The Masked Bookwyrm's
Ms. Marvel / Captain Marvel Graphic Novel and TPB Reviews - Page 2

Back to other trade paperback and GN reviews

Marvel Comics has had various Marvel-related heroes which I'll lump together here...

For other related appearances see

GNs/TPB published by Marvel Comics

Ms. Marvel: No Normal  2015 (SC TPB) 128 pages

Written by G. Willow Wilson. Illustrated by Adrian Alphona.

Colours: Ian Herring. Letters: Joe Caramagna.

Reprinting: Ms. Marvel (2014 series) #1-5, and a story from All-New Marvel Now: Point One #3

Rating: * * * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Reviewed: May 2018

(I should mention I came at this backward. I first experienced it as an audio drama from Graphic Audio. They do solid work, but being mostly adaptations of novels the productions can vary depending on the source material; often the dramatizations a cross between an audiobook and a radio play. But their Ms. Marvel: No Normal was a particularly strong effort -- maybe helped by being adapted straight from the comic (as opposed to a novelization) so it could flow a bit better, with less reliance on narrated text between the dramatized scenes).

Re-boots and re-imaginings are a staple of pop culture -- from re-staging old plays, to re-making old movies, to re-inventing old characters for modern audiences. It's all tied up in the (assumed) marketability of a recognizable name -- and also (especially in comics) the desire of the rights' holders to maintain their copyright by recycling Trademarked names. And there can always be grumbling from old fans when a nostalgically remembered character is re-invented -- and especially when it has "political" connotations such as by changing the character's race or gender.

But the fact is that comic book characters get re-booted (and old character names get recycled) all the time. There have been I think something like eight different characters called "Captain Marvel" over the years (and Marvel Comics has published four of 'em!) Which brings us to -- Ms. Marvel. Or rather, the latest incarnation. The original Ms. Marvel emerged out of Marvel's original, late-1960s Captain Marvel stories, with supporting character Carol Danvers acquiring some of Captain Marvel's powers and getting her own comic. Over the years Carol changed her name a couple of times and is now the "new" Captain Marvel -- leaving the Ms. Marvel appellation unclaimed. And though "Ms. Marvel" doesn't exactly rock a marquee, presumably the Marvel brass didn't like the idea of any character name with "Marvel" in it slipping into the public domain.

So enter the new Ms. Marvel. A character, it must be admitted, whose origin and powers having little to do with earlier iterations of the title. This Ms. Marvel is really Kamala Kahn, a teenage girl living in Jersey City who, after an encounter with a mysterious mist, develops shape-changing powers -- notably able to grow and shrink, and also to alter her appearance on occasion. Kamala is brown-skinned and, perhaps most unusual in this day and age -- Muslim.

The series received a lot of favourable attention for it progressive, inclusive concept. It also received a lot of flak from other comics fans complaining it was simply being "politically correct" and Marvel was putting diversity ahead of quality. (The irony of that is I suspect the same right-wing reactionaries who pretend to bemoan changing the character for "politically correct" reasons -- probably would've complained about the original "Women's Lib"-era Ms. Marvel for the same reasons).

But one wonders if the detractors ever bothered to read the new series. 'Cause Ms. Marvel: No Normal is really -- I say really -- quite good.

And one of its strengths is precisely that it doesn't just throw in the ethnic angle as a token nod to pluralism, but makes it very much a part of the character and her world. And it does so effortlessly because, I believe, writer G. Willow Wilson is herself a brown Muslim woman and so is simply doing what writers are always told to do -- write what you know.

In a way, this reminds me of the early Spider-Man comics by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko -- comics which were arguably the first super hero comics to try and make the normal, civilian side of the hero's life as important, and as entertaining, as the super heroing. It's easy to draw parallels. Kamala is a nerdy, introspective teen, like Peter Parker, and the comics rely as much on humour and whimsy as action and adventure in unfolding the tale. You really do feel you are reading about Kamala, plucky teen, as much as you are Ms. Marvel, super hero. There's a real charm and warmth in the scenes of Kamala and her family -- even when she's being grounded or bickering with her brother. Her father inparticular is presented with real depth and nuance that isn't altogether common in a supporting character in super hero comic books.

And part of the fun of the scenes -- and surely the point of reading any story -- is to be dropped down into someone else's life, to see things the way they do. Instead of using the Muslim thing as just a kind of half-hearted tokenism, or treating it as an important pedagogical opportunity, Wilson has gentle fun with it and its various facets: Kamala's brother whose arch-piety is seen as a phase by their more worldly parents, or a scene at the local mosque where Kamala grumbles about the girls having to sit behind a partition -- even as that very partition means they can gossip and check their cell phones while the imam is giving his sermon.

I have a soft spot for super hero comics that blend the everyday with the fantasy (I can get frustrated with comics that get so caught up in the super heroics they lose all connection to the kitchen sink humanity). You'll notice this as a recurring thread in my reviews of things like Steve Gerber's and Mary Skrenes Omega the Unknown, Jim Shooters' Star Brand, and Gerry Conways' The Last Days of Animal Man (all reviewed elsewhere on this site).

When I compare these Ms. Marvel issues to early Spider-Man -- I'm paying it as high a compliment as I know how to pay!

Of course modern comics are written with more subtlety and sophistication than those old Spider-Man stories. And that's obviously a strength here, that Wilson has a deft touch when handling the characters, their interactions, and the wit and quirkiness.

Aiding and abetting her is the art by Adrian Alphona. It's an appealing style that tells the scenes well, while straddling the realism of the drama with the inherent light-hearted and comedicness of other scenes. The art leans toward cartoon-y and caricaturish in a way that might not be as effective applied to, say, Superman, or Thor, but does suit the tone of this series, and its sad sack, everygirl heroine. Again I find myself likening it to Steve Ditko on early Spider-Man -- I don't mean the style is the same, just that it walks a similar line of anti-heroicness; there's a little bit of Sergio Aragones in the style with, for some reason, Berni Wrightson coming to mind, only less gothic and grotesque (and yes, trying to describe an artist's visual style with the written word is an imperfect process). The subdued but rich colours are also warm and effective. Overall there's a slightly European vibe to the visuals.

Now with all that praising -- well, it just wouldn't be one of my reviews if I didn't get a bit negative, would it?

And I guess the main problem is that maybe it leans a bit too much on the kitchen sink, the comedy, the misadventures of a not-quite super hero. For the first few issues there isn't even any real conflict (other than of the character kind) -- Ms. Marvel not spending a few pages battling super villains, or even muggers, between scenes of angst or whimsy. Menace doesn't really start to rear it's head until about half-way through -- and even then it can seem like slightly subdued menace, involving a troubled teen getting involved with a gang (albeit a gang with access to some weird, and mysterious, technology). That's presumably a deliberate intent on the part of the creators -- being a teenager, Ms. Marvel's beat may be intended to stay a little closer to home (like the early Teen Titans). And that has an appeal -- keeping things low-key. (Temporarily, at least: the adventure plot sets up bigger dangers ahead, with a mysterious villain called "The Inventor" clearly the "Big Bad" to come).

It can feel a bit like they've taken an origin that might have been squeezed into an issue or two a generation or two back and stretched it out over five issues. I mean if you think about what actually transpires over these five issues -- it isn't a lot. But even here I have to get back to compliments. 'Cause you barely notice that while reading it. There is enough going on, in terms of characters, and scene changes, and Kamala gradually exploring her powers (and dealing with the problems of a double life) that it doesn't feel slow or like the story is stalled. Lord knows I complain a lot about modern comics and their strrrretched out pacing, their "decompressed" storytelling where a scene that could be told in two panels gets stretched out to five pages. This doesn't do that. The pacing moves along at a reasonable gait. The story progresses. It's just it's taking its time, letting the scenes and the moments unfold, really making Kamala's struggle to understand what is happening to her a journey we go on with her. (Although another quibble is that we never really do learn what caused the mist -- whether that's to be explained in a later issue, or was tied into some company-wide event, I'm not sure).

So maybe a bit low-key, a bit more light-hearted than a serious, high-octane action series (at least so far), Ms. Marvel is suffused with charm, and humanity, with a likeable heroine, and a witty tone. And for those who grumble a comic like this is moving away from what comics used to be, I'd counter this story about a brown-skinned Muslim girl is in a lot of ways one of the truest, most direct descendant of early Spider-Man I've come across.

Cover price: $ __  

Ms. Marvel: Operation Lightning Storm 2007 (HC & SC TPB) 178 pages

cover by Greg HornWritten by Brian Reed. Pencils by Roberto De La Torre, Aaron Lopresti. Inks by Jon Sibal, Matt Ryan.
Colours: Chris Sotomayor. Letters: Dave Sharpe. Editor: Bill Rosemann.

Reprinting: Ms. Marvel (2nd series) #11-17 (2007) -- with covers.

Rating: * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Reviewed: April, 2011

Published by Marvel Comics

Modern comics can be a dizzying mass of continuity references, where stories don't just connect to their own previous issues, but are interwoven with everything else going on in a comics company's "universe". This follows on the heels of Marvel's cross-title "Civil War" saga, in which the super hero community was divided and turned upon itself by a government edict that all super beings must register with the government. A lot of bridges were burned between those as complied, like Ms. Marvel, and those that didn't.

Fortunately this collection -- particularly in the hardcover edition -- is accompanied by some "previously" recapping text pieces that actually makes it a bit easier to just jump into, and scripter Brian Reed writes some of the scenes with a clarity (when making backstory references) a lot of writers don't these days. And as a collection of stories, this works as a decent arc involving the recurring terrorist group, A.I.M., with -- more or less -- a beginning and an end. Along the way, Ms. Marvel is fully recruited by the spy agency SHIELD and given her own little strike team and flying airship, to act as a kind of proactive strike force (hence the title Operation: Lightning Storm).

Reed writes some solid dialogue, mixing human introspection with glib quips. Yet there is feeling that we've seen it all before, without the reprising of old themes and old villains really being embellished with clever plotting (heck, even the idea of a "super strike team" is hardly new, from The Legion Espionage Squad, to Justice League Elite, and a bunch inbetween).

Take the opening two-parter. The basic plot has the villain The Doomsday Man (a villain she'd fought before) escaping A.I.M. (ditto), involving a zombie plague (ditto, again). Doomsday Man's plan/goal/motive is just to get revenge on Ms. M. And then after a long, protracted fight, in which we are continually told how tough and unbeatable Doomsday Man is...Ms. Marvel punches him, 'cause she got really mad...or something. Not much of a "plot", not much of a "denouement", and nothing much original -- certainly not stretched over two issues. It isn't that it's terrible -- it clips along, and isn't uninteresting, but nothing much really stands out, either.

Then we get another two-parter (A.I.M. becoming a sub-plot) where Ms. M., feeling bad after having previously arrested an ex-superhero (Arachna) and separated her from her daughter, wants to make amends. There's actually not too much action in this story...but, arguably, there's not too much else, either. Part of the problem with editorial enforced storylines like Civil War that are imposed on the entire line of comics is that it kind of falls to the regular writers to try and get their characters back on track, to explain, justify, or nullify what the characters did. But the problem also here is that Ms. Marvel basically starts out feeling it's not like the story acts as a character arc, where we see how Ms. Marvel arrives at her decision. And because she now has the full backing of SHIELD...there aren't really any plot complications, moral or legal, she can't overcome simply by pulling a few strings.

Reed may have a decent ear for dialogue...but his understanding of plot, whether it be the action-thriller of The Doomsday Man story, or the character dilemma of the Arachna story, seems weak.

Then we get to the three part A.I.M. battle where Ms. Marvel and her Lightning Storm team (which includes fellow super hero Wonder Man, as well as a few SHIELD agents) get caught up in A.I.M.'s internal conflict, the terrorist group having splintered into opposing forces fighting it out over a lethal gene bomb. It's briskly paced and decent enough without quite gelling into anything that great. Sure, the different factions can keep you on your toes trying to keep track of who's who. But the basic plot (and plans) are pretty simple...and a mite confusing (why does arch foe MODOK act almost as though he's winning when he seems to be getting the fuzzy end of the lollipop?) At one point Ms. Marvel is presented with the dilemma of maybe allying herself with one branch of A.I.M., choosing the devil you know...but it never really becomes a moral issue, or progresses to the point where it's actually relevant to the plot.

It does, at least, build to a climax -- admittedly a wishy-washy climax, clearly opening the door for future conflicts. But at least it's enough of a resolution that the three issues -- and this seven issue collection -- can satisfy as an arc.

Sometimes super hero comics can excuse thin plots because our real interest is in the character/soap opera and brewing sub-plots. Yet for all that Reed can write a fairly talky's not like there's a whole lot else going on.

Ms. Marvel is one of those characters who is sufficiently marginal that, I suspect, her personality isn't set in stone as solidly as, say, Spider-Man. She started out as a security specialist and romantic interest in someone else's comic (Captain Marvel), then became her own super hero...while working as a magazine editor. Along the way her powers and costumes have been tweaked here and there. Reed tends to write her as a bit, um, girly. Despite wanting to take charge of a strike team, and being made leader of the Avengers, she doesn't really seem like a veteran strategist and combatant. She's likeable enough, but tends to mope about, pining for a boy friend like a teenage girl. .

Instead of a supporting cast providing a human grounding for the super's a cast that is mainly comprised of fellow super heroes (Wonder Man, teen heroine Arana, and Iron Man in a few scenes) and SHIELD agents, with Ms. Marvel herself relocating to a SHIELD mini-carrier, further removing her -- and by extension the series -- from a real wold/civilian footing. Ms. M doesn't have a civilian job or a secret identity anymore. And you end up with a comic that doesn't really seem like a solo Ms. Marvel series anymore...without giving the others enough to do that it seems like a team book (the SHIELD agents don't really become characters).

The opening two-parter involving Doomsday Man is drawn by European artist Roberto De La Torre, and he has a nice, beautiful, realist style -- moody, with good facial expressions and body language. My main quibble, ironically, is that he's not as strong drawing Ms. Marvel herself, of making our beautiful heroine...beautiful. But even then, it's not bad. The rest of this collection is drawn by Aaron Lopresti, a solid artist, with clear storytelling. He tends to have a style (or blame the inker) that tends to give everything a bit of a plastic sheen, rather than flesh and blood. Ms. Marvel's hair seems to gleam more than flow. Still, even if my preferences lean a bit toward De La Torre, the art is better-than-average throughout.

So, ultimately, as a pick-it-up-and-read-it-for-itself book, or as sampler of Ms. Marvel's current run, its a decent book, with some plot threads carried from, and into, surrounding issues, but enough of its own complete-in-itself story(ies) to make for a perfectly comprehensible read just for a casual reader. The visuals are good, and Reed's dialogue is solid, even if like a lot of modern comics writers, he seems to stretch out talky scenes longer than they need to be, the characters talking a lot without necessarily saying anything more. The plotting is pretty rudimentary. It's a decent book...but doesn't maybe instill in me any great desire to follow her monthly comic.

Cover price: $__ USA

Back to Captain Marvel/Ms. Marvel Reviews Page 1

Back to the masked bookwyrm