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

Reading “No Normal (4 of 5)”

This is a great cover, but there is, unfortunately, no Aamir in this issue to act as surprised as he looks inside the diner. (Image credit: Comic Vine, cover by Jamie McKelvie)

The fourth issue of Ms. Marvel is a little weaker than the previous issues; the main reason for this is that there’s less of the fun stuff surrounding Kamala’s personal life and more straightforward superheroics.  It’s possible this is primarily a personal preference; I enjoy reading about Kamala’s troubles trying to manage the logistics of being a superhero with a personal life more than I do reading about a person being a superhero.

The best part of Kamala’s conversation with Bruno is her series of expressions while she’s searching for the bullet that fell out of her when she shifted back to her default shape. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

The issue can be broken down into three broad scenes: Kamala telling her secret to Bruno and getting his help protecting her secret identity from the police, Kamala gathering the basics to make her final superhero costume, and Kamala breaking into the hideout of some kids who are working for the as yet unseen Big Bad, the Inventor.  The stuff between Kamala and Bruno is good, as they hash out the complicated feelings that arise from the fact that Bruno was a total snitch about the party, but he did it because he was worried about Kamala’s safety, but also he’s sad that she didn’t tell him right away about her superpowers (keep in mind that we’re still only three days out from the incident, and Kamala has spent most of that time figuring out the implications of her powers, managing her own feelings about what’s happened, and also getting into ever more trouble with her parents).  We also get more romantic drama as it continues to be painfully apparent that Bruno is super into Kamala even though she’s totally unaware.  This will be a long-running subplot of the first twenty or so issues of Ms. Marvel (leading all the way up to the Secret Wars relaunch), and I have to say that I really appreciate Wilson putting a slow burn on it; we won’t even see Kamala begin to deal with this aspect of her relationship with Bruno until well into the third major arc of the series some time from now.

The fanny pack is a delightful throwback, and I regret to inform you all that it does not remain a permanent part of Kamala’s costume. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

The middle segment of the issue where Kamala scrounges up materials to make her superhero costume (after the laughable impromptu costume she uses to hide her identity from the police after recovering from her gunshot wound) is cute, and it gives Kamala a chance to interact directly with her mother, who has played a slightly background role during other family scenes.  Kamala’s mom constantly frets over the influence American culture has over her children, and here that comes out when she whinges that Kamala is being sarcastic in a way that isn’t appropriate for talking to her mother.  There’s also a warning that Kamala’s mom is totally going to set her alarm for one in the morning just so she can check to make sure Kamala hasn’t snuck out of the house following her incredibly suspicious, inexplicable interest in her burkini on a school night when she’s still grounded (this exchange is remarkably true to life; teenagers, particularly the ones who usually try to please adults, are terrible at coming up with lies on the spot to cover for doing something they know that adults don’t want them doing).  I like Kamala’s mom a lot, and her suspicions here highlight the regular tension that Kamala will have to deal with balancing doing something that makes her uncomfortable, like lying to her parents, with doing something that’s genuinely helpful to others, like being a newbie superhero.

The final act of the issue sees Kamala staging a rescue of Bruno’s brother, Vick, who through a series of stupid decisions has apparently gotten tangled up working for the Inventor.  After Vick botched the robbery of the Circle Q, he ran away to his gang’s hideout, and now Bruno is worried that his baby brother needs help.  It’s a bit of a rocky transition here (we know that Bruno is worried about Vick, but there’s nothing to indicate that he and Kamala understand that Vick is now being held hostage; still we’re getting to Kamala’s first outing as Ms. Marvel for real, so some things can slide).  Nevertheless, we get to see Kamala owning her superhero identity for the first time; she doesn’t try to hide behind someone else’s face and she takes the opportunity to claim the Ms. Marvel moniker as her own (she did this earlier with the police, but that time it feels more born out of necessity and a need for a silly moment than as serious character development).  Kamala’s interaction with the kids guarding Vick is a lot of fun because it’s so good-natured.  Instead of just whupping the kids, Kamala gives them a gentle toss to let them know she can overpower them, and then she asks them to tie themselves up instead of trying to tangle with her.  The kids, to their credit, go along with this plan, even as they warn Kamala that she’s getting in over her head with the Inventor.  The ending pages, where Kamala fights off a bunch of skittering mechanical spiders with frickin’ laser beams before finding herself trapped by the sudden appearance of the gang’s local leader (sporting a very menacing laser pistol), are good, fun action with lots of emphasis on the way that Kamala is relying more on her brute strength than finesse to deal with the emergency.

The costume still needs some work. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

Overall this issue is probably the narratively weakest one out of the first arc, but I think much of that can be attributed to the need to devote a decent amount of space to Kamala’s first real superhero action sequence.  I’m more of an interpersonal drama lover at heart, so the lack of more interactions with the supporting characters disappoints me, but I understand that this is the last bit of setup before the series hits its first big climax in issue #5.

ABC’s

  • Asian Wedding Leftovers (Yowza)
  • On th’ Adobo Filipino Takeout
  • Torpedoes: Half Price!
  • “Ooh La La”
  • Roundhouse Cola
  • Orphan Farms OJ
  • Asian River Water
  • Blech
  • Nuclear Clean
  • Birdy Num Nums
  • Coma Chameleon super Comfy Sleepmask: Prolonged use may cause nightmares
  • Tape Worm
  • Fair & Pastey
  • Grin & Bear It
  • “Grin & Bear It toothpaste 2 for 1”
  • Bruce Lee Wataaa
  • Speshal Soda
  • Smushee
  • A bystander jumping out of the way of an empty ambulance speeding away from the scene of a crime
  • “Self Destruct Magazine”
  • “Eating Underwater”
  • “BboyKoi”
  • “The Joy of Cooking Rare Animals”
  • “Say Yes to Lobotomies”
  • “Momjitsu”
  • “Superhero Paparazzi”
  • “Dropkick Enthusiast”
  • “Karachi Chop Jones”
  • Auntie’s Modest Swimwear
  • The Birdman Cometh
  • Property of the Inventor
  • Ima Bad Guy

Reading “No Normal (3 of 5)”

The big development of issue three of Ms. Marvel is that Kamala, after having now done the superhero thing on impulse, reaches the point in her growth into Ms. Marvel where she deliberates and chooses to be a superhero.  We get to see more of her exploring how her powers work (this time through internet research!) and, always delightful, some details about her normal life.

This cover’s the first good look at Kamala’s finished costume; we’ll be getting its origin story in the next issue. (Image credit: Comic Vine; cover by Jamie McKelvie & Matthew Wilson)

We begin the issue the morning after Kamala’s adventures at the party.  Zoe has taken her rescue as an opportunity to become a local celebrity, giving an interview to the news about how she’s learned “so much from [Ms. Marvel] about being responsible and helping people and stuff.”  Apparently Kamala was teaching by example, since she panicked and bolted from the scene once a crowd showed up to question her.  Zoe pops up again later in the issue when Kamala is at school where it becomes clear that she’s been gradually embellishing her account of her rescue all weekend (she’s added a conversation that Kamala definitely didn’t have with Zoe about her potential to do better than getting drunk and falling off a pier).  The key thing to note about Zoe here is that she demonstrates a pattern of centering herself in the narrative.  The difference in demeanor between the television interview, where Zoe appears to be at least mildly aware of her own good fortune, and her telling the story to her high school hangers-on is pretty marked; Zoe would rather elevate her own part in the incident rather than admit that it was all just a bunch of awkward bad luck on the part of pretty much everyone.  I know that Zoe’s arc goes in a generally positive direction, so it’s interesting to track in the early issues how she makes tiny bits of progress before falling backwards into her established patterns.

Kamala reacts to the news that she’s on the news (though no one knows that it’s her) with some understandable trepidation.  She did just do the superheroing, and in the harsh light of the day after that probably seems like a relatively rash decision.

I know that Kamala’s distressed about the news, but that’s not nearly as important as taking a moment to appreciate that Adrian Alphona totally nails bed hair. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

Fortunately for us, instead of dwelling on her dismay that her alias is now the talk of Jersey, Kamala bounces back and gets ready to go to mosque (“Yes!  Ready!  Ready for life!“).  This is a really charming section because we get to see more of Kamala and Nakia’s relationship in action, particularly in a setting that’s really only available to them.  The argument that Kamala has with Sheikh Abdullah (and Nakia’s observation that she shouldn’t bother) is especially interesting because it highlights how Muslim religious communities can have the same sorts of disagreements and debates that are common in any other faith (the fact that Abdullah entertains Kamala’s arguments even though he clearly disagrees and finds them a little annoying speaks really well to the atmosphere of the mosque; even though it’s a relatively conservative community, they’re still willing to allow members to question and explore their faith).  With every passing issue it becomes clearer and clearer that Wilson did a lot of work to incorporate elements of everyday life for the Muslim community that Kamala belongs to.

The bulk of the issue follows Kamala muddling through the Monday after the party.  She fastidiously avoids Bruno during her free period (she’s still angry with him for snitching on her about the party, and she’s also too busy doing internet research to see if anyone else has ever had sudden shape shifting powers and the wherewithal to document such strangeness; they apparently haven’t, which is a little weird given it’s the Marvel Universe).  She also has a sudden power spasm that leaves her hand giant sized, forcing her to seek out a hiding place while she tries to get it under control.  Desperation not to be caught turns into elation at the realization that she can apply her understanding of Newtonian physics to her powers and simulate super strength by increasing her size.  The fact that she learns all this while trashing a gym locker room is alternately hilarious and dismaying, but totally believable (teenagers make bad choices, y’all).  When she gets caught (the coach is suitably incurious as to how Kamala could have destroyed a locker room), Kamala gets assigned afternoon detention, which of course compounds her travails with her parents, who are expecting her to come home immediately after school.

I love Kamala’s smile here; Alphona nails the look of “I know there’s no way I’m going to get away with this, but that isn’t going to stop me from trying.” (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

Well, technically you’re a first responder, but we get what you’re saying. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

Before rushing home though, Kamala decides that she needs to try to hash things out with Bruno.  This is the big turn of the issue, because when Kamala sees that Bruno is apparently being held up at gunpoint by a masked robber, she decides that she’s going to jump into the fray and be the hero she’s been pretending to be all weekend.  This moment is different from the one that Kamala had in the last issue because this is less of a spur of the moment decision.  Where she reacted to the emergency with Zoe because she felt like there was no one else around who was in a position to help, here we see her try to call in the authorities first.  Of course, her phone is dead, so that cuts off 911 as an option, but we’re still seeing a progression in Kamala’s decision-making about when to take these sorts of risks (it’s important to note that this is the first time she deliberately puts herself in danger; with Zoe there wasn’t really any risk to Kamala).

The attempt to stop the robbery goes well enough, though Kamala still breaks a bunch of stuff in the store as she’s pummeling the robber (she’s not yet thinking too much about how to employ her powers in ways that aren’t excessively destructive).  More importantly, the robber, in a panic from being attacked by a giant-fisted Captain Marvel, fires the gun that he thought he didn’t have loaded, shooting Kamala in the stomach.

Alphona Background Coolness (ABC’s)

  • Ye Olde Local News Station
  • “GM-O’s Tasty Cereal: Listen to your gut, not the lawsuits”
  • J.C. Electronics
  • Somewhere on West Side Ave.
  • “Fear the mist”
  • Fluffington Post
  • “Dr. Shnoz: Manhattan Mist Poses Medical Risk”
  • “Manhattan Mist 2014: Public Seeks Answers”
  • “Mist Takes Manhattan”
  • “High School Cannibalism Experiment Proves Disasterous [sic]”
  • Islamic Masjid of Jersey City
  • “Welcome Sisters”
  • Radoslav’s Vietnamese Grocery
  • “Homemade meat”
  • “New! Hot Pepper Bubble Tea”
  • A meat cleaver stuck in a parking meter
  • “Rado’s Glorious Banh Mi”
  • “Roundhouse Cola! Beat down your thirst”
  • Asian River Water Classic
  • “Aunties and Androids”
  • “1001 Weddings”
  • “Fair & Pastey”
  • Smushee
  • “Start a fight! Save our prisons”
  • Coles Acedemic [sic] High School
  • “1. Get the stuff 2. mix the stuff”
  • Bloogle!
  • “So you’ve searched for POLYMORPH”
  • “Did you mean… pocket mouth?”
  • NO TALKING!
  • “MOCK ME I cheated on Mr. De Luca’s math exam”
  • Books an’ Ting Ting an’ Books
  • Coconut Drops
  • “The Ur-Do’s and Ur-Don’ts of Chillin in Pakistan”
  • Jersey Toads

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”

Reading “No Normal (1 of 5)”

So after putting up a Twitter poll to try an experiment in internet democracy, I’ve settled on trying out looking in depth at the Kamala Khan Ms. Marvel series.  This review series poses a few challenges that I’ve not had to deal with in the past.  Aside from my series on All-Star Superman, I’ve been drawn towards looking at books aimed at more mature readers; Ms. Marvel is squarely an all ages to teen book.  This doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty of good material to parse in these pages; it’s one of my favorite series for good reason.  Still, I’m curious to see how the difference in target audience will affect how points of interest bubble up in the course of the narrative.  I’ve grappled with this a little bit in my previous posts looking at the macro features of each arc that I’ve read, so we’ll see how things work out when I’m going issue by issue.  Ms. Marvel is also the first Marvel series that I’ve tried to give the detailed treatment; my experience with Marvel books is that they’re highly entertaining, but they tend to feel kind of breezy in comparison to what I’ve read from DC; I’m sure there’s some skewing here since I’ve never been a big DC fan, and the series I do like that DC published tend to be those landmark titles that everyone in comics appreciates.  My hope is that with Ms. Marvel, which has been penned by G. Willow Wilson since its start (she’s notable for trying to work contemporary issues into her superhero stories) the breeziness won’t overshadow the substance.  Perhaps the biggest challenge I’m anxious about is one of baseline knowledge.  Wilson and the Ms. Marvel editor Sana Amanat do a lot to make the Muslim and Pakistani-American cultural elements accessible, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t go into this series with more than a little trepidation.  White people tend to be bad at cultural sensitivity, and that’s always going to be a fear of mine regardless of how much practice I put into it.

Cover of Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #1. (Image credit: Comic Vine. Artwork by Sarah Pichelli & Justin Ponsor)

Anyway.

Other basics for this series go like this: I’m only going as far as I have read myself, and I currently only have the first five volumes of the series (for anyone keeping count, that’s the four arcs of Kamala’s first volume before Marvel’s Secret Wars mandated relaunch and the first arc of the second volume; I tend to get new trades late in the summer around my birthday or around Christmastime, so maybe I’ll get volume 6 before I reach the end of my current collection).  Because this is a series that’s also currently ongoing, it’s entirely possible that I might reach a point where I just want to take a break and look at something different.  No promises and all that, y’know?  Beyond that, I’ll be following my usual titling convention for these posts of listing the issue’s title in the blog post title.  Because Marvel tends to group parts of longer arcs under a single title (and because they often remove credit and title boxes in trades), I’ll use the arc title and the part number indicated by the trade paperback volume to refer to each issue (for example, the first arc is titled “Meta Morphosis” in the floppies, but I’ll be labeling it “No Normal”).

Okay, now that I’ve covered all the stuff that may or may not have needed to be said, let’s get down to the comic itself.

Since it’s the first issue of a new series with a new character, Ms. Marvel #1 has a lot of set up to accomplish in its twenty pages (what’s the deal with newer comics being so much shorter, by the way?).  The superheroics are minimal and imagined here, as we have to do rapid fire introductions of Kamala and all of her supporting cast.  You have the high school friends, Bruno and Nakia; the mean girl and her jock boyfriend, Zoe and Josh; and Kamala’s family including her older brother Aamir and her parents.  Wilson establishes right away that Kamala is not nearly as streetwise as Bruno (who inexplicably is working before school at the Circle Q; how long is his shift?  Was he there all night and now he’s going to class?  Why is he not more tired?) or as wary of microaggressions as Nakia, who wears hijab and presumably is accustomed to getting flak for appearing culturally different.  We also see right away that Kamala is someone who isn’t quite comfortable with the tension between the worlds she inhabits; the very first scene opens with her salivating over a bacon sandwich while reminding herself of her religious dietary restrictions.  It’s a nice juxtaposition of Kamala’s sense of obligation to her family’s culture with her desire to fit in as a typical American teenager.  We’ll see this motif repeated regularly throughout the issue in various ways as the issue’s primary plot revolves around Kamala’s decision to go to a block party without her parents’ permission.

Our hero, everybody. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

In a nice twist on expectations, Bruno and Nakia provide counter intuitive perspectives on Kamala’s dilemma.  Nakia owns her religious convictions, but emphasizes to Kamala that she should only embrace her religious tradition if it’s what she really wants to do.  Bruno, who is white and an outsider to the Muslim culture that Kamala and Nakia share, tends to be the more conservative voice, encouraging Kamala to avoid getting in trouble and cautioning her to stay away from the party.  These character beats are nice because they flesh out Bruno as someone who doesn’t fully understand the culture of his friend, but who wants to be respectful, and they show that Nakia, who reads as particularly devout, isn’t also guilty of having fundamentalist tendencies.

The context of this scene has Kamala being clueless about Zoe’s microaggressions, but I swear her face here says to me, “You are so full of crap.” (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

For this first issue we have in place of a typical villain the characters of Zoe and Josh.  Zoe and Josh are typically WASPy white kids from Kamala’s school who come across not so much evil as incredibly insensitive.  Josh’s role is minor; he gives Kamala a spiked drink as a prank when she shows up at the party, and then gets drunk along with the other jocks.  Zoe’s part in the story is a little more complex.  In the first scene she makes a series of comments that Nakia and Bruno immediately recognize as not friendly (Zoe apparently has a reputation for being passive aggressively mean to other kids).  She’s your typical white person engaging in some low-level Islamophobia with comments about “honor killing” and insinuations that Nakia’s wearing hijab is something she’s being forced to do.  Later at the party, she drops the fake nice act fully and bashes Kamala’s culture to her face when she believes that Kamala’s appearance at the party indicates that Kamala is totally rejecting her family.

Speaking of Kamala’s family, the Khans are portrayed here as delightfully content.  Kamala’s mother and father are relatively conservative but in the way that parents who care about their children tend to be.  Kamala’s father chides her brother Aamir for using his devotion to Islam as an excuse to avoid getting a job (Aamir shoots back that at least he’s not doing anything usurious like working in a bank; it’s a wonderful exchange that underscores the family’s affection for one another despite their disagreements).  Kamala is the young, geeky child whose hobbies no one else in her family fully relates to, but they all take her quirks in stride.  Honestly, the Khans are one of the absolute best parts of Ms. Marvel, and that dynamic is present from the very beginning.

Other fun bits that pop up in this issue include the minor character of Chatty Bob, who only appears in one panel and doesn’t say much; Kamala’s stuffed, winged sloth that appears in her room and during her hallucination after being exposed to the Terrigen mist; and Kamala’s fascination with wedge heels (there’s a delightful panel where Kamala eyes a girl’s shoes from across the park at the party).  Much of this stuff is attributable to Adrian Alphona’s artwork, which does a lot of the heavy lifting on characterization.  He’s almost virtuosic in the way he packs panels full of little background details to tell you stuff about the characters and the world they inhabit.

Kamala experiences her first party. It is both amazing and disgusting. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

Alphona Background Coolness (ABCs)

  • Easy Greasy BLT
  • Hot Sammiches
  • Vusa & BlasterCard
  • “Cashiers are not interested in your stories”
  • Coco Bread
  • Kid pulling “Ooh La La” magazine off the newsrack
  • Badgerade
  • “You Read 4 Words You Buy!”
  • Coffee Son!
  • Smushees
  • Die Fire Die
  • Sizes: This That
  • Coffee Soda
  • Cold As Ice Drinks
  • Birdy Nom Noms
  • Asian River Water
  • Roundhouse Cola
  • Bruce Lee Wataaa
  • Dylan’s Hot Fiya
  • Orphan Farms O.J.
  • “Business Hours: All of Them”
  • Books an Ting, Ting an Books
  • Jersey Akhbar
  • GM’Os cereal
  • “Eat Now!  Radoslav’s Chicken Salan”
  • “Shock!  Cricket Doping Scandal”
  • Brand X Tea
  • “Tax on Color Orange Approved”
  • “Sportz Scandal”
  • “Cricket: Toads Lose Again! Team Blames Fans”
  • World’s Grooviest Dad
  • The overhead view of the party complete with dancing frog, guy on fire, person being chased by an axe murderer
  • “Give a Hoot!  Recycle!”
  • “Missing Child: 555-Blah”