I love comic books. There, I said it. I am a staunch defender of the inherent worth of comics. All that said, comic books don’t have the best track record when it comes to depictions of women. Marvel Comics, while being just as guilty of emphasizing T&A aspects of super heroines in the past, is taking active steps to not only present strong female characters but are also giving them their own titles. In the past month we’ve seen Black Widow, Ms. Marvel and She Hulk launch their own solo titles. I want to share my thoughts on Ms. Marvel as it was the issue that I have the most to say about, even if it wasn’t my favorite of the three (She Hulk).
This reviews will contain some spoilers, so continue if you don’t mind discussion of what happens.
Ms. Marvel #1
writer: G. Willow Wilson
art: Adrian Alphona
I came into this book knowing next to nothing about the character, as she is a brand new creation debuting in this issue. The main buzz I heard through the internet was that she is a Muslim and that there are some people have issue with that. What can I say to that: Some people are stupid?
About the actual issue itself. I thought it was okay. The writing shows promise, but this first look was a lot if clichés glued together. Kamala, our main character, is a teenager who is having issues with her over protective parents. She isn’t in the cool group, but all the cool kids are jerks. She sneaks out to party (which is at the Waterfront and looks like a public park by a river. Loud music and lots of high schoolers. Is this common in Jersey?) She doesn’t have fun and leaves. It’s the story we’ve all seen/read hundreds of times before. A mysterious fog rolls in overtaking her and making her faint, a sequence that takes three pages. She has a dream/vision and is visited by spirits in the form of Avengers. They talk about dreams, responsibilities, Kamala’s desire to be a hero (kinda) and viola she wakes up transformed into the classic blonde-haired Ms. Marvel.
The fog left me confused. Is this the connected to Inhuman’s mist thing I’ve heard about but haven’t read? Are these religious figures? They call themselves faith. Is this vision really happening or is it just in her mind? These questions may be answered in later issues but in the one it does not seem to be presented as a mystery, just as something that happens. It doesn’t leave me intrigued to learn more, but frustrated that I don’t know what is going on. I think it is partly due to none of these questions coming up in the issue itself, so I have no glimpse of whether these questions will be addressed. I’m coming into this as an ideal reader: Interested by a new character and having little knowledge of the surrounding world. If I’m confused, will it be the same for people with no knowledge of comics? Will they even recognize the faith that is in the form of the modern Ms. Marvel?
Also, what is the story? This first issue is a slice of life. And, again, Wilson does a fair, if cliche heavy, job of making me interested. But at the end of the first issue I have no real idea of what the story will be. A teenage girl gets superpowers and then…. What? This issue feels very mush like it is written for the trade collection. If I had the first arc in from of me all of these questions could be concerned. Here, it feels deconstructed to the point of being incomplete. Its like I tuned into an hour long drama and it ended after the first commercial break and left me hanging. There are several interesting places to go, but there are no clues of where.
I like Alphona’s art. It isn’t the normal Marvel style, although Marvel has been very good of late of not having a standard house style. The character’s emote well and the layouts are clear. I wan’t as much of a fan of the coloring by Ian Herring. It had strong moments, but things looked washed out in a lot of places. Also, during the night scenes skin tones would often take a greenish hue and I kept wondering i they were supposed to look ill. Also, skin tones, and therefor ethnicities, seemed to shift especially for the Bruno character. Why is it important to know characters ethnicity?
In a way it isn’t. But I have to say, this book has some jerky characters. I was very aware that all of the jerk, even in the background, were white. I was thinking to myself “is every white character in here going to be a terrible person” when the coloring seemed to change and I started to wonder if Bruno was a white guy. Now I’m a white guy myself. I’ve been reading comics for over two decades now. I have certainly read worse representations of ethnic groups than merely making them jerky. But it does feel strange if the book that is being noticed for its diversity is going to paint all whites as jerks.
There is a very real chance that I am just being sensitive. That for once the shoe is on the other foot and I don’t like how it feels. Which leads me to my last point. After reading this issue I felt that it was tightly aimed at a target audience, and that I wasn’t it. It seemed the ideal audience was young women, especially those who at one point felt like an outsider. Of course I at one point felt like an outsider. I was a teenager once upon a time. But the clear cut in group, out group dynamic wasn’t a strong part of my upbringing that it makes it hard for me to relate to stories contracted around that dynamic. This just leads to a whole set of questions about experience color reactions. I’m thinking those things, but don’t want to get into it in a review. But I do acknowledge both that my background may make me unaware of these issues existing when I was a teenager, and that my complaints about might be the same (and more justified) complaints that people of color have had with a vast majority of comics. Maybe.
Either way, this was a decent first issue with good art. The writing shows promise, even if it does rely heavily on clichés and barely gets started by the end of the first issue. If nothing else, I’ll stick with it through the first arc.
I’d love to hear thoughts on this issue. Let me know your opinions.