The Days Of High Adventure: Ms. Marvel #36 Reviewed
by Noah Sharma
Last month’s issue of Ms. Marvel was a big payoff for the series. Bruno is back and he and Kamala have figured out how her powers work. That’s a big deal! So where do we go from there? Back in time, of course!
As Kamala and Bruno share a lazy evening together, G. Willow Wilson treats readers to a glimpse into the past, or at least a past that could have been. This well-worn device allows us some historically-accurate swashbuckling adventure that we might not otherwise see in this title, at least not like this.
History nerds will get a kick out of seeing how Wilson fits her characters into the mores of the day. Indeed, despite getting at least a heading in most history books, the silk road and Mongol empire are rarely given their due in popular culture, giving the story a novel setting.
The direct parallelism between characters is a more than familiar trope that starts out rather amusing but begins to feel uninspired by issue’s end. Comparing Sir Brunello to his modern counterpart and seeing what differences arise from the two eras’ ideas of what a sixteen-year-old should be doing is charming, but the more generic Lady Zoë serves as an example of where the strategy falls flat. This kind of ‘elseworlds’ transposition will always be fun, but it is a little silly if you take the story as a factual recounting of historical events rather than just Kamala or Bruno’s imagination and it functions more as seasoning than as a course in its own right.
And that’s one of the stranger things about this story. While it’s great fun to see the main cast in a new setting, they don’t play a particularly vital role in the major events of the issue. Even Lady Kamillah only has a small role to play and, though the action is welcome and engaging, her blossoming romance, so important to the big idea of the piece, feels underdeveloped. I wish she had had more of a chance to be a hero. In fact, I kind of wish that anyone did.
Despite some unevenness in application of ideas, the book remains a high quality production. Wilson revels in the chance to write some charmingly stilted medievalese but never gets away from the natural relatable core of her dialogue. Indeed, there’s the classic Marvel mixture of straightforward vernacular and delightful scenery chewing that Stan “the Man” put in place half a century ago. The trademark charm of the series remains, with the script seemingly designed to take full effect of humorous beats, ably brought to term by Nico Leon’s art (more on that in a moment).
I think that one of the things that holds this issue back was, unfortunately, out of its control. Though pitting Kamala against Shocker made for a delightful arc and “Teenage Wasteland” was a fantastic showcase for her allies and maybe even archrival(?), Ms. Marvel has been moving at a bit of a slower pace since the end of the “Mecca” story, reflecting Kamala’s significant struggles dealing with its fallout and desire to get back to the basics of heroing. There’s nothing wrong with a cute one-shot like this one, but, placed as it is in time, I think I would have rather have gotten something else. I’m ready to see some big stories growing out of the revelations of the last arc and, perhaps unfairly, that desire highlights the degree to which inevitability plays a big part in this story.
Nico Leon makes the modern day segments of this issue cinematic treats, with a more photorealistic take on his usual style that possesses an undeniable wallop. There’s something about the thin, sketchy lines of Leon’s characters against the simple, high contrast backdrops that almost gives the illusion of a mixed-media piece. The–romance is a loaded term–but the romance, the heightened teenage emotion of the pages, demands your attention. It reveals both the real and relatable and the Hollywood ideal in the script.
With the shift to the 13th century we return to more familiar ground. Here Leon’s simplicity and expressiveness shine through, while making an interesting point about the transposed roles at the story’s heart. These feel much more like the Kamala and Bruno we see day to day than the characters in the issue’s frame.
The shrinking of expressions down to points and lines fills the issue with comedy and Leon reminds how powerful a person’s chin can be in expressing their attitude, despite the fact that we rarely see it used to this effect in comics. Brunello, especially, seems to carry his emotions in his chin and it’s delightful and evocative.
Leon’s style for these scenes is all about pairing the quietly real with the loudly excessive and it really works for this age of overwrought hierarchy and performative heroism. Poses are dynamic and expressive and the backgrounds switch between minimalist and pastoral at a moment’s notice.
There are times where one has to wonder if the lack of backgrounds aren’t the result of Leon’s time management rather than his creative choices, but that’s fairly understandable. However, there are a couple of places where the action is less than clear, and one of them comes at a kind of critical moment.
Wilson doesn’t offer a lot of insight into Farak’s powers or any special abilities of his invading adversary, so when the climactic moment comes, it’s legible but lacking in context. It feels like a bit of a let down.
Ian Herring remains a fantastic and, to my eye, under appreciated part of this series. The contrasts between the two time periods are fantastic and must be laid at his feet as much as at Leon’s. His use of shade and soft lighting in the present day is phenomenal and the switch to the bright, home-dyed colors of the past works perfectly.
I will say that, for a story called “Silk Road”, the issue is a little light on saturation. The colors are more than bold enough themselves and the effect is not by any means unpleasant, but it feels like everything in the foreground gets toned down a little. Perhaps this is an effect to demonstrate the flashback or to contrast with the more digital feel of the modern age, but it’s still weird to see a khan’s daughter’s finest silks so muted.
Despite a solicitation promising that “The next big step for KAMALA KHAN starts here” Ms. Marvel #36 isn’t really about next steps. It’s entirely possible that the tale that G. Willow Wilson weaves here will come back in big ways in Kamala’s future, but, in the here and now, it’s more of an opportunity to stop and think than a bold step forward. And that’s fine. There’s a lovely parable at the heart of Ms. Marvel #36, and it’s nice to have a solid one-and-done story these days. Nevertheless, it doesn’t really feel necessary.
If you’re excited to see a charming what-if scenario with a lovely moral, this will satisfy, but those looking for something more traditional or weighty might feel underwhelmed. Either way, it has the Ms. Marvel charm in spades but is held back by a couple of story choices that limit its impact. Ms. Marvel #36 has some striking art, a meaningful message, and all the polish and personality that a series this good guarantees, but it’s easily the least essential issue in a long while.
Ms. Marvel #36 is currently available in comic shops from Marvel Comics.