I think it’s more than safe to say that Kamala Khan has secured a place in Marvel history. Despite all of the unfounded fear and what, utterly unimpressive, backlash there has been, Ms. Marvel continues to shine and to grow into one of Marvel’s staple heroes. However, Ms. Marvel is so much more than just Kamala Khan.
It’s no secret that Kamala Khan was largely the creation of editor and Marvel VP of Content and Character Development, Sana Amanat, but I don’t know if the series or the character as we know it could have existed without G. Willow Wilson. And, with Kamala herself MIA at the moment, we not only get some time with her supporting cast, but a return to basics for Wilson that reminds why she’s the perfect writer for this book.
Admittedly, without Kamala, Ms. Marvel does suffer. There’s a minor lack of focus and, as fun as it is to see Zoe’s particular response to being an untrained and powerless superhero, it’s not quite as satisfying to see the action taken out of Ms. Marvel’s hands. It can feel as though the story is torn between being quintessentially Ms. Marvel and acknowledging that the point is that this is unsustainable. Nevertheless, what could have been a weak, transitional issue remains deeply fun and engaging because, without Kamala, we’re treated to some of the core ideas of the series that have been forced to the back burner.
I mean look at that cover! This issue is overflowing with classic Ms. Marvel weirdness and charm. Wilson is at her best when she’s making speaking up for the voiceless seem exciting and entertaining, and that’s what this funhouse mirror of the original Ms. Marvel story arc is best at. From the moment Harold steps onto the page, the book is overwhelmed with energy. Unlike with kids, there’s no surprise when adults, even the geriatric, prove capable and, as such, he’s free to remain the same kind of weird background character that so frequently appears in Wilson’s Jersey City, just advanced to the foreground and fleshed out. And that opens up the inner lives of every person in a crowd. What’s more, the actions he takes are simple but effective, which highlights just how scary our villain’s plot really is, even as Wilson delivers it in a fashion that even young readers would likely be able to handle.
It’s fantastic to see one of Wilson’s best loved creations returned(?) to the page, at once in full glory and humorously undercut. It’s a fantastic cliffhanger that doesn’t merely tease with impossibility, but with an overwhelming slate of interesting options. Wilson strengthens her story while also presenting readers with plenty of future stories to imagine.
The mystery surrounding Kamala’s disappearance also allows for more time with Ms. Marvel’s newest character, Naftali. His appearance last month was an oddity, suddenly implying a significant friendship that an audience reading from Kamala’s perspective were completely unaware of in an almost Dawn Summers-esque fashion. Whether there’s anything truly mysterious or abnormal about Naftali remains to be seen, but, if the series is asking us to accept him as just another of Kamala’s friends, it’s doing a good job of making me want to comply. The scene is brief, but nicely written and paced just right to handle the wordy dialogue. It’s also another example of Wilson playing with cliffhangers and expectations, which is one of this issue’s particular strengths.
I will say that it’s a shame that Red Dagger serves to undo so much of the excitement around the new Ms. Marvels. Though he’s obviously a way to bring them through the early trials of their careers, likely to disappear at the moment they most need to prove themselves, in the serialized format, he really just appears to help get them out of situations that they shouldn’t be able to get out of.
Ms. Marvel called on Nico Leon the last time Jersey City’s hero had to take on a giant monster, and he returns now to deliver a similarly delightful issue. Leon still possesses a style that incorporates elements of series mainstays like Adrian Alphona and Takeshi Miyazawa, but feels uniquely his. Strange creatures, big reactions, and reminders that you’re in over your head are the name of the game. Leon’s comedy is particularly wonderful, with a cartoony sense of motion that’s instantly endearing. However, it’s his ability to utterly sell the dramatic beats of the story, not in spite of the humorous tone of his artwork but because of it, that makes it all work.
Ms. Marvel #26 puts the series in an odd place. Though charming, the idea of a legion of substitute Marvels is simply not as interesting as having Kamala in the driver’s seat and Red Dagger, through no fault of his own, removes some of the tension that the scenario brings. The issue also is primarily focused on set up and tension building. That means that it will shine brighter in collection, but Wilson makes her cliffhangers interesting enough that there’s something special about reading it without the privilege of a next chapter waiting for you. What’s more, this issue is just so fun. The comedy, the questionable return of a wonderful villain, the strange yet unironic awesomeness of Harold and Zoe riding into battle, it all clicks. As new and different as it is, it also feels like a return to the series’ roots, suffused with Jersey City’s unique energy
Ms. Marvel #26 is currently available in comic shops from Marvel Comics.