Sunday, June 26, 2016

Bracing for Heartbreak and Embracing it: Ms. Marvel #8

The following is my review of Ms. Marvel #8, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


Everyone has an inflated opinion of those they idolize. Those inflated opinions allow people to overlook flaws like Tony Stark's drinking, Spider-Man's irresponsibility, or Deadpool's crude sense of humor. For better or for worse, idols often become tied to identity. When one of those idols messes up in ways that make for great tabloid headlines, some take it as an affront to their identity. In this sense, Kamala Khan is setting her identity up for a beating.

Civil War II effectively drew the lines in the conflict. Now, targets are finding their way towards certain characters and Kamala Khan is at the front of that line. Few characters who aren't Spider-Man clones are as closely tied as Kamala Khan and Captain Marvel. Kamala Khan's entire persona as Ms. Marvel is built around her idolizing Carol Danvers. She is the quintessential fangirl and it shows in lovably humorous ways every time their paths cross. Now, G. Willow Wilson is setting Kamala up for a level of heartbreak that exceeds that caused by any Skrull imposter or Hydra agent.

Ms. Marvel #8 begins the process of tying Ms. Marvel's story into the larger conflict unfolding in Civil War II. It's a process that is destined to pit this young, aspiring hero against the idol who inspired her. The emotions surrounding this conflict are as volatile as can be without a Hulk being involved, but G. Willow Wilson doesn't focus on this initially.

Instead, Ms. Marvel #8 starts from the opposite end of the emotional spectrum. Wilson focuses on the hope and benefits of having someone who can accurately predict the future without the added complications of time machines, stage tricks, or excessive phone bills. Just like Civil War II #1, these benefits manifest in major ways for Ms. Marvel. However, just like Civil War II #1, the fine print in these benefits promise to send her to the other end of that emotional spectrum and that end comes with a lot of pain, as War Machine can attest.

Captain Marvel, her trusted idol, tasks Ms. Marvel with making use of Ulysses' foresight. This means she gets her first team of side-kicks, an important milestone for any superhero not mentored by Bruce Wayne. Thanks to these new resources, she is able to stop the leader of a Canadian syndicate of ninjas from going on a rampage in a tank. The basic details of that scenario sound so absurd when said out loud, but they are a testament to the kind of cartoonish conflicts that make Ms. Marvel's narrative so much fun.

The fun doesn't last though. As often happens with teenagers trying to change the world for the better, they trip over some unpleasant realities along the way. Ms. Marvel finds herself treating potential crimes as actual crimes, something every non-Hydra version of Captain America would have problems with. However, Ms. Marvel still believes in the greater good that this method offers. She still believes in her idol and cherishes the trust she places in her. It's like having the keys to all of Tony Stark's cars. It's not easy to give up.

It reflects one of G. Willow Wilson's most effective tactics in making Ms. Marvel such a lovable, endearing hero. She sets Kamala up for heartbreak and disappointment, but she does it in a way that has a powerful emotional impact. That impact is perfectly consistent with the ongoing themes surrounding Civil War II and the themes that make Ms. Marvel such an impactful character.


Wilson effectively uses the opposite approach that slasher movies use with stereotypical jocks. She creates this narrative where its hard not to root for Kamala Khan and her ideals. Her heart is in the right place. Her ideals are respectable. She sees the world through Disney-like ideals. It's clear that those ideals are destined to shatter under the weight of the real world, but even though the outcome is hardly surprising, the emotional undertones are clear.

Those undertones are largely driven by Ms. Marvel's adulation of Captain Marvel. This adulation goes back to before Kamala Khan got her powers. She builds her entire superhero identity around the ideals the standards that Captain Marvel sets. In the same way fans of Spider-Man don't want to believe that he would make a deal with Mephisto, Ms. Marvel doesn't want to believe that Captain Marvel is on the wrong side of a conflict. It makes the looming heartbreak even more powerful. Kamala might even need counseling from Mary Jane Watson when the dust settles.


The emotions and drama mix well with battles involving Canadian ninjas hijacking tanks. G. Willow Wilson also attempts to add a more contemporary context on the whole Civil War II conflict, exploring the history of Kamala's family and the historical conflicts within that history. However, this part of the narrative falls flat and acts as a distraction more than a supplement. Some details are relevant, but not enough to have a noticeable impact on Ms. Marvel's narrative.

There are other attempts that are slightly more successful. Ms. Marvel shows some discomfort in treating potential crimes as actual crimes, but it's not the kind of discomfort that a typical teenage superhero doesn't handle on a regular basis. Some parallels between Civil War II and the whole "tough on crime" era of the '80s and '90s come into play. Again, these efforts fall flat. It's only when the threat becomes personal to Ms. Marvel that the impact starts to manifest.

That impact and the undertones surrounding it remain the greatest strength of Ms. Marvel #8. It takes the larger conflict created in Civil War II and personalizes it. Like a bad movie teaser, it does somewhat spoil the outcome. Ms. Marvel is setting herself up for disappointment and heartbreak. All that idolizing and admiration for Captain Marvel is going to take a crippling gut punch. That punch is going to hurt, but it's worth enduring for certain characters. Kamala Khan is one of them.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

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