Friday, February 7, 2014

Ms. Marvel #1 Review

Ms. Marvel #1 
G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona 
Marvel Comics 

It seems like lately it’s getting harder and harder to find a Marvel comic that isn’t focused on nonsensical time travel plotlines, characters dying and coming back to life for no reason, or heroes fighting each other instead of actual villains. Maybe that’s why this week’s release of Ms. Marvel #1 was such a relief and a downright fun read to boot. One of the first issues to hit the shelves from the “All New Marvel NOW!” campaign, Ms. Marvel is fresh and original while still maintaining a classic feel.

If you haven’t heard about the series’ re-launch by now, it’s probably safe to say you’ve been marooned somewhere without an internet connection. Since the first teaser image debuted, forums everywhere have been abuzz about how Carol Danvers would be replaced with a new Ms. Marvel, and by a Muslim teenager no less. In an increasingly tolerant society, I was shocked by how many opposed the change. Admittedly, many of Marvel’s attempts to add some diversity to their roster have been little more than a PR stunt, like when Ultimate Nick Fury was transformed into the comic book version of Samuel L. Jackson.  However, I assure you that with the latest incarnation of our hero, Marvel is finally doing it right.

Through Kamala Khan, G. Willow Wilson has created a protagonist who is both familiar and relatable, yet unlike anything we have seen before. A far cry from a bland replacement for Danvers, Kamala’s tale is part spiritual journey, part rise to stardom.  Her strong religious upbringing is ever-present, but not the sole focus of the story; all the usual teenage angst is there as well. It’s an interesting contrast watching Kamala stick to her convictions, while trying to fit in with the popular crowd. She’s a character who loves her family (but wishes they’d give her more freedom), someone who’s never tried a sip of alcohol in her life, and someone who idolizes superheroes as much as we, the readers, do.  For those of us who grew up pretty straight-edge, our noses buried in a comic book more often than not, the story really rings true.

As first issues go, it’s typical to be heavy on character development and low on action. Ms. Marvel #1 is no different, but it’s necessary. Kamala is a complex character who needs to be really fleshed out in order to properly appreciate her. On the sidelines is a supporting cast of friends, family, and frenemies, all of whom you also get a good feel for in a very short amount of time. With Adrian Alphona illustrating, the characters pop right off the page, each with their own unique styles and expressions. Those familiar with Brian K. Vaughan’s Runaways can attest that Alphona does some of his best work on teen books.

What drew me to the Ms. Marvel reboot in the first place was not the progressive choice of a female minority lead, but rather that it felt atypical in every way. Firstly, the story takes place in New Jersey rather than New York City. Still close by, I know, but at least she’s not next-door-neighbors with a thousand other super people. (Regardless, I smell an obligatory Wolverine cameo in the near future.) Second, Kamala’s power set, while not revealed in the first issue, is an unusual choice for a heroine. She’s a polymorph, which means she can change her size and shape at will. When I think of polymorphs I think of Batman’s Clayface: ugly, manipulative and brutal. Giving that power to someone on the right side of the law will be something we’ve rarely seen. And lastly, I love that the book has a strong emphasis on the religious aspect. It’s an unbiased view into a faith that few Americans understand well, and will hopefully build some enlightenment and tolerance for.

I know it’s sometimes hard to give a first issue a chance. Nine out of ten new titles seem to fail within the first dozen or so issues, especially when you introduce a new character that breaks the status quo. But please, I urge you to give Ms. Marvel a try. For me, it reawakened a child-like feeling that maybe I too could inherit superpowers and go out and fight crime. And really, is there any better reaction to reading a comic book than that? I think not.

Jack of All Trade Paperbacks
Contributing Writer

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