Marvel has tried, sometimes with great success but often in vain, to reinvent old characters to better reflect current America and the challenges individuals growing up in this era face. While it has not been universally popular, I am supportive of this attempt to reinvent old characters for the modern world. If we are to accept that characters designed in the 60s and 70s (or earlier) must remain active in the Marvel Universe, it makes sense that writers would want to craft a new moniker for these classic archetypes and find a new way to explore these protagonists. One of the most successful of these “new” character relaunches has been Kamala Khan, the current Ms. Marvel, and this trade containing the first 12 issues of G. Willow Wilson 38 issue run demonstrates why the character is beloved by new and old fans alike.
While not the best introduction to Kamala Khan (this 2015 arc is not an origin story, but a continuation on previous arcs), it wasn’t difficult to get a sense of the stakes, conflicts and supporting cast in the character’s life. Khan is already an Avenger, balancing her superhero life with high school social challenges and obligations to family. The first arc nicely addresses gentrification in Khan’s New Jersey neighborhood while injecting just enough teen angst and superhero drama to guarantee it isn’t just a political platform. Even when the Marvel-wide Civil War II is brought in during the second half of the trade, it’s still addressed in a way fitting the tone Wilson has established, with a tristate academic competition running in tandem to these larger happenings.
The art is appropriate and lively throughout, even though there are a slew of pencilers and colorists responsible for these twelve issues. Takeshi Miyazawa and Adrian Alphona cover issues #1-3 and #8-11, Nico Leon #5-6, Adrian Alphona #7, and Mirka Andolfo the final issue #12. Normally, having that many hands involved in a single book over the course of such few issues would be a cause for concern, but the consistency in the art and style is commendable from an editorial perspective. All of the issues gel well together, and it rarely feels like a tonal departure. Miyazawa and Alphona do an especially strong job on their issues, with a perfect blend of cartoony character movement and dynamic superhero action. I found myself returning to Nico Leon’s panels after finishing his issues, as they were some of the best work in the series as a whole.
My quibble with this run, and the Kamala Khan character as a whole, is the way her family is depicted. It is important that we are beginning to see characters from different walks of life put at the center of our superhero epics, but Khan’s parents are sometimes treated as stern, which may play into stereotypes about Muslim parents in America. It’s understandable that this plays into Ms. Marvel’s character conflict, as she tries to balance all these elements of her identity, and her family isn’t represented in a negative manner, but it was something that was in the back of my mind while reading surveying this trade.
Again, what gives Wilson’s run such legs is the care afforded to the character and the ridiculous superhero world she occupies. Even when injecting classic superhero tropes, like issue #5 which finds Kamala creating multiple duplicates of herself to address her overwhelming schedule, is done with elegance thanks to Wilson’s lively script and dialogue. I may be much older than our current Ms. Marvel, with my high school years long behind me, but this trade plants a character in the Marvel Universe who is human and approachable. Like all great comic books, this run is a tool to discuss challenges and anxieties we face as a people in an engaging and fun manner, while also giving readers an opportunity to hear the perspective of those from other walks of life. There is a reason Wilson’s run lasted so long, and this trade validates why.
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