Review: Ms. Marvel #4
Continuing the review of the premiere arc of Marvel’s newest superheroine, Kamala Khan.
I did a reread of all three issues before working on reviewing issue #4 so I could go write with my head fully in Kamala’s world. SPOILER WARNING! This series is as much recap as review, so you’ll want to read no further if you want to preserve yourself from spoilers.
Full disclosure: I didn’t catch the lettering doing the old-school Marvel trick of spelling out people’s accents so you can hear how they sound on my first read of Kamala’s mom’s dialogue. Now that I’m aware of it, I’m not crazy about seeing a return of that style—it smacks of making fun of the way “other people” speak to “regular people’s” ears. I thought that’s why they’d dropped it in favor of creative fonts and word balloons.
On the other hand, I also didn’t catch the artist’s clever political commentary disguised as throwaway funny background events: GMO’s cereal, for example, makes more than one appearance. I also should’ve commented on Kamala being smart enough to apply her high school science and physics to her new powers. That gives her something in common with flagship character Peter Parker—something besides the alliterative initials, that is. She uses the smarts again in this issue—attagirl, Kamala!
But moving right along; the thing I’m having the most trouble with regarding this story arc is time flow. Comic book time is always a little woogy when compared to real time. So a timeline is necessary for those who, like me, are having trouble keeping track of how long events are taking to unfold.
Issue 1 begins on a Friday morning before school as evidenced by the Circle Q chatter and coffee. Kamala sneaks out to the party shortly after dinner hour once her father has sent her to the room for daring to ask to go to a party with boys. She’s there only minutes before the white kids have fun at her expense and trick her into drinking orange juice with vodka in it. She flees, as the Terrigen mists blow in from the river, and is unconscious and dreaming for at least a couple of hours.
Issue 2 has Kamala waking up to discover the changes in herself. She spends at least a few minutes trying to figure them out, with mixed success, before Josh accidentally dumps Zoe in the Hudson River (ew). Kamala gets her first chance to do the hero thing. She spends only seconds fishing the Mean Girl out of the water, then bolts home. When she finally gets home, her parents are still up and she’s in trouble for having sneaked out. We can presume it’s late Friday/early Saturday morning.
Issue 3 Kamala may or may not have slept since the end of the previous issue and, after a quick breakfast of cold cereal, is glued to the computer trying to research her new condition until her brother calls her. They leave together for Saturday afternoon youth lecture, where Kamala’s understandable preoccupation with her powers leads her to talk when she shouldn’t, and to question the elder at the mosque. Saturday afternoon sees Kamala seething at Bruno for ratting her out. Jump to Monday at school, so we have no idea what Kamala did for an entire 24 hours. Was her Sunday so uneventful it didn’t need a caption or a panel? Must have been. But back to Monday:
Kamala continues researching her condition, ducking Bruno, experimenting with her powers, and ends up getting detention for doing so. On the way home Monday afternoon, she stops to talk to Bruno and ends up walking in on him and his idiot brother Vick as the latter tries to stick up the Circle Q. Kamala sees another chance to be heroic, but it ends badly as the “not even loaded” gun goes off, and she ends up with a bullet in her gut. Predictable, yes, but also very fitting for a new “heroic” Kamala who’s so excited about leaping into action that she doesn’t stop to think beyond making an entrance and stopping the bad guy.
All this in only three days without a word on the Internet or the news that Kamala or anyone else has seen to indicate the Inhuman city has fallen, or to explain the “weird ground fog.” No bystanders murmuring in the background about it. No other Inhumans (that we know of) popping up yet. I understand rationally that the opener has to focus on the main character, but when she’s literally part of something bigger, it is hard to not see that bigger world just past the end of her tightly supervised borders. The fangirl in me wants to see her fully suited up and kicking ass already! Let Kamala break out of the coccoon of Jersey City as she did from her Inhuman chrysalis!
Issue 4, still Monday, and now we continue. Kamala’s in shock—mentally, if not physically—as Bruno and his brother freak out. Vick proves himself under the influence of patriarchy by saying it’s her own fault she got shot because she squeezed him so hard with her super-strength. He’s also a self-centered jerk, who urges his brother to refrain from calling an ambulance because Vick would get into worse trouble for having shot someone. Natural, I suppose, for a stupid teenager, but still irritating. Bruno gives in to guilt—the shame their grandmother would feel at one of the boys being arrested, and Vick takes off in a cartoon puff of smoke.
Kamala reveals her secret to Bruno to stop him from trying to call for help, but she has really sensible reasons for not wanting the authorities involved. Kamala worries about the NSA, and about being sold to science—which is a realistic concern in her world. Bruno’s response is to be all emo that as her second-best-friend, she didn’t tell him about her new superpowers. And oh, yeah, that she needs medical attention. Or . . . not. Kamala has gotten the platinum deluxe shapeshifter package that comes with healing upon assuming her native form! Bruno proves himself to be a good Thomas Kalmaku “best-bud-in-the-know” type when he immediately gets Kamala a mask to help her prevent the authorities from getting a full view of her face. Comedy ensues as it’s a Coma Chameleon sleep mask.
Alas, the sexism continues. Bruno goes back to griping about not being told about her powers, and Kamala apologizes to him, and explains that she was mad at him and distracted by the new powers. What?! I could spit. Why is she apologizing?
Bruno could’ve texted her to see if she was okay rather than calling her parents, which he had to know would get her in trouble. But he was just concerned about her! Bruno could’ve realized she might be upset with him and given Kamala some space, but no—it’s all about his feelings.
Okay, rantypants off: I admit through clenched teeth that this scene could also be interpreted as a clash of cultures. Kamala is Pakistani and Muslim (which is quite a bit more patriarchal than American culture, and that’s saying something); she has also been upbraided since the first issue for being ill-mannered, sarcastic, reckless, disobedient, lacking in chastity, irresponsible, and for talking out of turn. So, it’s not really a complete shock that she’d go meek when exclaimed at by a guy; it’s just disappointing since we’ve seen her stand up to her father at least once already. Bruno is Italian, and his culture is also more patriarchal than American culture, though we don’t yet know if he’s a first generation American like Kamala is.
This apology goes on through Kamala’s explanation of having saved Zoe and why she feels it’s important to keep going, despite her concerns of “everybody” expecting a tall blonde girl. Bruno’s feelings for Kamala (and her powers) escape his lips for a second in the usual way of Freudian slippage, as he tries to tell her she should just be herself even as a hero, but he eventually shuts his mouth in time for the authorities to arrive.
Kamala takes the Ms. Marvel name for herself in earnest once the police ask where Ms. Marvel is. And the feminist heroine thing takes another hit as the cop says she doesn’t look like Ms. Marvel. When Kamala asks what Ms. Marvel is supposed to look like, he describes her as tall, blonde… I’m thankful for the diversity shown in the art to balance out the sexism here. The cops and paramedic were all different genders and colors. Kamala, at least, takes it in stride by replying “I’ve got big powers” and embiggening herself to make the point. Good for her.
The authorities take off after warning Kamala to expect the security tapes subpoenaed (which is going to be a problem for Kamala, who was shapeshifting between the Carol Danvers form and her native form). Hopefully they don’t have audio, or Vick’s in trouble too; more trouble than he’s already in, as Bruno elaborates. Kamala offers help, but Bruno actually pulls the “it could be dangerous” card on the girl who has just showed off she has superpowers and can heal herself. But she calls him out on it, and it is beautiful. He can’t fight her logic, so Bruno relents and tells her what he knows. Kamala, jazzed by the experience and what’s to come, has decided if she’s going to do the hero thing for realz, she needs a costume.
Kamala’s mother becomes suspicious that evening as Kamala demands to know where the burkini (a hybrid of burqa and bikini, apparently) that Kamala swore she’d never wear swimming is. Kamala’s grounding tension gets upped a notch as her mother promises to check in on her at 1AM and turn her into the Sheikh (from issue 3) if she is discovered to have sneaked out again. There’s that concern of whether Kamala will be able to pull off balancing her Muslim girl in trouble life against her superhero life against her wanting-to-be-cool life.
Kamala makes her way to some old house that Vick’s apparently been hanging out at, only to find a pair of kids discussing Vick and the mysterious Inventor. Kamala makes short work of the pair without hurting them too badly and gives us the first look at what will be her costume.
She shows off her smarts again, having brought zipties to tie up the teens before moving into the house and discovering exactly what the Inventor invents: oddly cute little bugbots that scream when she breaks them. But break them she does, straddling the border between terror and exhilaration.
Once she’s cleared the level (it helps her to think of what she’s doing as playing a videogame), she finds Vick and tries to make a heroic speech about rescuing him, but is cut off by another guy asking how she plans to do that. He’s also freed the other two teens she had tied up. It doesn’t look like a fair fight—but they don’t know Kamala’s strength. Nor that she is a size-changing, shape-shifting badass-in-training.
Next issue is gonna be fun, at least, if this new guy is the Inventor. Looks to me like Kamala will have him outmatched. The other two clearly don’t want to be part of this fight.
So problematic elements of patriarchy and sexism aside, the whole arc is shaping up nicely, and I can’t wait to see the big fight come issue 5. I may complain a lot when I have problems with elements of story or characterization, but that’s really because the rest is so good that these missteps, as Wilson builds the characters from the ground up, stand out as awkward to me.