By Steve Morris
Spoilers below, of course: we’re talking about the last issue of the run!
Ms Marvel was probably not expected to last beyond an initial miniseries, a story about a young adult Muslim girl from New Jersey who would step into the role recently vacated by Carol Danvers (who herself had moved across to become “Captain” Marvel). Created by (deep breath) editor Sana Amanat, writer G. Willow Wilson, artist Adrian Alphona, designer Jamie McKelvie and editor Steve Wacker, the character of Kamala Khan debuted as Ms Marvel in 2014, to fanfare and excitement – but no guarantee of a future.
It was a risk. Marvel have seen this kind of reader hype before, and that doesn’t necessarily lead to making a long-term investment – just ask fans of Gravity. But in the case of Ms Marvel, the hype led to a critically-acclaimed run with the character, and that led to appearances in other comics; in other media; and with an upcoming Disney+ series featuring the character in live-action. She landed with readers, and became a new mainstay for Marvel. Fittingly for a shape-shifting character, Kamala Khan has left behind a permanent footprint on the modern comics landscape.
In issue #38 of her fourth (!) volume of adventures, five years after she first appeared, G. Willow Wilson and Sana Amanat left the character behind (in comics form at least – Amanat is working on the TV show) and the Marvel machinery shifted to bring in a new creative team to take the character forwards for what would ultimately be volume 5 of her existence. Naturally you might have expected that they’d would want to conclude some of their long-running plot points, like Kamala’s now-awkward relationship with characters Bruno and Nakia. Surprisingly, the final issue instead decides to note all these problems still exist between the characters, and now is not the time to resolve them. In fact, the issue delights in emphasising how strongly their story is not yet concluded.
Curiously, Wilson only writes the first nine pages of the actual issue, before handing the rest of the issue over to a series of “guest” creative teams. There’s no attempt to wrap things up for Kamala or the series, despite this being a farewell for the two most formative creative voices in her existence. Instead, Wilson entices readers into considering all the potential Kamala has, and allows other people to suggest all the different kind of stories which she has yet to star in. Just as the first issue was a pitch for readers, this final issue similarly pitches readers on the ongoing future of Kamala. This is no longer about Sana Amanat or G. Willow Wilson’s personal vision of a new kind of superhero: this is about Ms Marvel being handed back to Marvel’s giant machine. Will she survive the experience?
The issue finds Kamala in a malaise, cleverly enough having one of those grey days where nothing is clicking. She simply isn’t feeling it right now, and she walks through a happy and vibrant New Jersey with her head held low and her mind a mess. “I’m not sure whether I want to unplug… or plug in forever”, Kamala says, mirroring what we would all assume Marvel’s editors were also wondering. Is Kamala reaching the end of her time, and will she simply drift out of comics forever, a landmark creation who simply won’t be able to sustain beyond the departure of her original creators?
It’s worth noting that while original series artist Adrian Alphona doesn’t return for the issue, Ian Herring colours the entire thing – as he did for the entirety of Kamala’s first five years of existence. Herring’s work is an underappreciated part of Kamala’s world, with his seemingly muted palette hiding a brightness and warmth throughout the characters local neighbourhood which gives realism to the fantastic. Each new section of this issue finds Herring retaining elements of his memorable style – the last reminder of the Kamala who debuted years before – whilst shifting things just slightly, emphasising the variety of options available for Kamala, and the endless possibilities for the character moving forward.
It again reminds the reader: Just look at all these great things you can do with Kamala Khan.
The various writers and artists send Kamala and her friends through a wormhole which conveniently opens up in, well, the convenience store. Each three-four page section sees Kamala track down one friend at a time, rescuing them and returning them to her team. Each short story plays into a slightly different tone or genre, whilst retaining the overall idea that she’s living through various popular role-playing games (in keeping with the character’s gamer personality). She moves from video game to table-top game on the turn of the page, each time rescuing her friends through a combination of brains, empathy… and simply knowing how these stories are meant to work.
After getting everybody back, she hears a final message which tells her “all levels complete!” which indicates that she’s finally done it; she’s finally reached the end of her quest. But then, in the same panel…
Joe Caramagna hides the reveal in the furthest corner of the panel possible. “New stages unlocked!”
This is not the end of her adventure, and in fact she’s only just beginning. There’s so much more left for her to explore within the Marvel Universe. It’s a very clear message from the creative team: although Ms Marvel was not expected to last beyond about ten issues, now she’s here to stay, and you should in no circumstances treat this as a jumping off point or end to her adventures. Keep reading, true believers!
Marvel unsurprisingly made a huge deal of Wilson leaving the series, publishing her final message to readers on social media and celebrating everything that she’d done for Kamala Khan – but in reality, Wilson is already gone by page 9 of this 20-page story. It feels like a very deliberate move from the creative team to ensure that Kamala’s story isn’t the story of G. Willow Wilson and Sana Amanat, starting with their great pitch and ending once their momentum and energy were traded out for a new creative team and probable homogenisation under the crushing pressure of Marvel’s moneymaking machinery.
Instead, through the creative choice to only take those nine pages, G Willow Wilson refuses to tell the ending of Kamala Khan’s story. It may have been her final issue, and it may have ended the volume, but issue #38 of Ms Marvel becomes only the first part of Kamala Khan’s great adventure… whatever that may bring in years to come.
Ms Marvel Vol 4 #38 “Boss Rush”
Written by G. WIllow Wilson, Devin Grayson, Eve L. Ewing, Jim Zub and Saladin Ahmed
Drawn by Nico Leon, Takeshi Miyazawa, Joey Vazquez, Kevin Libranda, Minkyu Jung and Juan Vlasco
Coloured by Ian Herring
Lettered by Joe Caramagna
Steve Morris runs this site! Having previously written for sites including The Beat, ComicsAlliance, CBR and The MNT, he can be found on Twitter here. He’s a bunny.
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