Ms. Marvel #1: No Normal

Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal - G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona

I'll admit it - I had extraordinarily high expectations for this book, and in the end I don't think that did my enjoyment any favors. The sheer amount of positive buzz surrounding this title was stunning, which was ultimately why I picked it up. I don't generally follow many superhero comics, but G. Willow Wilson earned my respect with her novel Alif the Unseen, and I was curious to see what direction she'd take Ms. Marvel. As it turns out, not too far off the beaten path.

 

First and foremost this title is aimed at younger readers, and I truly think it is an excellent book to press into the hands of a tween or teen. There's adventure without anything too dark or gritty. It's fun. It's light. It's a little bit along the lines of Spiderman if that helps for comparison. This is a youthful title, and Kamala is the sort of plucky, nerdy, and rebellious heroine younger readers will likely relate to well. She discovers her powers, gets into some trouble, and learns some lessons. (Some of the lessons about self-acceptance, and varying standards of beauty, were really quite good.) Your typical young origin story, executed competently. If you're looking for a book to give a budding comic enthusiast this is a great choice.

 

On the downside, reading this as an adult, especially after hearing all of the buzz about how game changing and diverse it is, left me less than wowed. Let me be blunt: the characters are very stereotypical and stock. When it comes to the dumb jock boy and the vapid blonde girl, well, it's not great but I can shrug it off. However when it comes to Kamala's family that's a tougher pill to swallow. Her brother and father in particular made me wince. It's not that I found their portrayals any less nuanced than the white characters, it's simply that with less representation in the medium in general I really wanted more than stereotypes (especially from Wilson). Is it bad? No. Is it really very standard? Yes. Don't get me wrong, this is a solid title. I simply don't know that it is deserving of all the excited hand waving it has received.

 

I can't finish this review without mentioning the art. One of the things I liked the most about Ms. Marvel wasn't the writing, but the way it looks. The color palate is wonderfully warm and bright. The panels are a joy to look at and flip through. And the way Kamala is drawn is absolutely wonderful. It's fantastic seeing a female superhero who breaks the standard caucasian beauty norms. (She's not drawn like a white woman and then simply painted in browns. She's a little short, has a more hooked nose, and consistently has unruly hair.) Her character design made me very happy, and the side plot wherein she accepts the way she looks versus the leggy/thin/blonde she wishes she looked like was also great. I hope Kamala's appearance not only resonates with some little girls who finally get to see a hero who looks like them, but also encourages the comic industry to continue branching out.

 

So in short, this is a good book with a lot to celebrate, despite its shortcomings. If you have a young comic lover in your life, or you want to read something fun and light, consider picking this title up. The second collection is out now in paperback so there's plenty to sink your teeth into.