Book Review

Ms. Marvel Volume 5: Superhuman Is Still Human

msmarvel_coverAfter being exposed to terrigen mist, Pakistani-American teenager Kamala Khan develops superpowers. Suddenly, she is no longer a normal Muslim teenage girl from Jersey City, but instead finds herself filling the rather large shoes of a superhero. A devoted fan of Carol Danvers, Kamala ends up adopting the codename Ms. Marvel half-accidentally. Either way, she’s a superhero now, and does her best to stumble her way through fighting villains (super and otherwise), thwarting evil, and fitting the superhero lifestyle into her already complicated life as a Pakistani-American Muslim teenager in a white, Christian country.

Volume 5, written by G. Willow Wilson and with art by Takeshi Miyazawa, Adrian Alphona, and Nico Leon, contains two separate and complete plot arcs. At the beginning of Volume 5, we find Kamala finally making it to the big league: after handling the almost-end of the world remarkably well, she is now fighting together with the Avengers. Being an Avenger is like a dream come true for her, and Kamala does everything she can to do well. Unfortunately, keeping the world safe is a full-time job, as she discovers, and it starts to eat into the rest of her life. Her grades are suffering, and she is completely left out of the loop with her friends; turns out her best friend, Bruno, has been going out with someone for a while now. Before she gets a chance to sort out the awkwardness, however, a new band of bad guys get their hands on Bruno and brainwash him. Ms. Marvel has to get over her apprehensions and join forces with his girlfriend, Mike (short of Michaela), and it’s up to the two of them to save the day. In the second plot arc, with her brother’s wedding coming up, Kamala is expected to attend a range of traditional social functions or publicly disgrace her family with her absence… but, of course, HYDRA doesn’t take breaks to let her spend more time with her family. So, when Bruno figures out a way to replicate Loki’s golems and make them look like people, it doesn’t take Kamala long to sign up for two just-barely-functional clones of herself. As it happens, something goes wrong, which leads to more clones… and more clones… and more clones. Needless to say, this does not end well.

Although the plotlines themselves are your basic superhero fodder, the writing is so dynamic and the characters so real that the end result is anything but basic. Yes, we’ve seen a hundred variations of the “your best friend is brainwashed by the bad guys” -plotline, especially when HYDRA is involved, but watching Kamala have to put her reservations aside and build a genuine relationship with Bruno’s girlfriend, Mike, makes it wholly new. Likewise, Ms. Marvel is not, by far, the first series to use clones-gone-wrong as a plot device, but the way in which it leads Kamala to weigh her priorities – and have real discussions with the veteran superheroes she works with – is something novel and worthwhile. Watching Kamala work through her problems and interact with both the events and the characters around her is, if the expression may be excused, a marvel. Wilson’s writing is tight, well-paced, and always exciting. Ms. Marvel seems to suffer none of the unevenness in quality that comics can often fall prey to. It helps that the art is also very consistent, always colorful and dynamic. I especially enjoy the parts drawn by Takeshi Miyazawa, whose fluid style is easy on the eyes and full of interesting background detail.


Miyazawa’s interior art

But perhaps the greatest strength of Ms. Marvel is in the details: the little, seemingly inconsequential touches that add depth to each character. In this aspect Volume 5 does not disappoint. The marriage between Kamala’s brother Aamir, a devout Pakistani-American Muslim, and Tyesha, an African-American Muslim convert from an Evangelical Christian family is a great example of this. When Aamir asks Kamala to chaperone his meetings with Tyesha to “do things right,” it’s not a big deal – it’s simply how he and Tyesha choose to do things. Similarly, no attention is drawn to Mike’s two moms, or the burgeoning friendship between Nakia and Zoe. When Kamala, in a moment of frustration, makes a mean comment about Mike’s weight to Bruno, he instantly shuts her down and she apologizes for her pettiness. Wilson’s writing, the little details she adds to each of the characters, makes the world truly feel alive. And, having grown up as a fan of superheroes, I will admit that the scene where Iron Man hugs Kamala made me feel especially warm and fuzzy inside – not to mention her interactions with Captain Marvel, which add a very meaningful female relationship to the Marvel Universe.

Volume 5 happens right after the ending of a major plotline, so shorter, faster-paced plots are to be expected. Despite this, Super Famous delivers a package that is no less deep, no less engaging, no less substantial than the previous installments. Ms. Marvel continues to be one the best comics I’ve read in a long time, and is actually rekindling a love for comics I thought I had left behind me. G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel is a very real, very relatable teenage girl balancing the life of a superhero with the life of a teenager who’s different, and the stories she stars in are like a breath of fresh air on a market that can otherwise get a little stale. So, even if you’re not a comic fan, even if you’re not partial to superheroes, I recommend you pick up an issue of Ms. Marvel from the library. It might just change your mind.

G. Willow Wilson is an award-winning author of both comics and novels-without-pictures.

Find your nearest copy of Ms. Marvel Vol. 5: Super Famous here, or return to the first volume, No Normal, to catch up on the whole saga here!


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