You’ve Got to Read This: G. Willow Wilson’s Superb Ms. Marvel Comics


There’s a billion books published each year. We swear that the ones in “You Have to Read This” are worth your eyeball time!

What You Have to Read: Ms. Marvel comics

The Gist: Jersey City teen Kamala Khan is a gangly, good-hearted goof who lucks into shape-shifting superpowers — and now, with fists embiggened by justice, kapows evil right in the kisser! Unless she’s grounded, of course. (Sometimes, her thousand-pound teleporting dog helps her sneak out.)

Written and co-created by G. Willow Wilson, author of Alif the Unseen, and most often drawn by co-creator Adrian Alphona, Marvel Comics’ monthly Ms. Marvel series is sprightly, wise, suspenseful, and blessedly comic, in all the best senses of the term. It’s also the most engaging teen-superhero story since Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s original Amazing Spider-Man — and Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley’s Ultimate take on the same character.

A Taste:

Why You Should Read It:
When her monthly comic debuted last year, the news about Ms. Marvel was all about representation: At last, a major comics publisher was giving a Muslim American superhero her own book. And as the panel above demonstrates, Khan’s heritage is key to her character — but it’s not the key, just as Peter Parker’s generic Queens whiteness isn’t the key to his.

Khan is kind, courageous, and goony, a comics-savvy dreamer who gushes to Wolverine during their first team-up all about her romantic X-Men fanfiction and gets so caught up in her thoughts that she doesn’t even notice that her hunky best friend is all crushed out on her.

Here’s that bestie, from the twelfth issue, offering an Upworthy-perfect response to a pal that razzes him about Khan’s blitheness:

(The helmeted dude is Loki, trickster brother of Thor. Eventually, he spikes the punch at Ms. Marvel’s high school dance. Meanwhile, her Jersey City crew assumes he’s some gentrifier from Brooklyn.)

Wilson laces real-world truths into these stories, and she invests great feeling into Khan’s warm, traditional family life. But Ms. Marvel never neglects inventive superheroics: In the first ten issues, which are collected in two trade paperbacks, Khan battles a mad scientist named The Inventor, some kind of parrot-man geneticist who preys on New Jersey runaways — and sics titanic robots and crocodiles on the heroine who dares try to stop him.

Those adventures might just sound like a laugh, but Ms. Marvel is richer than that, written and drawn with a crisp, comic coming-of-age earnestness. Its tone is tricky: The art is funny and beautiful all at once, especially when Alphona’s on the book, and especially especially when her dog Lockjaw’s around and Khan’s experimenting with her stretching powers:

When’s the last time a comic — or a comic-book movie — made you smile like that?

The dangers Khan faces test her powers, her inner strength, and her understanding of what it means to be good: Sure, she can put on a mask and save some neighborhood kids, but what help is her shape-shifting when her parents discover she’s been slipping out at night — and, apparently, betraying her family and her beliefs in favor of American ways?

Month after month, Khan’s struggles prove the most compelling superhero story going on right now in any medium. Give Ms. Marvel a shot — and then do the world some good by giving the issues to a kid or to Sean Hannity. Simply put, if you can’t relate to Khan, you’re probably not a person.

Other Newish Comics Worth Your Time/Money: Marvel’s totally nuts The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, a rowdy, ingenious spree that’s every bit the joke that Ms. Marvel isn’t; Image’s bloody mad adults-only Rat Queens, which lances the gender assumptions of D&D-style fantasy while still exemplifying — in its rude, hilarious, character-driven way — the best that D&D-style fantasy can be; and Marvel’s magnificent Thor, in which writer Jason Aaron gives the hammer to a universe-bestriding mystery woman, all while Loki’s big blond lug of a brother fights Earth’s most wicked energy company and attempts to prove himself worthy once again.

Hey, you could do worse than following @studiesincrap on the Twitter thing.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 30, 2015