Hello comic lovers, and welcome to February’s Pull List, where we explore what comics did for us this month. The big releases of the month came courtesy of Marvel, with their brand new run of launch titles under the rather confusing title All New Marvel Now! This lead a whole bunch of titles to be released as jumping on points (the issue numbers reading something like #23.NOW, because NOW is almost certainly a viable number to use after a decimal point). There were, as always, other comics on the stands, but with a huge number of series coming to a close, there seems to be little variety at this point in the year, with most people’s eyes on what’s coming up later on.
But before we discuss that, maybe we should have a quick chat about diversity in comics. Diversity in comic books, especially in terms of character, is nigh on terrible. Yes, Marvel and DC have gay characters, yes they have characters of different faiths, yes they have characters of different races. Some of them are handled brilliantly (just look at Young Avengers mainstays Wiccan and Hulkling), but the majority seem to be shoehorned in just to be a gimmick (DC’s decision in the New 52 to turn Alan Scott gay being a prime example, especially since they killed his boyfriend off two pages after his outing, and never mentioned it again). It’s a tough tightrope to walk as a creator, and when the new Ms Marvel series was announced, there was, as there always is, a certain amount of trepidation. A Muslim, Female Superhero? That’s dangerous territory for comics, who have for so long loved their white, male, Christian heroes.
It’s an absolute pleasure for me then to say that not only is Ms Marvel a resounding success, it might just about be the finest debut issue on a mainstream superhero title that I have read in about a decade.
The general gist of the issue is this: Kamala Khan, obsessive nerdy, fan-fiction writing teenager who struggles with her faith, starts on her path to becoming a superhero. The supporting cast; her family and friends, as well as a rather obnoxious girl from school, and a love interest whom she doesn’t really notice. There are parent figures who don’t really understand her, and powers which she gains at the end of the issue which she will have to come to terms with. It’s all very reminiscent of Stan Lee/Steve Ditko’s debut on Spider-Man, but whilst at times it can veer a little close to those classic comics (aforementioned obnoxious Zoe in particular is a Flash Thompson waiting to happen), it is written with a delicacy and a love for the characters that is so lacking in modern mainstream comics.
What makes it all the more interesting is that, rather than use the Muslim faith as a means to get people reading the comic, Wilson brings it to the forefront, using it as the main source of anxiety for Kamala. The issue opens with her staring longingly at a BLT sandwich saying:
‘I just want to smell it. Delicious, delicious infidel meat.’
Which sets the tone nicely for what will likely be the themes being explored in the comic, the idea of devoting yourself to a cause entirely, and sacrificing the things you love, or at least the things you feel you are supposed to love to make you ‘normal’. As one character says a few panels later in the issue:
‘Either eat the bacon or stick to your principles.’
We’ve come this far and not even mentioned the art yet. Alphona is the absolute perfect choice for this book, and another in a long line of unique, interesting artists on the Marvel payroll. I love that these books being released by Marvel have a style unto their own, and are not, unlike say DC, beholded to a house style. Ms Marvel benefits from this, with the former Runaways artist absolutely nailing scenes of familial life with animated dinner table conversations, looming older teenagers, and a standout transformation sequence in which Captain America, Captain Marvel and Iron Man recite an Amir Khusro poem from the 11th Century.
Ms Marvel is not only the best book of February, it is likely going to be one of the best books of the year period, and is easily the finest debut of a new mainstream comic this side of All Star Superman. I cannot wait to see what happens next in this title and I cannot recommend it highly enough.