When we last saw Kamala Khan in Ms. Marvel #7 she was, in her own words, “battling the Inventor’s giant sewer alligators,” together with Wolverine. The issue ended with Medusa, Queen of the Inhumans, preparing to send teleporting alien bulldog Lockjaw to Kamala, to watch out for our young heroine as she “grows into her power.”
This latest issue, which kickstarts a new four-part story arc titled “Generation Why,” calls for patience and considerable suspension of disbelief, as its minimal yet wildly imaginative plot progression is largely in service of developing specific themes. Yet, the story is more than sustained by the endearing — and somehow utterly believable — immediate bond between Kamala and her first-ever pet, protector and partner-in-crime, Lockjaw.
On the one hand, that Kamala takes to Lockjaw almost right away is not entirely surprising: a giant, slobbery teleporting moondog complete with a huge bow and a sign around its neck declaring “HELLO MY NAME IS LOCKJAW I LIKE HUGS” would appeal to this whimsical teenager who likes winged sloth stuffed toys, reads Magical Pony Adventures comics, and whose visions of the Avengers are replete with little birds in woolly hats (see Issue #1). On the other, it is made clear that even Kamala’s literal and instantaneous embrace of Lockjaw is, though it appears impulsive, also a conscious decision: in her opening monologue, she attributes it to “noticing,” and “decid[ing] not to be afraid.” This is her simple definition of “heroing.”
The issue, raised in our review of Ms. Marvel #7, of whether this sweet new canine is haram or not is briefly alluded to, and swiftly resolved, at least for now. Kamala’s brother Aamir declares that dogs are not “pak” (pure), but their parents seem more worried “what…the neighbors [will] think” (Ammi) of this “deformed monstrosity” (Abu). The family grudgingly agrees that Lockjaw will be kept in the backyard — but then again, he can teleport into Kamala’s room at will, anyway.
— Jacasimov (@ImYourNewDad) October 5, 2014
In Issue #8, as she has already done several times before, Kamala approaches uncertain and dangerous situations by fully trusting in Lockjaw, thinking quickly, and acting almost without hesitation — qualities that win me over even as I worry for her. While the Inventor and his minions remain puzzling and not entirely convincing nemeses, this issue does see Kamala forced to suddenly confront the “mortal implications of her…identity”: the villain’s seemingly-defeated robot makes its way to Kamala’s high school with the help of a stowaway “remote homing beacon” that has somehow taken refuge in her bookbag. As Kamala tries to get up on her feet, “heal first, then transform” into Ms. Marvel, somehow, nothing happens.
This is an especially massive blow to Kamala because she so firmly holds herself responsible for the safety of Jersey City and the welfare of its residents — “That thing came for me. I brought it here. It’s my fault–”, she insists, even as her “head hurts,” her “ears ringing.” She is the prime example used to illustrate series author G. Willow Wilson’s conviction that today’s youth are not the lazy, disinterested, self-absorbed sorts they are often made out to be. In their Teens and the Media class, addressing severe-eyebrowed, grey-haired Mrs. Van Boom (who inexplicably has a big wooden ruler in hand for the duration of their lesson), Nakia insists that it is “insulting” to “write off a whole generation,” which, Kamala reiterates, “has to deal with all the problems the last generation left for it to fix.”
While I’m in agreement with such sentiments, I find this message is conveyed in a somewhat heavy-handed manner. But then again, this big-hearted series’ good intentions have outweighed its subtlety on multiple occasions. A holier-than-thou attitude is avoided thanks to a good, if cheesy, sense of humor: for instance, the students’ assigned reading comes from The Pedantic Monthly, whose cover is quite likely meant to reference The Atlantic.
Series artist Adrian Alphona has also returned after a two-issue break, armed with his characteristic playful attention to detail. From start to end, Issue #8 is peppered with little throwaway jokes that reward and amuse the close reader: a “do not kick” street sign all bent out of shape, a school textbook titled “SCIENCE IN YO FACE: JERSEY EDITION,” the kid seated behind Kamala in class, who’s doodling in his book in one panel, and then fully asleep, head on his desk, in the next. I’m curious to know how much of this is self-directed, or whether it is devised in collaboration with Wilson. In any case, Alphona’s artwork and Wilson’s tone for the series are well in sync. In conclusion, Ms. Marvel #8 intentionally or otherwise opens up the potential for serious commentary on the interdependent relationship youth and technology have today. The issue ends with a dramatic full-page shot of the crash site: “FREE Wi-Fi,” the exterior of the Inventor’s fallen robot declares, and in its shadow two nonchalant students are intensely focused on their handheld devices. The Pedantic Monthly has declared teenagers “parasites addicted to their smart phones, who don’t give back to society,” but the Inventor’s robot is itself something of a parasite, powered as it is by one of the missing New Jersey kids, who even stops Kamala from rescuing him, claiming that he’s “p-part of it now–I’m giving back–”. If this is the warped present conception of “giving back to society,” Ms. Marvel’s recipe for “heroing” — one half “noticing things,” the other half “decid[ing] not to be afraid” — becomes all the more crucial. “Adults are too wrapped up in their own worlds to notice the really big stuff,” Kamala observes. For the sake of Jersey City, we hope Ms. Marvel can embiggen again too.
Odds and Ends:
Kamala’s first-best friend Nakia’s back! She has a last name! And amazing eyebrows!
Did you spot these other puzzles and surprises in Alphona’s artwork? An ice-cream truck in the abandoned power plant that is parked outside Kamala’s high school later the same morning; the one kid in Kamala’s Media class who has a Math textbook on her desk; the map of North America on which Canada is labeled “Snow Mexico”; and what I’ve convinced myself is a cricket bat in the umbrella stand right by the door to the Khans’ home.
— frizz kahlo ◡‿◡✿ (@aditishiva) October 4, 2014
Aditi Shiva is from Singapore and works as an editor of comics and young adult fiction. She tweets at @aditishiva.
Ms. Marvel (2014) is written by G. Willow Wilson and edited by Sana Amanat. Issue #8 features art by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring and letters by Joe Caramagna. The cover is by Jamie McKelvie, and is colored by Matt Wilson. Join the “Kamala Korps” and find out about upcoming issues on the series’ official tumblr. Issue #9 releases on October 15.