by Drew Baumgartner
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
The only limits in comics are those of the imagination and the page itself. That sounds grandiose, but I genuinely believe that to be true. There are no CGI budgetary restrictions or limits of practical effects that could make a shot or a sequence impossible (though time constraints may make big crowds on horseback less likely), no locations on earth (or off) that can’t be used, no detail to small that can’t be captured in a panel. That means comics are a medium with nearly infinite potential for flashy epicness, which can easily hog our attention. But its the fundamentals — nearly universal to all storytelling — that ultimately make a comic sing: characters, clarity, and heart. Sometimes those flashy elements can help connect us to those fundamentals, but sometimes it’s the simpler details that sell the story. Such is the case with G. Willow Wilson and Nico Leon’s Ms. Marvel 34, which utilizes one of the most basic givens in the medium to remarkably effective results.
The given in question is left-to-right directionality, a concept so basic, it’s hard to illustrate in a particularly interesting way. Basically, because we read from left-to-right, smart artists will put goals on the right side of the page, so that both readers and characters are progressively approaching them. That is, in (western) comics (and most western visual media, in general), “forward” motion is represented as left-to-right motion. And examples abound in this issue. Take, for example, Kamala and Singularity’s journey back to time and space:
The panels (and especially the balloons within the panels) direct our eye from left to right, giving the sequence momentum that might have worked against it if this page were reversed.
But what’s especially thrilling about this issue is when Leon complicates that left-to-right motion in some way. The classic example is putting an adversary in the way of our hero’s march across the page, and Leon deploys that beautifully early in the issue, as Kamala an Shocker face off:
They seem aligned in that first panel, as they look towards Shocker’s invention, but Leon switches angles as Shocker turns towards Kamala, establishing him as a clear obstacle to her progress.
Leon uses those conventions in several interesting ways throughout Kamala’s scenes, but I think the most intriguing example belongs to Bruno. Check out how Leon utilizes the up/down dimension to add drama to Bruno’s progress across this sequence:
That’s a goddamn rollercoaster ride of emotions, and it all hinges on these two simple dimensions. Er, that might be oversimplifying it — Leon’s mastery of postures and facial expressions are indispensable here — but I’m impressed at how the addition of a simple down-up motion heightens the drama.
All of that reinforcement of the basic principles of left-to-right motion also heightens the drama of the last panel, as Bruno dives from right to left to shield Kamala from Shocker’s attack. Is he helping, or is he standing in the way of progress? Could this somehow hint at Bruno’s fate? I’ll avoid making any predictions, but the way that final panel subverts our expectations makes it almost viscerally unsettling. We simply don’t know how it will end. That’s how you build to a cliffhanger.
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For once, it seems like the Bruno sections of this book are the most interesting. Firstly, there is the reveal of the source of Kamala’s powers. Is it surprising that Kamala, the most forward thinking superhero around, gets her powers from the future? She is fueled by the very future that she spends so much time trying to create and shape. This has lots of interesting thematic implications going forward, explored correctly.
But more importantly, Bruno may finally have gotten a clue! Bruno has always been a blight on this book, as a walking, talking avatar of entitlement and toxic masculinity that is never sufficiently called out. But here, Bruno may finally be getting a clue. He sees the many possibilities of the future, and appears to finally see Kamala as a person. I think it is notable that the only vision of the future that doesn’t emphasise her ability to help make the world a better place is the one with Bruno in it (even the Red Dagger vision has her as a superhero, despite the obvious romantic focus). It looks like Bruno may finally understand that Kamala isn’t just his Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Instead, I think this is the first time Bruno is truly, honestly thinking about Kamala and how best to help her. Hopefully, the book commit sto it instead of shying away from it, as this book keeps having moments where it feels like it will address Bruno but doesn’t.
Also, does Shocker feel weird in this book? Sometimes, he feels like a more generic tough guy, spouting off cliches. Other times, he has a goofiness that is really reminiscent of things like Superior Foes. And the tonal shifts really don’t work. Especially as the goofy joke Shocker of Superior FOes is so much more of an engaging character than the generic tough guy – hell, I was initially interested in this arc because I thought the idea of Kamala’s powers being so out of control that even Shocker could be a threat was a great idea. Instead, Shocker seems to transform into a completely different character whenever there is a fight scene or Kamala needs to lose. He’s a frustrating element in this arc