The Journey And The Destination In The Magnificent Ms. Marvel #2
by Noah Sharma
As I picked up The Magnificent Ms. Marvel #2 I thought to myself: ‘where is Saladin Ahmed taking us?’ The first issue offered elements both new and familiar and provided an impressive survey of Ms. Marvel’s world alongside new mysteries and some solid, if seemingly consciously generic, new challenges. This is where the rubber meets the road. By this issue’s end I had an idea of where we were being taken and both the journey and the probable destination are very interesting.
Ahmed opens on a deeply dramatic moment that propels Kamala Khan through the entire issue. I think part of what’s made Ms. Marvel so infectious is the degree to which she cares. “Whoever saves one person, it is as if he has saved all of mankind,” she quoted in her first outing. In every adventure, no matter how trivial, you can feel Kamala Khan really, truly caring about the people she saves, her Jersey City family, but now we see what happens when someone puts her biological family in the crosshairs. Though we’ve seen Bruno or Aamir in trouble before, this is really the first time Kamala’s had to deal with her Abu and Ammi getting caught in the line of fire. It raises the stakes in a big way and the force of Kamala’s reaction is humanizing as it recenters a girl and the parents she, on some level, still sees as her earth and sky. The flip side of that coin is that it separates this issue from that empathy she has for everyone. It’s understandable that, for many reasons, these two people are special to her, but the seismic shift in Kamala’s reactions downplays her connection with the rest of her community as much as it emphasizes the fear she has for her parents.
It seems like every Ms. Marvel story of the last few months has focused on pushing Kamala to the limits of her hope, even G. Willow Wilson’s final Ms. Marvel story. In the past Ms. Marvel has frequently not known what to do, but recently we’ve seen her despair a lot. Honestly, and obviously, I’m not a huge fan of this development, but I will say that Magnificent Ms. Marvel #2 handles this the best, not only justifying it better but using it as an opportunity to look at the support structure that Kamala has in place for herself.
In this regard, Ahmed makes excellent use of Bruno. Not only does he slot effortlessly into a techno-sidekick role, but his characterization is top notch. Though there’s an argument to be made that Ahmed’s apparent pattern of having other characters narrate the series about Ms. Marvel is somewhat distancing from our lead, the insights he gives into Bruno are efficient and thoughtful. Bruno communicates what the plot requires, but, in doing so, Ahmed easily paints of picture of an honest, heroic young man enamored, in every sense of the word, with the hero he’s known for years. There are no references to romance or awkward detours into Bruno’s pining, but the way he thinks about Kamala makes it clear the depths of his respect and the gnawing of his discomfort around her.
While this is all going on, Ahmed is keeping a lot of plates spinning. No, you’re not forgetting something from last issue, there definitely is a burgeoning mystery about what Kamala and Bruno saw yesterday. There’s also a return for a pretty significant character who’s been in the wind for a while now and some hints that he’s bringing some new enemies into play. The way that Ahmed is actively stoking the fires on the backburners is a wonderful return to old school comic plotting that helps keep you excited even if there moments where the current story doesn’t grab you fully. And, of course, the big reveal of this issue seems to imply that Ahmed is finally digging into Kamala’s legacy outside of the Inhumans, opening up huge new venues for the series.
Things I could stand to see less of? They’re minor. The use of Kamala’s powers is a little samey and dull this issue, this trend of Kamala using (generic and imprecise) video game tropes to describe her adventures is neither as clever or as natural as any of the recent writers – Ahmed hardly the worse offender – to make use of it think it is, and the script utterly glosses over the natural confusion and paranoia that should logical come with any body snatcher shenanigans in favor of moving on immediately. But, as I say, those are minor and they’re balanced out by natural and charming moments like Kamala being cheered up by Bruno’s terrible grasp of Urdu pronunciation.
Minkyu Jung and Juan Vlasco continue the legacy of strong, distinctive artists to handle Kamala’s solo adventures. Jung’s art has a quality of simplicity despite its numerous details and hatching. It’s as if the fine detail is read seperately from the core shape of the art, providing a tiered look that allows for wonderful flexibility. I would still say that the art is at its best when it picks a side of that spectrum, delivering basic, iconic compositions or fun, almost grotesque textured panels, but it all comes together well. Vlasco’s precision inks help a lot, making the book legible without sacrificing Jung’s fine touch.
Though Jung’s art is fun and interesting, it does feel wasted at times, with Kamala and Bruno’s back and forth rendered adequately but not in a way that seems to take advantage of Jung’s talents. Jung can draw a talking head, but strange superpowers and bizarre monsters seem more her style. This issue offers both, but the script’s most memorable moments are the former and Jung doesn’t quite overcome that.
Ian Herring remains a rock for this character, bringing the same clear, beautiful color as he did to the adjectiveless series before this one. His trademark purples and cyan are just as mesmerizing as ever and the link to the character’s roots is a nice touch that feels just as at home here as ever, a fruitful reality as what works for one series and one artist does not always do the same for another.
The Magnificent Ms. Marvel continues a delicate balancing act between owning a new chapter in Kamala’s life and trying to shift into the new tone gradually and with respect for continuity. This is very much a more focused and grown-up take on Kamala Khan. Ahmed steps away from Wilson’s joyfully bizarre magical realism in favor of a more malleable and traditional superhero tone with a shot of second gen immigrant experience and sincere appreciation for the strength of young women. It’s a change that will ruffle some feathers and, honestly, is not natural at this stage. However, Magnificent #2 begins the process of pivoting to a new tone and a new setting in earnest.
With a believably extreme circumstance to help cover the growing pains, a more than worthy art team, a new focus for the character, and a fantastic style of plotting, the issue comes to the table well equipped but is held back by the fading holdovers of Wilson’s run, included out of appreciated respect but also hurting the opening momentum of the arc. The Magnificent Ms. Marvel will not appeal to every fan of Kamala Khan but it’s worth investigating and it will likely serve as a welcome port of call for new fans, eager to explore the Marvel family after a certain blockbuster. Kamala Khan’s adolescence is leaving some stretch marks, but the skeleton this story is built around seems as strong and flexible as she is.
The Magnificent Ms. Marvel #2 is currently available in comic shops from Marvel Comics.