Hugo Review: Ms Marvel Vol. 1

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This is very much a teenager with problems story. Not bad for what it is, but not a superhero story. She has to deal with racists and her traditional parents for a lot of slice of life stuff before we get to anything exciting and heroic. It’s VERY slow in comic terms, taking an entire issue before she becomes Miss Marvel. Then there’s a lot of introspection before anything exciting happens, and what we do get is fairly low-stakes.

Ms Marvel feels, in its art, its story and its pacing, like an indie comic dressed up mainstream Marvel title. You cannot go into Miss Marvel hoping for a superhero comic; you will be disappointed. It’s a pretty good slice of life + aww, man, I’m a teenager with superpowers, but it’s not a good superhero comic. So depending on how you’re assessing it, it’s going to be either great or terrible. Sometimes I feel like it’s trying too hard to be hip and relevant, but that’s a common crime in mainstream comics so is easily forgiven. Slightly more annoying is the very strong Dorky Sue wish-fulfillment vibe going on to the point where if I didn’t know that Kamala was actually Ms Marvel, I’d be waiting for the part where she wakes up and it’s all a dream. Then again, knowing Marvel, that’s always a possibility.

Ms Marvel is not message fiction: that terrible Batman and the Outsiders Annual #1 where the Outsiders fight the Force of July, a villain team put together by a straw-republican who read 1984 and decided that what we need is more government, was message fiction. It’s more teen-girl drama where getting superpowers that one can’t control is a metaphor for growing up while you’re trying to figure out who you are.  It’s never really ham-fisted and, unlike other recent titles, exists to explore and push new creative boundaries rather than to troll comic book fans.  So yay, for that!

I’ll admit that I’m not really familiar with a lot of the Marvel properties, and that includes previous incarnations of Miss Marvel, so I can’t really compare Kamala to any earlier versions. Her main power seems to be over the size of portions or the whole of her body with limited transformation related healing. The giant hands power is kinda creepy and weird looking. She’s kind of a glass cannon at this point, which could make for some interesting hero-villain combat dynamics in the future, but that isn’t really explored very much in volume 1.  Kamala lacks an interesting or compelling villain, which is a driving force behind so many of the best heroic origin stories; her self-doubt could be said to be the villain of volume 1.  Plenty of heroes struggle with self-doubt, but they tend to do so while fighting really interesting bad guys.  Kamala has a guy with a weird bird costume show up on the very last page of the volume promising things have only just begun.

Like I said, this one is a slow burn – a real slow burn – and there’s practically no bang at the end. Despite that, it’s something I wouldn’t mind reading more of. Still, I have a hard time being convinced that this is the best comic book story of 2014; it might be, I don’t know, since I don’t read Marvel, swore off DC’s New 52 and don’t read indie stuff as much as I used to. I don’t know where I’ll place this one in the ranks yet. It’s definitely not a lock for 1st, but if someone asked me if Miss Marvel was a good comic, I’d probably tell them “Yeah, it was alright. I liked the old Runaways better, but you could do worse.”