Today, Spencer and Taylor are discussing Ms. Marvel 10, originally released December 17th, 2014.
Spencer: Ms. Marvel is a revolutionary book in many ways. A title starring a Muslim young woman — and written by a Muslim woman as well — is remarkable enough in its own right, but it’s also notable how writer G. Willow Wilson has used the book, and the character of Kamala Khan, to address issues of identity in a way that any reader could relate to. That said, over the past few issues we here at Retcon Punch have often felt like Kamala’s primary foe, the Inventor, has been strangely unrelated to the themes that seem most important to the book. Wilson and artist Adrian Alphona fix that minor problem in Ms. Marvel 10 by positioning the Inventor as a stand-in for adults who prey on children or make them feel worthless, giving Kamala a new role as a defender of youth culture in the process.
So the Inventor has been “collecting” young people and using their natural electrical fields to power his inventions. The kids turned themselves over willingly; turns out they’ve all been made to feel useless, like parasites or “an extra generation who shouldn’t even be here” by adults, and they feel that this is the only way to be of any use to the world. Kamala stands up for them and tries to help them escape, which only leads to a scuffle with the Inventor. It takes him incapacitating and kidnapping Lockjaw for the kids to join Kamala’s side, and though they end the issue by breaking into the Inventor’s lair to bring the fight to him, they’ve still got a long, uphill battle ahead of them.
Let me preface this discussion by mentioning that I am 27 years old. I am certainly no longer a child or a teenager, but in many ways I still feel like a “young person.” I think it’s a generational thing; Kamala and I likely use much of the same technology that “adults” so look down upon. So when I talk about “adults” in this article, I’m referring to those in their forties or older — those in-charge of running the world, essentially. It doesn’t take more than a casual glance at the news to see the way that generation views Kamala’s, misunderstanding and fearing them at best and actively loathing them at worst. Technology may be one of their biggest targets, but the truth is this was an issue long before selfies — there’s always been a generation gap, always been adults who actively despise their children, only valuing them for what they can get out of them. Interestingly enough, the Inventor may not necessarily be the former, but he certainly falls into that latter category.
So maybe the Inventor isn’t exactly the embodiment of anti-youth culture, but he’s certainly not afraid to use those existing biases to his advantage, manipulating youth who have already been neglected and abused and using them to his own ends. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say he represents all the forces that compete for the attention and money of young people today, be it magazines that convince young girls they have to starve themselves to be loved or just advertising and capitalism in general, which spend decades selling kids on some sort of picture-perfect future with hopes of locking them into a lifetime of debt.
I also find it telling that the Inventor coerces his victims with promises of helping them “save the world.” After the greed of the 80s and the apathetic 90s, the last few years have made it cool for young people to care about things again. Hop onto Twitter or Tumblr and you’ll be bombarded by teenagers and 20-somethings crusading for social issues that are near-and-dear to their hearts, and the Inventor is smart (and twisted) enough to know that he can use these kids’ social consciousnesses to convince them to join his crusade, although it’s obvious that his plans won’t benefit anybody but himself.
With all this threatening to crush these kids, it’s up to Ms. Marvel to be their champion, and she does a fantastic job.
Kamala has had her fair share of issues trying to fit in and discover who she is as a person, but she’s never doubted that she has value and she’s never hesitated to do the right thing, probably because of the love of her family and the morals she’s learned, both from her religion and from her superhero role models. This may actually be Kamala finding her niche as a hero — sure, Kamala will fight any injustice she comes across, but fighting criminals who specifically target children may be the best use of Kamala’s particular skills. It’s a neat bit of metacommentary as well; Ms. Marvel the character is inspirational to in-universe youth the same way as Ms. Marvel the comic book is to kids in our world.
Of course, these are some heavy themes to throw around, but Wilson and Alphona keep the proceedings light enough that the message doesn’t bury the story (or the fun). Wilson never loses sight of Kamala’s character and voice, and Kamala is a peppy enough character to still shine through the issue’s darker beats. Alphona is invaluable in this regard; his pencils are almost dreamlike, creating a whimsical interpretation of Jersey City for Kamala and her friends to inhabit. This is best reflected in his designs, such as the eccentric kids Kamala rescues, the absurdly adorable Lockjaw, or even the Inventor himself.
I never noticed it before, but the Inventor’s eyes are just squiggles drawn over and over until they resemble a bottomless pit of darkness — it’s playful yet menacing, which fits the tone of this title perfectly. I also love the sight gags Alphona packs into the book — just in the above panel alone we have “Birdy Num Nums” and the portrait of the Inventor’s “Mum” hanging on the wall, both of which gave me a hearty laugh.
Needless to say, the combination of charming characters and aesthetic combined with important commentary on being young makes this a stand out issue of Ms. Marvel, at least for me. Taylor, what’s your take on all this?
Taylor: I’m going to come out right away and say I think this is a fantastic issue. Everything you could possibly want out of a comic book is present here: action, adventure, heart, defeat, triumph, teamwork, stellar art. It’s a testament to the work Wilson and Alphona have put into this series so far that we have arrived at a place where all of the above coalesces into a single, wonderful issue. Spencer, you excellently discussed how the theme of youth-culture vs. adult-culture is one of the best aspects of this issue and I think you’re spot on. What’s wonderful about this theme is how it bleeds into so many other parts of this story.
The theme of youth vs. adult overlaps extremely well with Kamala’s evolution as a hero and subsequently her finding of her heroic identity. In the very first panel of the issue, basically acting a thesis statement, Kamala says that being a hero is “never what you think it’s gonna be.”
What’s led Kamala to make this statement is the revelation that the people she’s been trying to save all this time don’t even want to be saved by her. Naturally, this comes as a bit of a shock to her. But this type of revelation and shock is something that is simply part of growing up. As teenagers grow older and learn more about the world, they find that their views of it are constantly changed by the things they experience. Kamala is no different in this aspect. She is a teenager who is learning about the world, only she also happens to be a superhero. All this being said, we see that her thoughts of what a hero should be and do are being challenged by what a hero actually does.
Kamala’s evolving idea of what a hero is is challenged by the Inventor, who in this case stands in for adults. After hitting Kamala with an electric shock, it appears as if he’s about to end her short lived heroic life, but not before delivering a classic evil villain line. “This is what a hero is,” he states, “in the end you’re all alone.” Kamala retorts that a hero is someone who tries to do something good even when it’s hard. At first this seems like your typical hero/villain back and forth, but underneath its surface there’s a charged theme, and the very same you spoke about Spencer. The Inventor, like many in the older generation, is jaded and views the world as being a place where everyone is out for themselves. That is, everyone is alone in the end, teamwork be damned. But Kamala, who represents the crowd-sourced culture of today’s youth, notes that despite the hardships bound to arise in the future, her generation will persevere, because they are strong and many.
This is a wonderful message for anyone reading this title, regardless of age. Young people are more than just an item or statistic. They can effect change on a world that so desperately needs it. However, the way young people will go about changing the world will be in their own way, not as it has always been done before.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?