Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Review - Ms. Marvel: Generation Why by G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, and Jake Wyatt

Short review: Kamala Khan must learn what it means to be a hero in order to confront and overcome the nefarious and manipulative Inventor.

In need of guidance
She teams up with Wolverine
Learns she's Inhuman

Full review: While No Normal, the first volume of the Ms. Marvel series, focused heavily on Kamala Khan's complicated relationship with her family, her religion, and her self-identity, Generation Why is a much more conventional super-hero story in which she hunts down a super-villain and foils his evil plan. The story, to a certain extent, seems to fade back into the standard Marvel universe elements, but even so it still manages to keep the lens directly on Kamala and the fact that not only is she a a brand new super-hero, she is also a teenage girl from Jersey City, and is subject to all of the pressures that teenagers face, just with the added complications of stretchy powers and an enemy that wants to enslave her.

The book opens with Ms. Marvel fighting the Inventor's robot creations in a back alley, discovering that she has to continually stay on her toes to keep ahead of her adversary's ingenuity. Fairly soon, the story moves to the only real expression of Kamala's Islamic faith in this volume, as her nocturnal activities have not gone unnoticed and her parents insist that she must meet with Sheikh Abdullah after an event at their mosque. Despite Kamala's dread concerning the conversation, Abdullah turns out to be remarkably understanding, and sets the tone for the entire remainder of the issue: Both trusting Kamala to make the right decisions with her life, telling her to do the best she can in her endeavors, and telling her to find the right mentor to guide her. In many ways, Abdullah serves as an almost exact contrast to the Inventor, and her conversation with the Sheikh helps to show exactly where she derives the spinal fortitude needed to overcome the super-villain.

From there, the books moves into fairly familiar super-hero territory, with Ms. Marvel embarking on an adventure through Jersey City's sewers to fight off cybernetically enhanced and genetically modified crocodiles with Wolverine at her side, and then making the acquaintance of a giant teleporting dog named Lockjaw, and eventually getting swept away to New Attilan by Medusa to learn that her heritage is not what she thought it was. This set of developments is both a mixed blessing for the series: Ms. Marvel is, after all, a super-hero who exists in the Marvel universe, and thus it was inevitable that she would connect with the greater fictional world that surrounds her, but on the other hand when contrasted with the rich family and religious life that had been built up for Kamala, the standard Marvel comic book elements seem somewhat out of place, and almost comical. Kamala is a teenager though, and letting her act like an excited fangirl when she meets Wolverine, a funny and silly reminder of how young and how new to being a super-hero she is.

As a side note, while most of the art in this volume is top notch, the artwork for Wolverine seems to render him in a manner that frequently makes him look oddly proportioned. This doesn't seem to be an issue for any of the other characters in the volume, well other than Ms. Marvel who is supposed to look oddly proportioned when she is using her stretchy powers, and the Inventor, but he's a clone whose creation was contaminated with cockatiel DNA, so having him look weird seems appropriate. But there are several panels where Wolverine looks like a big yellow square with tiny arms and legs, and that just seems like a let down in this otherwise well-drawn book.

The interesting thing about the story is that even when it seems to be slipping into standard "super-hero" territory, it sidesteps the obvious. It turns out that charging forward to smash the Inventor's robots and rescue the kidnapped children is not nearly as straightforward as Kamala thought, and this is where the support she received from Sheikh Abdullah serves her in its most obvious manner. The Inventor doesn't merely create mechanical minions and genetically engineered monstrosities, he convinces teens that they are useless as anything except mindless raw materials for machinery. To rescue the Inventor's victim's, Kamala must persuade them of their own value, calling upon the lessons that she herself had been taught and forming them into a team that can work together. She is a hero not because she has super-powers, or because she knows Wolverine, but rather because she is surrounded by a community of ordinary caring adults who provide the guidance and education that make her into the person she is. Like Captain America, Ms. Marvel isn't a super-hero because of her powers, but because of the moral person she is and how that informs how she uses those powers.

In the end, good triumphs and evil is vanquished, although the story does offer a not very subtle hint that the "villainous mastermind" was not actually the villainous mastermind. No Normal was about Kamala Khan accepting her role as a super-hero (although, ironically, the line in which she ways "no normal is her normal" is in this volume, not the first one). In contrast, Generation Why is about Kamala Khan understanding what it means to be a super-hero, figuring out her place in the world, and to a certain extent, learning what being a super-hero might cost her. The development of Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel has been brilliant from the beginning, and this volume simply continues that trend.

Previous book in the series: Ms. Marvel: No Normal
Subsequent book in the series: Ms. Marvel: Crushed

Potential 2016 Hugo Nominees

G. Willow Wilson     Adrian Alphona     Jake Wyatt     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

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