Written by G. Willow Wilson
Art by Adrian Alphona & Ian Herring
“All Mankind” — Part Two of Five
Part one of our newest Marvel heroine’s story, “Metamorphosis” was my opening review of the Ms. Marvel title. Issue two gets the story moving.
This comic starts with the moment after the previous one left off, so SPOILER WARNING! Read no further until you’ve gone and read the amazing issue #1. Once you’ve done that, feel free to continue. Or don’t; but don’t say I didn’t warn you!
The second issue opens like the beginning of a well done animated series. There’s a little bit of very disturbing imagery as Kamala reels, fights off the urge to puke, and recalls what happened — she asked the vision she saw of Captain Marvel to make Kamala like her — but she didn’t mean to actually become a tall, blonde bombshell. Like most teenagers, her thoughts are a jumbled mess of realizing she didn’t think things through as thoroughly as she thought. Her mind is whirling with questions: “why don’t I feel confident and beautiful? Why do I just feel freaked out?” As she seeks to find her way back from having become lost in the mists, body randomly oscillating between Kamala and Carol, she realizes the mist itself is not regular air. Cue the splash page with the Ms. Marvel lighting bolt, full of recap, like the opening credits.
A panel later, Kamala has found her way back to the river after having run away, and is now trying to think a little more clearly about what’s happening to her, and trying to see if she can use this new ability intentionally. Bless her geeky little heart — she strikes a power pose, and wills herself to TRANSFORM!!!! (yes, four exclamation points). That doesn’t work out as Kamala hoped. A streak across the sky takes her attention off herself just long enough for her to begin wondering if she’s part of something bigger. But even that respite from the weirdness is brief, as Zoe and her jerk of a jock boyfriend arrive on the scene, wandering through the mist. This turns out to be another lesson in the use of her new powers for Kamala. She realizes that how she feels effects and affects her ability — as in she transforms again just hearing the name of her teenage nemesis, and discovers that shapeshifting is not limited to height. I am happy to report that Ms. Wilson didn’t go the route I feared, turning Zoe and her jock into Inhuman supervillains for the newly empowered Kamala to fight…at least, not so far.
Instead, drunk teenagers doing drunk teenage things gives our girl her first chance to be heroic. Drunken Josh attempts to romantically dip Zoe while dancing on the pier. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a good grip, and she falls right out of her jacket into the river. Sploosh. Josh is at least clear-headed enough to know he has no shot of diving after her, so he calls for help.
Kamala, only steps away, recalls an ayah from the Quran that I’ve heard before and have always loved: “whoever kills one person, it is as if he has killed all of mankind; and whoever saves one person, it is as if he has saved all of mankind.” You can see resolve steel in Kamala’s face in the panel transition from the first phrase to the last, and it is clear that fear and confusion has been replaced by determination.
“Embiggen!” isn’t much of a catch phrase, but for our internet savvy Kamala, the lingo works to bolster her quavery confidence and shift her shape back to Ms. Marvel in time to help. Kamala in her Ms. Marvel form is quite sensible; she warns Zoe not to thrash, and checks to make sure Zoe is able to breathe and speak once out of the water, even as the other teens from the waterfront party spot her and begin camshotting her. When they ask about the hyper-enlarged arm she used, “Captain Marvel” takes off, as the kids call after her and begin uploading video of her.
As Kamala heads for home, she is alone with her thoughts again. And her giant hand. Which she commands to return to normal size. To her delight, it obeys, and she begins to think of her ability as a new sense. She again ruminates that this isn’t what she thought it would be (imaginary Carol warned her of that last issue); although she has long blonde hair it gets in her face. The boots pinch, and the leotard is giving her an epic wedgie. None of these things made her happy — but she realizes that having saved a life made her happy. She acted in accord with the teachings of her religion that gave her comfort. I can’t help but approve as this shows Islam in a much-needed positive light.
One amusing exchange with a homeless man later, and hours after her curfew, Kamala finally makes it home. The lights indicating her parents are still awake are on. Kamala makes her way back into her room, nowhere near as easily as she sneaked out, and still looking like that white girl from the Avengers. When Kamala’s brother hears her, she has to consciously remember who she’s supposed to look like to make it happen — and isn’t entirely sure it did until her brother treats her as she appears normal: at which point Kamala gives voice to the realization that she has powers and she can use them on purpose.
Her brother attempts to be comforting and asks if something happened. When Kamala admits something extremely weird happened, he takes it completely wrong. It’s meant to be funny, but it really rubbed me the wrong way. When she assures him she’s fine, he tells her too bad, because their parents know she sneaked out.
Here’s where Wilson’s writing gets uncomfortable for me, and a little unfortunately cliche. When Kamala demands to know how, her mother explains that it was Bruno, who called, worried sick. Kamala’s father goes for the guilt, reminding her that her parents suffered the agony of sitting by the phone, waiting for the police to call and tell them that something terrible had happened. The other hand of the one-two punch is the “I’m very disappointed in you” bit. When Kamala attempts to defend herself, her father relents and asks that she talk to him, tell him why she’s become so reckless and disobedient. Because, of course, like most media parents, he can’t remember what it was like to be a teenager who felt constrained by his parents or anything. He also can’t seem to remember laughing in Kamala’s face last issue when she asked to go to the party like a good obedient daughter. Or that rebellion is normal for teenagers.
Kamala considers telling her father something, but comes up on the typical problem of the super-powered teen (and for that matter, the mundane teen). “He wouldn’t understand. He can’t understand. He’ll freak.” Having had strict parents, I can’t help but sympathize.
So all dad gets is an apology and Kamala saying she can’t talk about what’s going on with her until she figures it out for herself. Her mother is extremely unhappy with this response and complains that their daughter is now hiding things from her parents. Like her husband, she seems to have forgotten what it’s like to have been a teenager. Tellin’ all you kids all across the land / there’s no need to argue / parents just don’t understand!
Before an argument starts, Abu shuts it down and tells everyone to go to bed. But not before delivering the coup de grace — Kamala is grounded until she proves she can be trusted.
But Kamala is more annoyed by the grounding than daunted by it. She turns to her Captain Marvel poster, considers what she’s done, and whether she wants to keep doing it. But with a family who has no idea what she’s become and what she can do — how will she balance a life on three axes when she had trouble with the two? The final page of this issue mirrors the final page of the Captain Marvel title in which we got our first glimpse of Kamala-to-be.
So while G. Willow Wilson delved into somewhat cliche tropes a bit with Kamala’s parents, and the unnecessary and icky “mistaken for sexual assault (but played for laughs)” bit with her brother, the second issue is solid. The front end out in Jersey City was a lot more fun for me than the back end once Kamala got home. But it ended on a hopeful note that leaves me curious to see what next issue brings, and that’s the best anyone could ask for.