REVIEW: Ms. Marvel #5 – Marvel-ous
By Cody Mudge
Written by: G. Willow Wilson
Art by: Adrian Alphona and Ian Herring
Published by: Marvel Comics
Move over Carol Danvers, there’s a new Ms. Marvel in town and there’s more than enough room on my shelf for the both of you. Having a new Ms. Marvel is great and having a female author at the helm is greater still. Accompanying writer G. Willow Wilson is the talented Adrian Alphona heading up art duties.
Ms. Marvel is one of the pleasant surprises to come out of the latest wave of Marvel titles. In Kamala Khan we see the Parker-esque formula at work. And just like the amazing Spider-Man before her, Kamala is endearing readers all over the place. We love to cheer for an underdog, there is something about it in the human psyche that makes these awkward, outcasts so compelling as characters.
Wilson is at her best when the fun-loving Kamala is discovering the width and breadth of her powers. It’s cliché in superhero stories and yet completely endearing to see this 16-year-old finally begin to discover something about herself that is entirely her own. Kamala is probably going to be the best new character in comics this year.
This series is doing a great thing, introducing a female protagonist that isn’t white. And while we still have a lot of work to do to diversify comics, we’re getting there and that’s awesome. Variety is the spice of life and comics starring more than just white guys (like me) is a welcome change because of the way it has opened up new doors for different kinds of stories. This added depth makes this series one of the books with the most to say about real-life and our own comic-culture.
Adrian Alphona is a terrific artist. His work on Runaways with Brian K. Vaughan opened a lot of eyes, including my own, and it’s great to see him on another excellent Marvel title. Alphona has gotten even better since that run and the way he makes characters pop off the page is special. There aren’t many artists that are able to draw the eye of the reader so effectively to the characters and their terrific expressions.
Throughout this issue we get to see Alphona tackle action scenes in more abundance than previous installments. Yet the tender family moments or friendly ribbing between Kamala and Bruno (can’t they just get together already?!) look fantastic too. Ms. Marvel has an artist that can do anything he’s asked to a high level of quality. Rue the day a fill-in artist must try and step into those shoes, folks.
There is one element of the book that I struggle with though. It’s the use of the Khan family’s Islamic faith. Stick with me here, this isn’t going to denigrate into an attack on Muslims. Most comics steer well clear of religion as a pivotal starting point or touchstone for characters. It being a part of this series makes it, in my mind, something that must be discussed just like everything else. As far as Kamala is concerned I don’t see any religious faith as important to her character, so perhaps I’m overreacting (entirely possible), but this book really rubs me the wrong way when Islam becomes the focus of conversation. I don’t blame the creative team for Marvel using a Muslim main character as a marketing gimmick, I’ve no doubt that exploitation wasn’t their intention, but it’s clear that the publisher is using this to push copies. They are more than within their rights to do that but consider why they would want to do this in the first place.
Islam, more than any other religion today, is misunderstood by a majority of the people on the outside looking in. I’m sure most of us remember 9/11 and understand the impact that that event, and those succeeding it, have played in creating an unrealistic picture of what the average Muslim wants, believes or does. I appreciate what Wilson is doing, humanising a religion that’s been denigrated to the extremist bin a bit too prematurely; to a certain extent I even agree with that notion. A misconception about a massive group of people is always something to correct.
This negative stereotype has had an interesting reverse effect at the same time though. It makes any criticism that you have of the Islamic faith or teachings a bigoted attack. Now, if the familial scenes in Ms. Marvel were the exact same but the family were devote Christians, would the bulk of readers have responded in the same way? I don’t know, but I would imagine not. We understand Christianity, and its various permutations, quite well in North American society because it’s been the primary religious belief system for a few hundred years. If Ms. Marvel’s parents freaked out about her going to parties, wearing what she wants, and associating with whomever she wants, would we not have raised an eyebrow if the family bore a cross or crucifix instead of the star and crescent? I’d like to think we would, because there is something to be concerned about there. Seeing those scenes in Ms. Marvel make me feel really uncomfortable. Not uncomfortable enough to not really enjoy the book, because despite that religious peddling, I’ve grown to care a lot about Kamala, but it’s a constant barrier to my fully immersing into the story.
As a comic, “Ms. Marvel #5” is outstanding. From the start Kamala Khan has become a character that is easy to like and Wilson shows no signs of making this any less true as the series drags on. On a different level, the religious dogma that this series portrays simultaneously humanizes a mistreated peoples but also raises legitimate concerns about its treatment of women and youth. Great art is great art and none of the concerns I have about the scripting for this series prevents me from loving Alphona’s style. His ability to capture the gawky, awkwardness of youth is embarrassingly superb as you’ll find yourself reliving your less graceful formative years.