As I look back on Kamala Khan, it can feel like she appeared only a moment ago or it can feel like she’s always been here – hot tip: she kind of has, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It doesn’t feel like long ago at all that I was turning my “ever so discerning eye” on issue #1 and enumerating its flaws or that I was writing about how the hype was underplayed and this was going to be something big or that I was finding ways to hold both of these ideas in my head at once. In that time, Ms. Marvel has become an icon, a part of the superhero landscape. She’s defeated Thomas Edison, had her first real crush and her first real heartbreak, seen herself cloned and kaiju’d, teamed up with Wolverine AND Loki, fought off Canadian ninja, and helped elect a third-party candidate without compromising her principles.
Looking back on Ms. Marvel, I see a sea of adventures, and endless world of friends and adversaries that have sprung up and continue to spring up at an incredible rate. It feels like there’s always a new story around the bend, some new strange yet familiar take on the form waiting for this generation’s superhero.
For good and ill, that changes today.
Ms. Marvel #19 pulls back the curtain on just how hollow that feeling of seperate adventures was. Kamala Khan may be our Spider-Man, but the time of ‘2 Great Feature-Length Thrillers’ is passed and suddenly it’s clear just how much, and just how well, Ms. Marvel vol. 4 has been a single story.
As consumers of media we – largely meaning I in this case – place far too much emphasis on surprise. So much of writing, especially serialized writing, is not judged to be good based on whether it is of quality but whether it surprises us. That’s not really fair to the creators behind it, but this issue is a fantastic example of why realization holds such fetishized narrative power for us. It’s not because Kamala has a brief and horrific moment of clarity or because it gives a new player the chance to build themself up with a solid villain moment. It’s because we as readers are asked to engage with the story.
Ms. Marvel is so much about community and those of us who have read Kamala’s adventures have been very graciously welcomed into a community.
This issue opens with a celebration of Eid al-Adha, a moment of interconnectedness in the Muslim year, calling to Kamala’s mind those less fortunate but certainly to be spent with family. And thanks to G. Willow Wilson’s tireless work, the Khans feel like family friends. And so there’s something personal when that is threatened.
This issue changes the game. It reminds us that simple pleasures like celebrating Eid are foreign to Ms. Marvel’s enemies. If you are stopped, if you lose the election, what have you, there is no giving up. For them, this is a crusade, A game in which they have no skin but infinite investment in winning, and that is actually rather terrifying.
The melting border between mounting tension and sharp realization drives this issue forward and helps this feel like a big moment in Kamala’s life, not to mention gives the audience another opportunity to actively engage with the story.
But as much as it has affected me, that’s hardly all that this issue is or has. Especially in the first few pages, this is also just another lovely issue of Ms. Marvel.
The vibe of Jersey City is strong, once again giving us a reason to care about the villains’ plot and Wilson makes it fun to get a sense of the characters and the holiday. It also helps that the idea heavy issue makes room for some action and uses that opportunity to do some new things and deepen the mystery of Ms. Marvel’s enemies. There’s something very ‘classic X-Men’ about seeing Kamala debut a new power, and it helps, if imperfectly, to avoid a feeling of the fight scene just filling space.
One moment definitely does fall short, however. Late in the issue, Zoe reveals a surprising detail about herself, but this beat simply does not have room to breathe. It’s unclear what the mood in the room is and the whole thing kind of just fades out, taking the energy that kickstarted the whole affair with it. It’s an odd little misstep that feels like it was competing with the issue’s ending for page space and lost.
I have fond memories of Marco Failla from his run on Spider-Man and the X-Men. Failla’s style retains its quirks and trademarks, but there’s certainly a change from the spindly, cartoon style employed there. The energy of the issue is less manic but still comedically rich. The transition from Spider-Man’s wisecracking slapstick to Kamala’s boundless enthusiasm is a success.
There are still some wonky panels here and there. Characters still have a tendency to lean toward the chipmunk-esque at times and some expressions simply don’t work, but, for any weirdness, Failla retains a strength of purpose in his panels and a crucial understanding of the Ms. Marvel look. So while the critic in me feels remiss essentially giving some very awkward anatomy a pass, the fan in me is rather taken with the specific look that Failla brings with him. At least most of the time.
Ms. Marvel #19 is a powerful issue. It’s topical, heartfelt, and well written, besides. The sudden realignment of old ideas gives it a tremendous kick and a real feeling of the stakes being organically high. Kamala’s unique position in pop culture allows her the ability to step away from the escapism and idealism that she so wonderfully provides to grapple for a moment with reality and this may be the biggest and the most overwhelming example of that yet.
Marco Failla has a pinpoint understanding of what his panels need and what makes Ms. Marvel feel like Ms. Marvel. Though he’s not quite as confident as the series regulars, occasional awkwardness is generally balanced by the charm and purpose in his drawing.
In writing this review, I stumbled upon my review of the last Ms. Marvel #19. In that issue, the world is ending. This time, it’s nothing so small. This time the world just feels like it’s ending and vastness of what’s come before and the enormity of a future gone wrong make that endlessly scarier. Combined with emotionally evocative art and the genuine sense of closeness we have with these characters, Wilson’s writing makes this a real Marvel moment.