Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing Ms. Marvel 7, originally released May 25th, 2016.
Patrick: Y’know, for being one of them-there “Inhumans,” Kamala Kahn is not particularly well-suited for large-scale comic book crossovers. Her problems tend to be grounded in something so much more closely resembling reality than someone like Carol Danvers or Tony Stark or even Peter Parker. She’s not going into space, and if she is fighting some kind of superpowered evil, it’s more of a strain on her maxed-out high school schedule than it is a threat to her life. So I was a little taken aback when I saw that this issue was designated a “The Road to Civil War II” story, with all that self-serious branding on the cover. Luckily — and obviously, when you take a second to think about it — G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona understand what works about Ms. Marvel. Instead of delivering twenty pages of set-up, they craft a narrative that plays out — and subverts — the themes of Civil War in a friendly, emotionally honest way that’s true to their characters.
The entirety of the issue takes place at Madison Square Garden Science Fair. Of course, it’s a Marvel-Universe science fair, and it’s being drawn by Alphona, so there’s really no cap on what kind of wonders can appear at this thing.
Everything about this panel — which kicks off the issue — is such inspired lunacy. I think my favorites are this giant bear on the left side of the page (what could he be doing here?) or the “Believe In Your Dreams!” booth in the upper right corner, which shows a little girl in a dragon costume about to hurt herself pretty badly. But who am I kidding? “Weaponize Your Face” with a huge Oculus strapped to a volunteer’s head is pretty awesome too. Ooo! And “Moose Juicer” made me laugh out loud, but maybe just because I live in LA. The point is that every square inch of this panel is bursting with this series’ particular brand of light irreverence.
With the tone and setting firmly (and delightfully!) established, Wilson introduces the conflict that will set two Avengers against each other: New Jersey and New York are favorites to win the Science Team competition, with Kamala Kahn on the former and Miles Morales on the latter. DUN-DUN-DUN! This isn’t a trivial story by any means — the winner gets a college scholarship, a year’s supply of duct tape, and bragging rights — but no one’s life is in danger, no one’s rights are being trampled, and there are no opposing ideologies. It’s sort of hilarious, then, when Kamala uses her powers to shrink down to spy on Miles and the New York crew; there’s no functional reason to bring their crime-fighting powers to bear in this thing. Of course, Miles also has superpowers, and his spider-sense quickly fishes out the spy, resulting in an adorable microcosm of the original Civil War, with Kamala knowing Spider-Man’s identity without him knowing hers. It ends up being kind of a pointless wrinkle, because both Kamala and Miles are so eager to slap on the costumes when danger does eventually strike the Mega Science Fair.
That danger, by the way, isn’t a robot attack or aliens or mole men, it’s just Bruno’s micro-fusion reactor predictably (as in, Miles predicts it) melting down and exploding. That’s important, because even though we’re set up for two heroes to be at odds with each other, they’re not going to work out their differences by fighting anyone, let alone each other. This panel of Ms. Marvel and Spider-Man in action (with Nova tossed in to round out the teenage Avenger trio) is downright inspiring.
Look — all three of them are using their unique powers to save people. I can’t really think of anything more heroic than that.
In the end, Miles and Kamala talk it out, and they both come from a place of understanding. It’s a shockingly mature thing that real people — and real kids — do all the time, but for whatever reason, we expect our superheros to pursue punchier solutions to their interpersonal problems. So maybe Ms. Marvel is a weird fit this kind of “event” story, but that doesn’t mean the story has to be a bad fit for her.
Drew! How much did this issue warm your cold, grizzled heart? I really wanted to include an image of Skyshark, because he’s always so fucking happy, but I couldn’t decide which of Alphona’s drawings best captures his immeasurable fishy joy. So I put it to you: best Skyshark drawing, go!
Drew: I’ll admit, it was a harder choice than I initially thought, but I think there’s a clear winner here:
It has all the hallmarks of a great skyshark image — namely, that you can see that he’s a happy shark in a floating bubble — but it’s also rich in other goofy details. I love Kamala and Bruno’s exaggerated gestures here, and the bucket of fish dutifully being carried along in the background, but the two details that put this panel over the top for me are 1) the Skyshark™ logo, complete with a shark fin poking out of the top, and 2) the carrot they use to “drive” skyshark: a picture of a helpless swimmer. Turns out, Skyshark is so happy because he thinks he’s about to feast on delicious human flesh (a fact that makes Skyshark’s background gags in the rest of that scene especially funny). That’s exactly the kind of absurd detail I love about this series.
Of course, Alphona’s contributions go well beyond visual gags. I’m always impressed at Alphona’s ability to pick just the right expression in every panel — key for an issue with such a subtle resolution. Still, I have to admit that my favorite expressions are those of Kamala and Bruno’s impatience with Connecticut’s cries of animal cruelty (typical Connecticut, amirite?).
Kamala and Bruno both have lines, but Alphona isn’t going to let that interrupt their sour frowns. Nobody has patience for Connecticut’s bullshit.
Beyond visual gags and character beats, though, I think Alphona’s greatest strength stems from his diverse influences. We tend to zero in on Alphona’s Loony Toons-inspired moments, but he’s always been just as at home channeling Kirby’s action sensibilities, which really comes out with Miles’ wall-crawling and web-slinging. This issue also found Alphona drawing upon manga influences, as well, introducing new elements to the visual vocabulary of this series.
Casting the characters in shadow like this isn’t necessarily unheard of in western comics, but the composition lends this moment a symbolic nature that we might better understand in terms of manga — Kamala and Bruno are so angry, they seem to have stepped into a different world. It communicates their emotions in a way many superhero comics wouldn’t, gaining extra shades of subtlety thanks to Alphona’s cosmopolitanism.
Lest I sell Wilson short, just as much of the charm of this series comes from the writing. I may never live down my early dismissal of this series as over-reliant on teenage archetypes and familiar situations, but this issue truly demonstrates how all of those elements have been complicated with the benefit of time. The tension here doesn’t come from tropey evilness or even people out to hurt one another, but from believable characters behaving in totally logical ways. Indeed, the only “villain” in this issue is the situation, with Ganke insisting that “we shouldn’t have to battle to the death just to get into good colleges and not end up a trillion dollars in debt afterwards.” That’s not the kind of message I expect of superhero stories, but it’s exactly the kind of thing Ms. Marvel is so good at tackling.
Man, what a good issue. Patrick’s point about the creative team getting what works about this series bears repeating, even if it goes without saying. At a publisher full of syndicated characters made decades ago, it’s downright refreshing to have a character written, drawn, and edited by the team that created her. It’s like a little indy island in the middle of the Marvel publishing line, complete with different sensibilities, influences, and perspectives, which I guess speaks to Patrick’s initial point about crossovers. I might amend that a bit to say that Ms. Marvel could behave more like the rest of Marvel’s roster, but with issues this good, I’m not sure why anyone would want it to.
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?