Ms. Marvel Vol. 1 No Normal sorta blew me away. I never ended up writing about it, but trust me, there would have been only good things to say. I’m sure I’ll get to many of the key points in discussion of Vol. 2: Generation Why.
If you’re not familiar with Ms. Marvel, let me give you a quick rundown. Kamala Khan is a Pakistani-American Muslim teenage girl living in Jersey City. She’s geeky and has over-protective parents. She sneaks out one night to go to a party and ends up being exposed to a green mist. She wakes up with shape-morphing and healing superpowers. Inspired by her favorite superhero, Captain Marvel, she imagines herself as Ms. Marvel the first time she comes to someone’s rescue and her new hero identity is formed.
Before I get into any spoiler territory, let me tell you why you ought to be reading this.
- Kamala is an entirely believable teenager in the best way. In fact, she calls to mind a particular student I have in class–background, appearance, and character traits are all similar. G. Willow Wilson creates a character who is specific and absolutely real.
- She doesn’t fall into the holes of older (both in age and comic history) characters who either seem to unnaturally stay noble and sincere, become cynical and broken, or transform into anti-heroes. Her youth gives her sincerity, room to grow, and flaws in her decisions based on lack of experience. She’s also funny.
- The stories are local. Thus far, Kamala has been superheroing only in Jersey City. Her fights are local, though connected to larger Marvel epic events. The smaller space gives the stories more immediacy and intimacy in exchange for the grand, world-threatening events of “bigger” titles. In fact, if you’re getting burned out by the massive destruction and body count of the recent superhero films, this is just the salve you need.
Okay, now the nitty-gritty of Vol. 2. Spoilers ahead!
Generation Why continues the narrative of Kamala versus the Inventor. In the previous volume, she was mostly awaking to her powers, attempting to work out the initial kinks of becoming a superhero, and uncovering the trail of the Inventor. Now she’s facing him down in a series of increasingly difficult battles. In fact, he’s testing her, learning her weaknesses to exploit them.
The volume opens with Kamala on patrol, dealing with the bots the Inventor sends her way. Then she gets word she father wants her to talk with Sheikh Abdullah, head of the family’s mosque. As a headstrong, independent, and modern young woman, Kamala doesn’t relish the thought. In fact, she has a complicated relationship to her religion and the mosque’s rules. But she still goes and she attempts to open up, as much as she can without giving away her superpowers. Sheikh Abdullah surprises her by being supportive of her attempting to “do good.” He advises her to get better at doing good and tells her to look for a teacher, that when the learner is ready, the teacher will appear. Above all, I appreciate Wilson’s balanced hand at depicting Muslim religion. Other heroes, like Daredevil, have had moral ties to religion, but this look at Islam is rare and exceedingly welcome.
These first couple issues in the collection might be considered a sort of “sweeps” cross-over event were it to occur on a television show. Kamala gets to pair up with a heavy-hitter Marvel superhero. Wolverine shows up, coincidentally, looking for a missing girl. The two team up to defeat a giant sewer alligator. Kamala is a perfect mirror for the reader–when she sees Wolverine, she is entirely star-struck. She Instagrams the whole encounter. She’s blunt and resourceful. Wolverine likes her right away.
The team-up with Wolverine got a mixed response from me. I mean, I too love Wolverine, and the interactions between them were humorous and adorable. Since Wolverine’s lost his healing powers, Kamala didn’t end up being overshown by him. However, the encounter felt removed from the intimacy of Jersey City. I was missing Bruno and her other friends.
But by the time issue 8 is underway, Kamala’s back in her room or at school, and the local-feel returns. In the second half of the volume, the worth of the youth generation becomes a strong theme. In fact, the cover art for the volume (see top of post) aptly captures it–Are the youth worthlessly addicted to their smartphones, or can they actually find a way to save the world? There’s climate change, after all, and economic collapse and overpopulation. It was these issues that really engaged me and had me cheering all over again for the greatness that is this comic. She was fighting for lives, but she was also fighting to rewrite an unjust ideology–the assumption that the youth are a parasite. She enables a new perspective on the future. One that is not doomed.
These are also the issues that return to artist Adrian Alphona, whom I first adored in Runaways. The art by Jacob Wyatt in issues 6 and 7 ends up being passable for me–close-ups and medium shots capture emotion and reaction while the longer shots, especially with masked characters, left me cold. Specifically, I didn’t like the whiting out of Kamala’s eyes when she wore the mask, though I understand that it may have been a choice to meld with the traditional depiction of Wolverine. Alphona, however, keeps the eyes visible, even in longer shots, and it creates a greater emotional impact and intimacy between reader and Kamala. Also divine are the covers by Jamie McKelvie and Matthew Wilson, who are the artists behind The Wicked + the Divine.