Today, Taylor and Ryan M. are discussing the Ms. Marvel 4, originally released February 10th, 2016.
Taylor: The average high schooler is incredibly busy. Thinking back on my own time in high school I get exhausted for my past self when I consider all of the various activities I was committed to. There was band, homework, college applications, ACT/SATs, friends, boy scouts, and family which I had to somehow make time for. Looking back on it, it’s nothing short of a miracle that I was able to survive high school let alone be successful in any of these endeavors. But for all that activity, at least I wasn’t also trying to be a superhero. Kamala Khan, however, isn’t so lucky, and issue 4 of Ms. Marvel shows us how hard it is to be a teenager and a superhero at the same time.
Things have finally settled down for Kamala after her latest run-in with Dr. Faustus. However, we all know that life for a superhero is never easy and certainly never quiet. First up, Kamala learns that her brother, Aamir, is going to be married and that he and his wife-to-be are going to move in with Kamala and her family. While Kamala is excited for the wedding, this also means more people in the house to distract her from her superheroing duties and more expectations placed upon her in preparation for the wedding. What starts as happy news for Kamala soon becomes a source of stress. While Kamala might not enjoy this opening scene, I know that I do. Writer G. Willow Wilson does an awesome job of giving me some great background information on Muslim weddings and traditions. Throughout the scene, as the Khan’s discuss the wedding they use Muslim/Arab jargon the likes of which I know nothing about. Wilson graciously supplies footnotes throughout these pages letting me know exactly what each word or phrase means. It’s a wonderfully informative scene that also manages to be highly entertaining. It’s nice to see that even after many issues, Wilson hasn’t forgotten how unusual a Muslim superhero is for America still. As such, she’s continuing to do a great job of fostering understanding and knowledge between two cultures at a time when they need it most.
With all of this talk about family, you would think Kamala would welcome a visit from Iron Man and the Avengers. This would prove to be the case most of the time but not so in this instance. Called down to the Jersey City wharf to investigate some criminal activity, Kamala is soon overcome and has to call in the Avengers to help her out of a tight spot. It’s an embarrassing moment for Kamala and she’s almost certain the Avengers will think less of her for it. Whether rightly or wrongly, Kamala blames her failure on being pulled in so many different directions.
What Kamala hasn’t learned yet is that all of the Avengers also have stuff happening in their lives outside of avenging. While it’s tempting to think that Tony Stark only ever has to worry about being Iron Man, that’s not the case. He has a company to run and relationships to deal with. He may not have homework to do when he gets home at night but his plate is far from empty. Kamala’s reaction to her situation is typical of being a teenager. Heck, I remember feeling almost exactly the same way whenever I was stressed with all of the things going on in high school. However, this frames a part of the growing up process for Kamala. As a teenager we tend to think of our lives as being particularly more miserable than the next guy’s and figure no one understands it. What Kamala has to learn is that everyone’s life is like that and also that others probably don’t blame her for that.
If her family and avenging weren’t enough of a pull on Kamala, she also has her grades to worry about. Because she spends her nights busting up crime, Kamala find it hard to stay awake in class which naturally affects her grades for the worse. It’s here at school that she gets the idea to make copies of herself to act as her stand-ins at her various engagements. In school she’ll have a copy present to say “present” and likewise at the wedding Kamala will have a copy there to say “Shaadi Mubarakbad.” It’s a terrible plan that’s doomed to fail, but what else can you do when your life looks like this:
This panel of Nico Leon’s perfectly encapsulates Kamala’s life at the moment and my guess is that it predicts what the theme of this upcoming arc is going to be. It’ll be interesting to see how Wilson develops the idea of the overstretched high schooler through Kamala’s character and what lessons Kamala herself will learn in the upcoming issues.
Ryan, do you think Kamala is playing with fire by taking on so much in her life? What do you think about Leon’s art? He’s beginning to add in some zany visual jokes similar to those seen in earlier issues when Adrian Alphona was manning the pencils. Do you like his more subtle sight gags? Lastly, what do you make of the Kamala clones? Those are nothing but bad news, right?
Ryan M.: While it is very likely that she will get burned, it’s hard to blame Kamala for pursuing a spot with The Avengers, when it is the responsibility in her life that she chose. One of the things that rings true about Kamala’s difficulties here is that she doesn’t get to decide her own priorities. Her school hours and workload are dictated to her, and her parents give her no choice in her level of participation in Aamir’s wedding. I remember that feeling from high school. I felt scheduled within an inch of my life, with expectations coming from different directions, and no adult perspective to understand that I wasn’t the center of the world. Kamala feels like her life is preventing her from doing what she really wants. But, while she is feeling the angst, the issue is able to avoid the morose.
Leon’s playful details maintain a more fun tone, especially during a time when Kamala feeling too stressed to enjoy her own adventures. There were several instances of a small detail in Leon’s art adding a silly subtext to Kamala’s life. My favorite was the random raccoon eating an ice cream cone while Kamala fights the goons at the docks. I wasn’t sure if the raccoon was a reference to something, so I did a little Googling and I think raccoons just really like to eat ice cream? Also, they look adorable doing it. These kind of a details can elevate a more utilitarian panel.
The image above shows Ms. Marvel on her way to join the Avengers. Her posture with the phone, plugging one ear and elbows out, is not the smooth move of a seasoned Avenger. She looks like an anxious klutz. The awkwardness of her movement is reinforced by the fire hydrant stuck to the bottom of her shoe. Much of the panel’s detail aligns with the overarching plot move of the panel. Nearly everyone on the street is using their phones. We have a daring selfie taken by a man who is about to get stomped, a kid texting and about to step into an open manhole, and the construction worker who could save him taking a pic of Ms Marvel as she passes. The use of a theme stops the details from feeling too random, but also allows Ms Marvel to feel like part of the city. Perhaps the distracted guy’s texts are just as vital to him as being an Avenger is to Kamala. Also, Kamala is so focused on getting an assignment from Cap, that she runs by both a winning lottery ticket and a reincarnated Elvis as a pigeon.
What is even more satisfying than the initial surprise and fun of these panels is that Leon rewards the reader for paying attention. In the next page, we see the texter from the street. He is still texting but in a walking cast. It is a moment that a reader doesn’t need to understand the surface plot of the issue, but adds a richness to the world.
Taylor, your point about the adult Avengers juggling just as much as Kamala is key. It’s intrinsic to the teenage experience to think you are unique, but it’s a shame that Kamala doesn’t have the insight to learn from her fellow Avengers. Adulthood is about setting priorities and then finding a satisfying balance among them. Kamala’s response to competing responsibilities is to abdicate all but the one she wants the most. Her clone plan is not about balance or pleasing as many people as possible. It is a way for her to get away with playing hooky from school and her family without consequence. Of course, all actions have consequences, as the room filled with brainless Kamala clones demonstrates.
Again, Leon’s art injects fun into the above panel, the final of the issue. We get swashbuckling Kamalas in the rafters lightening the calamity of a room overrun with clones. Kamala’s choice to blow off her responsibilities has created an even bigger problem. Kamala is learning this lesson the hard way, but the story’s style makes it an easy pill for the reader.
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?