Reading “Last Days (4 of 4)”

I’ve been racking my brain to think of a parallel to what G Willow Wilson does in this last arc of Ms. Marvel volume three, and the best one I can come up with at the moment is the final two episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer season four.  For anyone who isn’t familiar or doesn’t remember (that season was more notable for a few standout episodes than for a particularly strong macro plot), at the end of that season of Buffy, the Scoobies band together to raid the base of the season’s Big Bad, Adam, a malicious Frankenstein’s monster pastiche, in the penultimate episode.  It’s big and flashy, and it feels like a season finale, but then there’s one more episode left.  The finale of that season is a really trippy dream episode that foreshadows some stuff that the writers were setting up for the next season but is mostly just about exploring the weird disjointed nature of dreams.  After the big explosions of the previous episode, it’s a really quiet story more about exploring the characters than anything (it’s also not very good, if I remember right).

Goodbye, Ms. Marvel! See you in volume four! (Cover by Kris Anka; Image credit: Comic Vine)

And the fact that that’s a weak example of a big flashy climax set a little earlier than normal so the final installment of a story can be more meditative in nature very poorly serves what’s going on in Ms. Marvel.  There are no superheroics in issue #19; Kamala doesn’t do any super power stuff or even wear her costume.  It’s just her taking stock of her relationships and reflecting on what she’s accomplished as Ms. Marvel while she waits for the world to end.  The closest thing we get to a conflict is her temporarily avoiding having a serious conversation with Bruno about their feelings (even this isn’t much of a conflict because there’s no real suggestion that it isn’t going to happen; Kamala just wants to get her head straight first, and it makes narrative sense to end the issue with the resolution of the romance subplot).

You can break this issue down broadly into three or four segments, depending on whether you’re thinking in terms of distinct conversations with characters or grouping by their relationship to Kamala (I like the four part organization because Kamala’s conversations with Zoe and Nakia feel like they explore fundamentally different aspects of Kamala’s friendships).  There’s the talk with Muneeba about her having known for months that Kamala is Ms. Marvel; you have Zoe’s apology to Kamala; Kamala apologizes to Nakia; and lastly there’s the rooftop conversation between Kamala and Bruno.  A few other things happen in between those events, but they’re the major milestones for the issue in my mind.

As someone who’s married to a tea drinker, I relate to Muneeba here. Also, Kamala’s parents are the best. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

The first big moment for Kamala is having it out with her mother over the fact that Muneeba knows that she’s Ms. Marvel.  The signs were pretty obvious in retrospect (Kamala does ask Muneeba where she can find her burqini late in the evening on a school night without any sort of explanation, and then it’s apparently never discussed again in the Khan family), and Muneeba has come to terms with the fact that her daughter is doing superheroics on the side.  She feels like it’s a far sight better than Kamala getting involved with something more in line with typical adult fears, like drugs or friends who would be bad influences.  As Muneeba points out, if the worst of Kamala’s “bad behavior” is sneaking out to help others in need, she can be thankful that her daughter has turned out so well (I’m not crying, you’re crying!).  Yusuf’s arrival sort of breaks the mood, but there’s still a sweet moment where Kamala and Muneeba try to comfort him after all the stress of Aamir’s kidnapping (it’s also weird how infantilized Yusuf appears in this issue; it’s like his general disconnected demeanor has left him unprepared for the emotional shock of having a family in crisis, which leaves me thinking, “Dude, pay more attention”).

Following a brief exchange with Bruno, Kamala retreats to the gym to see how her community is managing the crisis.  Generally, things are going better than you would expect.  As Kamala surveys the scene in the gymnatorium, she questions herself about the point of all the work she put in to get people together like this, given the imminent end of the world.  The resolution to that question that Wilson offers comes in the form of illustrating how Kamala’s work as Ms. Marvel has impacted and improved the lives of everyone around her.  Zoe Zimmer, who was a terrible character meant to be disliked at the series’s beginning, has had a major change of heart following all the times she was saved and protected by Ms. Marvel, both directly and indirectly.  She’s a kinder person now, and Zoe offers a genuine apology for the poor treatment Kamala used to receive from her.  She used to feel like she had to conform to a specific image that involved being mean to others who were different, and she’s gradually learning that that isn’t the case.

Kamala’s expressions are the best. Also, aw, Zoe. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

They can only get away with this because Disney owns Marvel. Also, again with the delightful facial expressions! (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

Of course, being a part-time superhero isn’t all great things either.  Where Zoe has shown a lot of growth and maturation since the series’s beginning, Kamala’s encounter with Nakia is a little more difficult.  Things resolve well here; the two renew their friendship.  But Nakia’s complaints that Kamala sort of disappeared from her life over the last few months are valid (we see this as readers from Nakia’s decreased presence within the entire series in its latter half).  Unlike Bruno, who learned Kamala’s secret early on and was allowed to remain close to her through involvement with her superheroing, Nakia has been pushed out pretty much every time she’s tried to ask Kamala about what’s going on.  We’ve gotten a front row seat to Kamala’s justification for this distancing, but this scene is where Nakia has an opportunity to explain how it’s felt for her.  Kamala still doesn’t explain anything about Ms. Marvel to her, but the vibe here is good.

The final scene of the issue finds Kamala and Bruno on the roof of Coles Academic finally hashing out their romantic feelings about each other.  This is a fantastic scene, by the way.  It finally relieves all that tension between Kamala and Bruno in a way that I find really satisfying.  Kamala acknowledges that she’s taken Bruno for granted (he is super dependable to the point of endangering himself unnecessarily), and she apologizes for the way she’s treated him.  Bruno confesses that he’s in love with her, but he understands there are all these cultural barriers that make them being together unrealistic.  We finally see that Kamala would be willing to reciprocate Bruno’s feelings, but the reason she’s ignored it isn’t because of her family but because she just has way too much going on what with being a superhero.  A lot of this moment has echoes of the ending of Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man movie, which makes sense because Kamala’s story has a lot of the same beats as Peter Parker’s, but it’s better executed here because, y’know, Kamala’s not keeping any secrets from Bruno about why she can’t do the dating thing (honesty’s a good thing, y’all).  Having cleared all that up, they reaffirm their friendship as the Incursion finally envelops Jersey City in a bunch of white light.  For bonus feels, read this scene while listening to this song (it came up on my Spotify playlist while I was re-reading the issue for this post, and, well, it really works, or at least it did for me).

ABC’s

  • Someone hiding in a busted up locker outside the nurse’s office
  • All the barnyard livestock hanging out outside the school
  • “Water!  Blankets!  Zombie Screening Medical Assessments!”
  • Children climbing into airducts
  • Dude butchering a fish in the gymnatorium
  • Rat with a bindle
  • Girl in hijab with vampire fangs
  • Guy complaining to girl with eye patch about a rat in his coffee
  • “Fair & Pastey”
  • “Gorilla Milk”
  • “Quarantine Wagon”
  • Pirate lady with a pet pigeon
  • Vick holding up a boombox like something out of a John Hughes movie
  • “Go Sport”
  • Chatty Bob breakdancing
  • Mike looking at Bruno

And that’s Ms. Marvel volume three.  It’s a brilliant little set of issues, and I’m really excited to get into the stuff from volume four soon.  I’ve started reading the most recent trades, and they go in directions I didn’t expect.  I’m looking forward to hashing all that out real soon.

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

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Reading “Last Days (3 of 4)”

You might expect in a four part story that the big climax and resolution of the plot with Kamran and Aamir wouldn’t happen until the fourth part, but because G Willow Wilson is a good writer who knows that “Last Days” is a story about a lot more than the fallout from Kamala’s first crush, she takes care of that stuff here so that the final issue will be reserved for all the feels related to Kamala knowing that the world is ending.

This cover’s adorable, but it has literally nothing to do with this issue. (Cover by Kris Anka; Image credit: Comic Vine)

After the last issue where Kamala and Carol Danvers scoured the Jersey waterfront for Kamran’s hiding place, things open here with them trying to figure out what’s happened to Aamir.  He’s in a sort of catatonic state in the middle of a room filled with what appears to be Terrigen gas, but he’s not undergoing Terrigenesis.  Instead, he’s apparently having an allergic reaction to whatever this stuff that Kamran stole from New Attilan is, and it’s caused him to develop temporary, highly unstable super powers.  Kamran is also present (because of course he is), and while this should be a moment where Kamala gets to have a big throw down with her “evil ex-crush,” an unexpected explosion of Aamir’s powers injures her so that she can’t fight.  Instead, Aamir sticks up for Kamala and makes it clear that he only holds Kamran responsible for all the stuff that went down (y’know, minus the kidnapping and super powered hijinks that Aamir is clueless about), and then he beats Kamran up before passing out (unstable super powers are not fun).  It’s a fantastic moment for Aamir, and this one scene gives him a level of depth that has only been hinted at previously (we’ve come a long way from the jobless, overly pious layabout son that Aamir seemed to be back in Ms. Marvel #1).

You tell him, Aamir! (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

And that’s it for Kamran, at least for the time being.  I expect that he’ll be back sometime in the future, but he’s out of the picture for now.  The second half of the issue is focused exclusively on Kamala coping with the news that the incursion isn’t going to be stopped and no one knows what’s going to happen once it’s done.  Carol wraps up her guest spot by giving Kamala a pendant that features a design incorporating both the Captain Marvel star and the Ms. Marvel lightning bolt.  It’s sort of a thank you gift since Carol’s found herself so impressed with Kamala since their meeting.  Then it’s time for her to go, and Carol Danvers flies off to do what she does.

Now, this is the part of the post where I’m going to indulge in wild speculation.  I haven’t read any Ms. Marvel beyond the end of the next arc after this one, so I don’t know if this is something that eventually gets addressed (I’m actually really looking forward to reading Ms. Marvel‘s “Civil War II” story because the trade’s cover suggests a major plot point will be Kamala’s sudden disillusionment with Carol Danvers), but my going theory is that the Carol Danvers who appears in the “Last Days” arc is actually from the other universe that’s colliding with the 616.  There’s tons of evidence that she’s not the native Carol Danvers, from her black uniform (which is never commented upon) to her occasionally tripping up on something she was about to say that she realizes she shouldn’t to her already knowing what the incursion means to the pendant that she obviously meant to give Kamala from the start.  I think this Carol actually partnered with her universe’s Kamala, and something bad happened to her; when the incursion began and the universes started to merge, she decided to go find the 616 Kamala.  It’s pretty clear from their goodbye that Carol is way more emotionally invested in Kamala’s well-being than one would expect from someone who had just made a new acquaintance.

Kamala looks so adorable in this panel, the way she clutches her scarf. Carol clearly knows she’s about to deliver some bad news. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

Anyway, Carol, wherever she’s from, gives Kamala one last bit of advice regarding facing the incursion: she needs to be ready for the possibility that this is the end.  Kamala takes that advice very seriously, and once she confirms that Aamir is okay (and back to being the obnoxious, oblivious older brother), she tries to figure out how she wants to spend her remaining time.  There’s some mild irritation first, because honestly Aamir’s a little insufferable after all his awesomeness in the issue’s first half; he proceeds to tell Kamala that she can’t possibly relate to what he’s going through with these sudden unstable super powers, and when Yusuf and Muneeba arrive, they fawn over Aamir while Kamala has to silently fume that she gets none of the positive attention as the family’s second child.  It’s a funny sequence, and Kamala snapping out of her grump to remember that she might not have much more time with anyone makes the whole thing sort of touching.  The issue closes with Kamala confessing to her mother that she’s Ms. Marvel, and Muneeba surprises Kamala by telling her that she already knows.

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

ABC’s

  • “Acme Shady Labor Series IV”
  • “Aunties And Androids 2”
  • “Astro Shark”
  • Another dude carrying livestock
  • “So You Were Wrong About the Zombie Apocalypse And You’ve Wasted Your Life”
  • A major award in the back of a car
  • Duck in a truck
  • “American Acupuncture Needles”

Reading “Last Days (2 of 4)”

It often feels like much of the first volume of Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel has been a series of increasingly high profile team-ups.  Beginning way back in the very first arc following Kamala’s first encounter with the Inventor’s minions (not even the Inventor himself!), every story arc has involved at least one prominent guest star to help bolster the book.  I get the sales motivation behind doing this; when I was a kid buying comics in the early ’90s, I absolutely gravitated towards books that featured characters I liked on the cover (back then it was pretty much a given that if a hero appeared on a comic’s cover, then they would make a substantial appearance in the book itself–at least, that’s the logic I operated by at the time), and Marvel made more than a few sales on my impulse to get anything that featured the X-Men.  Still, understanding a strategy and enjoying it are two different things; I read this series because I’m invested in Kamala and her supporting cast.  Wolverine and Lockjaw and Loki make fun cameos, but I don’t particularly care about seeing them in this book; I’m just thankful that G Willow Wilson is an adept enough writer to make the likely editorially mandated guest stars fit well within the stories she’s telling.  They’re fun bonuses, nothing more.

Good cover, still hate the Last Days text across the top. (Cover by Kris Anka; Image credit: Comic Vine)

I don’t feel that way about Carol Danvers’s appearance in this arc.

One of the guiding motifs of Kamala’s ongoing story is her hero-worship of superheroes, particularly the Avengers, and how she works constantly to emulate her role models.  Way back in the beginning, before Kamala has officially claimed the mantle of Ms. Marvel and her shape-shifting powers are significantly more flexible, she expressly models her superhero persona on Carol Danvers’s heyday as the original Ms. Marvel.  It’s not discussed explicitly, but Kamala’s defaulting to the old Ms. Marvel and her use of Captain Marvel as the focal point of her vision during her time in the Terrigenesis cocoon strongly suggests that out of all the Avengers, Carol Danvers is the one that she most strongly connects with.  Kamala becoming Ms. Marvel is largely unintentional happenstance, but the desire to emulate this person in particular has been there all along, and so Carol Danvers showing up to help out here at Kamala’s lowest moment makes tons of sense both emotionally and narratively.  The world is literally ending over Manhattan, and someone needs to help Kamala focus on doing what she can in her community.  It’s not really clear precisely why Carol Danvers shows up to pep talk Kamala at this moment (I have my theories, which I’ll elaborate on in the discussion of the next issue), but we’ll just accept for the moment that she’s here and she’s willing to help.

There are more important things to discuss than how you acquired your nom de guerre. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

What Captain Marvel’s arrival does narratively is give Kamala another mentor figure to bounce her feelings and thoughts off of as she copes with another new experience in her life as a superhero: the unwinnable fight.  There are a lot of instances where much more powerful heroes have been in situations where everything seemed lost but then a last minute miracle/plot contrivance helped them save the day, but it’s also not uncommon for heroes to experience genuine defeat.  Kamala has been exceptionally lucky as a brand new superhero who has had relatively few failures.  Yes, she got chased away by the Inventor’s henchlings when she was first starting out, and the whole previous episode with Kamran and Lineage culminated with Kamala being abducted and forced to flee from New Attilan, but those can be viewed as small defeats in longer-term conflicts (the fact that we’re continuing the Kamran and Lineage arc while editorial is demanding that Kamala’s world be destroyed two issues from now underlines that perspective).  This is a hard thing for anyone to learn how to process, but especially a teenager who has taken it upon herself to defend her community from weird stuff that generally falls outside the purview of normal neighborhood problems.  The complete mental breakdown Kamala is on the verge of having at the end of issue #16 would make sense under less stressful circumstances.  Fortunately, Carol shows up just in time to offer the perspective and advice that any teen hero needs.

Captain Marvel lays down a basic tenet of self-care and human limitations. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

The point that Carol tries to drive home while she’s assisting Kamala in tracking down Kamran and Aamir is that Kamala needs to understand she can’t win every battle she’s faced with.   The crisis in Manhattan is just too big to worry about.  It’s beyond Kamala’s ability to help, and so stressing about it is just going to deplete her available resources for doing what she can: organizing her community and saving her brother.  It’s a tough lesson that’s best illustrated by a brief scene where Kamala finds a makeshift shelter that someone has constructed for a bunch of cats.  She wants to rescue the animals, but Carol sensibly points out that doing so will make it harder to find Aamir, and the cats seem as safe as they can be where they are.

Carol, I relate so much. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

The issue’s big climax is a brief confrontation with Kaboom, which is sort of laughable because it ends abruptly when Carol grabs Kaboom by the collar and tells her to give up Kamran and Aamir’s position or she’s going to get angry.  The dynamic here reminds me a lot of moments in the classroom where I have to swoop in and tell bickering teens to knock it off before I have to resort to consequences.  While Kamala’s problems are real and legitimate, this whole situation is so far below Carol’s pay grade that it’s clear she’s just here because she wants to do Kamala a favor (even if we still don’t get a real explanation exactly why that is).  Kaboom gives up immediately, and the issue ends with Kamala and Carol finding Aamir in the middle of something that might be Terrigenesis, although it seems off.

ABC’s

  • “Gyros 4 Heroes”
  • “Pants on Demand” trailer
  • Guys spelling “hlep” on a rooftop with belly paint
  • Dudes meditating on how they crashed a car upside down on top of a roof
  • “Lil Anya’s Body Disposal”
  • “West Side Pets & Spices”
  • “Count Docula: Benevolent Family Physician”
  • Inventor’s “Unscoopulous” ice cream truck
  • “Keith’s Van Horns”
  • “Bank Anncroft”
  • “Radoslav’s Korean BBQ”
  • Yet another guy carrying around livestock
  • “Fair & Pastey Econo-Size”
  • “Dance Dance Confusion”
  • “Jersey’s Finest Punk Electricians”
  • “Nermal’s Choice Cat Food”
  • “Hi-Quality!”
  • “Great 4 Kids!”
  • “Dear Queen of England, do you like karate”

Reading “Last Days (1 of 4)”

Back in 2015 Marvel did this thing where it decided that it was going to reboot its entire universe in an effort to do away with the multiverse concept that I personally find so lovable about Marvel’s comics.  I don’t know what the heck is going on with DC’s universe (and mostly I don’t care), but I hear from DC fans periodically that it’s a long slog of messiness that occasionally is made much worse by attempts to clean it all up.  Marvel, conversely, has always embraced the idea of multiversal chaos and just let it be a given that alternate timelines, dimensions, what-have-you coexist with the primary universe that the publisher tells stories in, and that’s okay.  That is, until they decided to reboot Secret Wars.

This is an appropriately dramatic cover, but that “Last Days” logo splashed across the top is rather obnoxious (mostly because it uses the Secret Wars font, which just reminds you that this is part of an editorial event). (Cover by Kris Anka; image credit: Comic Vine)

The premise behind Secret Wars was to collapse the entire Marvel multiverse into a single dimension by way of a Very Bad Thing happening and then following the event there would only be a single Marvel (comics) universe populated with the versions of heroes that readers are most familiar with plus a few really popular refugees from other prominent universes (the most notable beneficiaries of this were Miles Morales, aka Ultimate Spider-Man, and Old Man Logan).  Though it’s not important to dwell on it too much (kind of like transporter technology in Star Trek), the events of Secret Wars do essentially erase everyone from the Marvel universe and replace them with exact copies of themselves.  From that vantage point, “Last Days” is a story about people coping with their imminent death.  Yes, following this story line Ms. Marvel resumes without any narrative bumps as though Secret Wars never happened, but the last four issues of Kamala Khan’s first volume are about how she behaves in the face of a lost cause and then that’s it for this iteration.  The fact that long-form serialized storytelling is predisposed towards maintaining some kind of status quo offers the temptation to treat this story as an interesting diversion that doesn’t matter that much (it is, after all, part of a line-wide mandate where every Marvel comic that was publishing at the time had a “Last Days” story arc); I reject that because I get hung up on the problem of character consciousness and the whole duplicate thing; our first Kamala dies at the end of this story along with everyone in Jersey City and Earth-616.  It sucks, a lot; it’s still a really good and worthwhile story.

This is perfectly normal behavior, given the situation. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

The issue begins with Kamala stuck on the precise thing she should be stuck on; with the last issue ending so abruptly without any time given to let her begin to decompress after her trauma with Kamran, I’m glad that Wilson decides to open on Kamala trying very hard not to think about what she went through.  The ending of romantic relationships is hard regardless of the circumstances, and given the extreme nature of Kamala’s first one it’s understandable that she’d be dwelling on it.  Kamala has no one with whom she can process her feelings in her social circle (Kamran’s status as part of an Inhuman supremacist movement precludes discussing the incident with anyone who doesn’t know that Kamala is Ms. Marvel, and Bruno has too many of his own feelings to be a good recipient of Kamala’s romance angst).  Strangers are just about the best bet for sorting anything out, and so we get to see Kamala slamming down hot dogs while the vendor gives her worldly wisdom about relationships.

Kamala has to quickly set aside the Kamran problem because a mob of people fleeing Manhattan arrive with vague references to an event that’s happening across the river.  Kamala rushes to the rescue while making use of her physics knowledge (kids, do your homework because it might have practical applications in superheroing!) to do an innovative thing with her powers, but she’s stopped in her tracks when she reaches Manhattan and sees that the problem is a planet inching closer to Earth.  It’s not discussed in detail here, but this is an Incursion, a collision between dimensions as the multiverse collapses on itself.  Kamala recognizes that this is above her pay grade, so she decides to focus her efforts on trying to keep people safe in Jersey City.

The first stop is at the Circle Q, where Bruno and Vick are busy fortifying the convenience store from a group of masked vandals who have begun looting in the chaos.  It’s a very teenager thing that their top priority is protecting the squishee machine, but I admit I’d probably prize that thing above anything else in the store too.  Frozen drinks are delicious.  Kamala gets the scoop from the brothers Carrelli, and she formulates the plan to have everyone hole up at the high school since it’s just been rebuilt to withstand giant robot attacks and magically warded by Loki.  This is a good plan; Kamala should be proud of herself for coming up with it, even though she doesn’t really have time to think about it too much in the middle of the emergency.

Best detail here is Vick’s continued unspoken love of cricket (he even has his own bat!). I don’t recall Bruno ever looking so buff before; has he been working out to impress someone? (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

The next stop is the Khan house where we learn a few important things: Adrian Alphona draws Kamran to look waaaaaay douchier than Takeshi Miyazawa ever did (it’s kind of magical how the change in artist so effectively conveys the shift in perception towards this character we’re supposed to feel) and Kamala’s parents have names.  I mean, I knew that they had names, but I’m pretty sure this is the first issue where their first names are used instead of the filial honorifics that Kamala and Aamir usually use.  So, henceforth, let it be known that Kamala’s parents are named Yusuf and Muneeba Khan (you have no idea how relieved I am to finally be able to construct sentences referring to members of the Khan family without having to describe everyone as “Kamala’s _______”).  Most importantly of all though, we learn that Kamran has abducted Aamir on the theory that Aamir may also have Inhuman DNA; if Kamala won’t join Lineage’s crew, then maybe someone like Aamir (read: a young, devout, Muslim man living in an Islamophobic country) can be persuaded to do so instead.  This is… less than ideal news for Kamala, but she doesn’t have time to go save Aamir just yet; the world is ending, after all.

Seriously, don’t you just want to punch the guy? (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

The issue concludes with Kamala seeing that her neighborhood is pulling together to create an effective shelter at Coles in response to the crisis in Manhattan.  It’s really heartwarming, but Kamala is so overwhelmed with everything that still needs to be done that she’s about to have a panic attack when the guest star of this arc makes a dramatic splash page entrance: Captain Marvel.

Captain Marvel just totally Batman’d Kamala. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

ABC’s

  • Asian Riverwater
  • Roundhouse Cola
  • Soulsonic Frank’s
  • “Go Sport”
  • “Kosher Soulsonic Frank’s: Hot Dog, Hot Sausage, Pretzels, Panda, Soda, Water”
  • Pigeon with a First Nations headdress
  • Pigeon tugging Kamala’s Ms. Marvel scarf out of her bag
  • “Blerf”
  • Dude pouring soda on a kid’s head (what the heck, dude?)
  • Guy sitting next to Kamala at hot dog stand in ripped up suit
  • Pigeon with viking helmet
  • Ol Dirty Mustard
  • Hot Sauce
  • Mild Sauce for Sucka MC’s
  • Crowd running toward Kamala with money flying out of suitcases
  • Count Orlok with stethoscope
  • Baby “woo!ing” as its mom runs by pushing its stroller
  • Inuit person driving pigs out of the river
  • Dude with foot being pinched by a crab
  • Hazmat folks pushing a guy off a sinking boat
  • Police dumping box labeled “Evidence” complete with skull with knife embedded in it
  • Big cat in the midst of large crowd of fleeing people
  • Robot dude
  • Octopus tentacle wielding a knife
  • “Toads Legit Cricket Club”
  • “Fisticuffs”
  • “The Corn Chronicles”
  • “I told u the end was nigh!! please buy my Mixtape”
  • Guys carrying various farm animals
  • “It was a stooone groove” (emergency clothes after Kamala leaves her regular outfit under the pier)
  • “Ball don’t lie”
  • Family in their car with jars of assorted herbs and… a ghost trap?
  • Car with a torpedo strapped to the top
  • Herd of pigs
  • Inventor junk for sale
  • Dude reclining for a portrait
  • “Radoslav’s Chinese Food”
  • Sheikh Abdullah trying to get a bunch of guys to not play indoor sports

Reading “Crushed (3 of 3)”

Like with previous arcs of Ms. Marvel, the culminating issue here is pretty much all climax (it’s actually technically a worse offender than the other stories so far, as the denouement is confined to a single page where none of the fallout is explored beyond the immediate emotional impact of Kamala’s experience).  On the flip side, I have to admit that I really dig what’s going on with this issue.  Miyazawa’s action sequences, set to alternate between Bruno’s rush to get to New Attilan and Kamala’s attempts to escape, are a lot more engaging than what I typically see when Alphona is doing the art (Alphona, I love you, but your panels are crammed with stuff that detracts from easily following an action sequence).  On top of solid visuals, this issue is rife with some fun, goofy sci-fi shout outs and a pretty deep exploration of Kamala’s feelings of responsibility in the immediate aftermath of a completely non-comic-book form of assault.

This cover has absolutely no grounding in the story, but it’s a cute concept, and you can’t really complain about a Kris Anka cover. (Cover by Kris Anka. Image credit: Comic Vine)

The issue opens with Kamala reeling from the revelation that her brand new boyfriend, Kamran, is in league with an Inhuman named Lineage who has designs to usurp Medusa’s throne and run New Attilan as an Inhuman supremacist community (Lineage relies mostly on insinuation instead of explicit explanation, but based on the dreck that Kaboom was spouting back in issue #13, it’s pretty easy to gather what Lineage’s deal is).  In the first couple of pages, we get right into exploring Kamala’s internal state following her abduction by Kamran; Lineage lays it on thick with a potent combination of direct victim blaming and hitting hard on the way society at large will view Kamala’s actions leading up to her current predicament.  Wilson’s going hard on the problem of victim blaming and the fallout that comes from speaking up about harassment or assault (this topic is incredibly timely in the wake of the #MeToo moment that’s spread across social media this week).  Although as readers we’re privy to the inner journey Kamala has taken over the last two issues with her feelings towards Kamran, and we can see how she felt swept up in the moment in a way that will look to others like she was inviting Kamran to violate her boundaries (meditate for a moment on the logical paradox of inviting someone to violate your boundaries; it’s nonsense on its face, but that doesn’t stop people from assuming it’s exactly what victims do).  Enlightened readers understand that there is no way Kamala is at fault for Kamran’s actions; she was led to believe he was trustworthy, and he took advantage of that trust.  Still, Wilson deftly captures the sense of self doubt that pervades a victim’s thoughts when that first suggestion that they could have done something differently to prevent their trauma arrives.  It’s this moment that marks “Crushed” as one of my favorite Ms. Marvel stories, because it sympathizes with victims of trauma in a way that’s accessible to younger readers without being tawdry or exploitative the way that discussions of things like sexual assault can potentially become in fiction.

I wish I had the time and energy to discuss this panel. It’s such a chilling depiction of a victim being retraumatized. (Artwork by Takeshi Miyazawa, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

Balancing out the really heavy stuff related to Kamala’s coping with being abducted, this issue has some wonderful moments of levity.  I don’t know why the Coles Academic girls’ lacrosse team is carrying dinosaur bones down the hall, but I want to find out.  Bruno’s ditching a ticked off teacher is totally zany and not likely to happen in real-life without serious consequences, but it’s delightful (teachers in the Marvel universe have no chill).  The Star Trek and Star Wars gag panels are wonderfully kitschy, especially since one is done without the characters understanding what they’re riffing on, and the other is done with full knowledge of the pop culture reference.  It’s great stuff.

Why…? (Artwork by Takeshi Miyazawa, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

This really was inevitable, if you think about it. (Artwork by Takeshi Miyazawa, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

Sure, why not? (Artwork by Takeshi Miyazawa, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

Sadly, this issue marks the end of Takeshi Miyazawa’s brief run on Ms. Marvel, and while I’ll be happy to catalog all the strangeness in Adrian Alphona’s next issue, I have to admit that I’m going to miss Miyazawa’s slightly more grounded style.

Next time, we begin the final arc of Kamala’s first volume as Ms. Marvel where the world starts to end and things stay weird in Jersey City.

Reading “Crushed (2 of 3)”

There are issues of Ms. Marvel that I don’t really care too much for (see: the conclusions of both the Inventor arcs), and there are issues that I unabashedly love.  The middle part of “Crushed” falls into that latter category.

Cover of Ms. Marvel #14. (Cover by Jake Wyatt; image credit: Comic Vine)

In a lot of ways, this is a really quiet issue.  Most of the pages are taken up with Kamala’s budding romance with Kamran and Bruno’s conversation with Aamir.  There’s a smattering of action in the last four pages or so (and it’s pretty good action too), but by and large, this issue’s focus is on exploring character relationships.  It also doesn’t hurt that, being a middle part, it ends when things are at their worst.

Kamala’s romance with Kamran plays out in the issue’s first half in exactly the way Kamala imagines it’s supposed to go.  This perfect replication of her romantic fantasy signals to older readers that something is very off about the whole Kamran thing.  On the issue’s first page when Kamala says, “All this time, I thought […] I was the only nerdy Pakistani-American-slash-Inhuman in the entire universe,” the insane specificity of such a remark is a huge tip off that something has to be wrong with this relationship.  It’s not just the fact that Kamran has only been around for a single issue and Kamala’s investment in the relationship is going way too deep, way too soon (though those are good markers); at first glance, there are no flaws in the package that is Kamran for a girl like Kamala.  Their interests and cultural touchstones sync up remarkably well, and he just happens to also be an Inhuman, and that’s just off from what we know about most teenage relationships.  At that age, because of limited independence and social mobility, there is a ton of approximation that goes on in teenage friendships and romances.  Your social circle is limited to who you’re physically close to, and the likelihood of meeting someone who meshes that well with you, while not impossible, is highly improbable.

Everything looks so exciting and filled with promise here! (Artwork by Takeshi Miyazawa, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

Of course, this is all analysis from an adult reader’s perspective.  Kamala, as a teenage girl experiencing her first real crush within the context of the story, doesn’t have that perspective.  She just knows that she really likes Kamran (she even speculates that she might be in love with him, which, well, teenagers usually feel things a lot more intensely than adults given their stage of development and the abundance of novel experiences they’re having), and it’s the greatest thing ever that they have so much in common.

This panel is undeniably romantic (Miyazawa’s romance chops are shining through), but you know that things can only get worse from here. (Artwork by Takeshi Miyazawa, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

Naturally, reality has to set in eventually, and we it reasserted the morning after Kamala’s illicit date with Kamran.  He offers Kamala a ride to school in his fancy car, which Kamala gladly accepts despite the fact that she’s ditching both Aamir (all cleaned up and on his way to a job interview) and Bruno (he’s heard nothing about Kamala’s new beau because it’s been less than twenty-four hours since she and Kamran met).  Once the two lovebirds are alone, things take a sinister turn as Kamran drives Kamala not to school like he said but down to the riverfront where he wants her to meet someone “very important” to him.  The warning bells that go off at this point are pretty strong, and while Kamala does an admirable job of demanding that Kamran not disrespect her boundaries like this, it’s obvious from a mile off that he’s about to abduct her (I mean, technically he’s already abducted her, since he took her to a place she didn’t want to go).  So goes young love, right?

Joking aside, the sequence where Kamran incapacitates Kamala and takes her to New Attilan is incredibly creepy.  I can’t stress enough how harrowing the sequence where she wakes up is.  Miyazawa’s art really sells the disorientation that Kamala feels, and in the page before she begins busting her way out things look extremely scary for her.  She’s been kidnapped by someone she barely knows who has just spent the last twenty-four hours getting her into a position where she intimately trusts him, and now we see that that trust has been betrayed.  It’s scary stuff.

Real talk, the perspective in this panel and the look on Kamala’s face makes this moment extremely uncomfortable. Kamran just knocked her out and kidnapped her, and now she’s waking up dazed, alone, and in a strange room. (Artwork by Takeshi Miyazawa, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

At the same time that all the stuff between Kamala and Kamran is happening (specifically while they’re speeding away in a car that’s way too nice for a teenager to be driving), we also get to see my favorite conversation between Bruno and Aamir (perhaps this is my favorite because these two characters rarely inhabit the same scene, but I still find it to be wonderful).  Aamir, much like the reader, is well aware of Bruno’s crush on Kamala, and he proceeds to have A Talk with Bruno about the nature of his and Kamala’s relationship.  Up to this point Aamir has largely been the doofy big brother who cares about his kid sister but doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of insights into the ways of her life.  At this bus stop on Coles & Montgomery, we learn that Aamir is way more perceptive than he lets on (there are many reasons to love Aamir, but we’ll get into more of those in a later story arc).  In very straightforward terms, Aamir lays out to Bruno the reality that he and Kamala can’t have a long term romance; while Bruno is beloved by the Khan family, he’s not Pakistani or Muslim, and it’s important to Kamala’s parents that when she begins her own family it still feels connected to its cultural roots.  Bruno is a second generation child of immigrants, so he relates well to the Khan family’s experience trying to integrate with American culture, but that’s not enough.  Aamir also points out, very reasonably, that Bruno and Kamala are still in high school; the likelihood of them remaining close enough to become romantically involved once Kamala is old enough to not be subject to her parents’ expectations is extremely low.  It’s a difficult conversation for Bruno, but Aamir handles the affair admirably, and you come away feeling like these characters are much more complex than they appear to be in relation to Kamala.

The next issue sees the resolution of this small arc, and Kamala’s encounter with the leader of the Inhumans’ own branch of extremists, Lineage.

Reading “Crushed (1 of 3)”

Given the fact that this arc of Ms. Marvel is closely focused on the burgeoning romantic life of Kamala Khan, it’s appropriate that in place our artist for the story, in place of series regular Adrian Alphona, is Takeshi Miyazawa.  Miyazawa’s portfolio includes a stint on Marvel’s super-powered-teens-in-trouble series Runaways and the romance series Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, which means that he’s a perfect choice for the arc that explores Kamala’s first experience with romance.  So much of this issue centers around regular life scenes, and Miyazawa’s manga-inflected style suits the focus on the mundane here.  This is really a story that’s more about Kamala’s feelings than about her actions, and a solid artist with experience in that department is necessary to help tell that story.

Cover of Ms. Marvel #13. (Cover by Marguerite Sauvage. Image credit: Comic Vine)

This story opens with Kamala in the midst of a workout at New Attilan, the home base of the Inhumans who follow Medusa after Black Bolt’s disappearance in the wake of the Terrigen cloud being released (I’m more than a little fuzzy on the specifics of this, but they’re not that important to Kamala’s story, so don’t worry about it).  Medusa worries that Kamala is vulnerable remaining in Jersey City, but she can’t convince the girl to move to New Attilan (understandably; Kamala’s family is ignorant of her Inhuman DNA, and it would presumably be rather complicated for her as a minor to come out as Inhuman and then move in with a bunch of strangers across the Hudson River).  Lockjaw is there being the excellent adviser that he is, and he persuades Medusa with a series of very cogent arguments that Kamala should be allowed to make her own decisions about her life.  Lockjaw’s placement here is a pretty deft bit of narrative maneuvering to pull him away from his role in the last arc as Kamala’s animal sidekick (though it’s a bit of a head scratcher why her family doesn’t question the disappearance of the giant dog that she brought home on a whim only a few weeks earlier).  We’re taking a short break from the superhero stuff for the first half of the issue, and Kamala’s interactions with her family need to be more low key to set them apart from the action climax of the issue later.

Okay, he just grunts, but it’s still a very compelling grunt. (Artwork by Takeshi Miyazawa, colors by Ian Herring & Irma Knivila, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

Kamala returns from her workout (how long was she gone that her family believes she just went on a run?) to get the news that some old friends of her parents have moved back into town, and they have a son about her age, and would it kill her to do something nice with her family for a change instead of running around to hang out with her friends once in a while?  This is the sort of stuff that I’m here for in a Ms. Marvel story.  Kamala’s mom is perfectly unsubtle in her insinuation that the boy, Kamran, would make a good potential husband with his excellent career prospects, and her dad floats through the scene with his perfectly passive dad presence (it’s all topped off by the Huxtable sweater he’s wearing in place of his usual shirt and tie).  Kamala’s reaction to their needling is typically teenage, and it is the best.  Her reluctance to play along with their matchmaking game adds some nice dimension to the setup for what’s obviously coming.  Kamala is old enough that it’s totally unsurprising she would be interested in romantic relationships, but the fact that this is a relationship her parents (well, her mom) are explicitly endorsing elicits that reflexive bit of teenage rebellion that sells the reality of the moment.

Kamala’s reaction is understandable. That’s a handsome kid. (Artwork by Takeshi Miyazawa, colors by Ian Herring & Irma Knivila, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

Besides being an excellent flounce on Kamala’s dad’s part, this panel has some spectacular body language. Amir’s annoyed, Kamran’s embarrassed, Kamala’s overjoyed, and dad’s magical. (Artwork by Takeshia Miyazawa, colors by Ian Herring & Irma Knivila, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

To absolutely no one’s surprise, our introduction to Kamran reveals that he’s a perfect suitor from the perspective of parents hoping to marry their daughter off well.  What’s more striking is that he also hits it off immediately with Kamala; they’re both nerds in all the same ways, and so we see an immediate reversal in Kamala’s attitude.  She schemes to get Amir to chaperone an impromptu shopping date with Kamran, and they’re off.  The best part of this whole sequence comes when Kamala’s dad pulls her aside and very gently reminds her that arranging a marriage is something that’s years away at this point, and she doesn’t need to go rushing into a relationship now.  It’s a complex reaction to Kamala’s enthusiasm.  Her dad is expressing that normal parental reluctance about his child growing up at the same time he’s trying to be accommodating of Kamala making a decision that on the surface looks like a good one.

One thing leads to another from there, and naturally Kamala and Kamran’s date gets interrupted by an Inhuman, Kaboom (there are a lot of character names beginning with “Ka” in this issue…), terrorizing people.  There’s a lot to explore with Kamala’s fight with Kaboom: Wilson inserts a brief discussion of the frustration that Muslims feel when they’re all automatically lumped in with violent extremists who also practice some form of Islam, and Kamala allows her frustrations with Kaboom’s poor representation of Inhumans to lead her to use excessive force in stopping the villain.  This is an all-ages book, so Kaboom ends up being perfectly fine, but that doesn’t change the fact that Kamala’s genuinely scared by the severity of her opponent’s injuries and her own lack of restraint.

The aftermath of Kamala and Kaboom’s fight looks way scarier than the moment immediately after Kamala lays her out. (Artwork by Takeshi Miyazawa, colors by Ian Herring & Irma Knivila, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

The issue ends with Kamala trying to pass her disappearance during the confusion off as just her getting separated from Amir and Kamran, which works for Amir because he’s an oblivious older brother, but Kamran sees right through Kamala’s ruse.  He reveals to her that he knows she’s Inhuman, but that’s cool because he is too.  The issue ends on a major high point where Kamala has begun a relationship with someone who seems like an absolutely perfect match for her.

You know it has to get complicated soon.