By Molly Jane Kremer. Boasting the universally-appealing protagonist of Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel has been one of Marvel Comics’ most critically and financially successful new character debuts of the past few years. (It also brought in scads of new readers, a few of whom I’ve seen firsthand at the comic shop I work at.) But with all of the expectations that come from accomplishments such as these, the most difficult task Ms. Marvel‘s creators will have is going to be retaining the high standard of quality they’ve already set. Thankfully, issue #9 proves that the title remains consistent, while continuing to introduce new ways of developing and enriching our titular heroine.
Ms Marvel #9 begins unceremoniously during the battle that was issue #8’s cliff-hanger, amid the rubble of Kamala’s high school. The Inventor has sent another of his robots to attack Kamala, who is inexplicably unable to utilize her powers to transform her face, and thus in danger of being recognized by her classmates and teachers. She charges into action with her new pet Lockjaw anyway, and between clouds of smoke and rubble (made up of ridiculously artful white curly-cues surrounded by billows of pinks and purples – kudos to Ian Herring’s coloring talents) and Lockjaw adorably distracting her classmates, Kamala somehow goes nearly unrecognized by all.
She defeats the robot, sapping all of her strength and powers in the process, and passes out. Her best friend Bruno runs desperately past both cops and cordons to grab her, as Medusa, Queen of the Inhumans, makes her entrance. We’ve seen her previously in this series, but Kamala has never met her (and has also been completely ignorant of the Inhuman origin of her own powers). With his Ms. Marvel in distress, Lockjaw summons Medusa, and transports all of them (Bruno included) back to New Attilan, the floating astral home of the Inhumans.
We’ve seen a lot of Bruno so far: he’s been helping Kamala since the series began, both when she is herself and when she’s Ms. Marvel. And for a book with a teen protagonist, they’ve been surprisingly subtle about Bruno’s crush on her, and Kamala’s obliviousness to his affections. The two have remained great friends so far, and this issue’s abundance of scenes between them adds new facets to that friendship: while sitting at her bedside in New Attilan, he’s visibly worried about her, but keeps up an endearing babble of exposition despite her unconscious state. (“So you know that crazy art deco alien city in the river? We are totally in it.”) It’s adorable, and I can be patient to see where this relationship will go; there’s no need to rush things when their current status is just so… cute.
Kamala discovering the Inhuman nature of her powers and getting to know Medusa, Vinatos, and Lockjaw is a great way to help the book extend itself into the greater Marvel Universe. So far, other than Kamala’s constant geeking about the Avengers and her brief team-up with Wolverine in issues 6-7, Ms. Marvel has remained pretty independent of the company’s inner goings-on. Hopefully they’ll keep these forays into the Marvel U brief and simple, as too much complicated canon isn’t exactly friendly to new readers (and of those new readers, this title has many).
Story-wise, giving Kamala knowledge of her Inhumanity, and from that, further personal assistance from Medusa and physician Vinatos was necessary. Venturing out into the big bad world of super-heroing is eventually going to require help that might be a bit past Bruno’s effective-but-amateur abilities. Lockjaw is perfect for this, and is neither overbearing (how could he be? he’s a big dog) nor powerless; an ideal companion for the untrained and untried Ms. Marvel. Vinatos is also able to explain why Kamala was unable to change her face at the beginning of the issue (too much healing = less shape-shifting), establishing that her two abilities have some limits, other than just rendering her unconscious when they are overused.
Kamala takes the news that she’s part alien fairly well, considering, and Willow Wilson’s dialogue shines here (Kamala: “I’m a Pak-American, part-alien, morphogenic nerd. I am alone in the universe.” Vinatos: “Unique is not the same as alone.”). When Vinatos tells her to stay in New Attilan and let someone else deal with the Inventor, she replies, “I like not being scared. I want to keep not being scared. So I have to finish this myself, my way.” Escaping the palpable fear that is pushed down our throats by nearly every form of media is something we should all strive for. Go, Kamala.
Her unsettling discovery at the end of the issue may affect her resolve though; finding out that the runaway teens she’s been trying to save all this time were instead the Inventor’s willing volunteers is definitely going to cause some internal conflict. In her fantasy-laden existence full of Avengers-worship and World Of Warcraft, it will be a (much-needed) learning experience for Kamala to learn that everything isn’t necessarily black and white. How she manages that revelation will be interesting to see.
As always, Adrian Alphona and Ian Herring’s beautiful art distinguishes Ms. Marvel from most other superhero books on the stands. It is, at times, brilliantly exaggerated and cartoony, but always veers back into realistic facial expressions and emotions. Their panel borders aren’t very exact – a very lo-fi look, more like the artist drew them onto the paper himself, instead of the sharp and exact angles others so often add digitally. Occasionally, the ends of lines even continue slightly through the panel borders and hang into the gutter, adding to the already soft and sketchy nature of Alphona’s art.
Of course there are also tiny background flourishes and jokes that elicit audible giggles: rats scurry from a skirmish on the fourth page, one of them clinging desperately to the top of a fleeing man’s head, and from the same page a little student is depicted with hearts floating around her head while she gazes at Lockjaw’s furry form, and near the end, while scouting out one of the Inventor’s “stash houses,” Kamala and Vick nosh on fast food from… Olmec Donald’s.
But while I immensely enjoy these subtle visual gags, the prevalence of the book’s Star Wars references get to be a bit much. (And Ms. Marvel isn’t the company’s only offender…) Marvel, I realize your parent company now owns that franchise too, and while I love Star Wars as much as the next nerd, there’s absolutely no need to be so showy about it.
Now halfway into its third storyline, Ms. Marvel is thankfully showing no signs of stagnancy. The book has retained its charming quirkiness by utilizing a perfect balance of action, humor, and drama, remaining relevant, entertaining, and appealing to more than just the typical superhero comic reader. Ms. Marvel reminds readers that it’s not only okay to be different – when it comes to making a real, profound difference? – being different is vital.
Written by G. Willow Wilson.
Art by Adrian Alphona.
Colored by Ian Herring.
7.5 out of 10