In G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa and Adrian Alphona’s “Ms. Marvel” #1, Kamala Khan has growing pains as she becomes “Super Famous” in her own neighborhood. The book’s award-winning creative team is intact, with the same writer and same two artists who defined the original run. Even though Kamala’s an Avenger now, “Ms. Marvel” #1 focuses on her solo efforts, her family and her hometown.
A new #1 creates a jumping-on point for new readers, but pressure to be newbie-friendly also means there are heavier exposition requirements. Wilson infodumps a little as Kamala fills the reader in on the aftermath of “Secret Wars” and the near-apocalypse, and then her friends fill the reader in on what Kamala’s missed. Kamala’s voice is as strong as ever, but the story feels both rushed and bumpy, especially in the first twenty pages. This pacing and texture might be deliberate to convey Kamala’s mood: stressed, over-stimulated and irritable. Miyazawa’s artwork for these pages is also more jumbled and jumpy than in his previous work. His background details are still wonderful, but the transitions are weaker.
The plot splits to follow two kinds of growing pains. One features an almost comically villainous real estate developer, and the other picks up the thread of Bruno’s longstanding romantic interest in Kamala.
Wilson’s creation of Hope Yards Development attempts to address a real socioeconomic urban concern — redevelopment and gentrification — but her approach doesn’t hit the right note. The mysterious developer is too over-the-top evil in his dealings. His corruption is obvious, and so Wilson dodges the more nuanced question: what is the right way to regard to real estate developers who are legal and above-board, but whose focus on money and profits will still drive out beloved neighborhood grocers? That is left unclear, and they are by implication tarred with the same brush. Wilson pretty much tells the reader what to think and her message is just too simplistic, but this part of the story may gain traction later.
The last ten pages of “Ms. Marvel” #1 focus solely on Bruno’s life while Kamala has been Avenging. It’s odd to realize Bruno’s narration here is more comfortable and positive than Kamala’s, and just stronger all around. Bruno comes out ahead in more ways than one. Right before he launches into his flashback, Kamala does something that is unambiguously wrong: she makes a catty, unpleasant crack about another person’s appearance. It’s a cheap shot and an ugly moment, born of jealousy, and Bruno rightly calls her out on it. It’s not unforgivable mistake, especially since Kamala is immediately horrified by herself, but it’s notably the first time I’ve ever felt repelled by her actions. By comparison, Bruno has acted more nobly and with more self-awareness in the field of love than Kamala has. When he had a rival, he didn’t try to sabotage or interfere, nor did he take things out on Kamala or anyone else.
In both plotlines, Kamala is shown to be unprepared for how her world has been changing too, in ways she might not like. Miyazawa and Alphona are both skilled at drawing facial expressions. Alphona handles the Bruno-heavy part of the issue, though, and thus gets a slower pace and a wider range of emotion to work with. In Miyazawa’s part, the repetition of Kamala’s disbelieving and angry face gets old. Alphona makes a brilliant entrance with graffiti and a hilarious shot of Bruno hamming it up. Herring’s colors are particularly attractive here. What follows is a delightful and convincing meet-cute story, and Wilson introduces and fleshes out a new character rapidly with her usual ease. The dialogue is stronger here, and the characters and events have more charm.
“Ms. Marvel” #1 is trying to go in two or three directions at once, mixing teen romance with image control and a fight for the identity of a neighborhood, and the components aren’t sticking together very well yet, despite the common ground of Kamala figuring out what she’s about. It’s a weaker debut issue than the older “Ms. Marvel” #1 from 2014, but it’s still one of the best reads on the stands.