When we last saw teenage superhero Kamala Khan in Ms. Marvel #3, she had just been shot and lay in costume (in the apparent guise of Captain Marvel) on the floor of the Jersey City grocery store manned by her friend Bruno. Issue #4 picks up briskly right where the preceding installment left off.
Issue #3’s cliffhanger ending had left me apprehensive; it seemed a little too dramatic, too soon, but I figured there couldn’t be, and am relieved to report that there isn’t, a fatal outcome. This latest issue manages especially in its first half to sustain the humorous tone and lively pacing that has made this new series an entertaining and accessible read.
Issue #4, titled “Past Curfew,” opens with unconventional angles characteristic of series artist Adrian Alphona’s creative and playful visual choices in this series so far. We see from Kamala’s perspective: she’s come to, still lying on the store floor, two faces staring down at her. Everything is slightly blurry, all shades of blue and purple and grey: Bruno’s lively hair, his errant brother Vick’s cap and gloves and ski mask.
Despite the worry on Bruno’s face, the brothers’ bickering is almost comical. When Vick, the armed culprit, protests: “I didn’t mean to! It just — went off!” for a moment it seems the boys might as well be fretting over spilled milk, or a carton of broken eggs in aisle three.
At first, this set-up of a shooting without any real consequences seems almost glib in light of the alarming frequency of gun violence in the United States. But it does prove to be a necessary, if not perhaps the most sophisticated, plot device that propels the story forward on several important fronts.
The first half of Issue #4 sees Kamala revealing her new-found powers to Bruno, her Kamala and Bruno’s open and honest relationship forms the emotional heart of this theatrical situation.self-professed “second-best friend” (the first likely being Nakia). Their open and honest relationship forms the emotional heart of this theatrical situation. Bruno is so far refreshingly presented as sensitive and protective, but neither is he a pushover; he quickly turns from confusion to action when the police arrive, tossing Kamala a sleep mask (“Poke eyeholes in it!”) to use as a last-resort disguise.
Kamala, too, is not all apologetic for not having shared with him what she’s been going through. Rather, she is comfortable enough to say, “Imagine how I feel. I’ve been obsessively searching the Internet all weekend.”
Given their understanding of each other, it’s a sweet yet not overemphasized touch to have Bruno unwittingly give Kamala her superhero name when he calls for an ambulance, saying “Ms. Marvel just got shot in my store.” When the police and paramedics enter, Kamala proudly declares — mask askew, shot wound still visible — “I’m Ms. Marvel”.
It also appears that in this universe the public is aware of superheroes and acknowledges In this universe the public is aware of superheroes and acknowledges their co-existence in society.their co-existence in society — if not always approvingly certainly with fascination as is the case with Kamala’s social media-savvy peers who have pursued her with phones and cameras in earlier issues. Here, too, the Jersey City cops who show up expecting an “armed robbery and possible gunshot fatality” seem (unrealistically) lenient and mostly only bemused about “Costumed kids these days,” as a nonchalant paramedic whose buddy in Brooklyn has encountered Hawkeye himself puts it.
All the same, that doesn’t undermine the triumphant three-panel sequence in which a policeman comments, “…you don’t look like Ms. Marvel to me.” “What’s Ms. Marvel supposed to look like?” Kamala questions, demonstrating that she does indeed have “big powers,” though she may not be “tall, blonde.”
As the plot thickens from the second half of this issue, I would love to see Kamala working through not I would love to see Kamala working through not just the social but also mortal implications of her newly adopted identity.just the social but also mortal implications of her newly adopted identity. In addition to discovering the extent of her powers and mastering them, coming to terms with the realities of not having “perfect hair and big boots” even then, navigating her relationship with her parents, uncovering the details of her emerging connection to a wider network of superheroes (some form of tie-in to Marvel’s “Inhumanity” story line is likely) and perhaps even the emotional consequences of her second-best friend’s apparent crush on her, she now has to confront the reality that her life could be at greater risk .
The cover for Issue #5, a lovely, vast, starlit scene that has captivated me ever since they released the visual online, sets the tone for a more contemplative detour. Kamala’s courage and idealism are apparent not just in her loyalty to not just her friends — “What am I supposed to do with super-powers besides help my friends?”, she asks Bruno, all matter-of-fact — but also in her firm conviction that to “think about the greater good” is to “defend people who can’t defend themselves, even if it means putting yourself at risk.”
With #5 coming out this Wednesday, we may find out very soon how she will reconcile these big ideas with her big heart and big hands.
Ms. Marvel (2014) is written by G. Willow Wilson and edited by Sana Amanat, with art by Adrian Alphona. Join the “Kamala Korps” on the series’ official tumblr and find out about upcoming issues. Issue #5 releases June 25, 2014.
Aditi Shiva is from Singapore and works as an editor of comics and young adult fiction. She tweets at @aditishiva.