Book of the week: Ms. Marvel #6
Throughout the history of the Marvel Comics universe, the opening adventures of new superheroes seem to follow certain patterns. The most common is a team-up with a more established superhero as soon as possible in an attempt to cement the position of the newcomer into the universe and general "superhero community". The earliest example of this is 1963's "Amazing Spider-Man #1", which saw the teenage wall-crawler meet the "Fantastic Four" in only his second issue of publication; the Human Torch in particular would appear alongside Spider-Man several times during the first year and a half of "Amazing Spider-Man" in the 60's. As the decades have went on, Spider-Man himself would often be the most common elder hero trucked out to greet a "newbie" in their second or third issue, with examples such as "Sleepwalker", "Darkhawk", even the much lambasted "NFL Superpro". Other examples include Captain America, Iron Man, and the most over exposed member of the X-Men, Wolverine. The dawn of the 21st century brought with it an era of decompression, where the sorts of stories (origins in particular) which used to be a few pages in the past suddenly take four to six issues to tell.
Despite offering one of the most innovative and modern takes on a new teenage superhero in years, "Ms. Marvel" is still firmly in this aforementioned stage of a new franchise's life. Having completed her origin sequence and donned her full costume and powers last issue, now the young Kamala Khan is ready for her first team-up. Considering who her idol is and the mantle she has adopted, Carol Danvers (the current "Captain Marvel") would have made the most sense. Instead, writer G. Willow Wilson has decided to dip into the well of Wolverine just before he's slated for a temporary dirt nap. What could have been a larger concern was the first instance of co-creator (and regular artist) Adrian Alphona needing a rest, and thus needing a fill in artist to pick up the slack. Fortunately, incoming artist Jacob Wyatt manages to deliver a style which fits right in with the unique work of Alphona while looking distinct enough on his own to not merely seem like a tracer. Reliable colorist Ian Herring keeps Kamala's adventures looking as hip and bright as usual.
Khan has officially established herself as the lone superhero of Jersey City, earning the ire of the burg's lone super villain, "the Inventor". After destroying one of his minion's headquarters and smashing some of his trinkets, the Inventor has dispatched strange drones to target and attack the new Ms. Marvel wherever she may be. At the same time, Kamala's dismissal of her parents' curfew has led to having to have a dreaded meeting with the sheikh of her local mosque at their insistence. The budding heroine quickly finds herself in over her head in a sewer fighting cybernetic alligators and finally meeting "the Inventor" himself. Arriving out of nowhere for the obligatory team-up is Wolverine, whose gruff exterior quickly fades upon meeting yet another plucky heroine in search of a mentor - a role he's played with Shadowcat, Jubilee, and X-23. He's looking for a young mutant girl who's gone missing from the X-Mansion, which is often the reliable MacGuffin to justify an X-Man's random presence somewhere.
Right away, the story does come with some barnacles to scrub off, even if not all of them are intentional. The identity of "the Inventor" is revealed and it sadly comes a fortnight after Valiant Entertainment's "Quantum & Woody" twigged onto the notion of making a clone of Thomas Edison into a monstrous mad scientist with at least some of his body being that of an animal. Instead of tentacles and an ape form, "the Inventor" here has the head of a parrot, which is a bit unfortunate as it is hard to make parrots seem threatening. "Ms. Marvel" sells over five times what "Quantum & Woody" does, so it's likely most fans won't notice this repetition. While most superhero readers may gloss over any obligatory team-up, the unique world that Wilson has created for Khan - as the lone heroine in a more offbeat section of New York than Manhattan - starts to crumble a little once any better known superhero can just appear at random on a whim. It is perhaps for this reason that other newer franchises chose to base their stars outside of the state entirely. After all, "the Runaways" (who were co-created and mostly drawn by Alphona) were based in California, while even the recent run of "Venom" saw Flash Thompson move to Boston for similar reasons.
Aside for that, the issue is a romp as always. Khan's energetic optimism about her world and situation is a breath of fresh air in a medium which seems to confuse misery for maturity. Even when faced with villains, traps, and monsters, Kamala refuses to be beaten down, and she even seems to turn the usually gruff Wolverine around. Providing exposition about Wolverine's current state (that he's missing his healing factor) winds up turning into a bonding experience to put him in a position of relying a lot more on a novice hero than he'd like to survive an encounter. The art and colors reflect this overly positive atmosphere, while Wilson excels at not only having a voice for Kamala which seems more accurate than many writers' attempts at teenagers, but by refusing to pigeon hole her supporting cast into stereotypes. Kamala's fear of meeting the sheikh plays on a reader's expectations of what little they know about the Muslim faith (based mostly on sound bites or examples by extremists), and the end scene is made more effective due to it.
Already, "Ms. Marvel" has settled into selling just under 34,000 copies an issue; previous issues are being reprinted due to demand and ComiXology acknowledged it as one of their best international sellers. One can imagine (or hope) that her first trade collection will sell well so long as Marvel doesn't get greedy and tack on an extra five dollars to make it a needless hardcover. With so many of the "All-New Marvel NOW!" line of comics in danger of cancellation by this stage, "Ms. Marvel" is proving that innovative female characters by innovative creators can still succeed and find an audience, even in mainstream superhero comics.
She-Hulk #6: After some charming opening issues, this second arc of Charles Soule's initially plucky take on the jade giantess has entered a sophomore slump. The easiest scapegoat is Ron Wimberly, whose fill in art is ambitious, but ultimately way too bizarre and at times hard to follow than is expected. However, there are other problems related to the script itself. Soule's initial mystery about "a blue file" which seems to be a reality bending case involving Jennifer and a random collection of heroes and villains fizzles to nothing despite a random demon attack and the strange paralegal Angie revealing more of her own secrets (as well as the magical powers of her pet monkey). Perhaps the most unlikely development is the appearance of Kevin Trench, formerly the D-List "Amazing Spider-Man" spin off character (and blatant "Spawn" imitator), Nightwatch. Convincingly killed off on panel in an issue of "Spider-Man Unlimited" in 1996, he's suddenly back and has a well established back story which has nothing to do with his previous appearances or even acknowledges being dead since the start of President Bill Clinton's second term. The irony is that Kevin's shift away from time travel shenanigans and his establishment as a successful businessman instead of yet another random masked vigilante in a city clogged with them is a good one; it's just completely out of the blue and totally unexplained. Soule's voice for his heroine is still strong, and his attempt to round out her cast with a band of eclectic figures is a noble one. Unfortunately, some bizarre art and even stranger story choices mire this issue a bit.
Silver Surfer #4: Another relaunch entering it's second arc, Dan Slott and artists Michael and Laura Allred continue to deliver on the sorts of quirky and down to earth, yet still cosmic, affairs which made the first arc of this series such a treat. Having encountered the earthling Dawn Greenwood after yet another of his space adventures, the Surfer is set to simply return her to her home in Massachusetts and set out on his lonely space journeys. Unfortunately, he finds himself unable to resist her curiosity and small town charms, and stays for a dinner with her father and twin sister (who he mistakes for a Skrull, who are more common in space than twins). A meeting with the "Guardians of the Galaxy" happens via cinematic obligation and a local "fear effect" seems to have caught the pair in its' web as well as brought the Surfer's two "Defenders" team mates (Hulk and Dr. Strange) hot on their trail. The plot is simple, but this issue (like the previous ones) succeeds on charming execution. The art of the Allreds is as awesome as ever, capturing the fantastic and the sublime with the same eager lines. Slott, meanwhile, plays on some of the absurdities of space comics to mix in some tension deflating comedy, without making the series entirely about laughs. Unexpectedly, this relaunch of "Silver Surfer" seems to be displaying all of the talents that Slott was known for before he spent years as the head of "Amazing Spider-Man" and perhaps shifted into more standard "A-list event driven boom and bust" cycles of writing. Compared to some other Marvel comics this may be a sleeper, but it is one which deserves full attention.
Original Sin #6: The annual crossover event chugs along under the scripting of Jason Aaron, the pencils of Mike Deodato and the colors of Frank Martin. Picking from the last installment, the original Nick Fury continues to be an old man with endless dark secrets. This time its' revealed that he's dying, and he's committed no end of intergalactic sins in his defense of the earth from all things strange and otherworldly. While the heroes get to fight waves of life model decoys and the spare villains (obscure figures from Grant Morrison's "Marvel Boy" from fourteen years ago) continue to shuffle about, this remains another issue focused on exposition from the elder Fury to keep things moving. Despite this, the art is pretty and it hasn't devolved into a complete train wreck. Considering the low bar set by previous crossover events as stories unto themselves, it is refreshing to see this series actually be able to surpass it.