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Picks of comic book week: A new heroine for New York

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Ms. Marvel #1

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Book of the week: Ms. Marvel #1

In all actuality, this comic technically debuted last week. However, as last week was a hefty one in terms of volume and this one was a puny one in that regard, extra dollars in the wallet can often incur some exploration. Fortunately, it was an exploration well rewarded as this is another brilliant launch as a part of Marvel's "All-New Marvel NOW!" promotional engine. Despite having the title of one of Marvel's most well known heroines, this is actually a spin off series. Carol Danvers originally debuted as a member of Captain Mar-Vell's supporting cast in "Marvel Super-Heroes #13" in 1966 and gained her first chance at her own title in "Ms. Marvel #1" by 1977. She went on to outlast Mar-Vell and earned more exposure as part of "Uncanny X-Men", "Avengers", and more chances at her own series; one volume lasted fifty issues from 2006-2010. She has since been promoted to being "Captain Marvel" in her latest volume (written by Kelly-Sue DeConnick), and this leaves her old "Ms. Marvel" mantle free for a new character to claim. Enter writer G. Willow Wilson ("Air", "Mystic"), artist Adrian Alphona (co-creator of "Runaways") and colorist Ian Herring to create a brand new heroine for a brand new era.

Within this issue, readers are introduced to Kamala, a sixteen year old Jersey City resident who is seeking to figure out what to do with her life and who she wants to be in an incredibly complicated world. Not only is she a resident of the Marvel Universe and thus a big fan of superheroes (Captain Marvel in particular), she also is a part of a family of Middle Eastern descent who practice Islam to varying degrees. Her elder brother lives only for worship, while her banker father is far more moderate, although she still struggles with what she sees as a limiting place for young women in her community. She has two friends; a young shop keep in Bruno (who has a crush on her) and the older Nikki, who also seems to be more strict about her roots to the old country than Kamala is. Pulled at from various directions, Kamala sneaks out to go to a party and ends up caught up in a strange mist which seems to grant her super-powers and is set to forever change her life.

Most of the press about this new series has been about the faith which Kamala's family practices, which is a shame as it should be getting as much press if not more for being a terrific point of view issue. Kamala's search for identity and independence is easy to relate to for anyone who has ever been a teenager and had strict parents. The issue also offers a cautionary tale in its origin about being careful what one wishes for. Alphona's artwork is as glorious as ever, and if anything he seems to get stronger than ever. His characters are all diverse, his backgrounds are always detailed, and he excels at conveying emotion. Wilson uses her own experiences being a practicing Muslim who's lived in both Egypt and America to craft a family and community around her lead to flesh out the world in which she exists in, and how it is about to be turned upside down.

The only quibble is that the mists which wash over the area and empower Kamala are an after-effect from Marvel's last crossover event, "Infinity". The "Terrigen Mists" which were used to empower the "Inhumans" for thousands of years were unleashed upon the world and have been empowering anyone who was even slightly related to an Inhuman at any point in their family tree. This apparently means Kamala, and no mention of the source of this mist is done within the issue itself. It's wise to not seek to bog down new readers with details from a crossover, but since the after effects of it are aiding this series into coming into being, some line about it may have helped.

Beyond that, however, this was a completely engaging first issue starring a brand new Marvel heroine from a different perspective than most new mainstream characters. In no way is Kamala or anyone within this issue exploited or posed in awkward sexual poses in the art and instead offers a story which can appeal to anyone in both story and art. For fans new and old who want to jump into a new Marvel Comic without any baggage attached, this is it. It also helps that Marvel Comics are making history by making Carol Danvers the first mainstream comic book super heroine to get her own spin-off series without having to have retired completely from costumed heroics (as DC Comics' various Batgirls have often done). Historic events aren't always amusing or entertaining to those experiencing it, but "Ms. Marvel" is. Hopefully, Wilson and Alphona will earn themselves a long run here.

Honorable mentions (that actually are from this week):

She-Hulk #1: Another fresh relaunch from the "All-New Marvel NOW" campaign is the most well known spin off of "Incredible Hulk". Debuting in "Savage She-Hulk #1" in 1980, Bruce Banner's cousin Jennifer Walters has eked out a long and historic run in the Marvel Universe across several ongoing series and appearing in well known teams such as "Avengers" and "Fantastic Four". Current head Spider-Man writer Dan Slott rose to fame by writing her series from 2004-2007. For this launch, former "She-Hulk" and "FF" fill in artist Javier Pulido returns to the jade giantess while Charles Soule ("Superman/Wonder Woman") brings his own legal expertise into play about a series which seeks to do what most She-Hulk series do; juggle her life as a superhero and a lawyer at once. Much like with "Black Widow", this is an opening issue which introduces its star with a "day in the life" story which completes itself within twenty issues. On the surface, Jen seems to have it all; incredible powers, stunning looks (if you like them green), a terrific reputation and a high paying career. Unfortunately, things come to a head when she learns that her latest firm hired her to exploit her ties to the superhero community (including wealthy types like Iron Man or Mr. Fantastic) rather than her skill as a lawyer. She promptly quits, but finds herself taking on a case pro bono for a mother who is down on her luck who also happens to be the widow of a murdered super-villain. It turns out Tony Stark's deadliest weapon may not be his armor, but the head of his legal department. Soule writes a quirky legal procedural which happens to take place in a superhero universe while Pulido's artwork - similar in many ways to that of Mike Allred - is dazzling enough to capture one's attention even without being flanked by a great script. Like "Daredevil" and "Black Widow", this is a book which looks like no other comic out there. While it may seem dismaying how casually New Yorkers seem to accept a seven foot tall green heroine even in courts of law, this is a perfectly enjoyable first issue for Shulkie fans longing for their fix. Within twenty pages, this single issue seems to capture She-Hulk's personality and world with great skill and elegance, as well as a ripping sense of humor.

Superior Spider-Man #27: The era of Dr. Octopus possessing the stolen body of Spider-Man is coming to an end, at least if Marvel Comics' promotions for April are to be believed. This gives this latest arc, "Goblin Nation", a sense of suspense and finality which only adds more dramatic weight to affairs. Throughout the course of this era from January 2013, the Green Goblin has been reorganizing his underworld empire and exploiting the weaknesses of the new Spider-Man's overreaching crime fighting efforts. Having eliminated all competition, now his "Goblin Nation" are bringing about a green masked crime wave throughout Manhattan. All of Doc Ock's robots and all of his men may not be able to put NYC back together again. Giuseppe Camuncoli returns to handling interior art with John Dell's inks and Antonio Fabela's colors and working off a script penned by longtime Spidey writer Dan Slott. As usual, Ock can't see past his own arrogance as he seeks to get to the root of how Green Goblin has pulled the wool over him, and the rest of the conflict appears to be a game of chess played by two super villains. This makes for an entertaining game of which crazed super-genius can outwit the other with their different armies of pawns. Meanwhile, the "ghost" of Peter Parker keeps seeking a way to overpower Ock psychically to regain control of his body and seeks to dive into Ock's own memories - and learns that somehow, Ock's memories literally start from the time he was born despite most people's long term memories not forming until age two or three at best. Camuncoli's art seems to shine here a lot brighter than Humberto Ramos' art was in previous issues; he has a great handle on all the Goblins as well as the other assorted characters. Things seem to be coming to a head against Ock, which by this stage is long overdue for a premise which did tax (at best) the limits of suspended belief.

As an addendum, a woeful part of the "All-New Marvel NOW" promotion has been sticking a huge, bold "#1" on every single cover of every single comic. This makes genuine new launches seem lost in a sea of long running books that are just starting a new arc, or are actually in the middle of an arc. Considering Marvel Comics currently relaunches comics so often that it seems to happen every year (or "season" as editors now seem to want to call it), this move seems rather desperate. Robert Kirkman's "Invincible", published by Image Comics and usually selling on average 13,000 copies a month, has sporadically mocked this practice by claiming that a certain issue was "#1 in a new story" or so on, and this was at best obnoxiously self aware. But when Marvel Comics themselves emulate this practice, they risk a move which borders on self-parody. While there is nothing wrong with promotion, Marvel risks their own genuine debuts like "Ms. Marvel" or "She-Hulk" being overlooked not only by competitors from DC Comics or Image, but by their own longer running series. It will be a shame if truly great comics are done in by daft promotional strategies.

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