Ms. Marvel 29: Discussion

by Taylor Anderson and Ryan Mogge

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Taylor: There’s a reason why Archie comics are still around almost 80 years after the first issue was published. The lives of teenagers, to a certain extent, will always be the same, and Archie comics have traditionally done a pretty good job of chronicling what it’s like to be a high-schooler. In particular, the series’ focus on the romantic and emotional lives of its characters is what has made it an enduring title. After all, it’s not necessarily your AP Biology class you remember so much as the crush who happened to sit next to you in it. But it would be a mistake to think that Archie comics have cornered the market when it comes to teen dramas, or, as Ms. Marvel 29 shows, that teen dramas can’t include super heroes.

The reason I bring up Archie at all is that the cover of this issue clearly is a riff on the type of artwork often seen on that series.

The 50s era clothing, the diner setting, the shared milkshake between would-be lovers, are all staples of a typical Archie cover. I usually don’t put a lot of stock in comic book covers as pertaining to what happens in the issue — covers are an advertisement, and it’s not uncommon for them to purposefully show something that doesn’t happen in the issue to pique a would-be reader’s interest. This cover is a different case, though. The Archie imagery evokes the ideas of teen drama that the series is known for. While that’s not what Ms. Marvel is always about, it is here. Thus, this cover does a wonderful job of advertising, circuitously, what this particular issue is all about.

Much of the teen drama here revolves around a stolen kiss between Kamala and Red Dagger. The latter ambushes the former on a rooftop and plants a kiss just in time for Bruno, returned from Wakanda, to see. Bruno and Kamala have had a will-they/won’t-they thing going on for awhile now, so Bruno seeing Kamala kiss someone else is kind of a big deal. The drama unfolds later when the two talk things out on the front steps of their school.

While this discussion of feelings is dramatic in some sense, I appreciate the way that G. Willow Wilson has advanced the typical Archie formula. Has this been Archie, Kamala and Bruno wouldn’t be talking about their feelings. Instead they would probably be scheming behind each other’s back, leading to some sort of doomed plot. It’s refreshing to see that Kamala and Bruno are better than that. They recognize the complexity of their relationship and discuss it. It may not lead to any clarity for either of them, but it shows that they are willing to handle their feelings like mature teenagers. In doing this, Wilson bucks the trend of portraying teens as shallow slaves to their feelings.

This characterization continues later in the issue when Kamala consults her Imam for advice. After learning that Bruno may not be staying in New Jersey, Kamala is distraught because she doesn’t know if she has feelings for him still. Paired with her having kissed a boy for the first time, she feels she is in a spiritual crisis.  Luckily, her Imam knows just what to say.

Just as her Imam says, Kamala did something wise by talking to someone she trusts about her feelings rather than consulting the internet or concocting a scheme to try and solve her problems. Again, this is positive characterization of teenagers that bucks the trend of teen dramas. Often these types of stories show characters making mistakes which we know will haunt them later. Not so here. Kamala is wise beyond her years and that leads her to make smart choices in regards to her romantic life.

(Also, kudos to Wilson for portraying an Islamic spiritual leader who is level-headed and caring. It seems like that shouldn’t be something that needs to be praised still, but I think it is.)

Ryan, I really enjoyed this issue and the careful attention to character work. Did you feel the same way? If so, was there anyone in particular you enjoyed seeing developed? Also, there isn’t really any hint of superheroing aside from Kamala’s rooftop run. Did that bother you or do you think it’s great?

Ryan M: I didn’t miss the superhero action, especially as the issue ended with a super-strong mean girl. The implications of that for Kamala in and out of uniform bode well for the future. Even without the heroics, I found this issue utterly charming. Taylor, you hit the nail on the head that what made this story stand apart from the typical teen drama was the emotional honesty and earnestness.

The teens in this issue are as self-aware and well-adjusted as one could hope. Wilson’s generousity with her portrayal of these characters lightens the cliche of the love triangle. Though, I guess it’s a square when you include Mike. Poor Mike. Her tearful reaction to seeing Bruno with Kamala felt a bit dramatic, but also portended the words of the Imam. Every new generation believes they invented love, thus every young heartbreak has its own sense of unique fatality. In the same way, Aamir’s fears of impending fatherhood did not begin with him and are likely to be shared by men in hospital waiting rooms a hundred years from now.

While every page was a pleasure to read, especially for a YA-romance-loving girl like myself, the issue’s dramatic arc had an untraditional structure. It begins with Kamala euphoric over the birth of her niece, bouncing from rooftop to rooftop. Her encounter with Red Dagger has a similar sense of theatrics. He is barely more than a sketch of a Tall Dark and Handsome man ready to sweep her away in a romantic embrace. The arrival of Bruno punctures the fantasy and the rest of the issue is a slide into a more and more grounded story. The climax of the story is a some well-delivered advice.

Because there isn’t a ton of Ms. Marvel action happening, we have quite a few scenes that are mostly dialogue. Nico Leon does a great job making sure that these pages never get boring. He creates enough visual interest to keep each page and new venue engaging.

The brief meeting with a snotty Kaylee has the dynamism of an encounter with a villian. In the right panel above, Leon gives Bruno and Kamala horrified expressions on a black background. Taken out of context, one could surmise that Godzilla had just appeared in New Jersey. Instead, the proportions are much more relatable, as Kaylee seems to be a typical know-it-all mean girl with great hair. Of course, we learn there is more to her as the issue closes.

Again, Leon maximizes the weight of the moment, with a long, low angle and Zoe’s face reduced to a pair of dots. It’s a great way to end an issue that was so tightly focused on relationships. This beat doesn’t undo or twist anything that happened with Kamala. She is still going to have to move forward, knowing her and Bruno’s feelings. She’ll just also probably have to use her superhero abilities to stop a mega-strong hyper-pretty classmate.

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?

3 comments on “Ms. Marvel 29: Discussion

  1. Bruno has always been the worst part of Ms Marvel. In a book so defined by freshness and originality, he is a stale reheat of old tropes. Even worse, he’s a stale reheat of the exact sort of tropes that Ms Marvel specifically challenges. You would expect the point of Bruno to be a takedown on male entitlement. They never did. And then, this issue…

    Most of the issue is amazing. So much to praise. One thing to note about the iman is not only is he treated as level headed and caring, he actually gets characterisation. Too often, any religious figure is treated as a banal voice of moral authority that exists only to say wise words without feeling like a person. Here, the iman gets to have character. His joke at the start of the scene is both functional, in how it reflects Kamala’s own insecurities, and creates some depth to him that makes him more than just a trope. Most religious figures get to show sympathy with the main character, but by expressing actual characterisation, the iman gets to express empathy.

    Meanwhile, the rest is amazing. Kaylee Kirk’s introduction is amazing. I saw her, and hoped she would become a villain to Zoe, and so I loved that ending, as heartbreaking as it is. Can’t wait to see Zoe deal with this. Kamala kissing Red Dagger is great, both in Kamala’s response to her first kiss and how it injects romance into the book. THis book needs more kisses like that. Kwezi is amazing, really taking advantage of Wakanda’s status to challenge Western conceptions about our own superiority. The opening with the birth of Malik is a beautiful scene, and combined with the kiss with Red Dagger it really creates the build up before the world comes crashing done. It is just unfortunate that Bruno is the reason it comes crashing down.

    Because this issue makes clear that Bruno isn’t just a shitty throwback character that needs fixing. As a character, he’s just a horrible person. And unfortunately, the book doesn’t seem to understand that.

    Bruno is the most likely member of Kamala’s friends to turn supervillain, and I am including the one who actually turned into a supervillain. He’s an entitled white boy who believes the world should revolve around him because of his male privilege.

    He’s pissed that in Wakanda, he is no longer the smartest person around. To him, school is more about his own ego than actually learning or being part of a community. He has to be the best
    He’s awful to Mike. It is quite clear that his entire relationship with her was performative. He was still obsessed with Kamala. WHich wouldn’t be a problem, if he has a single shred of empathy. Instead, he has been completely uncommunicative with Mike, in no way taking into account her feelings. And when Mike bursts into tears, his only response is performative. He shows no interest in chasing after her and actually trying to address her feelings. In fact, it is quite clear that since leaving to Wakanda, he hasn’t done anything to address her feelings. He has no relationship with Mike, she was just a prop for him so that he could have the status symbol of having a girlfriend
    And then there is Kamala. The idea of him being in love with Kamala is a problematic trope in female led books like this that I can discuss, but honestly, in this issue it gets toxic. This goes beyond problematic trope and straight into misogynistic creep. He’s controlling of Kamala, shaming her for having a life that wasn’t sufficiently built around him. And when Kamala rightly calls him out on that, by saying that he had his own life and had a girlfriend, Bruno becomes even more of a controlling arsehole and shames her for kissing Red Dagger. Where Kamala was supportive of Mike back at the start of this volume, Bruno shames Kamala for kissing a guy despite the fact that not only was it her right to kiss whoever she wants, she didn’t even know Bruno was in the country.
    Between his lack of care for Mike and his controlling behaviour of Bruno, we have a textbook case of an abuser.

    And despite the excellence of so much of the rest of this book (and it only has some of the best material of recent issues), the fact that Bruno’s awfulness is unchallenged really hurts this book.

    Bruno wasn’t a great character before. But in this issue, he is a misogynistic creep with abusive tendencies.

    Bruno should be nowhere near Kamala
    He should be getting punched in the fact by Ms Marvel

  2. The most interesting part of this comic to me wasn’t in this comic. It was reading G. Willow Wilson’s thoughts on writing this comic, partly about religion, specifically about the kiss.

    I will do none of her comments justice.

    Religion: She wants to portray a variety of muslim beliefs and practices. I think she does that very well, just in Kamala, her brother and her father, but especially here adding in the Imam. I think it’s a strength of Wilson’s as a writer and I think it shows not only in the variety of religious beliefs, but the variety of social beliefs at school as well. She’s an excellent writer of humanity.

    The kiss: Apparently, the kiss was a big deal in the muslim community. It was very inappropriate. And I don’t get it and I’d need to read more about it, and I’m only now even learning a little bit about Wilson’s path to religion.

    But part of it makes me wonder if Bruno’s bad behavior towards Kamala is a metaphor for conservative (muslim or American) beliefs on women.

    I’m ok with there being bad characters that are toxic and misogynistic. Shoot, teenagers trend that way (boys and girls. I know a lot of good kids that really don’t understand anyone else’s point of view even though they try to be good and decent and compassionate. Not all, but a lot).

    I don’t know if Wilson wrote about her struggles with writing the kiss anywhere other than twitter, but I’d look it up. It was in the past week and shed a lot of light on this comic that turned it into something even better.

    • Wilson does such a fantastic showing a range of faiths. From the very first issue, she has done a great job

      And I’ll just make clear that my problem with Bruno isn’t that he’s misogynistic and abusive, both signs of a great Ms Marvel villain. The problem is that usually when a character like that turns up, the book makes clear he is awful even when all the characters like him

      The problem is that this issue wants us to be invested in Kamala’s relationship with Bruno, instead of being invested in Kamala realising her best friend is a misogynistic, entitled creep and that she needs to get away from him

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