Generations: The Marvels Thinks Readers Can Have It All

by Noah Sharma

Much as I hate to say it, it seems like there will always be assholes.

There were assholes who complained about the lower class to their indentured servants. There were assholes who convinced their fellow villagers that their dreams of a new start and a better life were just idealism. There were assholes who just didn’t want their neighborhoods integrated. And there were assholes who scoffed at women’s lib over the table they expected set by the time they got home.

Some of today’s assholes like to pretend that G. Willow Wilson is only well respected as a writer because having a Muslim heroine, or a Muslim writer, is a ‘political statement’. And while it doesn’t really address the underlying issue, man, it’s fun to see assholes proved wrong.

The “Generations” one shots have been a moderate success for Marvel, generating a handful of solid stories that Marvel could market at a slightly higher than average price. They offer some unusual opportunities, but only the best really justified themselves as something would feel meaningful in a few months.

Of the “Generations” one-shots I’ve read, The Marvels is by far the most complete. At times it’s trying to please a few too many masters at once, but, while that can distract from it having a larger purpose, it’s incredible how cleanly it succeeds in navigating that gauntlet. It tells a full story with character development and b-plots and all the old fashioned charm of a Bronze Age book. More than that, the issue feels relevant to Kamala’s story. Maybe it isn’t required reading to understand her arc in the core Ms. Marvel series, but it is a welcome opportunity to check in on a major aspect of her character that’s been out of the spotlight since “Civil War II”.

Admittedly this issue leans on coincidence heavily, even by the standards of a 1970s Marvel mag. The entire plot falls apart if Kamala can’t stumble into Carol’s employ in a matter of pages.

But who cares? Some corners do have to be cut to retain the modern, decompressed reading style, but, even when that’s the case, Wilson makes those coincidences fun. Check out the name of Kamala’s new favorite boutique for instance.

And fun is very much a part of this story. Nightscream is pretty much just an excuse to write ridiculous dialogue, but she works perfectly because there are A-list villains who started out just as silly and just as shallow, if not more so. This would have been more than good enough for the Bronze Age and the fact that those standards haven’t necessarily aged well is made into a feature, not a bug.

The superheroics have a classic excitement about them. Some will bemoan the ease with which Kamala routinely solves these problems or the simplicity with which Wilson establishes the equity between Danvers and Nightscream, but the truth is the fights are there for flavor. The ‘A plot’ is merely a way to explore Kamala and Carol’s relationship, something that really does use the leverage of the “Generations” premise very nicely.

But its the secret identity shenanigans that are really fun. Watching Kamala’s understandably incomplete understanding of the 1970s run up against her over-developed knowledge of sci-fi tropes is delightful and seeing the new Ms. Marvel aid the original version in the fight for Women’s liberation is one of those things that you never asked for but will thoroughly enjoy reading.

Wilson gives both eras their due. Kamala admittedly comes out ahead, but only because her understanding of the issue stands on the shoulders of women like Carol Danvers. I also love that Wilson gives the entire staff of Woman Magazine a moment or two to demonstrate their grit and competence.

The Marvels looks back on that most central and perhaps poorly phrased question of second wave feminism: can women have it all? Wilson doesn’t feel the need to point out the obvious fact that ‘having it all’ frequently meant accepting a fraction of what men expect, but instead reminds us that ‘having it all’ is a human need, that ‘having’ one requires the other.

It’s not necessarily high level feminist discourse, but, in an issue that is packed full of content, it’s an answer that’s relatively thoughtful and highly fitting for the characters. And it works because it respects both the struggle of today and its antecedents.

I also love that, since All-New X-Men, Marvel has just been having fun with the weirdness of ‘Marvel time’. The fact that Carol clearly became Ms. Marvel in the Seventies, despite the fact that 2017 is clearly less than a decade away is just charming and the entire creative team has a ball with that.

Paolo Villanelli doesn’t really employ any flashy tricks in his art. There’s no intense stylization or stunning photorealism designed to make you pause the moment you see it, however, he is undoubtedly a rock for this issue.

Neither the dramatic weight nor complexity of a panel seems to be able to throw Villanelli off track; steadfastly he chugs through the issue, bringing the same level of quality to every page. And though he doesn’t draw unnecessary attention to himself or the art, even a single read will leave you thinking about the look of the issue.

Crisp composition and forceful character subtly remind you how lovely this book is aesthetically. Villanelli doesn’t need to take grand or ostentatious risks to get you to appreciate the visuals. Instead of needing his style or any one panel to be the best you’ve ever seen, he seems comfortable enough to just make every one better than normal, giving the book a sense of quality and consistency.

There’s a sense of greater realism to this issue than most, despite the cleanness of Villanelli’s style. He demonstrates a real knack for communicating specificity without requiring a large number of lines. And it’s interesting how much the art feels in line with Kamala Khan’s artists, Adrian Alphona in particular, despite how distinctive Villanelli’s work is. He summons up similar feelings and ideas while bringing something new to the table and that’s a powerful gift for an artist at Marvel.

I also really like how he depicts the original Captain Marvel. Villanelli draws attention to the simplistic charm of Carol’s hair and mask, giving a measure of coolness to a costume that, I think I can say somewhat generously, has not aged well.

Every once and a while there’s a panel of Kamala that’s a little more generic and there is one panel that gets reused, but a classic sense of movement and cinematic angles ensure that every page has a striking energy.

Ian Herring also does an excellent job, offering readers something different from his usual Ms. Marvel fare. The idea that the seventies were actually duller and more sepia in color is a pretty fun idea and Herring does a great job of implementing it without draining energy out of the book. The deep, beautiful blues of Kamala’s costume really set her apart as an alien entity in this time, but Herring also does a fantastic job of making Carol stand out without clashing against the aesthetic he has given the era of her origin.

This issue is about having it all. It’s about being taken seriously while having the freedom to not be serious all the time. It’s about fulfilling the function of the event while also crafting a story that feels meaningful to the characters it throws together. It’s about smashing two action figures together while still getting a professional quality comic. It’s about returning to a bygone era while still also celebrating how much has changed. And Wilson, Villanelli, and Herring more than succeed in this.

The entire creative team, with Wilson in particular standing out, show a real talent for their craft. There’s just so much crammed into this issue, thoughtfully introduced and effectively resolved in a short time. Ms. Marvel has been fantastic since it began and the limitations of the “Generations” format means that this one-shot cannot match the charm and creativity of a full arc of the modern series, but I don’t know that I’ve ever seen such a clear statement of Wilson’s skill as a professional writer. The art team is similarly well chosen, immediately interesting me in the name Paolo Villanelli and showing off some new tricks from one of the best and most consistent colorists Marvel has.

Like many of the “Generations” one-shots, The Marvels was force fed a little more than it could chew. This and score of others could easily have been a Spider-Men style miniseries and that holds it back. But, crucially, Generations: The Marvels manages to be fun, well constructed, and complete all at once. Though no one really needed to see this team up, a charming message and the sheer artistic chops that the team display make it a more than welcome supplementary reading for any fan of the Ms. Marvel identity.