Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #4 “Past Curfew” (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al)

“Ammi and Abu taught me to always think about the greater good. To defend people who can’t defend themselves, even if it means putting yourself at risk. I wish they could see that that’s exactly what I’m trying to do.” (Kamla Khan, Ms. Marvel #4)[1]

“Who am I? It seems like an easy question. And then I realize … Maybe what I said to those cops wasn’t a joke. Maybe the name belongs to whoever has the courage to fight. And so I tell them.” (Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel #4)[2]

Issue #4 “Past Curfew” begins after the cliffhanger of the previous issue,[3] as Kamala is lying injured on the floor of the Circle Q. Bruno is freaking out because his brother Vick just shot Ms. Marvel. Bruno frantically calls the police and Vick hurriedly leave the premises.

As Bruno is one the phone, Kamala changes her appearance from Carol Danvers back to herself, revealing to Bruno that she had superpowers and is the one who saved Zoe. It’s here that Kamala finds out she has another power: she’s able to heal really quickly; the bullet wound is already healing, and she feels fine. However, she’s worried about the cops showing up, since Bruno has called them. There’s a little moment that acknowledges the profiling of Muslims, as Kamala doesn’t want the police officers who show up at the scene to know she’s a superhero because, in her words, “My parents will freak, the NSA will wiretap our mosque or something, and then they’ll sell me off to science!” It’s a common thing for superheroes to keep their identities secret, but this is one of the few instances (along with the X-Men and Spider-Man) in which the canon story contains an understandable reason for the character to be concerned about others knowing who they really are, so there’s some additional substance there (in addition to the humorous element). Bruno has the usual friend reaction, not believing that Kamala wouldn’t tell him she has superpowers. It was a really sweet moment, as Bruno praises Kamala and then blushes.

When two cops and a paramedic show up, Kamala figures out that the healing power only works when she’s not shape-shift, so she can’t hide her identity by making herself look like Carol Danvers again, because the wound isn’t completely healed yet. Bruno and Kamala improvise a (rather silly) way to prevent the cops from finding out Kamala’s identity. I really couldn’t believe that their plan worked in fooling the cops. One of the officers does say to expect a subpoena for the security tapes. I don’t know how or if that’ll be addressed in future issues, as the security tapes might reveal Kamala’s identity if she was in the camera shot when she changed her appearance back to how she actually looks. As the responders are leaving, the paramedic makes a comment about how they keep getting calls related to superheroes, and we get a fun reference to fellow superhero Hawkeye (presumably Clint Barton,[4] not Kate Bishop,[5] based on the pronoun). It was a humorous moment that shows Kamala is a superhero in a universe filled with superheroes.

After Bruno knows Kamala’s secret, they work together. The setup is there for him to be the friendly sidekick (and perhaps a future love interest, based on some hints in this issue and issue #1). Their first mission is to figure out what Bruno’s brother Vick is up to. Kamala decides she needs a superhero costume, and there there’s a hilarious interaction between her and her mother related to this. Kamala is digging through looking for her burkini (a modest swimsuit), and her mother (in usual parental fashion) knows exactly where it is and brings it to her. Kamala’s mother is suspicious, because Kamala had previously said she’d never wear the burkini, and tells Kamala she’s going to set her alarm for 1:00 am to check if Kamala is still in her room in the middle of the night, threatening to get Sheikh Abdullah involved if Kamala sneaks out again. Undeterred, but realizing she has a limited amount of time, Kamala calls Bruno and they go on their first superhero mission together. Kamala and Bruno head over to an abandoned house in Greenville, where Bruno knows Vick has been going recently. The two have some fun acting like secret agents, sneaking up to the house and noticing that there are two people lazily standing guard on the porch.

It’s here that we get the first moment of Kamala taking on her new superhero name. Before, she was using her powers to look like Carol Danvers, the hero previously known as Ms. Marvel (now Captain Marvel). At this moment, Kamala considers herself the new Ms. Marvel, and that’s the name she gives when the people on the porch ask who she is. We also get to see Kamala in a superhero pose in her home-made superhero costume: a blue-and-red burkini, yellow fanny pack with pink flower design, white sneakers, and black domino mask. It’s an important moment in her story, and the fact that it’s written and drawn the way it is adds to the charm.

After Kamala gets past the two people who’ve been stationed as guards on the porch, she barges into the house, and fights a bunch of insect-like robots (telling herself it’s just like the video game World of Battlecraft as a form of motivation), and heading down to the basement where Vick is being held prisoner (with the words “Property of the Inventor” written on the wall above his head). The issue ends on another cliffhanger, as three people (the two from the porch and one more) confront Kamala.

The writing and art continue to be great. Kamala and Bruno have some great interaction in this issue, and I love their conversations. Kamala’s narration is also really fun to read, as she gets into the whole superhero lifestyle and decides to put her geek knowledge to work. Something else I want to mention is how much I enjoy the little details in the artwork. For instance, we see the titles of magazines for sale in the Circle Q, the cover on the hangar with the burkini indicating that it’s from Auntie’s Modest Swimwear, the (literal) writing on the wall and floor when Kamala goes into the abandoned house, the (hilarious) slogan on the shirt of one of the Inventor’s supporters who confronts Kamala. There are similar little details in the previous issues as well. This provides some additional worldbuilding and humor.

Overall, this is a fun continuation of the story and a really enjoyable read. We’re in the middle of Kamala’s first somewhat planned mission as a superhero, as she tries to figure out how to do these things she’s undoubtedly read about and written about, but doesn’t have much experience with personally. The series continues to be impressive.

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References

[1] Wilson, G. Willow; Alphona, Adrian; Herring, Ian; et al. “Past Curfew”. Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #4. Marvel, 28 May 2014.

[2] Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #4.

[3] Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #3 ‘Side Entrance’ (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al)”. Posted on 12 July 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 17 July 2014 from http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/07/12/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-3-side-entrance-by-wilson-alphona-herring-et-al/.

[4] “Clinton Barton (Earth-616)”. Marvel Database wiki entry. Retrieved on 21 July 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Clinton_Barton_(Earth-616).

[5] “Katherine Bishop (Earth-616)”. Marvel Database wiki entry. Retrieved on 21 July 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Katherine_Bishop_(Earth-616).

Foundations of My Bookshelf, Essay 1: For The Baby-sitters Club

When I was in elementary school, I loved Ann M. Martin’s The Baby-sitters Club book series. It’s the story of a group of friends who are middle school students in Stoneybrook, Connecticut and who start a baby-sitting service. There are hundreds of novels, including spin-off series. The books were written by multiple authors and were originally published between 1986 and 2000.[1] The Baby-sitters Club was the first book series I remember becoming obsessed with, the first story for which I eagerly looked for more books in the series. I aimed to read all of the books, and though I don’t think I managed to, I did read many of them.

There did come a day when, at long last, I emptied the shelf in my room that was filled with Baby-sitters Club books, stacked the books in a brown paper bag, and donated the lot to the local library. I’ve since seen the kids’ table at the library’s used books sale, and would like to imagine that my old books have found their way into the collection of a child who will learn a love of reading from the same books I once loved. I still look back on the series with some nostalgia; the books mean a lot to me for what they meant to my younger self and how they influenced the reader I became.

This series is the first that I remember obsessively reading, going from one book to the next with a fervent zeal. These books were partly responsible for my love of reading. The fact that they were not part of a school assignment certainly played a role in this; though I was generally a student who enjoyed most of what we read for school, this was true to a lesser extent in elementary school, and so finding books that I enjoyed reading on my own, and which made me eager to go to the library frequently, was important in shaping my love of reading.

The world of these stories also provided one of my earlier literary hideaways, somewhere I could escape to. If I was upset about something, I could enjoy the story about these fun characters as they spent time with friends and dealt with various challenges. I remember there was one day when I reread the first four books of the series, one right after the other. Not only were they an escape, they allowed me to look into experiences different from my own. Through the characters in the Club, I read about experiences that I didn’t have.

In hindsight, I believe that these books also gave me some idea about the writing in different types of series. Those who remember reading about the series will recall that these books (like others in similar series aimed for young kids) often began with a section that introduced the stories and the characters. A reader can pick up any book and understand the story, because we get little introductions to each of the characters. In a series of hundreds of books, this is an understandable technique. The books were designed this way so that kids didn’t have to start right at the beginning and read straight through. I couldn’t help noticing, even then, that I was reading the same introductory material in each book of the series. Related to this, I also gained some understanding of how a book can be a stand-alone story but still be related to other books in the series, as the characters in the Club had a different problem to resolve in each book, but reading multiple books would cause readers to make certain connections between the stories, as certain major events happened in the characters’ lives in certain books. I think that reading other books after the Baby-sitters Club gave me some (preliminary) appreciation for the fact that some series are designed in a way that is meant to facilitate reading in any order while others are meant to be read in order for better understanding of the overall plot.

Also notable is that the Baby-sitters Club books have a diverse cast of characters, and this was certainly one of the earlier stories that made me enjoy books with characters from different background and with different experiences in their lives. I have a passion for diversity in literature, because media representation matters,[2] and I always enjoyed the fact that the characters in the Club were friends with each other despite their differences. The media we enjoy as kids influences us, and I think this book series influenced me in a good way. There are stories that mention or discuss race, religion, chronic illness, death in the family, non-traditional family structures, and other topics in a way that kids can understand and learn from. Jessica Ramsey (who is a dedicated ballet dancer) faces racism when her family first movies to Stoneybrook; people discriminate against them because they are African-American. Both Jessica and Claudia Kishi (who is Japanese-American) face racism when a family doesn’t want them to baby-sit for their children due to their races (#56). Claudia is devastated when her beloved grandmother Mimi has a stroke (#7) and later dies. (#26) She must also deal with her parents’ expectations of her and having difficulty in school. Abby Stevenson’s family is Jewish; she and her twin sister Anna have a Bat Mitzvah in one of the books (#96). Stacey McGill is from New York and has to get used to living in a suburban area after living in the big city; she actually moves back to New York at one point (#13), but then returns to Stoneybrook with her mother after her parents’ divorce (#28). She also has diabetes and is initially afraid to tell her friends about it, because people have made fun of her in the past due to her illness (#1). Kristy Thomas and Dawn Schafer both have divorced parents and deal with the joys and difficulties of having large extended families. Kristy has a difficult time due to her father leaving the family but loves her stepfather and stepsiblings. Dawn’s family is divided between Connecticut and California, which causes difficulty as she feels like she doesn’t get to see members of her family for a long time (#23). She moves back and forth throughout the series and there are some books which focus on her story while she’s in California. Dawn is also a vegetarian. Mary Anne Spier is being raised by a single father after the death of her mother. Mallory Pike’s family has to deal with financial troubles when her father loses his job (#39). She also has to stand up for herself when her parents expect her to constantly baby-sit her many siblings by herself and it interferes with her writing (#47). These are just a few examples that I particularly remember from years ago; like many children’s book series, many of the long list of stories attempt to include some good message for kids.[3]

I sometimes think back to these books and think about the recent campaigns to increase diversity in literature, especially in children’s literature. There were a lot of books I read as a kid that didn’t have this kind of diversity, so I’m very glad that The Baby-sitters Club was there. Although one could, of course, discuss the positives and negatives in the ways these issues were portrayed (which I don’t remember the books in enough detail to do here), the fact that the books did show this diversity was very important to me. I think it gave me high expectations and, since then, I’ve often been glad to see books with a diverse cast.

Ultimately, though I’m doubtful I’ll ever pick up and read one of these books again, I’m glad I read them as a kid. They had a great influence on me, for all the reasons I’ve explained, and that’s why I thought the Baby-sitters Club books deserved pride of place as the topic of the first essay in this series.

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Note

This essay is part of my Foundations of My Bookshelf series. The essays in this series can be found in the category of the same name[4] or on my Index of Series page.[5]

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References

[1] The Wikipedia page about The Baby-sitters Club can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Baby-sitters_Club.

[2] To read my blog posts in the “Media Representation Matters” category, go to http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/category/media-representation-matters/.

[3] “List of The Baby-Sitters Club novels”. Wikipedia entry. Retrieved 15 July 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_The_Baby-sitters_Club_novels.

[4] To read my blog posts in the Foundations of my Bookshelf series, go to http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/category/foundations-of-my-bookshelf-series/.

[5] My Index of Series can be found at http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/index-of-series/.

My BookTube-A-Thon 2014 To-Be-Read (TBR) List

Recently, I’ve been watching and really enjoying some BookTube videos. Apparently, today is the first day of BookTube-A-Thon 2014, which is from July 14th to July 21st.[1] There’s a YouTube channel for the event with several videos that explain what the event is.[2] Basically, it’s a weeklong read-a-thon created by BookTuber Ariel Bisset.[3] There are seven Reading Challenges and Video Challenges associated with the event.[4] Obviously, as I don’t make videos, I can’t complete the Video Challenges, but I’m hoping to complete the Reading Challenges.

So, here are the seven Reading Challenges and which books I plan to read to complete each challenge, plus one extra item on the list.

  1. A book with pictures

Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s Death Note I (Black Edition): This manga series was highly recommended to me by a friend about a year ago, but I only recently picked up a paperback of the beginning of the series. This book actually contains volumes one and two (chapters one through sixteen) of a total of twelve volumes. I have mixed expectations going into this book. On the one hand, the premise sounds really interesting, and I know the book has been highly-praised and has sold many copies. On the other hand, I recently read Bakuman Vol. 1 (which is by the same writer and artist) and found it frustrating and insulting, due to the bad writing and sexist content. I’m really hoping this book is better.

  1. Start and finish a series

Marjane Satrapi’s The Complete Persepolis: I’m counting this book as a series, because it was originally published in multiple volumes (four volumes in French and two volumes in English) bebefore being collected into one book. I picked this up recently due to my increased interest in comics and my preexisting interest in the subject matter. I’ve been focusing a lot more on the speculative fiction and superhero comics, so I’m excited to read a non-fiction comic.

  1. A book with red on the cover

Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story (Translated from the German by Ralph Manheim; Illustrated by Roswitha Quadflieg): This book has been on my bookshelf for a while, and it seems like the kind of thing a fantasy fan should read at some point.

  1. A book someone else picks out for you

Laurie Halse Anderson’s The Impossible Knife of Memory: This was the second book over at the Reblog Book Club on Tumbr. I read their first book Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl,[5] but never got around to The Impossible Knife of Memory. They’ve since moved on to their third book, so I’m hoping I can catch up if I read this during BookTube-A-Thon.

  1. A book from the genre you’ve read the least this year

Michael Chabon’s Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands: I haven’t read any essay collections this year. I’ve been trying to read this book for a while now (in fact, I’ve started it at least twice before) but never finished it. This isn’t because it’s bad; I actually really love the parts I’ve read. For some reason, every time I’ve tried to read it, I’d get distracted by a different book or schoolwork. Then, when I’d pick it up again, I’d decide to just start over from the beginning, since it’s a short book and since I knew I’d enjoy rereading the parts I’d already read. This resulted in me never actually reaching the end of this rather tiny volume. Hopefully, I’ll remedy that this time around.

  1. A book to movie adaptation

J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: I tend to perpetually reread the Harry Potter series in the background of whatever other books I’m reading, and I’ve just about finished rereading Prisoner of Azkaban, so Goblet of Fire is the next one up.

  1. Read seven books

Civil War: Young Avengers/Runaways Vol. 1 #1-4 (By Zeb Wells, Stefano, et al): Since the two volumes of Satrapi’s Persepolis are in one book, I’m adding this book to round out the list. I just read Civil War Vol. 1 #1-7 (By Mark Millar, Steve McNiven, Dexter Vines, Morry Hallowell, et al) and really enjoyed it. That series was kind of an introduction or framing story of the Civil War event in the Marvel universe; there are many other issues from many different titles which are part of this event and show what various characters were doing during the war. Since I already like the Young Avengers and am planning to read Runaways, I thought I’d read the Civil War series about these two teams.

  1. Other

Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #6 “Healing Factor”: The latest issue of Ms. Marvel will be released this Wednesday, 16 July 2014, and I’m extremely excited about it. Since I know I’ll definitely read this issue right when it’s released, I thought I’d add it to my TBR list.

So, that’s the list of books I’m planning to read this week. I don’t usually create a to-be-read list for a specific period of time, preferring to just pick up whatever interests me on a particular day, so we’ll see how this goes.

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References

[1] Ariel Bissett/BookTubeAThon. “BOOKTUBEATHON 2014!”. Posted on 17 June 2014 at the BookTubeAThon YouTube channel. Retrieved on 14 July 2014 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JauBxxVGa24.

[2] The BookTube-A-Thon YouTube channel can be found at http://www.youtube.com/user/BookTubeAThon.

[3] Ariel Bissett’s YouTube channel can be found at http://www.youtube.com/user/ArielBissett.

[4] Ariel Bissett/BookTubeAThon. “OFFICIAL READING AND VIDEO CHALLENGES!” Posted on 7 July 2014 at the BookTubeAThon YouTube channel. Retrieved on 14 July 2014 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_XOtGOUdUg.

[5] Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Rainbow Rowell’s ‘Fangirl’”. Posted on 2 October 2013 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 14 July from http://eternalbookshelf.wordprss.com/2013/10/02/book-review-rainbow-rowells-fangirl/.

Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #3 “Side Entrance” (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al)

“I wish I could get something besides World of Battlecraft strategy guides when I Google ‘Polymorph–’” (Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #3)[1]

“Wait a minute. I have superpowers I saved somebody’s life on Friday. I am 911! But—everybody’s expecting Ms. Marvel. Ms. Marvel from the news. With the hair and spandex and the Avengers swag. Not a sixteen-year old brown girl with a 9 pm curfew.” (Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #3)[2]

“This … this was not what I planned…” (Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #3)[3]

Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #3 “Side Entrance” starts with Kamala eating breakfast and (in usual superhero fashion) seeing a report about herself on the news. Since she looked like Carol Danvers while rescuing her classmate Zoe from drowning in the previous issue[4] (which I reviewed last week),[5] no one knows that it was really Kamala. While she’s trying to look up information about her superpowers on the internet, her brother interrupts and reminds he it’s time to go to the youth lecture at the local masjid (mosque). In this issue, we see Kamala in several situations: at the masjid, at school and then intervening to help someone again.

Kamala and her brother Aamir go to the Islamic Masjid of Jersey City for Sheikh Abdullah’s Saturday Youth Lecture. I was kind of dreading the passages showing Kamala at the mosque, worried about how it would be handled, but I think that the creators managed to do it well. There are often two opposite extremes in the way Islam is portrayed; some people’s portrayals suggest that all Muslims as terrorists and all mosques are places that harbor extremism, while others (often with the good intention of fighting against bigotry) go overboard by portraying things too perfectly, without any problems. The first portrayal is discriminatory; the second (while perhaps appropriate for certain anti-discrimination adverts) comes across as unrealistic, as every group has internal problems. I like the way that the creators handled the situation. We find out right away, through a comment from Aamir, that Kamala usually does not like to go to the youth lecture. This is similar to a theme found in many stories, showing children and teen characters who get frustrated with having to attend religious classes at the behest of their parents; readers of any faith can probably relate to this, whether they’re religious or not (as even someone who is religious has probably sat through some uninspiring sermons in their time). During the lecture, Sheikh Abdullah is preaching about the supposed immorality of an unmarried man and woman being alone together.

This issue really shows how having multiple Muslim characters, not just one, allows for character development and the breaking down of stereotypes. We get to see different Muslim characters with different views, so the setup is not Muslims vs. non-Muslims. We see people who disagree with each other about certain things, despite being from the same religion, and people who agree with each other on certain things, despite being from different religions. We have moments in this issue between Kamala and her brother Aamir, Kamala and her friend Nakia, and Kamala and Sheikh Abdullah. We see their interactions, talking about different topics, and they each get to be their own character, none of them expected to represent all Muslims. I really liked the conversation between Kamala and Nakia and would love to see more of their friendship in future issues.

There’s a passage in this issue, while Kamala is at the masjid, that addresses gender discrimination, and which does so in a great way. We find out that the girls have to sit in the back, separated from the boys by a barrier, and have to enter the masjid through a separate side entrance. During the lecture, Kamala tries to talk to Nakia, but the sheikh overhears them and tells them to quiet down. Kamala takes the opportunity to argue with Sheikh Abdullah (not for the first time, it seems) regarding the gender segregation in the masjid, using Islamic arguments. It’s a passage that made me want to cheer, quite honestly. While readers from any background will be able to relate to Kamala’s situation, I expect that Muslim girls and women (and probably girls and women from other religions as well) will be able to relate to the frustration of having to sit in the back, of being segregated away and treated as less important. For many of us who never had the courage to argue back about the gender segregation during religious classes, Kamala speaks for us, with an audience much larger than we could ever dream of having.

The title of the issue “Side Entrance” references the side entrance that the girls have to use when entering the masjid. I thought this was a nice acknowledgement of Kamala succeeding despite being underestimated. We see this teenage girl who is discriminated against in several ways — because of her religion, her race, and her gender — and yet she’s a superhero. There are many people who would look down on her, but they don’t realize that she’s overcoming their expectations and doing great things. Unbeknownst to them, she’s the girl who they’ve heard mentioned on the television, the girl who saved someone’s life. It takes the very common story of a person who’s not the most powerful in their everyday life becoming a superhero and adds more levels of meaning onto it.

In the middle of the issue, we see Kamala at Coles Academic High School on Monday. (This is presumably the Monday right after the Friday on which she saved Zoe.) During free period, she’s continuing her efforts to find information about superpowers, while ignoring Bruno (who she’s still upset with, because he told her parents about her going to the party in issue #1).[6] I thought this part was rather hilarious, as she keeps finding things from video games rather than real information. Bruno is working on a science project for his scholarship application to Rutgers (The State University of New Jersey).[7] Bruno’s younger brother Vick seems to be up to something; he asks Bruno to steal money from the cash register from his job at the Circle Q. Bruno refuses. Kamala’s powers start acting up, so she runs out of the classroom so that nobody sees. She hides in the locker room, where she tries to use her powers intentionally. She ends up (rather foolishly) destroying part of the locker room and getting detention. After school, Kamala is in detention and gets a phone call from her mother. Her mother is yelling at her over the phone in Urdu; though her mother’s lines are not translated, I think readers will get the general gist of what she’s saying. This is intended to be one of those superhero passages in which the new superhero is trying out their powers and does something foolish or irresponsible and gets in trouble for it, but they can’t explain because that would mean revealing that they’re a superhero. It was rather irresponsible of Kamala to tear up the benches in the locker room, honestly, but it does set the stage for her learning how to use her powers and hopefully not do that kind of the in the future.

The ending of the issue shows Kamala once again intervening in order to help someone, this time trying to stop a robbery at the Circle Q, where her friend Bruno works. She was headed over there anyway, to make up with him, and when she reaches the door, she sees a person in a mask with a gun. We see some panels letting us know that the robber is actually Bruno’s brother Vick (who’d been hoping a different employee would be there). Vick mentions something about the Inventor, foreshadowing future events. Kamala, not knowing that the robber is Vick, makes an entrance, looking like Carol Danvers again, with the hilarious statement, “Put the gun down and step away from the cashier, you wannabe hipster punk.”[8] In the ensuing struggle, Kamala initially appears to have the upper hand, but then Vick shoots her. The issue ends on that cliffhanger.

One again, I have to praise both the writing and the artwork in this issue. The characters speech and thoughts are incredibly realistic, resembling real life. The artwork is great and helps convey important backstory, character development, and worldbuilding. We see how the choices to show certain passages helps the different parts of the story hang together and also foreshadow future events. One of the people whose name isn’t on the cover of the comic (but is on the title page) who I’d like to mention here is one of the editors Sana Amanat. I’ve seen in articles and interviews about this series (such as the article “Mighty, Muslim and Leaping Off the Page” by George Gene Gustines)[9] indicating that Kamala Khan was partly inspired by a conversation between Amanat and fellow editor Steve Wacker about Amanat’s childhood growing up as a Muslim-American. There are so many elements of the story that I can relate to, growing up in a Muslim family in the United States, that I think Amanat’s contribution shows on the page. More generally, when reading Ms. Marvel Vol. 3, it really shows that the people working on the series appreciate how the story of a character can contain elements that are both universal and individual; they do a good job of showing experiences that Kamala has due to her background and also experiences that anyone can relate to.

Overall, this issue is really fun and inspiring continuation to the series. We see that the road to becoming a superhero isn’t as easy as Kamala may want it to be, but that doesn’t mean it’s the end of the story. As with all things in life, to be a superhero, one has to keep trying. In the next issue, we’ll see what happens to Kamala after she’s been shot and how she resumes her efforts to get better at her heroics.

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References

[1] Wilson, G. Willow; Alphona, Adrian; Herring, Ian; et al. “Side Entrance”. Ms Marvel Vol. 3 #3. Marvel, 16 April 2014.

[2] Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #3

[3] Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #3

[4] Wilson, G. Willow; Alphona, Adrian; Herring, Ian; et al. “All Mankind”. Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #2. Marvel, 19 March 2014.

[5] Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #2 ‘All Mankind’ (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al)”. Posted on 3 July 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 12 July 2014 from http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/07/03/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-2-all-mankind-by-wilson-alphona-herring-et-al/.

[6] Wilson, G. Willow; Alphona, Adrian; Herring, Ian; et al. “Metamorphosis”. Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #1. Marvel, 5 February 2014.

[7] “Rutgers University”. Wikipedia entry. Retrieved on 12 July 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rutgers_University.

[8] Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #3.

[9] Gustines, George Gene. “Mighty, Muslim and Leaping Off the Page: Marvel Comics Introducing a Muslim Girl Superhero”. The New York Times, 5 November 2013. Retrieved on 12 July 2014 from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/06/books/marvel-comics-introducing-a-muslim-girl-superhero.html.

Book Review: “X-Men: Evolution” #5-9 (By Devin Grayson, Udon Studios, et al)

[This is the second part of my two-part review of the X-Men: Evolution comic book series. To read my review of issues #1-4, click here.]

“You have certified teachers here? I mean, besides yourself?”

“Technically, you’ll be my first. However—I have roped my more senior residents into various tutoring positions.”

(Hank McCoy/Beast and Professor Charles Xavier, X-Men: Evolution #7)[1]

Issue #5 “Untouchable” focuses on Rogue and her considering leaving the X-Men to join the Brotherhood. Rogue is one of my favorite characters, but I don’t think this story did her justice. This story arc is one that required more time and space to develop properly; one would expect it to take up several issues, but the creators tried to fit it all into twenty-one pages. Because of that, everything happens very suddenly. Rogue leaves the X-Men very suddenly, as the result of a rather contrived plot on the part of Mystique and the Brotherhood; conversations between Mystique (disguised as the other X-Men) and Rogue, in addition to some actual arguments Rogue already had with her friends, lead to Rogue running away. One gets the feeling a conversation between Rogue and the other X-Men could have prevented the whole situation, as they wouldn’t have remembered having the conversations in which Mystique was impersonating them. Indeed, Rogue even suspects in the beginning that her friends are acting oddly, not as they usually do. (As a side note, the frustration Rogue feels when Logan is teaching the teen X-Men how to do CPR felt forced; the explanation given is that Rogue is frustrated that she can’t learn it due to her powers, but it’s not actually necessary to touch someone’s skin to perform CPR. Contrary to popular media depictions, mouth-to-mouth is not the only way to provide air to the unconscious person.) Rogue’s return to the X-Men is also very sudden, happening mere moments after setting foot in the Brotherhood headquarters, due to a rather amateurish slip-up on Mystique’s part. The saving grace of this issue is the friendship: the interactions between Rogue and Kurt and the panel of Rogue looking at a picture of her friends. If the creators wanted to continue their theme of having each of these beginning issues focus on a particular character, they could have either told this story in a different way or focused on a different part of Rogue’s story that could be better-told in a single issue.

Issue #6 “Just Like You” shows us Evan Daniels/Spyke (Ororo’s nephew), who has a new friend named Calvin Rankin/Mimic. As Cal’s pseudonym would indicate, he is able to mimic the powers of those around him. During the course of the issue, we find out that Cal is not actually a mutant, but got his powers due to scientific experiments his father was conducting. This felt a bit like a “villain of the month” issue.[2] There’s an interesting scenario in which the X-Men have to work together when faced with someone who has all their powers but can’t control them. There’s also a moment when Scott is distracted during the fight due to his concern for Jean and gets told off by Logan. I get the impression this was meant to set up some drama in which Scott and Jean break up for a rather contrived reason and then get back together. Cal ends up leaving the Xavier Institute, without waiting to see if the X-Men will accept him as a new member, despite him not being a mutant. We get a nice moment at the end when Evan realizes who his real friends are, because they accept him as he is (not only if he is just like them). It would have been nice to get to know Evan a little better here. This issue and previous one seem to be the point when the series started moving away from just the origin stories and character introductions, bringing in rivals who the X-Men have to fight against.

Issue #7 “Beat of Burden” is when Hank McCoy, previously a teacher at Bayville High School (a job he cannot continue to his mutant transformation), joins the X-Men. We see him take over the gym class, where Logan is being really tough on the students. McCoy instead has them play baseball, and they have much more fun. It works very well to show the kind of teacher McCoy is, and even Logan starts to have a good time. Jean, who plays sports at school, gets to demonstrate her athletic skills. During the game, we also get to see some of the younger students who have just joined the X-Men. There are passages that are meant to set up Scott becoming the new field leader of the X-Men, which will be relevant in the next issue, and this point is why the baseball game is so drawn out (so Scott can demonstrate his skills as a team leader). I found this bit rather confusing and unnecessary, as I thought he was already the field leader. (He was the first student and had shown his leadership skills previously.) At the end of the issue, McCoy receives a mysterious email that was probably intended to set up a future story that was never published.

Issue #8 “Angel Underground” begins with Jean seeing a vision of an angel, who turns out to be Warren Worthington III/Angel, who has been kidnapped and is being held captive. The X-Men must go into the sewers to rescue Warren from the Morlocks (a group of mutants who live underground, separate from the society that despises them). Storm’s claustrophobia make it difficult for her to tolerate being underground, but she is able to overcome it and fight anyway. We see the various members of the team working together, with the teens making responsible decisions even when the adult who’s with them is having a difficult time. The X-Men invite the Morlocks to join them, but the Morlocks refuse. Of course, they end up rescuing Warren and bring him back to the Xavier Institute. He decides not to join the X-Men at this time, though he does seem interested in seeing Jean again.

Issue #9 “House Party” shows our teenage X-Men throwing a party while Professor Xavier and the other adults are away. The immediately jarring thing in this issue was the artwork, which was drawn by a different artist. After reading eight issues (and watching fifty-two episodes) in which the characters are drawn a certain way, reading this single issue was odd. The difference wasn’t slight either, not a case of a different hand drawing the characters in a similar style, but completely changed. I spent some time trying to figure out who some of the characters were. The concept had the potential to be a fun family-and-friendship story and a nice send-off to the series, but the plot was rather generic without much character development or moments that would leave an impact on the reader.

Overall, for what it is, the X-Men: Evolution comic series has some decent portions and had some potential to go somewhere interesting, if it’d had the chance. I don’t know when the writers and artists knew that their run was over; at some point, they must have been told. The earlier issues are meant to introduce or provide some backstory for some of the characters, and they had some good moments. Starting with issue #5, the series tries to condense too many story arcs and plots into single issues and ended up not doing them justice. The series may have benefited from focusing on one story arc developed over several issues with more interactions between the X-Men to develop their friendships, which were easily some of the better parts of the stories.

The X-Men: Evolution comic book series is probably only going to be of interest to either a die-had completionist or someone like me who remembers the television series. There isn’t much of a story outside of the introductions to the characters, and there are some problems with the writing and plot. It’s not a necessary read, but there are enough funny moments that the nostalgia factor made it a nice trip down memory lane on a quiet afternoon (Issue #2 even managed to inspire a short fan fiction that I wrote recently.)[3] If you’re a fan of the show and happen to come across a used copy somewhere, maybe pick it up for a look through, but it’s not something to seek out.

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References

[1] Grayson, Devin; Udon Studios; et al. #7: “Beast of Burden”. 2002. X-Men: Evolution. Marvel, 2003.

[2] “Monster of the Week”. TV Tropes entry. Retrieved on 10 July 2014 from http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MonsterOfTheWeek.

[3] Sharmin, Ani J. (Geek Squared 1307). “Certified Do-Gooder”. Posted on 5 June 2014 at FanFiction.Net. Retrieved on 10 July 2014 from http://www.fanfiction.net/s/10417052/1/Certified-Do-Gooder.

Book Review: “X-Men: Evolution” #1-4 (By Devin Grayson, Udon Studios, et al)

“You have no idea what it means to me to be a part of something like this.”

“Maybe I do, kid … maybe I do.”

(Scott Summers/Cyclops and Logan/Wolverine, X-Men: Evolution #2)[1]

“At first when I got to the Institute, I liked being at school better, because that’s where I felt smart and competent … and at the Institute, I’m always kind of intimidated by how amazing and cool everyone is. But I’ve decided I like having people around me to look up to. I think it makes me a better person, and there’s so much to learn.”

(Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat, X-Men Evolution #4)[2]

I grew up watching X-Men: Evolution; it’s to that show and to the X-Men films that I owe my love of this superhero team. The series aired from 4 November 2000 to 25 October 2003 and lasted for four seasons (consisting of a total of fifty-two episodes), and it was a regular part of my Saturday mornings. Less well known is the comic book series based on the show, which was released in 2002; there were only ever nine issues released. I read the first four issues (which are collected into one book) years ago and decided to find and read the last five recently out of nostalgia. This review contains my thoughts on issues #1-4. The next will contain my thoughts on issues #5-9 and overall impression.

Issue #1 “Lines in the Sand” introduces us to the characters Professor Charles Xavier, Ororo Munroe/Storm, Logan/Wolverine, Magneto, and Mystique. Ororo is Professor Xavier’s first recruit, after he sees her using her powers to help someone. Logan is approached by both Professor X and Magneto and decides to go with Xavier and Ororo. Professor X, Ororo, and Logan build the school and look for their first student. It’s a nice introduction, and we immediately see some of the disagreements between Professor X and Magneto that have become a staple of the X-Men stories. We get some sweet moments from Ororo and Logan that make us immediately like them. Everything happened a little too quickly, perhaps because the creators were in a rush to get the school open and start adding students.

Issue #2 “Seeing Clearly” is when we meet Scott Summers, the first teenage student at the Xavier Institute. He’s at a hospital in Alaska, after accidentally blowing the roof off the orphanage where he lives. Professor Xavier shows up, pays the cost of the damage, gives Scott his signature ruby quartz visor that helps him control his powers, and takes him to the Institute to become one of the X-Men. This issue is really sweet, as we see the ever-optimistic Scott having hope for a better future despite being targeted for suspicion and fear, as well as being grateful for the chance to live at the Institute and have a future. There’s a nice moment when Logan, who had previously been skeptical about Scott’s ability to be an X-Men (calling him “that ridiculously polite pollyanna who won’t last a week”), realizes he was wrong after the two of them stop a crime together. These two characters, often depicted as rivals and reluctant allies with very different personalities and values, are shown to have something in common, as being part of the X-Men means a lot to both of them.

Issues #3 “Hearing Things” introduces us to Jean Grey, who is having trouble controlling her telepathic and telekinetic powers. The X-Men welcome her to join them and Professor Xavier starts tutoring her on how to control her abilities. There’s an odd moment when Logan think that Jean is beautiful (perhaps a reference to him liking her in other X-Men stories) but it’s thankfully not brought up again. We see Jean go to her first day at Bayville High School, where Scott (who clearly has a crush on her) is showing her around. She starts reading everyone’s thoughts unintentionally and runs home. There’s a nice conversation between Jean and Ororo, with them talking about their experiences with their powers, and then a funny scene with Jean and Scott flirting while the professor is in the same room. Later, Jean and Scott go on a field trip and have to save everyone when Todd causes the school bus to crash. In the processes, Jean has to try to control her powers to figure out what’s going on. The field trip was a bit of an odd choice, I thought; the same effect (Jean having an experience in which she had to control her powers) could have been done in a different way, in a different scenario. Overall, it was an alright introduction to Jean, showing her getting used to her powers and making new friends who understand her.

Issue #4 “Am I Blue” starts with the six teenage main characters (Scott, Jean, Rogue, Kitty, Kurt, and Evan) already living at the Institute and focuses on Kurt’s acceptance of his mutation. It was nice to see the characters together. There’s a training session in the Danger Room that was attempting to incorporate some serious and funny elements, but it came across as trying a little too hard. Later conversations between Kurt and Kitty were sweet and got the same points across much better. The ending shows Kurt handing in a school assignment and is rather amusing. Accepting oneself as a mutant is one of the staples of the X-Men stories, and Kurt is an appropriate choice for that plot. There is also a random but hilarious yoga session (taught by Ororo and Logan) towards the end of the issue.

Overall, in the first four issues, we mostly meet some of the characters for the first time with fun moments. There are moments of unintentional hilarity in some of the passages that are trying too hard, but also some genuinely sweet moments that make the characters interesting.

[To read my review of X-Men: Evolution #5-9, click here.]

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References

[1] Grayson, Devin; Udon Studios; et al. #2: “Seeing Clearly”. 2002. In: X-Men: Evolution, Vol. 1. Marvel, 2003.

[2] Grayson, Devin; Udon Studios; et al. #4: “Am I Blue”. 2002. In: X-Men: Evolution, Vol. 2. Marvel, 2003.

Born on the Fourth of July

This year’s Fourth of July was the 238th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America.[1] As I’ve been writing quite a bit about comics recently, this holiday brought to mind Steve Rogers/Captain America, the superhero dressed in red, white, and blue and born (believe it or not) on the Fourth of July 1920.[2] It occurred to me that there’s a certain symbolism to be considered here. I’d like to reflect a bit on the state of my country, a country which I love but which unfortunately has a long history, like the history of much of the human race, of not living up the ideas to which it claims to stand for.

The Statue of Liberty, one of the United States’ most recognizable national symbols, stands on Liberty Island in New York Harbor.[3] The place, along with nearby Ellis Island, is associated with immigrants. The United States is called, with good reason, a country of immigrants; even Steve Rogers, Captain America himself, was the child of Irish immigrants. I tend to see the whole world that way; human beings have always been moving around, going to new places, settling in lands foreign to those inhabited by their ancestors. One would hope that moving to new places and meeting new people would be a positive experience and that we would find it in ourselves to be welcoming and cooperative. Inside the lower pedestal of the Statue of Liberty is a plaque with an inscription of Emma Lazarus’s poem “The New Colossus”, which expresses this positive sentiment, about welcoming immigrants to the United States.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”[4]

And yet, our country has not lived up to these words; our government all too often favors those who were already in privileged positions and not those who are tired, poor, or yearning to breathe free. There is hatred and discrimination, violence and violation, all the things which can make even the most optimistic person feel that humanity is doomed. This is why, when I look back on the history of my country and of my world, I know that the people who I most admire and who most inspire me are those who worked hard to make things better, to try to convince humans to live up to the wonderful ideas which we love to claim that we believe in. If there is any hope for humanity, it is in our ability recognize the horrible side of our nature and fight against it, to realize that humans have inside us both good and evil and that it’s important to try to fight for the good.

One of the reasons superheroes are so beloved are because this is what the best of them do; they stand up for those who are in a bad situation, for those who are being hurt by others. My favorite superhero stories aren’t those in which a hero is violently beating up generic villains who are only bad because the story says they’re bad; the best superhero stories are ones in which there is some positive theme about doing the right thing, helping others who are being hurt, doing so even when it’s difficult or dangerous, and showing mercy towards those who’ve made mistakes. The best heroes recognize that things are wrong and try to make things right, and so we admire them and expect them to hold themselves to high standards (while feeling disappointed when they fail to live up to these standards).

It is perhaps a cliché to say that dissent is patriotic (and it’s also an often-hypocritical cliché, as people apply it only to people of their own political affiliation, sometimes even to those who are dissenting against the good and in favor of injustices) but there have certainly been a great many ideas and movements that have increased equality and human rights by fighting against the belief that things should just continue the way they’re already being done. There are many people in the history of my country, as in the history of the entire world, who have stood up to make things better. They have spoken up when others tried to silence them, fought hard when others tried to threaten them, and sometimes suffered dearly for their trouble.

Again, here, Captain America’s story provides a relevant analogy. There’s a storyline in the Captain America comics in which Captain America dies,[5] after he’d been fighting in the superhuman Civil War, in opposition to the Superhuman Registration Act.[6] In Captain America Vol. 5 #25, Steve Rogers — the man in red, white, and blue — who is supposed to be a symbol of the United States of America is arrested and shot dead.[7] Often, attempting to make things better puts people in great danger; they make sacrifices, sometimes even sacrifice their lives, in order to make things better. People who believe in peace are targeted for violence. People who are different are singled out and persecuted. Perhaps our country and our world are just like this, but we keep hoping that things can get better.

So, Captain America was shot dead. But fictional characters are sometimes resurrected,[8] and comic book superheroes are brought back to life with alarming frequency.[9] Though these resurrections happen in fiction, and we may wish they’d happen in real life, to me that resurrection symbolizes the continued rebirth of the dream to make things better, to keep hoping despite the odds.

Because, in reality, there are no superheroes. There are only humans. And yet even humans can do great things. I believe this. I have to believe this — because humanity has proven this, and because believing it is the first step to achieving a better world.

So, this Fourth of July, as we remember the past, let’s also look forward to a better future.

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Notes and Acknowledgments

The title is taken from the song “The Yankee Doodle Boy”, which is from the musical Little Johnny Jones, which was written by George M. Cohan.[10]

This essay was posted on 9 July 2014. It’s dated 4 July 2014 to keep my archives in order.

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References

[1] “Independence Day (United States)”. Wikipedia entry. Retrieved on 5 July 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/Independence_Day_(United_States).

[2] “Captain America (Steven Rogers)”. Marvel Database entry. Retrieved on 5 July 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Captain_America_(Steven_Rogers).

[3] “Statue of Liberty”. Wikipedia entry. Retrieved on 6 July 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statue_of_Liberty.

[4]  “The New Colossus”. Wikipedia entry. Retrieved on 6 July 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_New_Colossus.

[5] Brubaker, Ed; Perkins, Mike; Weeks, Lee; et al. The Death of Captain America: Complete Collection, Marvel, 2013.

[6] “Civil War (Event)”. Marvel Database entry. Retrieved on 9 July 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Civil_War_(Event).

[7] “Captain America Vol 5 25”. Marvel Database entry. Retrieved on 9 July 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Captain_America_Vol_5_25.

[8] Sharmin, Ani J. “The Sacrifice and Resurrection of Heroes and Fiction”. Posted on 21 April 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 9 July 2014 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/04/21/the-sacrifice-and-resurrection-of-heroes-in-fiction/.

[9] “Comic book death”. Wikipedia entry. Retrieved on 9 July 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comic_book_death.

[10] “The Yankee Doodle Boy”. Wikipedia entry. Retrieved on 5 July 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Yankee_Doodle_Boy.

Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #2 “All Mankind” (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al)

“Okay. So. I passed out in the fog and had a dream that I asked Captain Marvel to make me like her. Apparently she took me literally.” (Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #2)[1]

“Maybe this is what I’ve been waiting for. Maybe I’m finally part of something … bigger.” (Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #2)[2]

We left off at the end of issue #1 with Kamala receiving her powers after being exposed to the Terrigen Mists. Her Terrigenesis involved a conversation (possibly part of a hallucination or vision or dream) with Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel, Steve Rogers/Captain America, and Tony Stark/Iron Man, which was followed by Kamala emerging from a cocoon looking like Carol Danvers, with shape-shifting powers.[3] Issue #2, titled “All Mankind”, starts with Kamala outside on the sidewalk, looking like Carol Danvers and wondering what in the world is going on. At first, she thinks that the whole experience she just had was a dream. As the story continues, Kamala is walking back home and trying to figure out what’s making her shape-shift. On the way, she manages to use her powers intentionally and then inevitably gets into trouble with her parents for sneaking out.

Issue #2 is a continuation of the origin story that started in issue #1, which I loved.[4] Superheroes can get their powers in many ways, often requiring impressive suspension of disbelief on the part of readers, but it’s their decisions about what to do with their powers and their motivations for their choices that make them really interesting. During this issue, we see Kamala’s first intentional use of her powers to save another person. I thought that this passage in the story was really well-done.

The scenario that necessitated Kamala’s intervention was appropriate and allowed for further character development. Kamala sees Zoe and Josh (two of her classmates, who were also in the previous issue) on a pier over the river, after the party that just ended. Josh is incredibly drunk and trying to get Zoe to dance with him, while she is trying to keep him away from her. When this passage first started, I was wondering where the creators were going to go with it. Would the two of them be attacked by a criminal? Would Josh try to force himself onto Zoe, with her trying to fight him off? What ends up happening is this: Josh, in his drunken state, accidentally pushes Zoe into the water. When he realizes what has happened, he’s about to jump in to save her. Kamala intervenes, realizing that if a drunk Josh jumps in to save a panicking Zoe, both of them will drown. Kamala uses her shape-shifting powers to make her hand really large and scoop Zoe out of the water, along with what looks like the some of the detritus from the bottom of the river. I thought this scenario was a good decision on the writers’ part, because Kamala has just gotten her powers and doesn’t quite know what’s going on yet. For her to defeat a criminal or villain right away would seem odd and not allow for her to get used to her powers. It made sense to start with a situation (saving someone from drowning) that a non-superhero could have also intervened in, though Kamala’s powers make it easier for her. This sets the stage for her to learn how to better control her powers and later go out to intentionally fight villains, in addition to stepping in when she happens to see an accident. It fits in well with an origin story, about a character who is figuring out what’s happening and taking her first steps into superheroics.

Kamala’s motivations for her actions were really interesting, incorporating her religion but written in a way that any reader can relate to. When Kamala sees Zoe in trouble, she remembers an ayah (verse) from the Qur’an that her father sometimes quotes. The title of this issue is a reference to that Qur’anic verse, which is partially quoted in the comic as follows: “Whoever kills one person, it is as if he has killed all of mankind — and whoever saves one person, it is as if he has saved all of mankind.”[5] Kamala thinks of this verse, “When I was a little kid, that always made me feel better. Because no matter how bad things get … there are always people who rush in to help. And according to my dad … they are blessed.”[6] I found this part incredibly relatable and inspiring. Not all readers of this comic are Muslim, and most of us haven’t been in a situation when we could have saved someone’s life. However, many of us have certain beliefs and ideals that we hold dear, sometimes expressed in favorite quotations (whether from a religious text, a novel, a TV show, a comic, or other cherished canon). We hold these ideas close to our hearts, and they’re a part of who we are. Then, a difficult situation arises: We are challenged to follow those ideals. Our favorite quotes ring in our minds and we ask ourselves, Will I actually act on what I’ve been claiming to believe? This is Kamala’s moment when she has to decide what she believes and whether she has the courage of her convictions. The fact that the quote which inspired her is from the Qur’an is important, because there aren’t a lot of stories showing the Qur’an inspiring people to do good things in the media of Muslim-minority countries. There are lots of stories that have (both overt and more subtle) references to Christianity, but Islam is usually referenced as the motivation for villains, not heroes. In addition, Kamala is inspired throughout the story by both her religion and her admiration of superheroes, showing that a character can be inspired by their faith without that being the only defining factor about them. There’s an added layer to the morality of her decision to save Zoe, because she’s not only saving someone life, but saving the life of a person who made fun of her just recently. It all fits very well with the idea that what makes a superhero a hero are not the superpowers or the costume but the decision to the do the right thing.

After rescuing Zoe, Kamala makes her way back home; by the time she reaches Grove Street, it’s “Midnight, a.k.a., Way After Curfew”.[7] She sees that the lights are on and realizes that her parents must be awake and furious at her for sneaking out to go to a party. She climbs up the tree conveniently located outside her bedroom window (an apparent necessity for teenaged heroic fictional characters) and sneaks back inside. Here, there’s a hilarious bit of narration from Kamala as she’s climbing the tree: “Okay, this is where I admit that I’ve only ever snuck out twice before in my life. One when I was ten, just to see if I could actually get down the tree in one piece. And then once freshman year to see the midnight showing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows with Nakia and Bruno.”[8] (This is where I’m reminded that Kamala Khan is about a decade younger than me and already so awesome.) Her brother and parents are awake, and she gets into trouble. Teenaged superheroes getting grounded by their parents is a common trope of the genre, providing an obstacle to their superheroics (not to mention a trope of pretty much any genre including teenaged characters), but the situation and reactions of her family members are also very relatable. Her parents are understandably worried, but we the readers (knowing what Kamala knows) feel inclined to be on her side.

Overall, I really enjoyed issue #2. It’s a good follow-up to the first issue, and I like the creators’ decision to develop the story and characters slowly, instead of getting into the action right away. Both the writing and artwork are great, working together very well to pull readers into the story. Now that Kamala knows she actually has powers and feels motivated to use them to do good, we’ll see what she does next in her journey.

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References

[1] Wilson, G. Willow; Alphona, Adrian; Herring, Ian; et al. “All Mankind”. Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #2. Marvel, 19 March 2014.

[2] Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #2.

[3] Wilson, G. Willow; Alphona, Adrian; Herring, Ian; et al. “Metamorphosis”. Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #1. Marvel, 5 February 2014.

[4] Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #1 ‘Metamorphosis’ (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al)”. Posted on 26 June 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 3 July 2014 from http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/06/26/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-1-metamorphosis-by-wilson-alphona-herring-et-al/.

[5] This is part of Qur’an 5:32. The entire verse reads, “On account of [his deed], We decreed to the Children of Israel that if anyone kills a person—unless in retribution for murder or spreading corruption in the land—it is as if he kills all mankind, while if any saves a life it is as if he saves the lives of all mankind” (M.A.S. Abdel Haleem translation, The Qur’an, Oxford World Classics).

[6] Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #2.

[7] Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #2.

[8] Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #2.

Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #1 “Metamorphosis” (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al)

“Okay, yeah, but let’s face it … my chances of becoming an intergalactic super hero are even slimmer than my chances of becoming blond and popular.”

(Kamala Khan, Ms Marvel Vol. 3 #1)[1]

“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I don’t know who I’m supposed to be.”

“Who do you want to be?”

“Right now? I want to be beautiful and butt-kicking and less complicated. I want to be you.”

(Kamala Khan and Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #1)[2]

I enjoy superhero origin stories, and Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #1 begins to the origin story for our new superhero, sixteen-year-old Kamala Khan of Jersey City. I recently reviewed “Garden State of Mind”,[3] the preview story (which actually takes place later) to this new series and was very excited when I got my copy of issue #1.

Titled “Metamorhposis”, this comic book is the official beginning of Kamala Khan’s series. This issue introduces us to Kamala, her friends, her family, and a couple of classmates of hers. She has two good friends: Bruno and Nakia. At the beginning of the story, Kamla and Nakia are at the Circle Q, the store where Bruno works. Kamala lives with her mother (who she calls “Ammi”, which means “Mom”), her father (who she calls “Abu”, which means “Dad”), and her older brother Aamir. We also meet two of Kamala’s other classmates: Zoe and Josh.

The issue shows us the circumstances leading up to Kamala gaining her superpowers. Along the way, we get to know more about her. It’s her origin story, and I love origin stories; it’s important to know about the character to understand their motivations, goals, and decisions. Unlike well-established characters who’ve been around for decades, for whose stories it may sometimes (though not always) be slightly forgivable to jump straight into the action, assuming prior knowledge on the part of most of the fan base, a new character needs an origin story. And Kamala’s story is both classic and refreshing at the same time.

Readers will be able to relate to Kamala and want to cheer her on. She’s funny and aspires to do great things. She feels different from everyone else and wants to fit in. She’s also a fan of superheroes and writes Avengers fan fiction. (There’s a point in the book when we get to see a bit of Kamala’s fan fiction and then read an interaction between her and her mother, which literally made me laugh out loud.) As much as I love superheroes who defeat the villains, it’s really the person behind the mask who’s more interesting than their powers, and Kamala’s story is endearing. She’s a hero that has much in common with her fans.

The interactions between the members of Kamala’s family were really interesting to read. Her parents are very strict, and her brother is very religious and prays frequently. At first glance, these seem like stereotypes, but the passages are handled well, with insight and humor; their descriptions are not presented as an endorsement of stereotypes, but as an acknowledgement of the experiences of the children of immigrants, who find themselves disagreeing with parents who may expect them to live according to certain cultural and religious beliefs that seem outdated or ridiculous to the child or teenager. More generally, a character having to deal with a very strict parent is a staple of fiction; it provides something to rebel against and also sets up a situation in which the character must decide in which situations it’s appropriate to rebel and in which situations it makes more sense to listen to parents’ advice. Readers from any background will be able to relate to Kamala’s interactions with her family, and readers from a Muslim family may find some specifics that hit close to home. (Kamala has a line, while explaining some of her disagreements with her parents, in which she points out, “I grew up here! I’m from Jersey City, not Karachi!”[4] I recall having said incredibly similar things in my life.) Overall, I thought the elements pertaining to her family and their religious beliefs were handled in a decent way; there were some lighthearted moments and some serious ones as well (everything from not being allowed to eat bacon to being treated differently due to her gender) with a great focus on Kamala as an individual, rather than as a representative of her religion.

Kamala’s interactions with her friends and classmates were also interesting. Her friend Nakia is also Muslim, but it’s suggested that she and Kamala have some differing views on their religion; Nakia wears hijab and does not want to be called by the Anglicized nickname Kiki anymore. While they are at the Circle Q, Zoe and Josh walk in and Zoe makes a comment about Nakia’s hijab (expressing concern in an insulting way) and then inviting them to a party (with a comment about them not being able to attend due to their parents). Kamala’s friend Bruno is on Kamala and Nakia’s side, referring to Zoe a as a “concern troll”. Given some of my criticism of religious dress codes and the restrictive expectations of conservative religious parents, I do sometimes find the reflexive defense of hijab by Muslims to be frustrating, and this passage did remind me of that. On the one hand, including Nakia as an example of a Muslim teenager who made her own decision to wear hijab addresses a very important problem of people making assumptions about Muslim women. On the other hand, coercion in these matters is a very real problem faced by women, and so for concern about it to be expressed in the most insulting and discriminatory way struck me as an over-simplification to allow for a simple response. Overall, I do think it was important for this type of passage to be in the story, given the stereotypes that exist about Muslim women, and it is balanced by the fact that Kamala herself also criticizes her parents’ expectations of her. There seems to be room for Kamala to be herself, not completely going along with what either her family or her classmates expect of her, which I really appreciate. It’s a staple of stories with minority characters, especially stories about the children of immigrants, to show the experience of being “caught between two worlds” (as it’s sometimes phrased, rather oddly and somewhat inaccurately in my opinion); different stories have varying degrees of success with this, and I think this issue does a decent job of portraying that experience realistically and with understanding and compassion for those living it.

Both the writing and artwork are really wonderful, adding to each other beautifully. The dialogue seems realistic and relatable, and is often absolutely hilarious and enjoyable to read. Some of the boxes with Kamala’s thoughts and narration can be a bit clichéd, but they’re relatable clichés that many teenagers have probably experienced, and there’s important insight into her character. Her little side comments about certain situations are really amusing. I really love the artwork, especially the character designs, which have wonderful facial expressions. The cover is also really great and memorable, really appropriate for a first issue.

The letters page is quite heartening to read, with much support for the series, including a passage from reader Juliana Virani’s letter that makes me teary: “I am very much looking forward to this character, because it has never actually crossed my mind that someone like me could be a super hero. I can identify with other characters, but I never thought that a person like me could ever actually be a super hero, until now. So thank you. Thank you so very much for Ms. Marvel.”[5] What better endorsement could there be?

There’s part of me that wanted cheer as I read this comic. It’s an important thing to realize that the person behind the mask, the hero behind the superhero name, can actually be someone of any demographic—not just hypothetically, but actually. This book is definitely a good start to the series and makes me really excited to read more. I very much recommend it.

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References

[1] Wilson, G. Willow; Alphona, Adrian; Herring, Ian; et al. “Metamorphosis” Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #1. Marvel, 5 February 2014.

[2] Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #1.

[3] Sharmin, Ani J. “Story Review: ‘Garden State of Mind’ (Ms. Marvel, Vol 3. Preview) (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al)”. Posted on 21 June 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf Retrieved on 26 June 2014 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/06/21/story-review-garden-state-of-mind-by-wilson-alphona-herring-et-al/.

[4] Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #1.

[5] Virani, Juliana. Letter printed in the “Holla @ Kamala” Comic Book Letter Column of Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #1 “Metamorphosis”.

Book Review: Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’s “Saga” #1-6

“This is LANDFALL, the largest planet in the galaxy, and also my mother’s home. Its one and only satellite is WREATH, my father’s native moon. If there was ever a time these two got along, nobody remembers it.” (Hazel’s narration Saga #1)[1]

“My name is Hazel. I started out as an idea, but I ended up something more. Not much more, to be honest. It’s not like I grow up to become some great war hero or any sort of all-important savior … but thanks to these two, at least I get to grow old. Not everybody does.” (Hazel’s narration in Saga #1)[2]

As part of my recent increased interest in comics,[3] I was looking for more to read and came across several BookTube reviews of Saga, a fantasy space opera comic series by writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples. As I’m penning this review, there are nineteen issues/chapters in the series, with the twentieth chapter scheduled to be released this Wednesday, 25 June 2014. I read Saga #1-18 during Bout of Books 10.0[4] (before reading Young Avengers, Volume 2)[5] and read #19 when it was released last month, in May. The series is being collected in paperback editions, with six chapters per book, so I’ve decided to review the first six chapters together, which are printed as volume one.

Saga is primarily the story of Alana and Marko, two people from different societies that have been at war with each other since before anyone can remember. Alana is from the planet Landfall, while Marko is from Landfall’s moon Wreath. The two of them were soldiers for their respective homes, but fall in love and get married before our story starts. The story begins with the birth of their daughter Hazel, who is our narrator. The family is on the run, as people from both of their homes (government officials, hired assassins, and loved ones) are trying to find them. The story switches between the different characters, showing us what they’re all doing.

All of the characters in the story are absolutely fascinating. Their stories are compelling and make me want to know more about them. Though we the readers are naturally going to be drawn to the side of Alana and Marko, cheering for them and their baby Hazel to survive and thrive despite the opposition to their family, the people who are pursuing them are portrayed in a way that makes us interested in their stories as well. Even Hazel, though she’s still a baby in this book, comes across as a fascinating (sometimes serious and sometimes sarcastic) character as a presumably older version of her is providing the narration of the story. She has an interesting observation about one of the main characters which is more generally relevant to the portrayal of the characters in the story and their interactions with each other; regarding The Will (yes, the word “The” is part of his name), Hazel writes, “The Will wasn’t the first bounty hunter to come after my parents, and he wasn’t the last. Like every Freelancer I had the misfortune to eventually meet, he was a fucking MONSTER. But as my family was about to learn, some monsters are worse than others. . .”[6] This passage, among many others, was really memorable for me, because each of the characters is complex and complicated; we find ourselves loving and wanting to read more about each character, even if their actions are in direct opposition to the goals of other characters who we also love. In addition to Alana, Marko, Hazel, and The Will, there’s also Izabel, Prince Robot IV, and Lying Cat (The Will’s companion). We also meet a six-year-old girl who doesn’t have a name yet (but who is immediately adorable and promises to be great). There’s also a fascinating cast of supporting characters with a variety of roles in the story. There’s an often-stated piece of advice that creators receive regarding writing non-protagonist characters, reminding creators that each character is a protagonist of their own life, not just someone who exists to further someone else’s story. The creators of Saga understand this. As readers, we are curious about all of the characters’ stories, not just with regards to the hunt for Alana and Marko, but with a desire to know more about the characters who we’ve become so invested in.

The worldbuilding in the story is really fantastic. There’s a sense of large scale, even within such a short book. We meet characters from different planets and get a sense of how far and wide this conflict between Landfall and Cleave has spread. There are so many people, societies, and storylines packaged into this book that the world reaches out from the pages. The passages and scenes range from the innocent and adorable to the explicitly violent and explicitly sexual, from the comforting to the disturbing. All of these elements actually hang together beautifully, creating a universe and story that is epic in scale with characters who have a wide range of experiences. Though I just recently started reading the series, this universe has quickly become one of my favorites.

Both the writing and artwork are great. Vaughan’s writing is wonderful to read and often hilarious. The conversations between the characters are fun and flow nicely, with great memorable moments. Staples’s artwork is absolutely stunning, rendering the characters and environments in a way that draws readers into the world. She’s created creative character designs for the species from different planets and extraterrestrial landscapes that look as breathtaking as anything on Earth. The writing and artwork are very effective in building up the foreshadowing and suspense, weaving together multiple plotlines. The creators manage to juggle a large cast of characters and multiple storylines by judiciously choosing what to include and how best to include it.

I really enjoyed the first six issues of Saga, and I would definitely recommend reading them. This is an intriguing and absolutely wonderful beginning to a series, introducing us to a universe that comes to life while reading the story. I’m really looking forward to issue #20. I hesitate to go into the further detail about the plot, despite its grand scale, because there are so many surprises to discover along the way that I don’t want to ruin the enjoyment of discovery. I will say this: If you enjoy a story with narratives on both personal and epic scales, a diverse and complicated cast of characters, an unpredictable plot, well-written dialogue, beautiful artwork, and a universe that fascinates—read this series.

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References

[1] Vaughan, Brian K. and Staples, Fiona. Saga #1/Chapter One. March 2012. In: Saga, Volume One. Berkeley, Image Comics, October 2012 (Third Printing, July 2013).

[2] Vaughan, Brian K. and Staples, Fiona. Saga #1/Chapter One. March 2012. In: Saga, Volume One. Berkeley, Image Comics, October 2012 (Third Printing, July 2013).

[3] To see my blog posts in the Comics category, go to http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/category/comics/.

[4] Sharmin, Ani J. “Bout of Books 10.0 Starts Today”. Posted on 12 May 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 15 June 2014 from http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/05/12/bout-of-books-10-starts-today/.

[5] Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: ‘Young Avengers’ Volume 2 (By Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, et al)”. Posted on 30 May 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 22 June 2014 from http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/05/30/book-review-young-avengers-volume-2-by-kieron-gillen-jamie-mckelvie-et-al.

[6] Vaughan, Brian K. and Staples, Fiona. Saga #4/Chapter Four. June 2012. In: Saga, Volume One. Berkeley, Image Comics, October 2012 (Third Printing, July 2013).