There are two kinds of moments when you will learn who Kamala Khan is. You will always see what it means to be a hero when you put her up against the wall. Sometimes she will falter before she gets it right, but she always will eventually. The other time you’ll see who Kamala really is is when everything is great.
When I reviewed issue #1 of G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel, I immediately brought up Spider-Man. Though a certain movie has helped Miles Morales lay an even stronger claim to the title, Kamala Khan is this generation’s Peter Parker and it is fascinating to see what’s changed in fifty-seven years.
In her worst moments, Kamala and Peter are very much the same brand of hero. No matter what you stack against them, no matter how much you bury them under, they will stand up and do the right thing. But when things go their way the differences begin to appear. I adore Peter Parker — he is an enormous part of who I am today — but he is a complainer. He is a complainer and an unwilling mensch. I will always fight to acknowledge just how selfish and angry Peter Parker is, because that’s actually what makes him a hero. Spider-Man reminds us how much and how absolutely you do the right thing, especially when it’s hard, especially when you want to be petty and vindictive and just have something for you just once in your life. He was revolutionary because he gave a voice to the best and worst parts of us and told us, ‘you’re a dork? You’re selfish? So what? You could be a hero and none of that is an excuse not to be.”
But Kamala Khan? When everything is wonderful she’s just as caring and strong and compassionate as ever. And that somehow feels just as revolutionary and honest and universal as Peter Parker’s flawed, nerdy everyman. It’s what’s made Ms. Marvel a juggernaut over the last five years. That’s what Kamala Khan taught me: that it can be just as realistic and fundamental to our self-image to imagine a teenage superhero truly wanting what’s best for everyone as it is to imagine that sometimes it sucks.
And, as Kamala Khan finds herself feeling very Peter Parker-esque, G. Willow Wilson celebrates her goodbye to Ms. Marvel in an exceedingly Kamala way.
In many ways this isn’t Wilson’s final issue of Ms. Marvel, that already passed. This is just the going away party and Wilson celebrates it by just telling a story about what she loves and lives up to the spirit of her book by bringing some friends along for the ride.
Kamala’s having a rough day, one of those days where nothing’s wrong but you still feel like you don’t belong. On days like that it can almost help to have something wrong, something to fix and feel better about, and Ms. Marvel finds just such a something when Rzzk’lyzz from the Triangulum Galaxy arrive and…well, honestly it’s a little bit unclear.
There are a number of things in this issue that are a little fuzzy, all the more so for the transitive place it occupies for the character. There are questions that go largely unanswered and there’s very little sense as to where in Kamala’s story one would look for answers. Wilson, as ever, is adept at immediately placing you within Kamala’s mind and heart, but the plot is a little harder to pin down. The fact of the matter is that it’s honestly not all that important. What exactly has thrown Kamala and her friends into this strange scenario is very much secondary to how they respond to it.
Wilson sets up the issue by challenging Kamala, not through deadly feats or insidious enemies, but by putting her up against the same undeserved slog of depression and unworthiness that Kamala Khan has rejected every step of the way and helped her readers push through. It’s just a lousy day and, for once, Kamala doesn’t want to fight; she wants the chance to wallow, to sit down and stop moving forward for a minute. It’s a fitting final challenge from the writer who found countless ways to fight through the grind and find what’s strange and wonderful about life but chose to move on from her biggest success because she feared it becoming stale. ‘I need help,’ it seems to shout. ‘How do you go on on those awful days?’ ’I need my friends…’
One last time we check in on Kamala’s supporting cast and see what happens when the girl who can always embiggen just isn’t ready for life. It’s charming, if incomplete in its open-endedness. I especially love one retort from Kamala. “A lot of people would kill to have your problems, K,” Bruno correctly points out. “A lot of people aren’t me.” It’s bitter and easy and self-indulgent, and some would say it’s just deflecting, but, as framed here by Wilson and Nico Leon, it rings true. A lot of people would be thrilled to have Kamala’s problems, but she can’t handle them right now and that’s all that matters. This won’t go on forever but right now it sucks and it takes Kamala’s friends to remind her of what she loves and what keeps her going.
It’s a tad odd and a little sad to see this issue go without Adrian Alphona, but, though it feels very much like a cohesive unit, this is technically the second ‘final’ issue of Wilson’s Ms. Marvel. The series relaunched after “Secret Wars” and, when it did, Nico Leon slowly but surely became the definitive artist for this volume, handling almost half of the series. And, just like Wilson, he goes out in a joyous fashion.
Leon’s nine pages are filled to the brim with interesting compositions and strong emotions. As the foundation for the issue, Leon takes his responsibility seriously. His contributions show evidence of the time and care he was able to put into them on top of the now expected mixture of simple linework and clear emotion. There really is something dramatic and pointed about the way that Leon tells his part of the story and it feels cinematic in its way while doing things that only comics really can. Like Wilson, Leon seems to be taking something of a victory lap and it’s just as lovely as the work it honors
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from twitter it’s that G. Willow Wilson loves MMOs. So there’s something wonderful and celebratory about owning that, picking the theme, and throwing an all out party.
The first set of guest to arrive are Devin Grayson and Takeshi Miyazawa. Miyazawa firmly owned the position of secondary artist on the first volume Wilson’s Ms. Marvel and launched this series. It’s only natural that he would be here and in something of a place of honor.
His manga stylings and wild reactions are a good fit for this introduction to Kamala’s trials. I admit that panels can get a little bare, but it not only feels authentically Ms. Marvel but knows how to use that familiar look to get to the heart of this brief section of the story.
I can’t tell if Miyazawa’s Crystal Queen design is an intentionally schlocky guilty pleasure or a surprisingly enjoyable costume to look at, but I honestly kind of love it, especially as it is colored by its wearer’s moods.
Grayson’s story is among either the best or the worst of the short chapters presented here. Though the highlighted keywords feel a little too Final Fantasy II, they provide an interesting and thoughtful narrative backbone that allows a three page slice of the story to come very much to life. Of course it doesn’t hurt that Grayson is playing with one of the lesser utilized characters in Kamala’s supporting cast and zeroes in on a clever theme that Wilson has built for her.
What holds it back is actually largely what makes it work as well. There’s an intriguing central mystery that I find extremely effective from an emotional and character perspective, but it doesn’t pay off, or, rather, it’s hard to say if it does. Though the story remains legible, the Crystal Queen offers one central thought in her brief appearance but then, unless I read and reread wrong, anticlimactically drops it with no further mention. Is it a parable? An echo of events? A hint towards the future? It’s not clear but it spoils an impressively loaded few pages.
The next level comes from Eve L. Ewing and Joey Vazquez, the team on the upcoming Marvel Team-Up. I found this to be the most scattered of the installments. There’s some real quality in there, but it’s not consistent. It’s only three pages, so that’s a significant problem.
The first page unloads the necessary exposition and the second introduces us to another almost familiar face. The problem for this story is that this second page really isn’t all that relevant. Even Ms. Marvel points out that she assumed it would lead to more than it does! In a longer piece it might be charming, but this is still a twenty-two page comic and Ewing’s section is far smaller, so it kind of hurts. Nevertheless, the last page really shows the potential of this segment and the strength of Ewing’s voice for Ms. Marvel stories. Some of the issue’s best lines come from this interaction with the Jolly Minotaur and things resolve well in a very brief amount of time and page space.
Joey Vazquez is undoubtedly the artist who least fits the look of this series. No doubt that’s because he was the only artist on this book not hired to draw a Ms. Marvel solo series, instead being picked to show her interacting with Spider-Man and other Marvel mainstays. It is a little jarring at first, but I found Vazquez’s work immediately beautiful.
Slick and clear, Vazquez shows a real talent for determining exactly how much detail is needed to be understood and beautiful and providing no more and no less. The sharp lines and strong compositions help to combat Vazquez’s odd man out quality.
Champions writer Jim Zub stops by next for a retro-inspired level drawn by Kevin Libranda. Zub gets one of the most enviable assignments of the book, as he’s assigned to work with another of the series’ most underutilized characters and has the chance to comment on that while providing some fantastic references to the days of 16-bits. Zub’s contribution is a little bit of a blunt object, resolving its fantastic emotional beats with exceedingly direct dialogue, but the sheer power of naming the situation and the intense brevity of his section do a lot to nullify any such complaints. There’s not a lot to say without just spoiling the story, save that it’s easily one of the highlights of the issue.
Libranda is another artist whose look stands out from the pack, but it does so in a way that feels decidedly natural for Ms. Marvel. Consistency is not always a strength, with characters looking significantly different depending on what Libranda needs from them and also looking a noticeably more awkward when Libranda (correctly) assumes that you won’t be looking as hard. However every one of Zub’s best moments lands thanks to Libranda and his renditions of Ms. Marvel in action and the Storm Sage are serious stand outs.
The story wraps up with a look at the upcoming creative team on Magnificent Ms. Marvel, Saladin Ahmed and Minkyu Jung. Those hoping to get a sense of what’s to come might walk away disappointed though. With the final segment still clocking in at just three pages, Ahmed plays things pretty safe and focuses on giving the story the conclusion it deserves and requires. There are some hints as to Ahmed’s takes on the characters, but if you’re reading this and you’re honestly unsure about the new writer there are a host of acclaimed comics you could be soothing your mind with.
No, here it’s all business, though that business is incredibly sweet and heartfelt. Though it doesn’t connect as cleanly to Wilson’s opening as one might hope, Ahmed makes good on her promise that an important figure from Kamala’s past has been captured. The details, especially the sensory details, that Ahmed brings to his pages are great. I do wish his single moment for Bruno prioritized him more as his own character, but I guess that’s the fate of a comics love interest to some degree. Regardless, Ahmed brings the story, and the series, in for a smooth and resonant landing.
Though she actually draws a significantly different take on the characters, you could easily be forgiven for mistaking Jung’s art for a return from Leon or Miyazawa. There are undeniable commonalities, but, even more so, it just has the same natural connection to the primal, platonic Ms. Marvel that they’ve established. Even simple or largely vacant panels feel right as realized by Jung and the potential for big, goofy fun is apparent, even if the scene conveys a more serious form of joy.
Throughout everything, and I do mean everything, there is a largely unsung hero and that’s Ian Herring. Herring has colored every issue of Ms. Marvel for the past five years, all the way from Kamala’s introduction. Truly his distinct palettes have been the backbone of the series’ visuals from day one and rarely more so than through the rapidly shifting styles of this issue. It’s actually quite impressive to see, as Herring never forces pages into a single box, instead creating the illusion of a single unified aesthetic while applying his signature colors in a specific and personalized way for each artist. Everything, from lighting to texture and beyond, can shift, but Herring does keep all of it feeling like it’s part of the same series, if for the last time.
The gorgeous cyans and magentas are still as striking as they were in 2014 and they still bring out the best of the sandy backdrops that make up Kamala’s world without drowning out her more primary color scheme.
Herring even gets a brief moment in the sun, contributing a single-page mini comic on the issue’s final page, building on some of the earliest and most beautiful imagery that the series produced. It’s a small thing but it feels like a loving and well earned acknowledgment of Herring’s enormous impact on this series and this character.
It is, in many ways, an awkward story, fragmented by its numerous points of view, but Ms. Marvel #38 is also a deeply caring love letter to Kamala Khan, Jersey City, and the time that we’ve spent there. So, yes, the stakes are poorly established and Gabe is kind of purposeless and that Cystal Queen mystery will annoy me until I figure out what it was supposed to be, but the description I keep coming back to for this issue is a party. And it’s a fun party! So stop complaining about the flavor of one type of cupcake and spend some time with the wonderful people in attendance, both real and fictional.
This is the most G. Willow Wilson way imaginable for the run to end and it both serves as a fitting capstone to what has come before and an opportunity to look at some of the elements of the series that haven’t gotten their moment in the sun. Synergistically, it’s a beautiful piece of work, not an ending but an opportunity, exploding out into a small solar system of books revolving around the strength and charm of Kamala Khan. That idea of sharing, of building a longer table is so core to what this series is about that it’s hard to imagine a more appropriate way for this book to go out.
Ms. Marvel #38 is currently available in comic shops from Marvel Comics.