Thursday, June 18, 2015

Scanned Thoughts: Ms. Marvel #16

It used to be that the only way for a female character to get attention was to have bigger tits. Don’t get me wrong. That still works to some extent. Emma Frost, Power Girl, and countless strippers in Las Vegas can attest to that. But we live in a time when anyone can download a billion pairs of tits on a cell phone in under five seconds. Now female characters have to do a lot more than fill out a bra to get attention. And in this new era where tits are no longer enough, Kamala Khan has become the gold standard.

Kamala might not have Emma Frost’s sex appeal or Wonder Woman’s warrior spirit, but she has a special kind of charisma that makes her so endearing that even Ann Coulter can’t help but love her. She’s not some overpowered force of nature with a convoluted backstory akin to a Wachowski movie. She’s a 16-year-old Pakistani American from Jersey City with powers that can be understood by anyone who has played a video game in the past 20 years. There’s so much to love about her and because of that, it’s hard to avoid the impact when something happens to her.

The events of Secret Wars affected everybody in the Marvel Universe, from Jersey City to Wakanda. It was the kind of big destructive tragedy that usually makes Roland Emerich rich. We know what happened in the eye of the shit storm. But what about those who are less concerned about invading armies from a parallel universe and more concerned with their family? That’s the story in Ms. Marvel #16. It’s Kamala Khan’s place in the universal clusterfuck that is Secret Wars and being the lovable girl she is, she finds a way to make it special.

And as it just so happens, the cosmic clusterfuck that is Secret Wars comes at the worst possible time from the perspective of a 16-year-old. Kamala Khan just had her heart broken by her first true love interest. Kamran, who also happens to be an Inhuman whose powers turned him into a massive douche, went out of his way to make Kamala swoon as only a hormonal 16-year-old girl can. Then he flat out ripped out her heart, wiped his ass with it, and stepped on it. To say Kamala is broken up about it would be like saying Ron Swanson enjoys a little sip of whiskey every now and then.

To her credit, Kamala’s coping skills are far healthier than most teenagers. She doesn’t cut her hair, get a tattoo, and start a goth band. She drowns her sorrows in hot dogs on the Jersey City Waterfront. Not saying hot dogs are healthy, but there are way worse things a teenage girl could do to cope with her first breakup. She says it feels like the world is coming to an end. And that’s completely normal. Who hasn’t felt that way after having their heart broken? This is just one of those instances where karma is a truly exceptional bitch.

Kamala goes from confiding in a hot dog vendor to having a front row seat to the first wave of WTF that came with Secret Wars. She wasn’t at all involved in it. She’s wasn’t rubbing elbows with the illuminati or swapping notes with Reed Richards. She’s just like every other civilian who thinks an incursion is just a sub-plot in a Tom Clancy novel. It puts Kamala in a very different frame of mind compared to other Marvel heroes. She’s not exactly Facebook friends with the rest of the Avengers so for all she knows, this is just another case of the Chitari being bored. That still doesn’t stop her from being Ms. Marvel.

She doesn’t hesitate in the slightest to slip under the dock and don her Ms. Marvel uniform. Then, in an act that would make Leonardo Di Vici proud, she creates massive duck feet so she can walk across the river and into Manhattan. While I’m sure this was debunked on an episode of Mythbusters, it’s quicker than hitching a ride on a ferry or swimming in a New Jersey river. I think the laws of physics are willing to make an exception for someone like Kamala.

That exception ends the moment she arrives in Manhattan, where she gets her first glimpse of the coming incursion. Suddenly, that sentiment about how having a broken heart feels like the world is coming to an end takes on a whole new meaning. At least with a broken heart, she had hot dogs. This is one problem where no amount of hot dogs, with or without relish, will alleviate. The world really is coming to an end here and it’s ending before she has a chance to punch Kamran in the jaw one last time. It’s the worst of both worlds.

Knowing she really can’t do jack shit about an incursion, Kamala immediately does the responsible thing. No, I don’t mean she curls up into a ball and whines about it on Facebook like a lot of teenage girls would be inclined to do. Instead, she turns her attention back to her home town and the people she cares about. It’s more responsibility than we expect from teenagers these days, but that’s what makes Kamala the hero she is.

Her first stop is the Circle Q where the Bruno, who she recently friend-zoned, is trying to defend his place with his brother. They’re armed only with baseball bats at a time when a planet is about to collide with their world. It’s not much, but it beats waving stale bread at them. Ms. Marvel’s presence is a bit more menacing than a bad so that ensures the candy bars and slurpie machines are safe. It also gives her time to coordinate with Bruno. They really can’t do much with a fucking incursion on the way, but Kamala has watched enough of the Weather Channel to know what has to be done in an emergency. She tells them to get others to hunker down at the school. It already survived an attack by killer robots and Loki. It’ll at least hold up better than most places during an incursion.

Kamala’s next major concern is her family. Yes, she is a hero who still loves and cares for her family. No, she didn’t become a hero because someone hurt her family. They just did a damn good job raising her. I think that’s worth mentioning because it makes her desire to save them all the more powerful. It’s true. Teenage girls are capable of really loving their parents, despite what every 90s teen sitcom would have you believe.

However, the end of the world just enough to ruin Kamala’s day. Fate has decided that it isn’t done tormenting Kamala. As soon as she gets home, the first person she finds is her ex, Kamran. It couldn’t be more infuriating without someone destroying the world’s hot dog supply for her. It’s immediately tense and for good reason. Kamran isn’t done being a total dick to Kamala. He reveals that he knocked out her parents and sent her brother, Aamir, to undergo an Inhuman transformation. In terms of being asshole exes, this guy is one act of arson away from being a weapons grade douche.

It adds another crisis beyond the world ending for Kamala to endure. Her entire focus since the incursion began was protecting her family and friends. Now one of them happens to be in the clutches of her ex. There’s a very tense, very heated exchange between the two. Basically, Kamran wants Kamala’s brother to join his team of renegade Inhumans because Kamala wouldn’t. It’s like a guy wanting to knock up his ex-wife’s sister on principle alone. It’s a shitty principle, but it rubs some extra salt in the wound.

It really does hurt Kamala in all the right ways. She doesn’t even get a chance to fight him. He doesn’t even have to. He hits her where it hurts and it impacts her in ways that feel genuine for a teenage girl. She doesn’t hulk out or go into a Wolverine berserker rage. She’s just overwhelmed and pissed as any teenage girl should be. It also complicates her mission to protect her family during the end of the world in ways that only an asshole ex-boyfriend can.

At the very least, her parents are okay. They wake up from Kamran’s assholery and find out like everyone else that the world is coming to an end. This would be a perfect time for Kamala to tell her parents what an asshole Kamran is, but she remains focused on finding her brother. She tells her parents to get down to the school where everyone is meeting. It’s still a reasonable plan, even if doesn’t do shit to stop an incursion.

The streets of Jersey City are still a clusterfuck. There are riots on par with the Lakers’ last championship win. Some are using the end of the world as an excuse do the Christmas shopping they wish they could’ve done. Eventually, some end up at the school. This is where Loki’s recent visit to Kamala’s school actually came in handy. This happened in another issue, but Loki left his mark as he always does. He actually used some runes to protect the school because why not? He’s the God of Mischief. He doesn’t need a reason. And it works perfectly. Some Asgardian mojo scares the shit out of the looters and the school is safe. I don’t know what the fuck they were hoping to loot from the school. Then again, I understand some will go to great lengths to get the answers to an SAT test.

Kamala arrives at the school just in time to see that she was right. The school, coupled with Asgardian runes, provides a safe haven for her community. Bruno and his brother even brought over a bunch of snacks from his store. Cheetos and orange soda don’t help save the world from incursions, but they certainly don’t hurt either. It’s the first bit of good news Kamala has had all day. Between incursions and asshole ex-boyfriends, this is a decent consolation, if that even matters at this point.

And it really does matter in the sense that it shows how the civilians are dealing with the incursion events. That’s something that Secret Wars didn’t really explore, the impact on the people. Kamala went out of her way to help these people and they acknowledged it. That’s way more than the X-men have ever gotten. It’s a pretty powerful moment that helps make the events of Secret Wars feel more personal. It’s personal to the point where it overwhelms Kamala, even when everyone is praising her. It’s a great moment, especially after the epicly shitty day she’s had.

She eventually has to leave because she still needs to save her brother. And since her day is way past the point of being shitty, she has to do it with the knowledge that the world is coming to an end. It’s like having to fix a toilet on a sinking cruise ship. It’s a tough situation for any teenage girl to handle.

However, it turns out Kamala doesn’t have to handle it alone. Someone finally comes by to help her. Who could it be and who could possibly be in a position to help her anyways? How about Captain Marvel? As in the same Captain Marvel she idolizes? That would be like me meeting Emma Frost outside a strip club. It’s a powerful moment that I imagine will make the end of the world just a bit more enjoyable for Kamala Khan.

There’s so much heart and so much win in this story that I’m not afraid to admit I squeed a little. Okay, maybe a lot. I can only restrain myself so much when I’m not sober. But I think I deserve a pass for Ms. Marvel. I think everyone deserves a pass because she’s just that awesome. She’s not the kind of hero who just sees a crisis and looks for ways to punch it. She sees a crisis and her first instinct is to protect her family, her loved ones, and her home. And the fact that she’s a minority within a minority in that home only makes her more of a hero than any Batman rip-off could hope to be.

We already know how the final incursion unfolds in the events of Secret Wars #1. Seeing how those events affect the actual people running for their lives helps give this issue the kind of dramatic impact you just can’t get by watching Tony Stark try to invent his way out of a problem. There’s a lot of personal and emotional drama, ranging from ordinary people stepping up to do good and asshole ex-lovers finding new ways to be assholes. And having Captain Marvel show up at the end just added a layer of frosting doused with chocolate fudge and Jack Daniels on top. Secret Wars has had all sorts of impacts on so many characters, but the Ms. Marvel #16 is by far the most memorable and the most endearing. I give it a perfect 10 out of 10. Now Kamala understands that there is a difference between heartbreak and the world ending. Yet even in the presence of both, she finds a way to be awesome. She’s truly the kind of girl I would actually quit drinking for. Nuff said!


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