One of the most dangerous phrases in the entire comic book industry is “jumping off point”. That is a point in which a sizable chunk of readers depart an ongoing series and never return. It can happen for all number of reasons, some obvious in hindsight and others random. A relaunch with a dramatic spike in price can be one of them, and that is a risk that the creators behind of one Marvel Comics’ most successful and talked about spin offs in years, “Ms. Marvel”, now face. Launched last year, the quick success of Kamala Khan both in reliable print sales and extremely vigorous digital sales (in which “Ms. Marvel” was routinely one of ComiXology’s best sellers worldwide) as well as encouraged the spread of diversity throughout the comic book industry in general (and the “big two” in particular). However, Marvel has never been a company that let long term growth get in the way of short term greed. Therefore, “Ms. Marvel” has been relaunched with not only an overall hike in cover price of a dollar, but with a five dollar debut issue to boot. “The demand for Ms. Marvel has been great! It’s opened so many doors for our industry. Gouge the suckers for all they’re worth!” one can imagine a senior editor, concerned with only the next quarter’s sales and literally nothing else, saying at a board meeting. Fortunately, this second “number one” issue for Kamala Khan is the stuff of legends, with an extra sized tale brought to readers by G. Willow Wilson, artists Takeshi Miyazawa and Adrian Alphona, and colorist Ian Herring which is actually worth its cover price.
Things pick up eight months after the finale of the previous volume, set amid the “Secret Wars” led “end of the world” shenanigans. Not only has the world not ended (or at least been remade almost entirely as it was before), but things seem to be looking up for Kamala Khan. Jersey City was saved, her school was rebuilt (again), and she’s currently headlining a team of Avengers alongside legendary heroes like Iron Man, Vision, and Sam Wilson. However, not everything is perfect; her parents still expect her to keep up her G.P.A. despite her mom knowing her secret, and her best friend Bruno has moved onto a new love of his life. Life for everyone else has moved on, but for Kamala it has seemed to stand still. Turns out that her desire to not endanger Bruno by telling him to “move on” without her as she continues being a super-heroine has backfired now that he’s stumbled into the arms of Michaela, who has already saved his life once and met his parents. As if that weren’t enough, Kamala has to deal with something even deadlier than giant monsters; corrupt businesses trying to gentrify her neighborhood and push out all of her local grocers.
The issue is chopped up into two parts, with Miyazawa drawing the segments set in present day and Alphona drawing the flashback to Bruno’s fateful meeting with Michaela. The entire issue offers a great contrast between Kamala’s struggle to handle life in and out of costume, much as Spider-Man used to have to do in the 60’s. And much like that franchise, her supporting cast and soap opera subplots are just as well crafted and memorable as her superhero adventures, keeping readers coming back for more regarding both areas. Wilson’s voice for Kamala continues to be genuine and contemporary, showcasing her awkwardly trying to cope with everything and work through how she feels about it all. The artwork for the entire issue is wonderful, with a strong and suspenseful story that works on all levels.
If there is one complaint, it is that Wilson’s “twist” seems to be all too typical of countless fictional narratives. The couple that has been teased for the entire work have finally realized the obvious and rushed into each other’s arms. And rather than present things from this new perspective with a new union, the narrative has split them up immediately. Considering that much of the meat of this new status quo happened between issues only adds to a slight sense that this was the most convenient way to make a new volume “stand out” immediately. Readers know that Bruno and Kamala will link up eventually, and regardless of how well the Michaela subplot is handled, it is hard to shake the sense of some of it being a time filling endeavor. Writing stable couples who aren’t boring is difficult, which is why such couples almost never happen in fiction (especially comic book fiction). While G. Willow Wilson writes Michaela and the entire situation revolving her, Bruno, and Kamala well enough to just about get away with this cheat, it is a cheat nevertheless. There’s nothing wrong with executing a very good “Hail Mary” pass, but it doesn’t negate the fact that a “Hail Mary” pass was thrown. It helps that Michaela has very quickly established herself as a quirky and interesting member of the cast, who much like the rest of them isn’t designed to be a supermodel.
Readers can be very fickle. As much as this series may be beloved both online and off, something as simple as a fresh set of issue numbers and a hike in price can cause what was once a stable book to slip down the sales charts. And if such a shameful thing does happen, those in charge of such decisions would never blame themselves, because part of being in charge is being oblivious to any reality which doesn’t fit a PowerPoint slideshow. One hopes that the same fans who have made the last volume of “Ms. Marvell” an unmitigated hit stay strong for this new one, because it looks to be just as good, if not better, than it was before.
Below are honorable mentions. They may not be able to grow and shrink as well as Kamala Khan can, but they’re all solid reads!
Big Trouble in Little China #18: Fred Van Lente continues his exceptional run on the series John Carpenter built alongside artist Dan McDaid and colorist Gonzalo Duarte. Things take a bit of a slow turn this month as the three storms loudly explain how to play “Texas Hold ‘Em” as Winona Chi meets her formerly evil twin sister and Egg Shen makes his first appearance since his fateful mission to the underworld with Jack thirty years prior. Once again Jack Burton is playing cards against the supernatural, only this time it isn’t just his life in the balance, but the lives of all of his friends (including Margo) from the control of Koschei the Deathless. The Storms give a great run down of the game and the issue is full of the trademark one-liners and comedic bits that the series has become known for. A faster pace would have been better, but overall this series continues to be the go-to place for laughs for fans of the iconic film.
Invincible #125: Robert Kirkman and Ryan Ottley continue with what is one part a cautionary tale about getting a “second chance” to redo one’s life and another part a lecture about how Marvel and DC Comics shamelessly reboot their continuity when things get complicated. Having been thrust back in time, Mark Grayson seeks to do things better the second time around, which includes the fateful showdown with his father Nolan which resulted in countless deaths of both heroes and civilians. Things still get violent, but the original “Guardians of the Globe” are spared, and Mark’s alliance with the morally gray Cecil starts a lot sooner. As usual, the art is great and longtime fans will enjoy the shout out to older continuity and long dead characters (like Darkwing). Despite all that, it is hard to shake off the feeling of the creative team spinning their wheels at bit at the “mainstream industry” which cashed their paychecks for quite a while regardless of its warts. Much like the fans of bigger books when faced with “reboots” such as this, some readers may just be waiting for this arc to end so the “good stuff” can continue.
New Avengers #3: Al Ewing and Gerardo Sandoval kick off their second arc of this secondary Avengers relaunch, and things look to be shaping up from their first. Picking up on a long abandoned subplot of team member Hulkling, a group of similar hybrids of both Kree and Skrull seek him out to bring some long overdue harmony to their shattered kingdoms. Unfortunately for both his boyfriend Wiccan and his teammates, the aliens are hardly willing to take “no” for an answer. Considering this is an “all new and all different” universe, it was inevitable that the Skrulls would be recreated a bit to be more contemporary. Their “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” motif is almost sixty years old, after all. Unfortunately, from their armor to their coloration, it seems that Sandoval has been inspired more by “World of Warcraft” or “League of Legends” video games more than anything else, which comes just short of pandering to younger audiences (who will likely be put off by such shamelessness). Aside for that, it is good to see character subplots from a decade ago finally be addressed properly, and due to that alone, this series may be finding its feet quickly as a result. Al Ewing has a lot of material to work with with the cast he has, and it is terrific that he is wasting no time in doing so.