kamala without any particularly egregious guest appeara–

The best expression Alphona puts on Kamala is her smiling with her mouth wide open. Fight me. Also, there’s a dog. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

 

Oh yeah, Lockjaw’s a guest star in this arc.

As someone who generally doesn’t give a flip about the Inhumans in the Marvel Universe, I am not super up on what makes Lockjaw special.  He’s clearly a giant dog modeled on a cross between a pug and a British bulldog, has a tuning fork sticking out of his forehead, and he can teleport.  If you want to know more about the character beyond that I can’t help you, but that’s probably enough to get any reader on board with him as a character.  The way Alphona draws him, with a perpetual dopey smile, is certainly endearing even for someone like me who can take or leave dogs in general.

The fact that Lockjaw is an animal (albeit a very intelligent one) gives his appearance here much less potential to be egregious than Wolverine’s appearance had.  There’s no threat of Lockjaw upstaging Kamala as the most interesting character on the page at any given time; his stated role in the story is to keep an eye on her for Medusa, the queen of the Inhumans, and to help her get out of trouble.  There is no showboating to be seen.

Anyway, Lockjaw’s presence in the opening pages of this issue provide an opportunity for some nice rumination on one of the major themes of this arc.  Kamala’s inner monologue is inset over panels from Lockjaw’s perspective depicting his spirited rush down the streets of Jersey City in search of Kamala.  She reflects on how young people tend to get pulled into conflicts that aren’t theirs because older folks are too wrapped up in their own problems to notice other things going on.  From there, Kamala segues to thinking about what it takes to be a hero; half of it, she observes, is just noticing what’s happening around you.  The other half is “not being afraid.”

This sequence is delightful because while Kamala is thinking about recent events (and providing a small recap to readers), we see each beat of her thought process play out with Lockjaw’s journey to her location.  First he nearly runs over an older couple who are obliviously walking their dog without noticing Lockjaw running up behind them, then he bounds towards Kamala as she turns to see what’s coming towards her, and finally she smiles wide as she embraces the giant dog that has scared off everyone else on the street.

The technique used here is what Scott McCloud describes as parallel combination of words and images.  Kamala’s thoughts are related to Lockjaw’s journey on a subtextual level, but they don’t directly elaborate on what Lockjaw is doing from panel to panel in these first two pages.  It’s a neat trick, and one that I think G Willow Wilson employs regularly to help connect the action of the story with the larger theme that she’s exploring in any given arc.

The bulk of the action in this issue, following Lockjaw’s dramatic introduction, revolves around Kamala going off to do recon on one of the Inventor’s hideouts with Lockjaw in tow as her sidekick.  There’s some fun punching and kicking with a giant robot sentry that turns out to be powered by a teenager in an egg, similarly to the mutant girl that Kamala and Wolverine saved in the previous issue.  It’s some Matrix-type stuff, though not gruesome, and in this case when Kamala wakes the guy in the egg, he mutters something about being “part of” something and “giving back.”  In all the commotion, Kamala fails to notice a tiny robot hitch a ride in her boot, which at the end of the issue results in another much larger robot showing up and wrecking her school while she’s in the middle of class.

Speaking of class, it needs to be said that Kamala’s teacher in the final scene of this issue is my hero.  She’s not amused by Kamala’s tardiness, but her approach is to try to pull Kamala and Nakia into participating in class instead of directly punishing them for having their own side conversation.  I get the sense that she’s supposed to be read as a mean teacher, but she really doesn’t strike me that way at all in this little bit we get to see her.  The fact that she totally takes control of the situation when a giant robot crashes into her classroom just lends credence to my theory that she’s a total badass teacher.  It’s really refreshing to see depictions of educators in a teen-oriented story who aren’t totally incompetent or clueless (this is especially significant in this arc where Wilson’s exploring in-depth the tensions between younger and older generations from the perspective of a teenager).  New Media teacher, I salute you.

This panel has Alphona doing a fun trick where time passes from the left to the right of the frame. The teacher marks Kamala absent on the left, and as the reader’s eye scans right, Kamala slides into the room. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

ABC’s

  • “Huy!”
  • “Do Not Kick Sign”
  • “Hello My Name Is Lockjaw I Like Hugs”
  • “Science in Yo Face: Jersey Edition”
  • “The Pedantic Monthly: Generation Dumb?”
  • Fluffwood the Lizard
  • Bruno’s gigantic hamster habitat in his bedroom while his hamster sits on his shoulder
  • “Beisbol! Beisbol!”
  • Beware of racoons are Great!”
  • Soul glu
  • Ralph’s Wedding Cakes
  • A cute little beaver
  • “Private Property: Seriously, Keep Out!”
  • “Go Away”
  • “New Jersey”
  • “Snow Mexico”
  • “Teens and the Media”
  • That one girl in the front of the class with a “The Math” book instead of a “Media” book
  • The knife casually lying on the teacher’s desk
  • “Meow.”
  • “Keep Calm. I Am Persian Like the Cat.”
  • The goldfish that appears out of nowhere in the classroom
  • The couple from the start of the issue walking their dog by the school
  • “Free Wi-Fi”

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.

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)

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