G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona’s “Ms. Marvel” #18 is touted as a team-up between Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel, but that part of the story doesn’t have as much literal or metaphorical punch as one might expect. While Kamala does get some quality time with her namesake, the heart of the story is driven by Kamala’s family dynamics.
Kamala’s scenes with Carol are the weakest parts of “Ms. Marvel” #18. While their interaction is enjoyable, the talisman Carol gives Kamala feels like fan service, and even Wilson’s gift for dialogue can’t make the stalest, sappiest lines like “I came here for me, but I stayed for you” come off believably. The sentiment will be welcome to readers, though, since it’s nice to see Kamala get the support she deserves after a few issues filled with self-doubt and misery.
Otherwise, Wilson’s dialogue is superb and feels effortless. Few writers can make conversations flow as quickly and naturally and make well-worn scenarios feel so fresh. The bolded words in the word balloons put just the right emphases and rhythms into Aamir’s awesome “stay away from my sister” speech. Phrases like “really heinous intestinal distress” show Wilson’s talent and skill for humorous diction.
Wilson’s teamwork with Alphona is seamless. Their work can be light and funny in one panel and bring the reader close to tears in the next. Alphona’s art has been consistently very strong, but he outdoes himself in this issue with the emotional range of his body language and facial expressions. When Aamir tells Kamala “you just don’t understand,” the timing is perfect and her facial expressions are priceless.
There’s a lot of action and several setting changes that allow Alphona to show the chaos in Jersey City. Herring’s cool blue monotone flattens out the Captain Marvel scenes too much, but his pairing of yellow-green and teal in the Aamir scenes is inspired. It immerses the reader in the fight and gives the mutagenic mist dramatic volume.
While the fight which drives most of the action is physical as well as mental, it’s never in question that words are the strongest weapons in the battle, and Aamir’s character is beautifully expanded and illuminated through them. He became more than just comic relief back when he had a serious talk with Bruno in “Mr. Marvel” #14, but it’s in this issue that he is more truly and fully revealed. When Aamir pushes back against Kamran, his strength of character is spellbinding. His fundamentalism now gives him the ability to counter Kamran in a way that Kamala could not, because Aamir is sure that he’s right. Even better, he is right in this context. Aamir’s approach to his faith seems harsh and self-righteous at times, but Wilson shows that his religious principles are rooted in love and loyalty instead of a desire to shame or control others. Even better, Aamir doesn’t lose his comic edge, either. He’s still hilarious when he hams it up with self-pity over his unwanted superpowers.
Heroic fiction about kids or teenagers often features dead, clueless or benignly negligent parents, because normal, live, non-abusive parents get in the way of adventures and angst. Wilson doesn’t take the easy way, and Kamala’s parents loom large in her life with a positive, forceful presence. Wilson also doesn’t take the easy way out with religion, but makes Kamala and Aamir’s faith a part of who they are, without excluding or offending readers who don’t share the same beliefs. When Kamala talks about what “the angels write in my book,” it brings out the beauty and poetry in religious imagery.
Wilson’s passion and respect for family and faith animates “Last Days” with poignancy and tenderness. Kamala might feel like she’s gotten things wrong in the last few weeks, but her priorities and instincts for how to live when the world is ending are just right, and the reader knows it. The ending of “Ms. Marvel” #18 is splendid, surpassing most cliffhangers in its narrative power and showing how love and intimacy can surprise and move a reader more than suspense or fear.