Written by G. Willow Wilson
Art by Adrian Alphona & Ian Herring
“Side Entrance” — Part 3 of 5.
For those just joining us, “Metamorphosis” is the opening arc to the new Kamala Khan Ms. Marvel title. I’m reviewing the arc issue by issue and as a whole once it’s done. If you missed parts one and two, here they are. SPOILER WARNING! These reviews are as much recap as review, so if you haven’t read the issue yet, plot points will be revealed! You have been warned!
Amusingly the story opener is the local news’ recap of “Ms. Marvel” having rescued Zoe Zimmer — but phrased in such a way that implies nobody realizes that the “bizarre outbreak of ground fog” is from the Terrigen bomb that came from Atillan’s fall. So, apparently, in Marvel Universe 616 if you’re not a super, and you don’t live in New York City, this stuff just doesn’t hit the radar right away? Good to know, if a little bogglesome. Jersey City is geographically close enough to NYC to be able to get NYC news. Kinda hard to hang onto my suspension of disbelief as a result.
But onward. Zoe gets the first few seconds of her 15 minutes of fame, talking about how she feels like she’s learned so much from her costumed rescuer: like “being responsible and helping people and stuff”. The reporter, who puts me in mind of the Don Henley song “Dirty Laundry” (we got the bubbleheaded bleach blonde comes on at 5/she can tell you ‘bout the plane crash with a gleam in her eye) goes on to speculate who the rescuer could be — a costumed copycat?
Which leads to our first view of Kamala this issue — adorable bed head, wide-eyed with shock, and pausing with a spoonful of cold cereal halfway to her mouth as she hears the report. Her reaction flips extremes in a heartbeat, going from “I am so dead” to “this is gonna be the best week ever”, as she sees crowds gathered to view the replayed footage from the news report.
Kamala’s world still has mundanes in it, and Wilson takes us back to Bruno, introducing the boy’s brother Vick. Here we discover Kamala’s weren’t the only parents who found The Mist freak out-worthy. Bruno and Vick’s parents were upset by Vick’s failure to answer his phone. Vick, however, is unflapped. I admit to a wry twist on reading Bruno scold that his parents thought it was “terrorists”. The Muslim community has to live with the flinch attached to that word every day now, so it makes perfect sense that parents would freak out over that and wonder where their troublesome son is. So kudos to Wilson for making me stop to think about what that must be like.
Our heroine, however, is Scoobying it up, having already started collecting and printing out news clippings about the Mist, and what it could possibly mean, as well as typing various search phrases into Google about her condition in hopes of learning more. Attagirl, Kamala. Self-actuation, way to go!
She doesn’t get much time to net dive, though, as her brother calls her and they have to go to Saturday youth lecture.
At the mosque, Sheikh Abdullah is giving the same ‘boys, girls, alcohol, sex, bad’ speech that teens of conservative communities must endure with differing levels of eye-rolling. As much as I feel for Kamala, I approve. There’s a commonality there between brown kids and white kids having to put up with the same thing: adults who make them feel embarrassed, ashamed, annoyed, and rebellious. Nakia is actually semi-attentive. Kamala, wearing hijab in the mosque, has other things on her mind. The rest of the girls at the lecture are nodding off or checking their phones.
As Kamala tries to broach the subject of revealing she has developed superpowers with her best friend , the shot pulls back to reveal the boys and girls are separated by a partition that doesn’t even allow them to see the lecturer. Nakia and Kamala go on talking, but Kamala is having trouble making herself clear. Nakia asks if she’s on drugs as a result, sounding a bit like a controlling adult herself. The Sheikh eventually chides them for talking during his lecture. The boys, on his side of the partition, seem slightly more attentive; except Kamala’s brother, who is appalled that his sister is getting scolded by another adult.
Kamala apologizes to the lecturer, with the explanation that being unable to see him makes it hard to keep her mind on the lecture. The Sheikh, looking like this isn’t the first time he’s had this conversation, reminds Kamala that the partition and side entrance are to preserve the modesty and chastity of the women. Considering that Kamala’s idol was the first intentionally feminist heroine (hence the “Ms.” in Marvel for those of you coming in late. She’s not “Miss” Marvel!), the sexism and double standards performed by the elders of her religion must chafe a bit.
Kamala presses, asking in a roundabout way why, if the Prophet’s mosque in Medina didn’t require separate entrances and partitions for the women, theirs in Jersey City does. The sheikh gives an answer that is rote and rehearsed, if Nakia’s response to Kamala is any indication. Nakia gets fed up enough to walk, and asks Kamala along. The latter balks, given she’s grounded. Nakia reminds Kamala their absence won’t even be noticed, thanks to the chastity partition.
The moment they’re outside, Kamala unwraps her hijab and lets it flow behind her like a Ms. Marvel scarf, as she and Nakia return to their conversation about what’s happening to her. Kamala tries to explain about the experience she had, but Nakia doesn’t get it, and thinks her friend has had her first kiss.
There’s that weird encapsulation again. Mutants are back. Inhumans are popping up all over the world, but teens either can’t or don’t want to see beyond their own immediate environment. Or their environment is just that conservative and they are in the dark about anything outside of Jersey City. Hard to buy, though, given Kamala has access to the internet and can thereby access international news. Then again, Kamala is a fangirl, and Nakia is very much — not.
As they enter the Circle Q, Bruno hops the counter eagerly to say hi, and Kamala is reminded she’s upset with him for dogging her steps and ratting her out to her parents. She leaves, making an excuse. Nakia thinks something’s fishy, and — oh! Bruno doesn’t seem to think he did anything wrong. We don’t know much about him and his family yet, but it seems he’s on board with the whole “men must dictate the lives of women for their own good” philosophy.
Come Monday, Kamala’s anger is still simmering, but Bruno has finally noticed she’s ignoring him. Unfortunately, he’s chosen to cry on the shoulder of his brother Vick who not only doesn’t care, but changes the subject to suggest Bruno steal a hundred dollars out of the cash register at work. Which he somehow has rationalized isn’t stealing for Bruno as he works there.
Vick is a little nettled that his brother got all the brains in the family and tries to take a jab at his brother by making a sophomoric joke about his science experiment. Bruno is unflapped, explaining that it’s a polymer for fabrics to make them super-stretchy that he intends to use as part of an application for a scholarship. Foreshadowing sense tingling! Sucker bet that polymer will be used for Kamala’s costume when she finally gets around to it.
Across the lab, between stressing over her parents’ ire, frustration over trying to research her condition on the web, and irritation with Bruno, Kamala can feel her powers starting to assert themselves again without her conscious wish. She leaves the lab, hand beginning to grow, and tries desperately to convince it to shrink back to normal size. It shrinks beyond normal size, leaving her with a freakishly tiny hand and the desire to hide in the locker room as the girls’ lacrosse team approaches.
Once safely hidden from other teen eyes, Kamala is able to calm down, resize her hand properly, and remember that this strange new power is something she can actually control. Alphona and Herring work together to make it seem like Kamala has an inner glow that lights her from within when she uses her powers.She begins to think logically, and recalling she can shrink down tiny, tries to make herself grow large. She’s successful at the attempt — destructively so. She has enough science to understand that if she’s more massive she should also have the strength to support the greater mass, which makes for a great visual when she tries it out.
She goes on experimenting, trying to work out if she can only shapeshift into a Carol Danvers lookalike, or anyone. Going for Taylor Swift, she ends up looking like her mother. I’d complain here that she has gone from looking like Carol Danvers to trying to look like Taylor Swift, but I can’t. How many mainstream brown woman Muslim role models for teenage Pakistani-American girls are easily accessible in Jersey City?
The coach, hearing the ruckus, calls out, forcing Kamala into hurriedly turning back into herself. So much for thinking things through. She could’ve shrunk down tiny here and left them wondering how the locker room got destroyed. Or shapeshifted into jerk jock Josh — but that wouldn’t have been very heroic. The result is Kamala getting discovered amongst the wreckage in a large panel with beautiful representations of body and racial diversity amongst the girls on the team.
Another suspension-of-disbelief damaging moment here. The coach has no problem thinking that Kamala completely destroyed the locker room in a minute and a half with no visible means as to how she could’ve done it, and gives Kamala detention for having done so. Which, in fairness, Kamala deserves — school equipment isn’t cheap. But it still is a little too …something… that nobody questions how a skinny little sixteen year old was able to break the plaster ceiling and yoink a bolted down bench out of its floor moorings all by herself. The coach’s parting shot is to remind Kamala that she’s usually so responsible.
As Kamala returns to class with another trouble looming over her in addition to those with her parents and Bruno, Zoe Zimmer is holding court in the hallway, telling an embellished version of her rescue by “Ms. Marvel”, complete with fake dialogue from the rescuing heroine. The other kids back Zoe up telling Kamala how famous Zimmer is now.
Skip forward to detention and Kamala’s on her phone trying to explain to her mother why she’s late without actually saying she’s got detention. She gets reprimanded for talking in detention, only to get a text from Bruno asking her to come see him at the Circle Q to talk. Though she’s still upset, Kamala agrees. On the way, her mind goes into ruminative mode, wondering what happens to her life now that she has powers. She wishes she could tell someone about how amazed, thrilled, and afraid she is; but the only person she thinks would try to understand is Bruno — with whom she’s still angry.
She walks into the Circle Q, ready to either tell Bruno off or apologize to him but her speech is cut off by the sight of someone (whose profile and body type match Bruno’s brother Vick) in a balaclava and baseball cap, holding a gun up to Bruno.
Kamala’s first response is straight mundane human — she goes for her phone, but the battery’s dead after talking and texting.
At which point she remembers she has superpowers and is capable of saving a life. While she’s working out how to appear in the store, dithering over being “Ms. Marvel” again or just Kamala, the brothers are bickering inside. As the bickering begins to turn nasty, Vick mentioning “the Inventor”, the door crashes in, revealing “Captain Marvel” in her much more politically correct, but more comfortable uniform. Bruno remarks that strange things are afoot at the Circle Q. At least Wilson got that joke out of the way in the first three issues. Vick actually makes the mistake of landing a punch, but “the Captain” grabs him in a megafist. As Kamala revels inwardly with pride at having stopped a crime, and the revelation she may “have greatness” in herself — the absolutely predictable happens.
We leave off with the series’ first cliffhanger: blood stains the uniform. Bruno states the obvious. And idiot brother Vick stares in dumbfounded shock at the gun he was sure wasn’t even loaded. I expect the pro-gun people to accuse Wilson of having an agenda, but street crime happens.
The story is progressing along nicely, with the exceptions that made it hard to believe this story takes place in Marvel 616. There was one other problematic element: “on the warpath” is kind of an inappropriate term. In these days of getting rid of Chief Wahoo and trying to rename the Redskins, Marvel Editorial may want to get some diverse eyes on the dialogue.
There are two issues to go in the premiere story arc, so it’s sort of a gimme that Kamala, if not bulletproof (yet or ever), will survive her first violent crime encounter and go on to suit up. This issue was slightly less solid for me with the failures of “these people live in the Marvel Universe” but still good. There were a lot of key moments in the art and the story that caught my attention, and the “side entrance” references that kept showing up in the story kind of threaded the whole thing together: the mosque, the locker room, and the bullet.
Kamala’s showing she’s smart, brave, and willing to get out there despite the danger she didn’t think through thoroughly — which is as appropriate as you can get for a teenager still figuring out who she is. This makes Kamala as perfect a metaphor for being a teenager as anyone could hope for. The first comic sold great. I hope the second and third issues haven’t lost the opener’s momentum — Kamala’s story needs and deserves to be told.