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Ms. Marvel #4

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Book of the week: Ms. Marvel #4

In under four months, this new incarnation of "Ms. Marvel" has continued to become more and more historic a series for Marvel Comics with each passing week. When it began, it was historic as not only the first ongoing series from Marvel to feature a Muslim-American lead, but also the first ongoing spin-off series for an established super-heroine who was still in print. As Kelly Sue DeConnick's run on "Captain Marvel" was setting up a relaunch to boost sales for her long term run, G. Willow Wilson has spearheaded this very innovative look at a new type of heroine for the new century alongside top notch art by Adrian Alphona and exceptional colors by Ian Herring. Its' debut took the media by storm and it swiftly became one of digital comic distributor ComiXology's best sellers worldwide. Once sales figures for April came in, however, this series became even more distinctive due to the fact that it was now the first spin-off series to an established super-heroine that was outselling its' "parent" title. Carol Danvers' series, whether as "Captain Marvel" or "Ms. Marvel", has struggled to sell above 28,000 copies since at least 2009. As of issue three, the new "Ms. Marvel" starring Kamala Khan was selling over 37,000 copies, having quickly stabilized from a debut of roughly 50,000 copies.

How has this happened? This is mainly due to Wilson, Alphona, and Herring are constructing a very unique new heroine for a rising generation of fans who seem to be clamoring for something new in a sea of forty, fifty, sixty, and seventy year old franchises. Adrian Alphona's influence is no coincidence, as he found himself as co-creator and lead artist on a similar new series in 2002, "Runaways" (alongside Brian K. Vaughan). Although Kamala's religious orientation garnered the biggest hoopla to the media (especially the right wing of it), in practice that is merely one layer to her narrative of navigating a strange and wonderful city while gaining the sort of strange super-powers that other well known superheroes have. In essence, the new "Ms. Marvel" works because it is a retelling of the classic "Marvel Comics narrative" of an unlikely person gaining unlikely powers and having to navigate a very realistic world to figure out what to do with them.

Kamala's the very American, very New York centered daughter of a Muslim-American family whose faith ranges from deeply devoted (her elder brother) to moderate (her workhorse father). She has a friend in Bruno (who has a crush on her) as well as a peer in the snobby Zoe as well as a deep love for superheroes - in particular, Captain Marvel. When strange mists (left over from the "Infinity" crossover event) wash over her after a party and bestow super powers, Kamala's quest to figure out who she wants to be becomes more complicated with the power to literally become anything she wants to be. After saving Zoe and some friends after the party, she has since gone on to assume Captain Marvel's form and thrust herself into crime-fighting by saving Bruno from a robber during his shift at the local grocery store. Unfortunately, things aren't as simple as they were in the Silver Age as the robber turns out to be Bruno's desperate brother Vick, and Kamala gets shot. Undaunted, Kamala figures out more about her new shape-shifting powers as she tracks Vick down to a dive in Greenville which is apparently the strong hold of a motley crew of criminals, "the Inventor".

As with every issue, the art and colors by Alphona and Herring are a delight, and are as much a part of the series as Wilson's writing. Alphona is skilled at crafting character designs of figures who resemble real people instead of idealized super models. Even when he draws established super heroes like "Captain Marvel", his art isn't loaded with the odd poses and proportions which would offend anyone. Although some panels may show some rush, Alphona's work always has a blend of simplicity and detail, whether it is a quiet scene at a deli or a foreboding scene with attack robots. Kamala finally seems to be shifting towards who she'll become on the covers, with her own costume and embracing her own identity. Wilson's voice for her character is very strong, capturing a lot of the spirit of the curiosity and angst of being a teenager, and a scene between Kamala and Bruno after the robbery is very strong.

The series' biggest flaw is that of pace, with a five chapter opening arc being a brief and natural read in an inevitable trade or digest, but which can seem slightly slow in monthly, twenty pace chunks. Furthermore, while "the Inventor" is a classic super villain in terms of his ability to craft super gadgets and employ minions, his rather bland design and name seem to discourage him from branching out or seeming too iconic in a universe where the Red Skull is a household name. While a heroine's first antagonist may not need to be omnipotent, a figure with some more flash or pizzazz may make more of an impression as the start of a gallery of rogues. It could be said that Spider-Man's first antagonist was "the burglar", but by his fourth appearance he was fighting the likes of Chameleon, Tinkerer, Vulture, and Dr. Octopus. Perhaps one could envision "the Inventor" as a 2014 version of "the terrible Tinkerer", but even he came along after readers were already dazzled with a masked spy or a winged (and green) menace as series villains. While "the Inventor" still fits in the world of "Ms. Marvel" which centers more around regular people on the outskirts of Manhattan and the Avengers and serves his role well against Kamala, one can't help but see this as a minor missed opportunity.

Quibbles aside, however, "Ms. Marvel" earns her name by embodying everything that Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko infused into the core of the universe in the 1960's while being relevant for readers today. The fact that the price tag per issue remains cheaper than the lion's share of Marvel Comics' (and DC Comics, Valiant Comics, IDW Comics') offerings while delivering twice the quality is merely the icing on the cake. In four quick months, "Ms. Marvel" has become something truly magical for the second decade of the 21st century, and one would be wise to enjoy things from the ground floor up.

Honorable mention:

Mighty Avengers #10: The start of an "Original Sin" tie in, and the unfortunate return of Greg Land on "art". Despite launching on the heels of the "Infinity" event, this series by writer Al Ewing has failed to stick with readers on a steady basis, as sales continue to slip with every issue. This is an incredible shame as this team of heroes organized by Luke Cage and featuring newer characters of color than other Avengers rosters continues to offer combinations of heart, action, and imagination. Considering that the premise of "Original Sin" involves the murder of longtime cosmic being Uatu the Watcher, it makes sense to do a tie-in since his friend Adam Brashear/Blue Marvel is a regular member. He spends much of the issue mourning on the moon, before meeting Uatu's "widow", Ulana, and being gifted with an incredibly personal task. Meanwhile, the rest of the team fights a Mindless One and Blade matches swords against fire-breathing were-roosters. Wasn't it mentioned how imaginative this series was? The "art" by Land seems less traced than usual due to the efforts of inker Jay Leisten, even if most of his figures retain odd grins and facial expressions. Despite endless clamors for entertaining stories told with diverse casts, "Mighty Avengers" seems unable to find an audience despite great writing by a little known figure, and a well handled cast of lessor tiered characters - at least for four dollars a pop. Although it has outlasted "Avengers A.I.", this series may struggle to endure for a sixteenth issue. Until then, Ewing can tell as many genre hopping adventures with aliens, spirits, monsters, and were-roosters as he wants.

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