In “Ms. Marvel” #3 by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona, Kamala Khan tries to control her powers and questions whether she should confide in her friend Bruno, who she blames for getting her into trouble with her parents.
The issue title “Side Entrance” refers directly to the Islamic tradition of segregated prayer areas for the genders, which Wilson touches on briefly at the beginning of “Ms. Marvel” #3, showing how Kamala questions the practice out of curiosity more than hostility. The title may also be a metaphor for Kamala’s sideways entrance on the superheroic stage. The first page shows that as a result of her heroism, Zoe Zimmer and the legacy of Carol Danvers have gotten more of the spotlight instead of Kamala herself getting any credit. Kamala is a simultaneously a reluctant and enthusiastic heroine. As a comic book fan herself, she’s thrilled with her powers, but her youth and her family life shape her appalled reaction to the TV news coverage.
So far, Kamala is a fresh, well-rounded character and she’s headlining her own comic comfortably. Wilson fills readers in regarding Kamala’s background gradually, introducing elements like the mosque and prayer habits as setting before getting on with the action of the plot.
Wilson’s dialogue for all the characters is natural-sounding and distinctive for each character. The comic timing of her panicked reaction in the opening scene is perfect as she announces, “Yes! Ready! Ready for life!” It’s also a battle cry. Kamala is already a complex character, anxious and brave as well as naÃ¯ve and wise. Kamala’s story so far feels like a classic coming of age school story, complete with boys and a mean Queen Bee. Her concerns are the same as all teenage girls, and Wilson deftly shows the age-old adolescent tensions between wanting to fit in vs. wanting to stand out, doing the right thing vs. doing what is safe. In a tricky balancing act, Wilson neither glosses over nor overemphasizes Kamala’s ethnic and cultural background, and her success shows in how her portrayal of Kamala’s Muslim identity feels neither like tokenism nor a barrier to accessibility, but rather they are important details that deepen Kamala’s characterization.
The rest of the cast doesn’t get short shrift, either. Although her brother Jamir and her parents are currently only two-dimensional comic relief, Wilson has already made Kamala’s friends Nakia and Bruno complex characters on their own merits. Nakia, in particular, is a foil to both Kamala and to Jamir, providing an excellent voice as a character who is more conservative and religious than Nakia, but more serious and genuine in her beliefs than Jamir.
The plot is progressing a relaxed pace, but none of the events feel like filler. However, Wilson’s cliffhanger ending feels somewhat wrong for the pacing, or old-fashioned in its construction. At this early point, it seems premature to put the heroine in this kind of peril, when the limit of her powers is unknown to her and to the reader. To a comic reader familiar with story tropes, it’s highly unlikely that Kamala could be taken out the action of her own comic only a few issues in, and thus while the concluding violence opens up some questions, it doesn’t create suspense.
Alphona’s artwork is confident and attractive, and his skill with facial expressions is essential to “Ms. Marvel” #3. His facial expressions and body language imbue Kamala’s reactions and surroundings with both humor and pathos. The panel transitions are admirably smooth and his backgrounds are beautifully detailed without being distracting, carrying some of the storytelling by introducing readers to Kamala’s world gracefully and wordlessly. Herring’s coloring is a good match, maintaining Alphona’s fine linework with soft colors and a great sense of lighting.
“Ms. Marvel” #3 continues to build exposition by showing, not telling, and Wilson and Alphona are laying down a story foundation that is solid ground for future adventures as well as rich in subtlety and detail.