With 2014 drawing to a close, one of Marvel Comics’ biggest successes has got to be the launch (or relaunch, technically) of “Ms. Marvel”. Spinning off of their promotion of Carol Danvers to “Captain Marvel”, a new Ms. Marvel has been introduced who has quickly captured the hearts of her readership as well as the social media zeitgeist. Writer G. Willow Wilson, artist Adrian Alphona and colorist Ian Herring had the task not only of creating a spin off to a super heroine as an ongoing series (a feat neither Marvel or DC Comics had ever attempted before), but doing it with a star who was a newly created Muslim American teenage girl. It was easy to cynically assume it would sink like a stone; instead it has not quickly settled into selling roughly as many comics a month in the direct market as 50 year old franchises like “Daredevil”, but it is selling even greater numbers digitally via ComiXology! “Ms. Marvel” is outselling “Captain Marvel” by nearly double and has become one of ComiXology’s best selling digital comics worldwide. This success has not only inspired legions of fans, but also the “big two” comics companies themselves in such a way that newer, more diverse and more importantly more optimistic characters aren’t seen as a non starter anymore.
Kamala Khan has done a lot in her previous nine issues. She’s struggled with being a Muslim American girl in high school in Jersey City, which means trying to juggle the various values of her family and heritage with modern American society, her peers, and her own desires (such as going to parties or figuring out that her best friend has the hots for her). Gaining strange powers from a mysterious mist, she’s used them to live out her dream to become a super heroine to protect her community from their local organized criminal mastermind, “the Inventor”. She’s battled thugs, robots, and giant cyborg crocodiles and had her obligatory team ups with Wolverine and Spider-Man (as every new hero from Darkhawk to NFL Superpro has done). It’s also been revealed that she’s in fact an Inhuman, and has their dog Lockjaw as her companion as a gesture from their queen, Medusa. Unfortunately, despite still being a plucky novice, the Inventor has quickly risen into the role of an arch nemesis, sparking an attack on her very school and prompting an ultimate showdown.
As with all great comics, “Ms. Marvel” under Wilson and Alphona is about more than just providing some pithy dialogue and super powered action, even if this issue has it in spades. It’s also about presenting both a world around their heroine as well as an underlying message to their story. Much like Spider-Man and the X-Men were in the early 1960’s, this Ms. Marvel is channeling the juxtaposition of her current generation of readers and the contemporary conflicts with the previous generation. Modern young people are often lambasted, dismissed or underestimated by their elders, and in an era of social media and the 24/7 news cycle the entire world feels both closer and more overwhelming than it ever did. Ms. Marvel had sought to liberate hostages from one of the Inventor’s bases, but finds the kids there are willingly seeking to sacrifice themselves for some sense of purpose. Kamala manages to rally them to her side once the Inventor attacks them with a large (and pimped out) exoskeleton, and gains them as allies when they all seek to rescue Lockjaw and stop the fiend once and for all. Unfortunately, this task seems even bigger than even Kamala imagined.
Adrian Alphona is in his element with this series, perhaps even more so than when he was drawing “Runaways”. He effortlessly manages to capture both Kamala and her cast, even lessor figures such as the kids in this issue, in a manner which seems realistic without getting bogged down in detail or being exploitative. There are people of all shapes, sizes, and colors within this series, which makes it feel more “real” than typical superhero comics where everyone is a super model. And as always, Wilson’s voice for Kamala is excellent, capturing an energetic and optimistic, but still determined and brave, young woman who’s taken an extraordinary circumstance and used it to become the best version of herself. The Inventor himself is an odd villain – a clone of Thomas Edison with the literal had of a parrot – but he has a sense of fashion and always has a gadget and plan handy. That said, having too much of him could overstay his welcome, so it is appreciated that his arc seems to be headed to an conclusion next issue.
2014 has clearly been Kamala Khan’s year. “Ms. Marvel” is everything that new superhero comics should and could be, all for $2.99 an issue. She’s proof that quality and innovation can still win in “big two” comics, and that there’s an audience for it out there which craves it and will respond positively, if given the chance. One can expect to see more of Kamala, in both comic and alternate media – in the year and change to come. What better time to jump on board Marvel Comics’ newest sensation?
Below are honorable mentions. They’re comics good enough to review, but are not in the league of the one above. Enjoy!
Black Widow #13: Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto steer their title heroine past her first full year in print with her own ongoing series, which is itself a commendable feat as 2014 comes to a close. As with previous issues, they play up their theme that Natasha Romanova lives in a web of gray lines, and that if anything were to upset the delicate balance she has made for herself between good or evil, the result may not be pretty. After all of her secrets were exposed to the world viaAnderson Cooper last issue, her only real confidante, her accountant Isaiah, was shot and nearly killed by an agent of the shadowy cabal which she has been in the cross hairs of for this entire volume, Chaos. Even one of her longest allies, Hawkeye, thinks it would be best for her to lay low. Unfortunately, that’s not in Natasha’s nature, as she stirs up the pot looking up members of Chaos that she can track down and get to them before they get to her. This leads to an exciting climax between her and a reoccurring nemesis, Rashid. As always, Noto’s artwork is a beauty to behold, even while depicting scenes of violence of suspense, while Edmondson’s voice for Natasha is always spot on. The series’ only flaw is that so much is done to establish mood that every issue reads quite quickly, even for standard twenty page comics. Regardless, every issue is always smartly written and provides at least one pulse pounding sequence, and it is good to see it endure into 2015. It is easily the best series Natasha has ever had.
Hobgoblin #3: The finale of this surprisingly enjoyable mini series by Kevin Shinick, Javier Rodriguez, and inker Alvaro Lopez, which ends just as it was getting its’ groove on. The original Hobgoblin, Roderick Kingsley, has gone straight and used his new found fame and fortune as a superhero to become a self-help guru for D-list superheroes, hawking books and merchandise at every opportunity and living it up as a franchise kingpin. Unfortunately, those he betrayed in the underworld come calling, and a parade quickly becomes a battleground between him, the new Goblin King (Phil Ulrich), and one of his “Hob-heroes” who has betrayed him. The result is an engaging final battle as Kingsley outwits everyone around him, and seems on the cusp of the highest gratification a superhero can get: membership in the Avengers. Considering that the team has welcomed Wolverine and Sentry, Hobgoblin is hardly the craziest homicidal maniac that team’s fostered. Each issue by this team has been pure gold in terms of comedy and unpredictable antics, as well as redeeming some characters who were left for dead (such as Lilly Hollister) in other comics. It has been the spare “Axis” tie in that nobody expected, yet it was easily the best spare crossover mini series tie offered by Marvel in years. It is a shame that the ending is all but an ad for the next issue of the crossover, but that doesn’t stop this three issue series from being extremely memorable.