Note: This post contains spoilers for those who haven’t read the second issue of Ms. Marvel. Issue #2 is available for purchase.
Following the resounding success of its preceding issue (which has gone into a third printing), the much-awaited Ms. Marvel #2 wastes no time at all in bringing us back into Kamala Khan’s world. Issue #2 picks up almost right where its predecessor ended: with our heroine coming to terms with the effects of what we learn is the Terrigen Bomb, a mysterious vapor that induces mutations in descendants of Inhumans, a fictional race of super-humans in Marvel-verse. Where Issue #1 showed us the circumstances that drove Kamala’s fervent wish to be like her heroes, the Avengers, this issue challenges — gently, and never unkindly — her preconceived notions. For one, she learns, superhero costumes themselves don’t make you feel “strong and confident and beautiful.” Also, they don’t include underwear.
This slower-paced second issue affords greater prominence to the artwork by Adrian Alphona, who is perhaps best known as the co-creator (with Brian K. Vaughan) of Marvel Comics’ Runaways. In that acclaimed series about a group of vivacious superpowered teenagers on the run from their no-good parents, he demonstrated his keen talent for capturing young peoples’ figures and unique fashion choices, and for illustrating with great empathy the range of expressions and emotions his characters felt.
Where Ms. Marvel #1 displayed Alphona’s flair for character design, #2 is a delight for the array of endearing expressions Kamala Khan wears. For all her insecurities, she is charmingly uninhibited when it comes to displaying her feelings. A triptych of panels in For all her insecurities, she is charmingly uninhibited when it comes to displaying her feelings.which she has her eyes squeezed shut, her chin jutting out, as she wills herself to “TRANSFORM!!!!” suggests, like few verbal outbursts could, her dogged determination. When she successfully instructs her hand to “disembiggen,” her frustrated pout immediately turns into a satisfied little smirk; she’s in equal parts surprised and impressed, all at once out of her element and surprisingly in tune with it. One moment she’s rolling her eyes at her melodramatic older brother, giving him some merciless side-eye, the next she’s all eyes-wide-open as she learns her parents know she snuck out of the house. And then there’s Kamala’s gorgeously lively hair, which always seems to be protesting, or enthusing, together with her. (Given these visual strengths, Ms. Marvel seems wonderfully suitable for an animated series. Just saying.) Right down to Kamala’s body language, Alphona does a great job of making her responses realistic and believable.
Given its seemingly classic story arc thus far, Ms. Marvel could very well become yet another maudlin, preachy coming of age tale, but so far the story avoids this trap thanks to the unpretentious, natural style in which G. Willow Wilson has written it. Kamala’s goofy humor persists even in her confusing circumstances: “This hand thing is getting…out of hand…Great, I make bad puns now…,” she comments, almost offhand (ah, it’s contagious), waiting for them to “get normal-sized” as a curious gaggle of teenager Sometimes, the biggest truths are actually really small ones.onlookers — her peers — gawks and takes photos with their phones. Wilson undercuts the allure of being a Captain Marvel replica by poking fun at the less-discussed inconveniences of a superhero costume: the “amazing hair” gets in Kamala’s face, the thigh-high boots pinch, and the leotard gives her an “epic wedgie.” But through saving Zoe’s life, Kamala comes to realize that “Maybe putting on a costume doesn’t make you brave. Maybe it’s something else.” The takeaway message, the moral, is still made explicit, but is gently delivered, like a small epiphany: the kind that sometimes felt so momentous, even portentous, as a teenager. The kind that your parents or teachers or books might have told you about, but when the moment happened to you, it still felt like you’d uncovered some rare, important secret. Sometimes, the biggest truths are actually really small ones.
There is, of course, something poetic (if not particularly subtle) in the fact that Kamala’s shape-shifting powers include the ability to “embiggen” her hands: hands that could form fists and fight, hands that stretched out and saved her frenemy Zoe Zimmer’s “flaky, hair-flipping life,” hands that could work with others to help, as “part of something…more.” As this second episode of Ms. Marvel draws to a close, Kamala once again finds herself alone; even as the tension from the family’s argument lingers in her room, her quiet resolve grows despite — perhaps even because of — the looming uncertainty, the unknowns that face her. Can Kamala trust herself with her new gifts? Will she have to go it alone, or will she have allies? Given how present Kamala’s family seems in her life and how formative home life seems to her identity (whether she likes it or not), it will be interesting to see her negotiate her relationship with her seemingly well-intentioned, if overprotective, parents and older brother, even as she “finally [becomes] part of something bigger.”
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 here. Issue #3 releases 16 April 2014.
Aditi Shiva is from Singapore and works as an editor of comics and young adult fiction. She tweets at @aditishiva.