By Molly Jane Kremer. While there are many things I miss about DC’s glorious pre-New52 days, the one I miss the most is the concept of “legacy.” It was ever-present in the DC Universe, in titles like the Justice Society and in Teen Titans; the younger generation striving to uphold the ideals of their superhero predecessors, taking up the mantle of a retired or fallen mentor to continue on in their name. It gave “continuity” – that cornerstone of superhero comics – a new resonance, in that a hero’s name (or identity or mission) could live on in as many incarnations as could be inspired by it; ever-changing yet remaining the same.
Since the advent of the New52, where nearly 75 years of stories have been either compressed into six years’ worth of story or deleted completely, I’ve been missing that sense of history and depth. Thankfully Marvel has slightly picked up the slack in that department. In their Ultimate universe, Miles Morales has taken up the mantle of fallen Peter Parker and become the new Spider-Man, to the acclaim of readers and critics alike. A new Nova has taken over the helmet and title his father held before him. And, in the wake of the Infinity crossover, a Pakistani-American teenager from Jersey City discovered she had superpowers and took up the recently-retired title of Ms. Marvel.
After the events of Infinity, Kamala Khan was one of many who discovered her latent Inhumanity from the spread of Terrigen Mists – a biologically intrusive mutagen – that crawled the globe, uncovering shapeshifting powers on a night when Kamala had snuck out to go to a party. She’d been forbidden to go because, unlike any other superhero fronting their own comic book, Kamala is Muslim, has uber-strict parents, has nerdy tendencies we can all recognize, and has to deal with all the baggage those bring on a daily basis. (And now, on top of that: superpowers.) She carries on the great tradition of teenage Marvel superheroes who, alongside fighting monsters and maniacal villains, have to deal with the unidealized real-life problems of the average kid.
The issue starts with Kamala canvassing the streets of Jersey City looking for information about missing kids, after coming across a bunch of them in her run-in with local baddie, The Inventor. (It happened all right, in Ms. Marvel #7! – Ed.) All of a sudden, Lockjaw – the Inhumans’ teleporting canine – comes bounding up, sent by Medusa to keep an eye on this new hero. Kamala has no problems with an enormous friendly bulldog (“Because when you decide not to be afraid, you can find friends in super unexpected places.”), and she immediately brings him home, much to the chagrin of her strict parents. When she realizes her new dog can teleport, she immediately recruits him into her search for the missing kids, leading them to an abandoned power plant in the middle of nowhere, with big attacking robots that are mysteriously using the missing kids as a power source.
Throughout, Adrian Alphona’s art delights. I’ve enjoyed his work immensely since I first came across it in his and Brian K. Vaughan’s series Runaways. In Ms. Marvel, his art can lean towards the cute (even, dare I say, adorable), which is the perfect fit for a series about a 14 year old obsessed with superheroes. When Kamala’s shapeshifting calls for stretches and squishes, Alphona stylistically renders them all with captivating expressiveness. Alphona’s flair for current teenage fashion also hasn’t dimished since his time on Runaways. It’s always nice seeing teenagers in comics drawn wearing the things teenagers actually wear (and enjoy wearing) instead of the clothes middle-aged men think (or want) them to wear. (See how Mark Bagley used to draw teenagers MJ and Gwen Stacy in Ultimate Spider-Man with thongs constantly showing over their jeans…*barf*) Ian Herring’s colors positively glow as well; his palate flawlessly shifts from the dreamy purples of Lockjaw’s teleportation into the stark sandy brightness of a desert-like landscape.
Willow Wilson, a veteran writer of both comics and novels, adds witty dialog but also bright-eyed sincerity when needed, to great effect. There’s a refreshing joy and innocence to this comic, where so many others go into the opposite direction of pain and loss and darkness. An exaggerated Tumblr-esque cutsieness can permeate at times, but Wilson’s story still lends a subtle authenticity that a lesser writer could easily turn into pandering or preachiness.
And that “adorable” factor shouldn’t be seen as a detraction anyway; it’s helped the book to attain an enormous readership. The first issue achieved an historic sixth printing last month, sales few comic books ever accomplish, let alone one starring a geeky teenage Pakistani-American girl. It also gives those of us working at comic shops something we can, in good conscience, hand to a younger female reader who wants a comic starring a superhero she can enjoy, and *gasp* even relate to; and that’s a marvelous thing indeed.
Written by Willow Wilson.
Art by Adrian Alphona.
Colored by Ian Herring.
8 out of 10