Today, Spencer and Ryan M. are discussing Ms. Marvel 18, originally released May 10th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Spencer: Supporting characters exist, well, to support — to highlight and contrast the protagonist’s various personality traits. Even when supporting characters deal with trauma and plot twists of their own, creators and readers alike have a tendency to only think of those events in terms of how they effect the protagonist. I’ll admit that I’d been thinking that way of Bruno Carrelli, the (former?) best friend of Kamala Khan, after everything he’d gone through in the Civil War II tie-ins; my number one concern was whether he and Kamala would ever be able to repair their relationship. Writer G. Willow Wilson shines the spotlight on Bruno in Ms. Marvel 18, and by doing so, gently reminds her readers that Bruno is his own man with his own unique struggles that are worth considering and empathizing with.
In fact, Ms. Marvel herself only appears as a fantasy of Bruno’s on the issue’s very first page, before he’s snapped back to a Kamala-free reality. Her absence is profoundly felt in Bruno’s life, at least initially; Kamala and the Khans essentially saved Bruno in elementary school, so dealing with a new school and a new country without their aid is terribly challenging for him, no matter how hurt he’s been by Kamala’s actions. By the end of the issue, though, he’s grown quite a bit, and done so without any help from Kamala. It’s easy to compare that to Kamala’s most recent mission — where she was forced to contact Bruno for help — but I think we’ll have plenty of opportunities to see what this means for their relationship in future issues. For now, it’s Bruno time.
Bruno opens the issue in a dark place, not only feeling isolated and looked-down upon in a new school and country, but still grappling with the ways his injuries have altered his life. His roommate Kwezi enlists him in a mission to steal some vibranium from a secure Wakandian facility (supposedly to impress a girl) that ends with them hanging for dear life from a ledge. This is where Bruno’s first revelation hits.
Up until now the reality hadn’t hit home for Bruno — he was too busy feeling sorry for himself to truly accept how different his life was going to be from now on, and it took nearly dying for him to understand how badly he wants to live, no matter what form his life takes and no matter what he has to endure in order to achieve his goals. Kamala may have saved Bruno back in elementary school, but this seems to be the first time where Bruno’s truly decided to save himself — and that’s a powerful, life-altering decision.
Of course, nobody can truly succeed alone, and that’s where Bruno’s second revelation comes in. First, Black Panther rescues Bruno and Kwezi in a sequence that gives artist Francesco Gaston a chance to show off. Gaston’s work is charming throughout the issue, but it follows a very standard set of rules — square panels with pronounced borders and gutters. Black Panther’s arrival immediately breaks all those rules — he appears out of nowhere, leaps to the ground at a dynamic angle through several slanted panels, and breaks through their borders to boldly introduce himself. Likewise, he later exits the issue by leaping out of the panel and, seemingly, right off the page itself!
Black Panther is the only superhero in this issue, and thus lives by rules far beyond those that define Bruno and Kwezi. What a divine way to visually remind us of how much larger-than-life a superhero can be!
Kwezi, though, also saves Bruno, albeit in a very different way. He reveals that he stole the vibranium, not to impress a girl, but to create an invention that could potentially soothe Bruno’s injuries. Kwezi and his classmates don’t hate Bruno, as he thought — weird though he may be, they understand what he’s been through and want to help! This should have been clear far earlier — at one point Kwezi excitedly recounts Bruno’s past and calls him an “idealist,” about as complimentary and genuine as teenage boys get — but Bruno couldn’t accept the praise because he’d convinced himself he was worthless and broken.
After Kwezi’s confession it’s clearer than ever that this isn’t actually how others think of Bruno — it’s Bruno projecting his own self-loathing onto others. After the events of this issue, though, it looks like Bruno’s finally got the confidence, clarity, and support he needs to move forward. Watching Bruno reach that point has been powerful.
Actually, I’m probably most moved by Bruno’s heartbreaking monologue in the first image I posted about the grim permanence of his injuries. To me, that’s Wilson swearing that, vibranium or not, there will be no quick fix for Bruno’s injuries — both Bruno and the audience are going to have to confront them head-on and move forward. This also indicates that Wilson will likewise avoid taking the easy way out when it comes to Kamala and Bruno’s relationship, instead tackling their issues with the honesty and heart I’ve come to expect from Ms. Marvel. I’m excited to see how this plays out, but also nervous, because it might just break my poor little heart.
Ryan, how do you feel about this one? And what do you make of the “several weeks ago” caption that opens this issue? Is there some important bit of continuity I may be forgetting that necessitates setting this story in the past, or do you think we may see the reason why play out in future issues? I suppose it’s not immediately important, but it’s too specific a choice to have not have a bearing on the story at some point.
Ryan M: The “several weeks ago” caption brings with it implications that the events of this issue may be taking us to the point where Kamala and Bruno’s stories intersect again. The arc of this issue is deeply rooted in Bruno’s internal struggles to face his situation and see the people in Wakanda clearly. As part of a larger story, this could be the issue that explains how Bruno acquired his walking machine. Bruno’s role as Kamala’s applied science support is key to what we’ve seen of him throughout the series. It’s such a nice touch that it’s that same kind of work that offers him hope and changes his friendship with Kwezi.
Wilson is able to keep this a “Bruno” story while placing him in a world where we’ve never seen him surrounded by characters we don’t know. By starting the story in the classroom, she presents a familiar setting with recognizable dynamics so that the reader can see Bruno’s position clearly. He is not the smartest in the room anymore and, more than that, he is a known oddity with his scholarship status and his injuries. This is, of course, how he sees himself rather than an objective view. Bruno’s own feelings of defeat make him see every moment through that lens. This perspective is reinforced by Gaston’s art as we get our first look at the Wakandan classroom.
Just looking at the faces of the other students looking back at Bruno with varied levels of concern and curiosity gives me anxiety. Gaston places us just above Bruno’s shoulder, giving us a sense of otherness. Every other student, including the one at the board, has a monitor with the same screen. The angle on Bruno makes it look as if his desk is empty, like one of those dreams where you show up for the test without studying or a pencil or pants. The entirety of the first scene has this sense. Kweli doesn’t so much convince Bruno to join him on his adventure as steamroll him. Bruno is a passenger in his own life. It’s a painful thing to see, but ultimately leads to Bruno realizing that he has to want to save himself.
Spencer, I also found that monologue to be moving but a couple of panels a few pages before had me getting a little emotional in advance of the big moment. It’s after Kweli chides Bruno for use use of the phrase “I can’t” and Bruno ruminates on his relationship with his own limitations.
Gaston keeps the frame tight to emphasize Bruno’s expressions and show us his successful execution of the task. This sequence is the most engaged Bruno has been thus far and reminds the readers that he does have a knack for this kind of work. Sure, he ends up having to catch the vibranium with his toe, but the point is that Wilson and Gaston have efficiently shown post-injury Bruno doing the kind of work he loves.
While I know that Wilson and Gaston have to get back to Ms. Marvel and Jersey City, this issue effectively makes Bruno’s role in that story more than his relationship with Kamala. This insight into his struggle and how he began to push through will enrich his appearances whenever he returns to Kamala’s orbit.
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?