Book Review: Storm Vol. 3 # 1-5 (By Greg Pak, Victor Ibañez, Scott Hepburn, et al) #SaveStorm

“Ororo Munroe…a.k.a. Windrider…a.k.a. Princess of N’Dare…a.k.a. Queen of Wakanda (former)…a.k.a. Headmistress of the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning…a.k.a.…Storm” (Storm Vol. 3 #1)⁠1

“I started off picking pockets in Cairo. And then I became a queen, Logan. I tried to stay true to myself…but I had to think about everything I did with a few million other people in mind. And those gowns are tight. I just don’t feel like getting pushed back into anyone’s box again.” (Storm Vol. 3 #2)⁠2

Ororo Munroe, the X-Man known as Storm,⁠3 is one of the most well-known superheroes in the pantheon. First introduced in Giant Size X-Men #1 (1975),⁠4 she’s been an important character for decades, as an essential part of the X-Men and as a character in her own right. She was also one of the earliest female African-American superheroes. Now, about forty years later, she finally has an ongoing solo comics series.⁠5 The first five issues of this series serve to introduce the title character to the readers; in three one-shot stories followed by a two-part story, Storm is in situations and interacts with characters in ways which are reminiscent of some of her famous storylines from decades ago. As becomes obvious from the series, even to readers like myself who may only be familiar with certain parts of Ororo’s history based on which X-Men stories we’re familiar with, Ororo has done many things and had many roles in her life.

In issue #1, we see Ororo using her powers to save Santo Marco from a tsunami. There’s a great series of panels in which a whole bunch of people, including a kid, run up to her and are excited to see her. However, the government tells her to leave. Later in the issue, we get to see Ororo in her role as a teacher, as aspect of her character that I’m particularly fond of, having grown up with X-Men: Evolution. There’s an interesting character named Marisol who’s having a difficult time at the Jean Grey School due to bullying and what she sees as the X-Men’s attempts to brainwash students. She wants to leave the school to go back home. What I really loved about this issue was getting to see exactly what makes Ororo a superhero. She uses her powers for good. Given the abilities she has, she can avert some of the most deadly and destructive natural disasters, which can kill on a massive scale. We also see the difficulty of trying to help others when people’s discriminatory beliefs are so severe that they will reject someone who just saved the lives of innocent people, just because the person who saved them is part of a minority group (in this case, mutants). My only criticism is that I was really fascinated by the character of Marisol and was sad to see her go. It’s rare to see non-white characters in stories, and I’ve become frustrated by the trope in which a minority characters’ culture is used as a reason why they can’t or won’t do something (like joining a superhero team, for instance) when characters who are part of the majority are inspired to do the same thing. Her leaving seemed to me the kind of thing that is trying to portray diversity but ends up taking away a minority character instead of actually increasing diversity by adding one. I’m really hoping that this is just the beginning of Marisol’s story and that she will hopefully become a recurring secondary character in the series.

In issue #2, Ororo is reunite with Callisto of the Morlocks while investigating the disappearance of a young woman. I was somewhat familiar with the alternate-universe Earth-11052 version of the Morlocks⁠6 due to X-Men: Evolution⁠7 and the podcast Rachel and Miles X-Plain the X-Men.⁠8 What I love about this issue is that it’s a story about a superhero who’s trying to help someone but then realizes that the situation is different than what she initially thought it was. Although the X-Men have disagreements with the Morlocks and even fight against them, it’s clear that they’re a group that readers are meant to have some sympathy for, due to the circumstances of discrimination against mutants that have caused them to live underground. In this issue, the Morlocks underground home become a place where people can escape to when they’re trying to get away from a bad situation. A group that has often been antagonists for our heroes turns out to be doing something good, and it’s a nice message showing that people are complicated and capable of a wide range of actions.

In issue #3, Ororo returns to Kenya and works together with her old friend Forge, who is working on a machine to help an area that has been plagued by drought. Using her powers, she helps him calibrate the machine in order to change the weather in an effective and accurate way that will be helpful to the people. This was an issue which also had a good message, but I think I might have enjoyed it even more if I knew more about the previous storylines about Ororo and Forge and more about Ororo’s time as a goddess. The good part of the issue is the message: Ororo is helping people once again, and it’s help with a problem that’s very real and happens in the real world. There is also a message about the importance of working together to make things better instead of seeking revenge.

In issues #4 and #5, the story ties in with the death of Logan/Wolverine, who has been an X-Man for as long as Ororo has. Ororo and Logan were romantically involved before his death, and there’s an incredibly touching passage in which Ororo, in her grief over Logan’s death, created an Aurora. The story which follows is one in which Ororo finds out that her and Logan’s longtime friend Yukio has gotten involved in some very questionable activities. This story was, in a way, the opposite of issue #2. In this story, Ororo finds out that someone who she actually really likes and considers a friend is doing something wrong. Ororo realizes that she can’t help her friend if her friend doesn’t want to change her situation. All she can do is live up to her own code of morality and not do something immoral, even when she’s put into a difficult situation. The story was obviously a tie-in with the Death of Wolverine event⁠9 which was happening at the time, and therefore set up a situation in which Ororo finds out something Logan was doing that she didn’t know about (working together with Yukio, trying to help her get out of the dangerous life that she had gotten herself into). This two-part story also shows Ororo’s morality and the difficult situation that people have to face when they find out that a friend is doing something wrong and asking them to do something wrong to help them.

Ororo Munroe is a great character and her solo series has been a long time coming. The content in these five introductory issues ranged from good to great, and I generally thought that most of the issues had some content that I really loved and some content that I thought was rather good. The story definitely made me interested in reading more of the series.

#

Notes

I’ll end my review with a request that readers try out this book. Fans have started the hashtag #SaveStorm out of concern that if the sales of the series don’t increase, it may be canceled as some series with similar sales numbers have recently been. As I’ve already written, Ororo is a great character and there’s great potential for stories about her in a solo series.

###

References

1 Pak, Greg; Ibañez, Victor; Redmond, Ruth; et al. Storm Vol. 3 #1. Marvel, 23 July 2014.

2 Pak, Greg; Ibañez, Victor; Redmond, Ruth; et al. Storm Vol. 3 #2. Marvel, 20 August 2014.

3 “Ororo Munroe (Earth-616)”. Marvel Database. Retrieved on 15 February 2015 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Ororo_Munroe_(Earth-616).

4 “Giant-Size X-Men Vol 1 1”. Marvel Database. Retrieved on 15 February 2015 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Giant-Size_X-Men_Vol_1_1.

5 “Storm Vol 3”. Marvel Database. Retrieved on 22 February 2015 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Storm_Vol_3.

6 “Morlocks (Earth-11052)”. Marvel Database. Retrieved on 22 February 2015 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Morlocks_(Earth-11052).

7 “X-Men: Evolution”. Marvel Database. Retrieved on 22 February 2015 from http://marvel.wikia.com/X-Men:_Evolution.

8 The Rachel and Miles X-Plain the X-Men website can be found at http://www.rachelandmiles.com/xmen/.

9 “Death of Wolverine”. Marvel Database. Retrieved on 22 February 2015 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Death_of_Wolverine.

Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #10 “Generation Why, Part Three” (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al)

“This is what heroism comes down to, Ms. Marvel. In the end, you’re all alone.”

“You’re wrong. A hero is just somebody who tries to do the right thing even when it’s hard. There are more of us than you think.”

(The Inventor and Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #10 “Generation Why, Part Three”)⁠1

“Yeah, we’ve gotta do something drastic. But not this. This is not saving the world. This is admitting the world is over. This is saying our generation will never matter. But we have to matter. If we don’t, there is no future worth saving.”

(Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #10 “Generation Why, Part Three”)⁠2

After the cliffhanger of the previous issue,⁠3 Kamala Khan learns why the teenagers at the Greenville house have been voluntarily helping the mysterious villain known as the Inventor. He has formed what Kamala refers to as the “the Inventor’s indie band of doom”⁠4 and convinced these teenagers to sacrifice their lives to provide an energy source from their electrical fields and usable body heat. The teenagers at the Greenville house have become convinced that the world is doomed, that the kids and teens of their generation are parasites, and that participating in the Inventor’s plan is the only way for them to do something good with their lives. Kamala proceeds to motivate the teenagers to have some hope for a better future that they can be part of and then convinces them to help her fight against the Inventor.

Similar to issue #8,⁠5 there is content in this story which addresses negative attitudes towards teenagers. Some of it is a bit heavy-handed, but it’s balanced with amusing sections. There’s a sweet and funny passage in which Kamala is trying to motivate the other teenagers by telling them how their skills and traits could help them in certain jobs. They create a plan to fight against the Inventor, to stop his plot and to rescue Lockjaw. It’s nice to see Kamala working together with other teenagers to fight the villain; even a book with a solo superhero should have stories in which the hero works together with other people. With Kamala being from various demographics that are underrepresented and discriminated against, I found it interesting that the creators chose to use her age (rather than her race, gender, or religion) as the topic for this story arc. I’ve very much enjoyed the stories attempts to address racial, gender, and religious issues and hope that there will be more story arcs focused on them. However, it’s also nice to see a theme in Kamala’s story that teenagers in general will be able to relate to: the feeling that adults in power don’t seem to care about the state of the world they leave behind for future generations. I also like the idea of a hero motivating others to change their minds, instead of charing in and being the only one doing the right thing.

The question of people sacrificing themselves for a cause immediately reminded me the real-world question of how best to address problems. Heroes are often in dangerous situation when they try to fight the villains and do the right thing. However, there’s a difference between begin willing to die while doing the right thing to make the world better and intentionally killing oneself due to a belief that things cannot get better. The story shows how villains take away others’ hope and then try to manipulate them into doing something that is actually harmful to themselves and to society. The fact that Kamala was leading and working together with a bunch of other teenagers (who seem to be from various backgrounds) was a nice way to show that the best way to move forward is for everyone to work together and have hope for a better future.

So, the group of teenagers go to fight the Inventor. It turns out at the end of the issue that the Inventor is holding a whole bunch of teenagers prisoner. These prisoners are seemingly floating unconscious in the type of fluid-filled cylinders which are so common in the secret laboratories of speculative fiction. We have a dire scenario set up, and our team of teenagers will have to figure out a way to free the prisoners and defeat the Inventor. There’s also the question in my mind of whether the Inventor has some ulterior motive or unknown goal behind his action; does he actually believe that the planet is doomed if teenagers do not sacrifice themselves as an energy source, or is that just something he told them to achieve some other end? (As an aside, one character who I’ve been very curious about is Knox. He’s the one who, according to his own words in issue #6, synthesized the Inventor from the DNA of Thomas Edison, with some contamination due to his cockatiel’s DNA.⁠6 This makes me wonder if Knox is somehow the mastermind behind all of this, or if he is the Peter Pettigrew figure who gave his master a new body. If it’s the latter, who told him to clone the Inventor? Did the Inventor exist in some other form prior to the cloning of Thomas Edison? There’s a possibility I’ve overanalyzing this, but that’s what fandom is about.) The Inventor’s operation has been shrouded in mystery, and I’m hoping we find out more about what’s going on, either in the next issue or later in the future.

Most of this issue is setup for the final battle at the end of the story arc. There’s a lot of conversation between the characters, including motivational speeches by Kamala and diabolical speeches by the Inventor. (The Inventor is one of those villains who apparently likes to go on explanatory monologues for the readers’ benefit.) I’m really looking forward to issue #11 of this series. I’m wondering how much will actually be explained and to what degree it will be just one fight with a recurring villain who will show up again in later story arcs. I’m also wondering if any any of the teenagers will become new recurring characters, perhaps allies of Ms. Marvel or friends of Kamala Khan.

Overall, this series, even in its setup issues, is still fun to read.

###

References

1 Wilson, G. Willow; Alphona, Adrian; Herring, Ian; et al. Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #10 “Generation Why, Part Three”. Marvel, 17 December 2014.

2 Wilson, G. Willow; Alphona, Adrian; Herring, Ian; et al. Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #10 “Generation Why, Part Three”. Marvel, 17 December 2014.

3 Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #9 ‘Generation Why, Part Two’ (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al)”. The Eternal Bookshelf, 15 December 2014. Retrieved on 19 January 2015 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/12/15/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-9-generation-why-part-two-by-wilson-alphona-herring-et-al/.

4 Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #10.

5 Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #8 ‘Generation Why, Part One’ (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al)”. The Eternal Bookshelf, 19 October 2014. Retrieved on 19 January 2015 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/10/19/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-8-generation-why-part-one-by-wilson-alphona-herring-et-al/.

6 Wilson, G. Willow; Wyatt, Jacob; Herring, Ian; et al. Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #6 “Healing Factor, Part One”. Marvel, 16 July 2014.

Book Review: Uncanny Avengers Vol. 1 #6-22 (By Rick Remender, Daniel Acuña, Steve McNiven, Salvador Larroca, et al)

“There is a point in the evolution of any species where they must discard their tribal instincts and unite as a people. One cohesive representation of their world on the cosmic stage. This is the test of all life. To see their world relative to the stars. To finally absorb how meaningless their rage at their brothers and sisters truly is!”

“You knew…knew this was coming…”

“If the people of Earth didn’t unite. I had great expectations they would. Yet they continued to war over their trifling differences. Combat, their only means of solution. Too savage to be allowed to join the cosmic community…and the Celestials deemed them unworthy for it. As hard as it will be to accept it…the true fault lies with men. Ragnarok was their choice.”

(Odin and Thor, Uncanny Avengers Vol. 1 #17)⁠1

I recently reviewed the first five issues of Uncanny Avengers, a series in which characters Avengers and X-Men characters form a new team in order to show that mutants and non-mutants can work together to make the world a better place.⁠2 This review covers the next seventeen issues of the story (#6-22), which form a series of arcs that actually fit together to create one long story. I mentioned in my previous review that I perhaps had too high an opinion of the first story arc, and it’s possible that I perhaps have too low an opinion of these ones.

Our new combined superhero team has defeated their first adversary, but things cannot stay peaceful for long, as new troubles quickly arise. Basically, there are multiple villains scheming ways to succeed in their plans and the heroes must find a way to defeat them. Adding to the difficulty is that the heroes realize that their own actions in the past have contributed to some of the problems that are arising. Differences in ideology and other sources of distrust also arise, leading to a splintering of the team. Their inability to work together allows the villains to succeed, leading to the destruction of the Earth and the murder of almost every non-mutant, after which our heroes have to employ some time travel and other measures to make things right again. In other words, there are many things going on.

There were some moments of moving character development for several of the characters, especially earlier in this series of issues. The passages in which they fight the Horsemen of the Apocalypse are incredibly revelatory. We also see the characters disagree with each other about the morality of violence and killing villains, scenes in which the reader can feel sympathetic for each of their points. However, the direction the story goes in prevents much further development for the characters. This is a very plot-driven storyline, in which a certain series of events has to happen, and there is not much quiet time to explore what could have been interesting friendships and rivalries within the group. I noted in my previous review that I thought the first story arc had a good balance of quieter moments and action scenes, but this story was heavy on the action and very light on other elements.

Because of the death of most of the cast, a large part of the storyline focuses on Alex Summers. This point has its merits and problems. Alex Summers is the younger brother of Scott Summers, the famous X-Man known as Cyclops. Due to his well-known older sibling, Alex has often been a secondary character, never able to live up to his brother’s reputation. It’s nice to see Alex in a story in which he gets to be a leader and hero. Even when Scott does show up, it’s still very much Alex’s story, and that’s much appreciated.

That being said, very few of the others on the team receive much focus. The story very much ignores opportunities to develop the other characters, mostly because they are killed off. Even in the end, when time travel allows them to to work together again, the method by which they work together is cool from an action point of view but light on character interaction that could have made it much more meaningful.

Even Janet, the only non-mutant who survives the genocide, doesn’t get as much character development as her partner Alex. One would think she’d be an obvious choice for a viewpoint character. Even though the fate of Alex and Janet’s daughter Katie, and the moral dilemma of saving billions of people when it means your own child will no longer exist, should be of great importance to both parents, Alex receives most of the focus. (I also noticed that Janet, like Rogue in the first arc of the series, has a random section of dialogue when she inexplicably mentions a detail about her sex life. This seems to be an attempt at humorous innuendo for the benefit of the reader, with no narrative purpose.) Janet seems like a genuinely awesome and fun character from the few moments when the story focuses on her, such as the passages when she saves her teammates and when she is conflicted about the use of violence, and I would have liked to get to know her better.

As for characters who are not part of the main superhero team, very few of them receive characterization that would give the story some more depth. Although there’s a whole planet with an entirely mutant population, it seems (inexplicably) that the Uncanny Avengers and a few of the X-Men are the only ones who seem concerned that their new home was built on the deaths of billions of people. For a story that started off by emphasizing the mutant minority metaphor, it ends up oddly reinforcing the bad things that some non-mutants believe about mutants. This is not helped by the decision to focus on the action scenes rather than depicting, for example, some of the citizens on Planet X. There were some moving passage in the first story arc featuring civilians, and this story could have benefited from that.

The plot itself seems to be trying so hard to be complicated and surprising that it forgets to be genuinely fascinating or memorable. I’m usually all for stories in which there are various characters working to achieve their goals, with the reader uncertain about exactly what’s going on, but these types of stories are usually interesting because the reader gets to know the characters as they are going about their plans. When combined with a lack of character development, this type of story lends itself to a book that is fun to read but which does not leave a lasting impression.

What I loved about the beginning of the series, though it had its flaws, was the potential for it to be a series about a team of mutant and non-mutant superheroes working together to fight anti-mutant bigotry, with character development showing how the experiences these characters have lived through influence their views. Instead of continuing this theme, the series takes a turn to become a generic superhero story with only brief mentions of the premise the series was supposed to be about. The problem of discrimination against mutants is removed by a genocidal act of deus ex machina. I’m usually all for stories in which the heroes have to quite literally save the Earth from destruction, but usually these stories contain some sort of theme regarding humanity’s error in fighting amongst ourselves or being irresponsible, instead of working together and showing solidarity. The first story arc, for all its flaws, portrayed the ability of humans to discriminate against each other as the ultimate villain, even if there was a super-powered bad guy influencing their actions by amplifying the tendencies that humans already have inside them. In this story, it’s all about the super-powered bad guys, and what little meaning there is regarding the importance of humanity working together is lost. Odin’s speech in issue #17 is one of the few moments which acknowledge this theme, but most of the story ignores it in favor of action. I think part of the reason I was disappointed was that I was hoping for a story that would more directly address the mutant minority metaphor with some thoughtfulness. Instead, the series started with story arc was a bit heavy-handed about the message, followed by several story arcs that mostly avoided it.

Overall, I found this long story that took up most of the first volume of Uncanny Avengers to be generally fun but disappointing, for it’s failure to follow up on the themes that were introduced in the beginning of the series. There are lots of stories about superheroes saving the world from evil supervillains; a story about superheroes saving the world from the evil within the hearts of humanity would have been much more appreciated.

###

References

1 Remender, Rick; Acuña, Daniel; McNiven, Steve; Larocca, Salvador; et al. Uncanny Avengers Vol. 1 #17 “Ragnarok Now”. Marvel, 26 February 2014.

2 Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Uncanny Avengers Vol. 1 #1-5 (By Rick Remender, John Cassaday, Oliver Coipel, Laura Martin, et al)”. Posted on 25 November 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 21 December from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/11/25/book-review-uncanny-avengers-vol-1-1-to-5-by-remender-cassaday-coipel-martin-et-al/.

Book Review: Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 3 #7 “Ms. Marvel Team-Up” and #8 “Ms. Adventures in Babysitting” (By Dan Slott, Christos Gage, Guiseppe Camuncoli, Cam Smith, Antonio Fabella, et al)

“Man, that woman has some die-hard fans.” (Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 3 #7 “Ms. Marvel Team-Up”)⁠1

“I can’t believe we beat her by calling the principal.” (Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel, Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 3 #8 “Ms. Adventures in Babysitting”)⁠2

“Relax, kiddo, you’ll be fine.”

“As a super hero? Or the whole Inhuman thing?”

“As a teenager. You remind me of a web-headed whippersnapper who always wondered how he was doing. And he thinks you’re doing great.”

(Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel, Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 3 #8 “Ms. Adventures in Babysitting”)⁠3

Kamala Khan, better known as Ms. Marvel, is one of the newer superheroes, and so she’s been meeting and teaming up with some of her more well-known predecessors. In Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #6 “Healing Factor, Part One”⁠4 and #7 “Healing Factor, Part Two”,⁠5 she teamed up with Logan of the X-Men. It was only a matter of time before she teamed up with the superhero who she’s often compared to: Peter Parker, better known as Spider-Man. In Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 3 #7 and #8, Kamala was a guest in Peter’s series, as one of the most famous former teenage superheroes (who’s now an adult).

To provide some context, each of these two issue contains two stories; the first story in each issue is the team-up between Peter and Kamala and the second story in each is part of Edge of Spider-Verse, the lead-up to the Spider-Verse event. The Edge of Spider-Verse stories were fun to read, but I don’t have much to say about them, as I’ve not been following the Amazing Spider-Man series. This review will focus on the team-up.

Minn-Erva/Dr. Minerva⁠6 is a villain who’s attacking a medical facility along with a group of henchmen in green uniforms. Her criminal activities lead to the team-up between Peter and Kamala, because a member of the Carol Corps posts about a villain who’s committing crimes in Carol Danvers’ old Ms. Marvel costume. Kamala decides to intervene and heads to New York City. Meanwhile, Peter Parker is trying to focus on his non-superhero priorities (such as running Parker Industries) on the advice of Anna Maria Marconi.⁠7 Cindy Moon/Silk⁠8 decides to head out on her own, separate from Peter, to make her own life. The villain’s actions cause the superheroes to meet up and do what superheroes do best, leading to a fun and sweet ending, which includes tricking the villain into leaving Earth and finding out that one of her henchmen wants to turn his life around.⁠9

This story definitely knows who its audience is going to be. The creators seemed to appreciate that Kamala’s fans would be picking up these issues and included some fun references to the Carol Corps, the fans of Carol Danvers.⁠10 Kamala asks Peter questions about Carol Danvers, because she knows that the two of them know each other and once dated. Peter motivates Kamala to stay in the fight by encouraging her to help him with a team-up move that he has previously done with Carol Danvers. There’s a sweet conversation between the two of them at the end of the story, in which Peter tells Kamala he thinks she’s doing great.

The character Cindy, though I don’t know too much about her, is actually really fascinating in this issue, as she’s trying to build up a life for herself and finds that Natalie Long,⁠11 one of her colleagues at Fact Channel,⁠12 wants Silk to be for the Fact Channel what Spider-Man was to the Daily Bugle. As is the way of superhero stories, Natalie Long doesn’t know that the woman she’s talking to is actually the superhero she’s referring to. This story is not developed as much, but it’s a fun reference to an ongoing joke in the Spider-Man universe: the news outlet that doesn’t know that the superhero they’re covering is one their employees.

Another interesting character is Clayton Cole, who’s the henchman who has second thoughts when realizing what’s inside the cocoon that Dr. Minerva has stolen. It’s a sweet moment showing that even those who’ve gone astray can change their lives, and it’s very much in keeping with the positive theme about choosing one’s own destiny that’s been a staple of both Peter and Kamala’s stories.

Despite the fun elements, this story feels a bit like filler because, well, that’s kind of what it is. One of the best things about team-ups is that the characters are in some way affected or changed by meeting or working together with another character; it provides a chance for some character development. There was certainly a lot of character development for Kamala in her team-up with Logan. In this story, one feels that neither Peter nor Kamala are going to leave it changed or affected in a way that will affect their future story arcs. The Ms. Marvel series was (and is) in the middle of a different and unrelated story arc and the Spider-Verse event was about to happen in the Spider-books when this team-up happened.

This is the first story about Kamala Khan that I’ve found decent, but not that great. I don’t regret reading it but it also wasn’t as good as it had the potential to be. The characters don’t get space for a more well-developed story, because it feels very much like a little vignette that was squeezed into a set number of pages while the creators’ focus was on the big Spider-Verse event that was about to happen. Fans of the Amazing Spider-Man series will likely read these issues anyway, and fans of Ms. Marvel will likely read these issues for more stories about a new character who doesn’t have decades of back issues yet. I hope that Peter Parker and Kamala Khan meet again, perhaps along with some of the other Avengers.  Here’s to hoping that meeting will be a more well-developed story.

###

References

1 Slott, Dan; Gage, Christos; Camuncoli, Guiseppe; Smith, Cam; Fabella, Antonio; et al. “Ms. Marvel Team-Up”. In: Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 3 #7. Marvel, 8 October 2014.

2 Slott, Dan; Gage, Christos; Camuncoli, Guiseppe; Smith, Cam; Fabella, Antonio; et al. “Ms. Adventures in Babysitting”. In: Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 3 #8. Marvel, 22 October 2014.

3 Slott, Dan; Gage, Christos; Camuncoli, Guiseppe; Smith, Cam; Fabella, Antonio; et al. “Ms. Adventures in Babysitting”. In: Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 3 #8. Marvel, 22 October 2014.

4 Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #6 ‘Healing Factor, Part One’ (By G. Willow Wilson, Jacob Wyatt, Ian Herring, et al)”. Posted on 13 September 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 16 September 2014 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/09/13/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-6-healing-factor-part-one-by-wilson-wyatt-herring-et-al/.

5 Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #7 ‘Healing Factor, Part Two’ (By G. Willow Wilson, Jacob Wyatt, Ian Herring, et al)”. Posted on 26 September 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 19 October 2014 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/09/26/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-7-healing-factor-part-two-by-wilson-wyatt-herring-et-al/.

6 “Minn-Erva (Earth-616)”. Marvel Database wiki. Retrieved on 21 December 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Minn-Erva_(Earth-616).

7 “Anna Maria Marconi (Earth-616)”. Marvel Database wiki. Retrieved on 21 December 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Anna_Maria_Marconi_(Earth-616).

8 “Cindy Moon (Earth-616)”. Marvel Database wiki. Retrieved on 21 December 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Cindy_Moon_(Earth-616).

9 “Clayton Cole (Earth-616)”. Marvel Database wiki. Retrieved on 21 December 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Clayton_Cole_(Earth-616).

10 “Carol Danvers (Earth-616)”. Marvel Database wiki. Retrieved on 21 December 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Carol_Danvers_(Earth-616).

11 “Natalie Long (Earth-616)”. Marvel Database wiki. Retrieved on 21 December 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Natalie_Long_(Earth-616).

12 “Fact Channel News (Earth-616)”. Marvel Database wiki. Retrieved on 21 December 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Fact_Channel_News_(Earth-616).

Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #9 “Generation Why, Part Two” (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al)

“This is all so weird. I thought I was finally starting to figure things out. It seems like anytime you want to learn something, you have to unlearn something else. I thought I was a mutant — now it turns out I’m part alien. I’m a Pak-American, Part-Alien, Morphogenic nerd.” (Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #9)⁠1

“I like not being scared. I want to keep not being scared. (Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #9)⁠2

“You’re from a galaxy far, far away.” (Bruno, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #9)⁠3

Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #9 “Generation Why, Part Two” is a continuation of the story arc that began in issue #8.⁠4 Kamala Khan is faced with one of the Inventor’s giant robots, which is attacking her school. At this rather inconvenient moment, her shape-shifting powers won’t work the way they used to. If she fights the robot, her fellow classmates and others in the area will realize that she has superpowers. So, she tells Lockjaw to create a distraction while she fights the giant robot, in the hope that no one will recognize her. The fight causes Kamala to use up all of her energy, pushing her healing factor ability to its limit, and Kamala passes out. When Kamala wakes up, she’s in New Attilan, home of the Inhumans, which Bruno refers to as the “art deco alien city in the river”.⁠5 There, Kamala meets Medusa, Queen of the Inhumans, and Vinatos, a physician who’s treating her injuries. It’s here that Kamala finds out that she’s not a mutant; she’s an Inhuman. Despite Queen Medusa’s expectation that Kamala should stay in New Attilan and let someone else deal with the Inventor, Kamala leaves.

One of the things I’m really enjoying about this series is Kamala’s decision to define her own life and destiny, instead of going along with what others expect of her. She has disagreed with and rebelled against her parents,⁠6 realized that she doesn’t want to fit in with classmates who look down at her,⁠7 and argued against Sheikh Abdullah about gender segregation at the masjid.⁠8 In this issue, she refuses to stay in New Attilan, despite Queen Medusa’s demand that she do so. Kamala’s a rebel with a cause — a good cause. She wants to find her own way, instead of following what others tell her to do. The reader can’t help cheering for her. It’s heartening to see a character from underrepresented demographics standing up for herself and making her own choices. It’s much needed in media and and is done very well here. She gets to be herself, and she’s awesome.

When Kamala and Bruno are in New Attilan, Vinatos offers a hypothesis about why Kamala might be having difficulty with her shape-shifting powers. He suggests that the more Kamala uses her healing abilities, the less she might be able to shape-shift. This offers a challenge that might become relevant in Kamala’s future attempts at superheroics. The even more fascinating part is the metaphor, a suggestion that that accepting oneself, instead of pretending to be what others expect, is a part of healing. Part of Kamala’s story is about her looking up to Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel, to such a degree that she subconsciously changed her appearance to look like Carol when her powers first emerged. Throughout the story, Kamala has been learning that she herself can be brave and do good things, that she can take actions that are inspired by the superheroes she admires without looking just like them or hiding who she really is.

After returning home to her concerned family, Kamala is still determined to defeat the Inventor and convinces Vick to take her back to the house outside Greenville. It turns out to be a harvest day, when some of the teenagers are taken to the power plant. The artwork shows a person on a stretcher being brought out of the house. At the end of this issue, Kamala receives a big surprise when the teenagers she’s trying to rescue that house are reluctant to go with her. They’re volunteers, not captives. As I wrote in my review of issue #8,⁠9 there were hints in previous issues suggesting that the teenagers had voluntarily joined the Inventor, although their specific plans are still mysterious.

I really hope that this story arc goes in an interesting direction. There have been many times while reading this series that a certain subject matter or theme has been introduced and made me nervous, due to concern about how it would be handled. Every time thus far, the creators have exceeded my expectations in their storytelling. I hope that this development of the teenagers joining the Inventor is similarly handled well. Hopefully, we will find out more about them and their motivations. There are many interesting directions that the story could go in, and the reveal at the end of this issue ties in with the larger theme of teenagers trying to find their way and trying to find something to believe.

Generally, this issue was mostly build-up for the rest of the story arc, but the creators working on this series make it fun nonetheless. Kamala finally finds out the source of her powers and meets more Inhumans. There are some character development moments and introductions of new characters who will likely become more significant later. There are some fun references to Star Wars and Halo, showing Kamala’s fan interests, something that her fans will be able to relate to. This story arc is at the halfway point, so I’m hoping that there will be some important developments in the next two issues. I’m looking forward to seeing Kamala’s further interactions with the teenage followers of the Inventor and find out more about the Inventor himself.

Ms. Marvel is one of the comics that I look forward to the most each month; Kamala has quickly become one of my favorite superheroes. The Kamala Korps⁠10 may be new, but it’s a fandom for one of the best superheroes. I hope her fandom grows and that she is one day counted among the pantheon of the best-loved characters.

###

References

1 Wilson, G. Willow; Alphona, Adrian; Herring, Ian; et al. Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #9 “Generation Why, Part Two”. Marvel, 15 October 2014.

2 Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #9.

3 Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #9.

4 Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #8 ‘Generation Why, Part One’ (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al)”. Posted on 19 October 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 20 November 2014 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/10/19/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-8-generation-why-part-one-by-wilson-alphona-herring-et-al/.

5 Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #9.

6 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 20 November 2014 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/06/26/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-1-metamorphosis-by-wilson-alphona-herring-et-al/.

7 Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #2 ‘All Mankind’ (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring)”. Posted on 3 July 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 20 November 2014 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/07/03/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-2-all-mankind-by-wilson-alphona-herring-et-al/.

8 Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #3 ‘Side Entrance’ (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring)”. Posted on 12 July 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 20 November 2014 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/07/12/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-3-side-entrance-by-wilson-alphona-herring-et-al/.

9 Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #8 ‘Generation Why, Part One’ (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al)”. Posted on 19 October 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 20 November 2014 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/10/19/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-8-generation-why-part-one-by-wilson-alphona-herring-et-al/.

10 Oler, Tammy. “Marvelous: Ms. Marvel and Captain Marvel are changing the way readers (and publishers) think about who can be a superhero”. Slate, 7 April 2014. Retrieved on 15 December 2014 from http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2014/04/kamala_khan_as_ms_marvel_and_carol_danvers_as_captain_marvel_female_nonwhite.html.

Book Review: Uncanny Avengers Vol. 1 #1-5 (By Rick Remender, John Cassaday, Oliver Coipel, Laura Martin, et al)

“I’d like you to join us — to become an Avenger. More than join, I want you to lead a squad of our very best. X-Men and Avengers working together, setting an example of cooperation. With Xavier gone and Cyclops locked up, someone has to stand up and represent the mutants.”

(Steve Rogers/Captain America to Alex Summers/Havok, Uncanny Avengers #1)⁠1

“Peter Brown told his mother he’d pick up his younger brother from physical therapy in time for dinner. When the boy’s treatment went long, Peter took a walk. As the baton cracks his skull, he’s grateful his brother wasn’t ready. Grateful the boy wouldn’t see him beaten to death. The image of the family he’ll never again see offers some comfort…The men who trounce his attackers offer more.”

(Uncanny Avengers #3)⁠2

“I wanted to have a meeting before the press conference to discuss a few concerns.”

“I thought only the leader type called meetings. Isn’t that super hero etiquette? Can any of us just call meetings whenever we want?”

“I hereby grant full meeting-calling privileges to all. Go on, Steve. Please.”

(Steve Rogers/Captain America, Anna Marie/Rogue, and Alex Summers/Havok, Uncanny Avengers #5)⁠3

What happens when some of the Avengers and X-Men⁠4 team up in the wake of Professor Charles Xavier’s death to demonstrate that humans and mutants can cooperate to make the world a better place? That’s the premise of Uncanny Avengers, and it’s a premise that I immediately liked. It’s been a long-running observation among fans (and probably among creators, I’d guess) that people in the Marvel universe absurdly contradict themselves in their love of the various non-mutant superheroes (even despite the existence of non-mutant supervillains) and simultaneous hatred of mutants based on the existence of mutant supervillains (despite the existence of mutant superheroes and civilians). This fact makes the premise feel a bit meta. More than that, though, I like stories about the X-Men which directly address the mutant minority metaphor, and I was excited to see how this series would address it. This first story arc (issues #1-5) introduces the cast, gets the team together, and shows them fighting the first villain of the series.

I think I should admit upfront that my opinion of this arc was likely influenced by the context in which I read it. I read the first arc in July of this year, around the time when I was becoming more interested⁠5 in comics.⁠6 I’d already found a few series that I loved, but my attempts at finding more series to follow were disappointing. So, when I read the first arc of this series, I was elated to find another series that I enjoyed.

The characters were one of the reasons that I became interested in the story. I started reading this series, in part, due to Rogue and Wanda. I was already reading some X-books and was wondering where Rogue was, as she’s one of my favorite characters. Then, the Avengers showed up in All-New X-Men Vol. 1 #12⁠7 and I realized Rogue and Wanda were on that team. The series has a good combination of characters that I already loved from television shows and films (Steve Rogers/Captain America, Thor Odinson, Logan/Wolverine, Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch, and Anna Marie/Rogue) along with other characters who’d I’d heard of and wanted to know more about (Alex Summers/Havok, Janet van Dyne/Wasp, Shiro Yoshida/Sunfire, and Simon Williams/Wonder Man). The cast of characters was a nice combination of the familiar and the new. I liked the interactions between them, including the ways that they have difficulty coming together as a team but try to do so anyway, as well as their thoughts as they try to deal with the situations they are in. There are disagreements between Rogue and Wanda, between Logan and Steve; these disagreements are written in a way that still allows us to feel understanding and sympathy for each character. Alex tries to figure out how to be lead this new Avengers Unity Division, including trying to give orders while Captain America himself is on the team. Some of the characters get more development than others, but they’re all interesting.

Due to the premise, this story obviously includes content that emphasizes the mutant minority metaphor. Some sections were better than others. The main villain of this arc was the Red Skull, who robbed Professor Charles Xavier’s grave and removed the late professor’s brain from his body in order to use Xavier’s telepathy to unleash a wave of hatred against mutants. The villain fits the theme in this case. There were some sections in which the characters’ dialogue is clearly meant to convey a message. Some of the dialogue references common disagreements among members of a marginalized group when deciding how to best combat discrimination. Some characters’ words fit the characters, while others’ words seem forced. Some of Rogue and Wanda’s dialogue and disagreements make sense and are based on these characters’ backstories, though I think their animosity for each other is exaggerated, given they’ve both been villains in the past and done things they regret. Logan’s argument that there is no mutant community seems somewhat in character for him, but also absurd, as he runs a school for mutants and is one of the leaders of the X-Men, a group that’s all about mutants learning to use their powers for good, working together, and standing up for themselves. It seems to be included mostly for the purpose of showing that his doubt about the Avengers Unity Division is unwarranted, as a civilian thanks Alex right after Logan expresses his view. Then, there’s Alex’s much-discussed speech in issue #5. I thought his speech was partly decent and partly absurd. The decent part was his statement regarding not wanting to be labeled and judged just based on being a mutant. There are different views among people who discuss equal rights regarding labels (how they can be divisive at times but also empowering at times) but part of his speech seemed realistic, like something that people actually say. Regardless of a reader’s personal view on the subject, the statement seems appropriate for his character, one who was reluctant to join a superhero team and be a symbol for a cause, but nonetheless wants to do the right thing. (Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat gives a counterpoint to this argument, explaining with a personal story why self-identifying with labels can be important, in All-New X-Men Vol. 1 #13.)⁠8 The most absurd part was when he refers to the word mutant as the M-word, both due to X-Men history and the context of the story. In the X-Men, the word mutant has usually been a neutral term; some may say it with a sneer, but it’s not a slur. (The word mutie is a slur.) In the context of the story, Alex’s speech wasn’t about racial slurs; it was about labels and judging people based on them. This isn’t to say that there can never be a fictional slur in a story, to provide a metaphor for slurs in the real world, but it should make sense in context. The panels in which the word mutie is in graffiti and in the dialogue of characters attacking mutants already gets the point across. Alex referring to the word mutant as the M-word didn’t make sense. It seemed an attempt to force in one more analogy in a place where it didn’t fit.

Surprisingly, some of the most touching and personal moments which conveyed the equality message were in the middle of the the fight scenes. There’s a series of heart-wrenching panels that focuses in on some of the civilians who are being attacked by the violent mob. The reader finds out a little bit about these civilians through the narration while they’re being attacked. It’s a common theme for superheroes to claim that they’re fighting to protect innocent civilians, but these civilians are rarely seen or given much attention in the stories. It very effective; those panels genuinely made me teary. In a similar vein, showing the effectiveness of the Avengers’ efforts in a passage with a civilian thanking a surprised Alex was really great. Another effective element was the inclusion of moments when the human non-mutant Avengers are telepathically influenced into attacking their teammates. Although mind control is a common trope, I thought it was used to good effect to show that a culture in which hatred and discrimination is pervasive can end up even unconsciously influencing people who don’t consciously support discrimination.

Part of the reason this story was fun to read was the good combination and balance of various elements. There are big, bloody action scenes and personal conversations between the characters. There are serious themes and moments of humor. The story is obviously trying to address discrimination through a metaphor, but it also made me laugh and smile. One of the things that I enjoyed was the inclusion of certain fun superhero tropes. For instance, there are several moments in which the characters have typical overly-dramatic entrances or dialogue, in which they say something that sounds cool before or while fighting the villain. This type of passage is a cliché that’s difficult to pull off, but the creators do it well. While there were a couple of examples that were a bit off-putting or odd, most were just really fun. I think this book is a good example of how to incorporate these types of tropes in a way that makes the reader feel that they are laughing along with the book and the creators, instead of laughing at them.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. The characters’ dialogue, characters’ thoughts, and narration were all fun to read. I really enjoyed the artwork. The story sets up an interesting premise that made me want to read more. Though I had problems with some elements of the story, this book was much more enjoyable than some of the other comics I tried reading at the time. The combination of interesting characters, a serious theme that I enjoy in X-Men stories, and fun superhero elements made me add this series to my reading list.

###

References

1 Remender, Rick; Cassaday, John; Martin, Laura; et al. Uncanny Avengers Vol. 1 #1 “New Union” (10 October 2012). In: Uncanny Avengers Vol. 1: The Red Shadow. Marvel, 2014.

2 Remender, Rick; Cassaday, John; Martin, Laura; et al. Uncanny Avengers Vol. 1 #3 “Skull & Bones” (23 January 2013). In: Uncanny Avengers, Vol. 1: The Red Shadow. Marvel, 2014.

3 Remender, Rick; Coipel, Oliver; Morales, Mark; Martin, Laura; et al. Uncanny Avengers Vol. 1 #5 “Let the Good Times Roll” (27 March 2013). In: Uncanny Avengers Vol. 1: The Red Shadow. Marvel, 2014.

4 My essays about the X-Men can be found at https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/category/x-men/.

5 Sharmin, Ani J. “Joining the Comics Corps: How I Became a Comics Fan”. Posted on 11 November 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 24 November 2014 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/11/11/joining-the-comics-corps/.

6 My essays about comics can be found at go to https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/category/comics/.

7 Bendis, Brian Michael; Immonen, Stuart; von Grawbadger, Wade; Gracia, Marte; et al. All-New X-Men Vol. 1 #12 “All-New X-Men VS Uncanny Avengers” (5 June 2013). In: All-New X-Men, Vol. 3: Out of Their Depth. Marvel, 2014.

8 Bendis, Brian Michael; Immonen, Stuart; von Grawbadger, Wade; Beredo, Rain; et al. All-New X-Men Vol. 1 #13 (5 June 2013). In: All-New X-Men, Vol. 3: Out of Their Depth. Marvel, 2014.

Joining the Comics Corps: How I Became a Comics Fan

There are often discussions among both creators and fans regarding how to get more people interested in a certain genre or medium. People debate about how to reinvent classic characters and create new ones to gain a larger audience, how to make film and television adaptations that will both appeal to both long-time fans and be understandable to potential ones, how to best represent the genre or medium to outsiders in advertisements and interviews. As is probably apparent from my more recent essays and reviews, I’ve become a fan of comics recently.⁠1 So, as a new fan, I thought I should share my experience — what inspired my interest in comics, factors that made it difficult to become a fan initially, and how my interest eventually turned into love.

Like many people, I grew up watching superhero movies and television shows. One of the earliest superhero movies I remember watching is the 1997 film Batman & Robin,⁠2 which I now realize (upon looking it up online in preparation for writing this essay) was incredibly badly-received.⁠3 Thankfully, it didn’t tarnish my view of the genre (in fact, I remember enjoying certain parts of it), and I’ve seen several other Batman films since then. On television, I remember watching and enjoying Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,⁠4 though I don’t recall if I ever watched all of the episodes. I have fond memories of Static Shock,⁠5 a show which mixed the fun adventures of a teenage superhero with commentary on serious topics — a combination which I clearly love to this day, as can be seen in my reviews of Ms. Marvel (by G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al)⁠6 and Young Avengers (by Allan Heinberg, Jim Cheung, Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, et al).⁠7 My favorite superheroes, though, were the X-Men.⁠8 Though I missed out on most of X-Men: The Animated Series during the 1990s,⁠9 I watched X-Men: Evolution religiously during its entire run from 2000-2003.⁠10 It was around this time that the first couple of X-Men films were released as well.⁠11 Between the movies and the show, my love of the X-Men grew. I watched Saturday-morning cartoons well into high school and am still writing fan fiction based on a cartoon show. These stories mean a great deal to me. They inspire me. The characters tried to do the right thing and fight the good fight. They faced their fears. They were brave, when I wasn’t. The X-Men⁠12 tried to accept themselves as mutants and be superheroes who used their powers for good, and like them, I wanted to accept myself and try to do good in the world. I looked up to them. I wanted to be like them.

I knew, of course, that these characters I loved had originated in the world of comics. Always one to be interested in the originals, I decided I wanted to read comics. After all, it was the perfect opportunity to read more stories about characters I loved, even after I’d seen all the television episodes and movies. I started reading some issues of X-Men comics from my local library. I remember being frustrated that they didn’t have a larger collection. I don’t remember the stories I read, but I think I read some issues of X-Men: First Class at some point⁠13 (based, probably, on the reasoning that First Class sounded like it might be the beginning of the story, because I generally like to read stories in order). The stories were somewhat enjoyable, but I didn’t love them the way I had loved the cartoon show. It was also difficult to read a complete series or know which book to read next. At some point, I also bought a paperback with the first four issues of the short-lived X-Men: Evolution comics series⁠14 — a series which I recently finished reading and reviewed in July).⁠15

I realized that the library and bookstore only had a limited supply of this thing called comics, and that apparently there were these mysterious places called comics shops that would have more of them. Never having been to a comics shop before, my first visit to one was rather confusing. I think I walked away with X-Men trading cards. I remember that I acquired a bag that contained four comics, the first four single issues that I ever owned (and for a long time, the only ones). Two issues of about Superman; one issue about the X-Men; and one issue that strangely had covers on both sides: one with Wolverine and one with Ghost Rider. I had no Earthly idea where any of these issues fit in with the continuities of the stories of which they were a part. I was confused as to why these random issues (that didn’t seem to be the beginning of a story, or even part of the same story) had been grouped together. The X-Men issue was the most confusing, because it had a text-less cover that, unlike the others, didn’t even have a number on it. Since then, with a little searching online, I’ve realized that these comics (which I still have) are the following: Adventures of Superman Vol. 1 #520 “Christmas Thieves” (February, 1995);⁠16 Action Comics Vol. 1 #800 “A Hero’s Journey” (April, 2003);⁠17 X-Men Vol. 2 #1 “Rubicon” (October, 1991);⁠18 and Marvel Comics Presents Vol. 1 #139, which contains the four stories “Rumble in the Jungle (Part 3): Masque”, “Earthbound (Part 2), “Fellow Travelers… (Part 3): Fangs of Fury”, and “Feat First” (October, 1993).⁠19 That trip to the comics shop was a rather a uninspiring experience. I didn’t read comics for many years after that. There were a couple of moments when I became temporarily intrigued. I heard of books like V for Vendetta (by Alan Moore, David Lloyd, et al)⁠20 and Watchmen (by Alan Moore, David Gibbons, John Higgins, et al),⁠21 which are considered classics that helped reinvent the genre, but they’ve honestly been sitting on my shelf unfinished for a long time.

Why didn’t my first attempt at reading comics not turn into an obsession at the time? What factors were involved? The primary one, I think, was confusion. I wanted to read about the X-Men, and the trouble with being a fan of a canon as complicated as the X-Men storyline is that new readers won’t know where to start. I didn’t have any friends or family members who could give me their old issues or suggest certain story arcs that would feature plots or characters that I liked from the television show and movies. Another factor, a societal one, is that comics weren’t considered to be of equal merit to other types of works, such as prose, poetry, film, theater, or music. I’d read bad prose fiction, but that didn’t stop me from reading prose fiction. I knew that there were great stories out there in that medium, because that’s something we learn about in school and something that I had plenty of opportunity to read. My mother often took me to the library, for which I am eternally grateful, and it was clear to me from a young age that there were good prose books to read. By comparison, my exposure to comics had been limited; they were something that had to be sought out deliberately, and I didn’t have the chance to keep reading lots of comics until I found ones that I liked.

My most recent reintroduction to comics actually didn’t come in the form of superheroes. I started reading Michelle Czajkowski’s Ava’s Demon, an independently-published webcomic⁠22 (the first six chapters of which were released as an ink-and-paper book, which I reviewed in April of this year).⁠23 During this time, I also became interested in non-fiction works, such as autobiographies, in comics. Then, while watching book review videos, I noticed that some reviewers who generally liked books similar to the ones I liked were raving about Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples’s Saga,⁠24 a space opera/fantasy comics series.⁠25 I owe my reintroduction to the superhero genre to the Young Avengers.⁠26 I’d been watching superhero films over the years, but the Young Avengers were the first superhero team whose comics I fell in love with.⁠27 Saga and Young Avengers were the reasons I sought out the comics section of the bookstore and started looking around at the trade paperbacks that were available there. I walked into a comics shop for what was perhaps the second time in more than ten years because of Saga and Ms. Marvel. The former, because I had enjoyed the first eighteen issues so much that I didn’t want to wait until the next trade paperback was released to continue reading the story. The latter, because I wanted to support diversity in superhero stores and was excited about the chance that maybe (just maybe) this story would have a female character of my racial background and family’s religious background that I could be a fan of. From there, it was a matter of choosing which comics to follow. The X-Men were an obvious choice (though I had to decide which of the many X-books to follow). Captain Marvel was another, as the title character in Vol. 7 (by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Dexter Soy, Emma Rios, et al)⁠28 and Vol. 8 (by Kelly Sue DeConnick, David Lopez, Lee Loughridge, et al)⁠29 is Carol Danvers, the character who was the original Ms. Marvel.⁠30 I searched for both new and old series to read. I started to look forward to my visits to the comics shop as much as I look forward to visiting the library or bookstore. I started to eagerly await the next issue of my favorite comics series the way I eagerly await the next novel in my favorite book series.

Which factors contributed to my second attempt at reading comics turning into a love of the medium? In the technology category, the internet was certainly a huge factor. Getting into the X-Men is much easier with resources like the Marvel Database wiki,⁠31 where there are lists of all the issues in a series. Gaining an understanding of volumes, story arcs, and creator runs helped me find places to start reading. Comics as a genre seems more welcoming when a new fan can find comics news and reviews online instead of having to get a subscription to a magazine or other publication they might not even know about. Articles about fan-favorite story arcs provide reading suggestions; I didn’t have to start with the very first issues from decades ago, but could still start at a point in the story that was the beginning of a volume or arc and was therefore understandable. Discussions of comics, such as the wonderful Rachel and Miles X-Plain the X-Men podcast,⁠32 provide something many new fans may not have if their family and friends don’t read comics: People who are willing to sit down with you and explain the long and varied and confused-continuity history of their favorite story, with lots of laughs and fun times along the way.

The changing culture, in which attitudes towards comics as serious literature is changing in favor of the medium, certainly also played a role in all of this. The most important factor was finding good stories, with good writing and good artwork; discussion by those who take comics seriously helped me find these stories. Reviewers who discussed comics in addition to the prose fiction they usually reviewed made me think that there could be comics out there with a stories, characters, and themes as well-developed as those in my favorite prose fiction works. One of the important factors was seeing discussions about diversity and representation in various genres and mediums, including comics. I want to state for the record: Fans who support diversity and social justice helped make me a fan of comics. Far from ruining or denigrating comics, they gave me high expectations of the medium. They made this life-long lover of prose fiction realize that comics as a medium could tell stories that were just as great, just as inspirational, just as worthy of analysis and discussion. When I see that fans take their hobby seriously enough to think about it, to criticize it thoughtfully, then I know I’ve found a place where people expect good stories and seek them out.⁠33 Critical discussion make me more interested, not less. On a related note, book recommendations from people with an interest in diversity, representation, and social justice made it more likely that I would find books that included well-developed characters from various demographics. Because of recommendations and reviews from people participating in comics criticism, my second attempt at getting into comics featured stories that set the bar high and impressed me; finding stories that I immediately loved as much as my favorite prose fiction turned my curiosity and interest into an obsession.

Based on my experience, I absolutely believe that it’s possible to gain new fans for a medium that has often been stereotyped as only appealing to a niche demographic. This is why I think it’s important to be welcoming to new fans, to get rid of the feeling that anyone who’s considering getting into a new hobby will be challenged to prove their fan status. It’s important for there to be room in fandom for new fans to join, and for old fans to remember that not everyone around them has been reading these stories for decades. Many of the stories I love best are ones that started long before I was born, and I’d like the stories that I love to live on for fans of future generations. The only way that’s going to happen is if new fans join the fandom.

So, join the Comics Corps today. Hope you enjoy the experience.

#

Notes

The title of this essay is inspired by the Carol Corps (the fans of Carol Danvers, the current Captain Marvel and former Ms. Marvel)⁠34 and by the title of Brett White’s article Join the Carol Corps! at In Your Face Jam.⁠35

(Essay edited to add some reference footnotes that I accidentally left out previously.)

###

References

1 My essays about comics can be found at https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/category/comics/.

2 “Batman & Robin (film)”. Wikipedia entry. Retrieved on 11 November 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batman_&_Robin_(film).

3 “Batman & Robin (1997)”. Rotten Tomatoes page. Retrieved on 11 November 2014 from http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1077027-batman_and_robin/.

4 “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman”. Wikipedia entry. Retrieved on 11 November 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lois_&_Clark:_The_New_Adventures_of_Superman.

5 “Static Shock”. Wikipedia entry. Retrieved on 11 November 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Static_Shock.

6 My essays about Ms. Marvel can be found at https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/category/ms-marvel/.

7 My essays about the Young Avengers can be found at https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/category/young-avengers/.

8 “X-Men”. Marvel Database wiki page. Retrieved on 11 November 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/X-Men.

9 “X-Men: The Animated Series”. Marvel Database wiki entry. Retrieved on 11 November 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/X-Men:_The_Animated_Series.

10 “X-Men: Evolution”. Marvel Database wiki entry. Retrieved on 11 November 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/X-Men:_Evolution.

11 X-Men (film series)”. Wikipedia entry. Retrieved on 11 November 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X-Men_(film_series).

12 My essays about the X-Men can be found at https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/category/x-men/.

13 “X-Men First Class Vol 1”. Marvel Database wiki entry. Retrieved on 11 November 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/X-Men_First_Class_Vol_1.

14 “X-Men: Evolution Vol 1”. Marvel Database wiki entry. Retrieved on 11 November 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/X-Men_Evolution_Vol_1.

15 Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: ‘X-Men: Evolution’ # 1-4 (By Devin Grayosn, Udon Studios, et al)”. Posted on 10 July 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 11 November 2014 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/07/10/book-review-x-men-evolution-1-to-4-by-grayson-udon-et-al/.

16 “Adventures of Superman Vol 1 520”. DC wiki entry. Retrieved on 10 November 2014 from http://dc.wikia.com/wiki/Adventures_of_Superman_Vol_1_520.

17 “Action Comics Vol 1 800”. DC Comics Database entry. Retrieved on 10 November 2014 from http://dc.wikia.com/wiki/Action_Comics_Vol_1_800.

18 “X-Men Vol 2 1”. Marvel Database wiki entry. Retrieved on 10 November 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/X-Men_Vol_2_1.

19 “Marvel Comics Presents Vol 1 139”. Marvel Database wiki entry. Retrieved on 10 November 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Marvel_Comics_Presents_Vol_1_139.

20 V for Vendetta”. Wikipedia entry. Retrieved on 11 November 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V_for_Vendetta.

21 Watchmen”. Wikipedia entry Retrieved on 11 November 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watchmen.

22 Michelle Czajkowski’s Ava’s Demon webcomic can be found at http://www.avasdemon.com.

23 Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Michelle Czajkowski’s ‘Ava’s Demon’ (Book One)”. Postedon 25 April 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 11 November 2014 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/04/25/book-review-michelle-czajkowskis-avas-demon-book-one/.

24 My essays about Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’s Saga can be found at https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/category/saga/.

25 Saga (comic book)”. Wikipedia entry. Retrieved on 11 November 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saga_(comic_book).

26 “Young Avengers (Earth-616)”. Marvel Database wiki entry. Retrieved on 11 November 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Young_Avengers_(Earth-616).

27 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 11 November 2014 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/05/30/book-review-young-avengers-volume-2-by-kieron-gillen-jamie-mckelvie-et-al/.

28 “Captain Marvel Vol 7”. Marvel Database wiki entry. Retrieved on 16 November 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Captain_Marvel_Vol_7.

29 “Captain Marvel Vol 8”. Marvel Database wiki entry. Retrieved on 16 November 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Captain_Marvel_Vol_8.

30 “Carol Danvers (Earth-616)”. Marvel Database wiki entry. Retrieved on 16 November 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Carol_Danvers_(Earth-616).

31 The Marvel Database wiki can be found at http://marvel.wikia.com.

32 Rachel and Miles X-Plain the X-Men can be found at http://www.rachelandmiles.com/xmen/.

33 Sharmin, Ani J. “Fandom and Media Criticism”. Posted on 28 September 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 11 November 2014 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/09/28/on-fandom-and-media-criticism/.

34 Edidin, Rachel. “The Minor-League Superhero Who Changed the Face of Fandom”. Postedon 19 April 2014 at Wired. Retrieved on 11 November 2014 from http://www.wired.com/2014/04/captain-marvel-carol-corps/.

35 White, Brett. “Join the Carol Corps!” Posted on 12 June 2013 at In Your Face Jam at Comic Book Resources. Retrieved on 11 November 2014 from http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=46032.

Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #8 “Generation Why, Part One” (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al)

“A problem has to get pretty gigantic before anybody notices anything at all. That’s half of heroing. Noticing things. Noticing, and not being afraid.” (Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #8)⁠1

“Well, Mrs. Van Boom…I found the article insulting. The writer said teenagers are just parasites addicted to their smart phones, who don’t give back to society…But that doesn’t sound like anybody I know. I mean, how can you write off a whole generation before it even has a chance to prove itself?” (Nakia Bahadir, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #8)⁠2

“Well…giving up on the next generation is like giving up on the future, right? And…and sometimes the next generation has to deal with all the problems the last generation left for it to fix, and that means getting up really early in the morning—” (Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #8)⁠3

Issue #8 “Generation Why” is the beginning of a new four-issue story arc for Kamala Khan, after her team-up with Logan/Wolverine of the X-Men in issue #6⁠4 and issue #7.⁠5 In this issue, we find Kamala going door to door asking around to see if anyone knows about the kids that were kidnapped by the Inventor. Julie Harrison (the mutant who disappeared on her way to Jean Grey School) was rescued by Kamala and Logan in the previous arc and is now in a coma. While Kamala is going door to door (with a really great internal monologue) she meets a character who we first saw at the very end of the previous issue: Lockjaw. Everyone else on the street runs away from Lockjaw, but Kamala runs up to him and gives him a hug. She then brings him back home and convinces her family to let her keep him. Having never had a pet, I wasn’t sure if I’d share Kamala’s enthusiasm, but her love of Lockjaw is infectious; the reader can’t help but find them cute together.

The presence of Lockjaw in the story serves a few purposes. First, it allows the creators to incorporate some more aspects of the characters’ cultural background into the story. When Kamala shows up at the door with Lockjaw, her brother Aamir says she can’t keep it because dogs aren’t pak (“pure”). This is a common view among Muslims, but as we see in the story, it’s not a view that all Muslims necessarily share. Although surprised and frustrated, Kamala’s parents relent and decide to let her keep Lockjaw, with the stipulation that he has to stay in the yard. Second, Lockjaw serves a practical purpose by providing Kamala with a means of transportation, due to his teleportation powers. She’ll hopefully be able to engage in her superheroics without being perpetually grounded for coming home late. Third, Lockjaw is the first member of the Inhumans who Kamala meets, foreshadowing her finding out more about the source of her powers. As we found out in the previous issue, Kamala suspects she might be a mutant. Medusa, Queen of the Inhumans, is now aware of Kamala’s existence and Inhuman ancestry. Because of all of these factors, the inclusion of Lockjaw, which could have just been a fun little story about a teenager with a new pet, becomes more interestingly complicated and tied in with the larger storyline.

There are some scenes between Kamala and Bruno as they are working together to figure out where the Inventor’s hideout might be. There’s a mysterious location outside of Bayonne that’s not on the map; this location turns out to be the Inventor’s secret hideout. Kamala goes there with Lockjaw and proceeds to fight giant robots. To Kamala’s surprise, and ours, inside the robot is Doyle, one of the teenage boys from the abandoned house in Greenville (where Kamala went in issue #4⁠6 and issue #5⁠7 to rescue Vick). Kamala and Lockjaw take Doyle to a hospital. Kamala is late for school the next morning, after getting little sleep. Such is the life of a superhero. This fight scene is really in the story to provide foreshadowing and suspense rather than for the fighting itself. A little robot ends up hitchhiking back with Kamala, which will lead to further fighting.

I think one of the best part of this issue is a passage near the end, when Kamala is in school. After Kamala runs into the classroom late, due to her superheroics the previous night, her friend Nakia is suspicious in the way that friends can be when they know that someone who they’ve known for almost their whole lives is up to something. Then, there’s a series of panels in which both Nakia and Kamala are called on by their teacher Ms. Van Boom to comment on an article from The Pedantic Monthly that they had to read for homework. (Earlier in the story, in one of Alphona’s fun artwork details, an issue of The Pedantic Monthly can be seen on Kamala’s desk while she’s trying to research what happened to Julie.) Nakia and Kamala’s responses are great and greatly resemble my own feelings about articles that people write denigrating Generation Y, or the “Millennials” as we’re called. (Related to this point, the title of this story arc “Generation Why” is really amazing and appropriate.) The class is cut short when a robot arrives at Coles Academic High School, and we end with a cliffhanger as Kamala is unable to change her appearance to hide her identity when she’s about to fight the robot.

One of the most intriguing parts of the story is the foreshadowing of the teens’ motivations for joining the Inventor. There are several hints in the story which suggest that the teens have not just been kidnapped and held against their will but that at least some of them may have been convinced to join the Inventor. Vick was enthusiast about the Inventor when talking to his brother Bruno during Vick’s attempted robbery of the Circle Q in issue #3.⁠8 Vick says to Bruno, “When the Inventor comes, things are gonna change. You’ll have to start treating me with respect.”⁠9 In the beginning of this issue, a status update on Julie’s Facehead account (which leads Kamala and Bruno to the location of the Inventor’s hideout outside Bayonne) suggests that she was excited to meet some people she agreed with, rather than hinting that something dangerous was happening to her. She writes that she “met some like-minded people on the road”.⁠10 Later in the issue, Doyle is upset when Kamala disconnects him from the robot. He says, “I’m p-part of it now—I’m giving back—”.⁠11 It’s uncertain to what degree these teens joined the Inventor because they wanted to and to what degree they were coerced or tricked. Have they become convinced of an ideology? Are they in desperate circumstances? The Inventor’s plans also remain a mystery. It reminds me, in some ways, of the Brotherhood⁠12 in the X-Men: Evolution television series⁠13 that I used to watch when I was younger. The teens who are part of that group are sympathetic because, while they chose to join, several of them were also desperate and had nowhere else to go. Although they are the villains of the story, they have some sympathetic moments as we realize that they are young people trying to make their way in a difficult world. I really hope that the foreshadowing in Ms. Marvel leads to an interesting resolution.

This issue is very much the beginning of a story arc; many things are still uncertain at this point. Overall, this issue was a fun story with enjoyable character interactions, funny moments, and foreshadowing.

#

Notes

Kamala Khan teams up with Peter Parker in Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 3 issues #7⁠14 and #8.⁠15 Issue #7 was released on 8 October 2014. Issue #8 is going to be released on 22 October 2014. I’ll be reviewing both of these issues together.

(This essay was edited to add a couple of references.)

###

References

1 Wilson, G. Willow; Alphona, Adrian; Herring, Ian; et al. Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #8 “Generation Why”. Marvel, 10 September 2014.

2 Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #8.

3 Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #8.

4 Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #6 ‘Healing Factor, Part One’ (By G. Willow Wilson, Jacob Wyatt, Ian Herring, et al)”. Posted on 13 September 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 19 October 2014 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/09/13/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-6-healing-factor-part-one-by-wilson-wyatt-herring-et-al/.

5 Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #7 ‘Healing Factor, Part Two’ (By G. Willow Wilson, Jacob Wyatt, Ian Herring, et al)”. Posted on 26 September 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 19 October 2014 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/09/26/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-7-healing-factor-part-two-by-wilson-wyatt-herring-et-al/.

6 Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #4 ‘Past Curfew’ (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al)”. Posted on 21 July 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 21 October from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/07/21/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-4-past-curfew-by-wilson-alphona-herring-et-al/.

7 Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #5 ‘Urban Legend’ (By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al)”. Posted on 8 September 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 21 October from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/09/08/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-5-urban-legend-by-wilson-alphona-herring-et-al/.

8 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 21 October from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/07/12/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-3-side-entrance-by-wilson-alphona-herring-et-al/.

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

10 Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #8.

11 Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #8.

12 “Brotherhood”. Marvel Database wiki entry. Retrieved on 20 November 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Brotherhood_(Earth-11052).

13 “X-Men: Evolution”. Marvel Database wiki entry. Retrieved on 20 November 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/X-Men:_Evolution.

14 “Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 3 7”. Marvel Database Wiki. Retrieved on 21 October 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Amazing_Spider-Man_Vol_3_7.

15 “Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 3 8”. Marvel Database Wiki. Retrieved on 21 October 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Amazing_Spider-Man_Vol_3_8.

On Fandom and Media Criticism

Fan enthusiasm is a wonderful thing; it’s great to discuss the stories and hobbies we love with others who also love them. Unfortunately, fandom love and enthusiasm sometimes leads people to unquestioningly defend their favorite stories and hobbies from criticism, with fans sometimes making false accusations of censorship against those who are engaging in analysis and criticism. This essay is my response to what I see as the problem of fandom reluctance to engage in important discussions about beloved media.

It’s important to mention upfront that part of the problem is that fans remember actual attempts (sometimes from not too long ago, or even current ones) at censoring their favorite creative works. There are many books, films, television shows, video games, songs, comics, and works of other media that have been targeted for censorship throughout history. (In some cases, entire mediums have been targeted as being “bad for kids” and so forth.) Fans have become so used to defending our favorite works from those who advocate bans that some fans see censorship in totally valid media criticism. We have to realize that not everyone who criticizes a work is trying to censor it. I’ll use one of my favorite stories as an example: I’m a big fan of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. The books in this series are among the many on the American Library Association’s Frequently Challenged Books list.[1] There are people who consider them immoral. (Laura Mallory is one of the more well-known people who have attempted to censor the series. Melissa Anelli interviewed Mallory for her wonderful book Harry, A History[2] and, as I’ve mentioned before,[3] had the courage to point out Mallory’s double standard directly to her face.) However, that doesn’t mean everyone who criticizes the Harry Potter series is trying to censor it, even if their criticism is off-base. Harold Bloom, for instance, wrote negatively about Harry Potter (see “Can 35 Million Book Buyers Be Wrong? Yes.”[4] and “Dumbing down American readers”[5]), but to my knowledge, he hasn’t tried to have the books banned or tried to restrict access to them. I would not, therefore, accuse him of censorship. (I do accuse him of being wrong about the books.) Fans shouldn’t use false accusations of censorship to silence criticism, not least because it’s insulting to the actual struggles against censorship that take place, but also because it’s just inaccurate and makes fans seem like uncritical and unthinking consumers of media. Related to this point, fans should realize that a work that we may defend on principle when it’s targeted for censorship may actually have some or many bad elements that deserve to be criticized. Just because a work has had to be defended against censors doesn’t make it good by default, and people who point out its flaws aren’t necessarily trying to censor it.

Certain fans have also targeted people who analyze and criticize media from an equal rights and media representation perspective, inaccurately accusing such critics of supporting censorship and of playing the victim. There’s a certain sad humor in all this: People accuse those who discuss media representation and diversity of playing the victim, of remembering past injustices against minority groups and bringing that into the discussion; however, it’s often the people making the false accusations of censorship who are remembering past attempts at censorship and basing their false accusations on those memories of being targeted. An added frustration is the fact that fans accuse people who’ve been historically been (and even presently are) excluded from positive media representation due to censorship of being censors. For instance, positive portrayals of LGBTQ+ characters and their romantic relationships have been (and still are, in many places) considered inappropriate, often excluded to due fear of offending people who are against approval of LGBTQ+ people. There is both de facto exclusion, and even government censorship. Similar statements can be made for other marginalized demographics as well, who may be portrayed more often than LGBTQ+ characters, but whose portrayals may be censored based on discrimination or stereotypes (such as not allowing non-white characters to be main characters). Creators have also been discriminated against, with people of certain races, gender, and so on having a harder time getting their work included in media. Creators who’ve bravely attempted to challenge discrimination in their works have faced censorship. When people argue that they would like a smaller percentage of stories with a white, straight, cisgender male, able-bodied protagonist and a larger percentage of stories with characters of other demographics, they are doing so because they hardly ever see characters like themselves portrayed in a realistic and positive way. They are then accused of being censors, of being politically correct, of being the “real bigots” and so forth. In other words: Fans accuse fellow fans who’ve been left out due to censorship of being censors when all the second group wants is to see some more positive portrayals of well-developed characters like themselves. Fans attempt to claim that increasing representation of a group excluded due to censorship would actually be censorship.

Even the people who may be okay with other analyses become defensive if people bring up diversity and equal rights. So, if someone wants to analyze certain symbolic references in a work (e.g. the significance of the number seven or the color green in the Harry Potter series) that’s considered fine. However, if we bring up the lack of LGBTQ+ characters in a story with an ostensible message of diversity published in the 1990s, then that’s an agenda. If someone says that a book was badly-written, that the artwork in a comic wasn’t that great, or that the mechanics in a video game were poorly programmed, that’s considered fine. People disagree (sometimes vehemently) in their opinions about these things, but they’re considered fine and relevant topics to have an opinion about. However, if someone points out underrepresentation or discriminatory portrayals of characters of certain demographics in a work, then there are people who consider that type of criticism irrelevant. Criticizing writing is generally considered okay, but criticizing writing that is discriminatory isn’t okay; criticizing the artwork is generally considered okay, but criticizing artwork that sexually objectifies or otherwise degrades people of certain demographics isn’t considered okay; criticizing gameplay is generally okay, but criticizing gameplay for how players are encouraged to treat characters of certain demographics isn’t okay. There are fans who consider it impolite or unfair to criticize media from an equal rights perspective, even though media portrayal can affect what people think of people of other demographics, as well as how people see themselves.

Fans have to realize that the status quo of their favorite medium or genre may target others for bigotry, because such bigotry is in larger society, and our favorite works are a part of that society. As fans, we talk frequently about why certain stories mean a lot to us and how they’ve affected us (e.g. they had a message that resonated with us, they helped us through a difficult time in our lives). There are even fans who credit certain stories with saving their lives, inspiring them to pursue certain goals, and motivating them to do good things. When others dismiss our love of our favorite stories and hobbies, we cite our personal experiences and the effects these stories had on us as reasons for why they should not be dismissed. But when someone discusses ways that media can affect us negatively, too many fans use the excuse that it’s “just a story” (or “just a game” and so forth). Stories are worth paying attention to because of how they affect us, and they can affect us in many ways. Fans need to realize that we can discuss how media affect us positively and negatively without agreeing with efforts to wrongly scapegoat certain works for all of society’s problems or problems that are contributed to by many factors. The same story that may have some positive aspects that deserve to be praised may also have some troubling aspects that deserve to be condemned. We can’t have a double standard when discussing the effects media have on us, acting as if they only have good effects and never bad ones.

Another thing fans have to understand is that there’s a difference between someone being ignorant about a fandom interest and someone having a different opinion of it. Many critics are also fans of the works they are criticizing; they are fans who recognize that nothing is perfect. Fans have become accustomed to media coverage of their hobbies by reporters who know little about them and who make elementary mistakes in their reporting. However, someone who is knowledgeable (and who may even be a fan themselves) but just has a different opinion or interpretation shouldn’t be accused of being ignorant. We also have to realize that works that have been considered the stereotypical examples of a particular genre or medium may not be a fellow fan’s favorite, and that’s just fine. Certain works or sub-genres have become almost synonymous with certain media and genres (e.g. pseudo-medieval, Tolkien-esque stories in the fantasy genre; first-person shooters in video games; superheroes in comics). Part of accepting criticism as a part of fandom is realizing that fans who are critical of (or sometimes don’t even particularly like) the classic examples of a genre or medium aren’t inferior fans. Even the classics can contain certain harmful tropes, and all too often, these tropes have been frequently reused due to their association with the classics. Part of believing there can be good stories, part of believing that our favorite genres and media can improve, is criticizing bad content. Fans are the people who are often the most knowledgeable about the source material, and so it’s a shame when fans ostracize fellow fans who participate in critical discussion of media. Fans who are also critics (whether professionally or as laypeople) are well-placed to be representatives of fandom, helping others to realize the value of a certain genre or medium.

Fans know our favorite genres and media aren’t always taken seriously, especially if we’re fans of some niche or less-known hobby. We spend a lot of time trying to prove that our hobby has merit, just as valid as other artistic expression. Media criticism and discussion are part of a work being taken seriously. (As many people before me have pointed out: Fans of certain media that have been looked down upon, such as video games and comics, have wanted people to take these media seriously for a long time. Now that people are taking these media seriously and subjecting the content to the same criticism that other media have received for a long time, certain segments of fans don’t like their beloved medium being held to the same standard as others.) Work from every medium is discussed, analyzed, and criticized. These works become a part of our culture, both reflecting and shaping it, and therefore it’s important to discuss them. Fans believe our favorite genres and media have stories worth paying attention to, and so we shouldn’t be upset when people give them the respect of actually paying attention to them and holding them to high standards.

When people believe a genre or medium is capable of telling great stories, they have high expectations. Fans, of all people, should want great stories to be fans of.

###

Notes, Acknowledgements, and Recommended Reading

I recently (on 19 September 2014) went on a bit of a rant on Twitter regarding fandom responses to media criticism, and this essay basically expands on some of the thoughts I expressed there. (To read my tweets, see the references for URLs)[6]

Thanks to Kate Elliott (@KateElliottSFF) for the kind shout out during my rant. She wrote that she hoped to see a Storify,[7] but I decided to just write an essay, as I’ve wanted to write about this topic for some time.

There has been much discussion about fandom and criticism by many people. Here are a few links to creators, websites, articles, and videos that are relevant to the topic of fandom and media criticism.

Sana Amanat, an editor at Marvel, gave a talk titled “Myths, misfits & masks” about media representation, specifically about superhero comics.[8]

Katherine Cross wrote an article a couple of months ago titled “The nightmare is over: They’re not coming for your games” about gamers who are afraid that positive reception of video games they don’t like will lead to games that they like being taken away. Cross also makes the point that fans are afraid of any type of criticism, due to their memory of past censorship attempts that scapegoated games for all sorts of problems in society.[9] Cross also wrote the article “Violence is how we get ahead” about the frequency with which violence is used in gameplay and explains why it’s a good idea to encourage creativity to expand the types of games in the medium.[10]

Kameron Hurley frequently comments on fandom and media representation. Perhaps her most famous essay on the subject is “‘We Have Always Fought’: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative”.[11]

Foz Meadows frequently writes about fandom and criticizes various works.[12]

Aja Romano[13] is a fandom reporter for The Daily Dot[14] and previously wrote for The Mary Sue.[15]

Anita Sarkeesian’s discusses media from a feminist perspective in her Feminist Frequency videos.[16]

Saathi1013 on Tumblr has written many relevant meta essays about fandom, which are great reads.[17]

Kelly Thompson wrote an article titled “She Has No Head! — No, It’s not Equal”[18] (and a follow-up two years later)[19] to discuss the overly-sexualized portrayal of women in comics.

Disability in KidLit discusses the portryal of people with disabilities in books for middle grade and young adult readers.[20]

We Are Comics is a campaign to show the diversity of the creators and fans of comics.[21]

We Need Diverse Books is a campaign in favor of greater diversity in literature.[22]

The Women of Marvel podcast discusses female creators and female characters in Marvel Comics.[23]

###

References

[1] American Library Association. “Frequently Challenged Books”. Retrieved on 28 September 2014 from http://www.ala.org/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks.

[2] Anelli, Melissa. “Chapter Nine: Banned and Burned”. In: Harry, A History: The True Story of a Boy Wizard, His Fans, and Life Inside the Harry Potter Phenomenon. Pocket Books (Simon & Schuster, Inc.), 2008, Ch 9, pp. 177-201.

[3] Sharmin, Ani J. “A Fan Letter to Melissa Anelli (concerning her book ‘Harry, A History’”. Posted on 9 June 2011 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 28 September 2014 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2011/06/09/a-fan-letter-to-melissa-anelli/.

[4] Bloom, Harold. “Can 35 Million Book Buyers Be Wrong? Yes.” Wall Street Journal, 11 July 2000. Retrieved on 28 September 2014 from http://web.ics.purdue.edu/~rebeccal/comp/108f10/Assignments/BloomArticle.pdf.pdf.

[5] Bloom, Harold. “Dumbing down American Readers”. The Boston Globe, 24 September 2003. Retrieved on 28 September 2014 from http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2003/09/24/dumbing_down_american_readers/.

[6] My tweets can be seen at the following: http://twitter.com/AniSharmin/status/513047352157171713; http://twitter.com/AniSharmin/status/513051730771451906; http://twitter.com/AniSharmin/status/513058069665038336; http://twitter.com/AniSharmin/status/513060746142683136; http://twitter.com/AniSharmin/status/513063812388618241; http://twitter.com/AniSharmin/status/513065670335299584; http://twitter.com/AniSharmin/status/513067025783345152; http://twitter.com/AniSharmin/status/513070597967208451

[7] Elliott’s website can be found at http://www.kateelliott.com/. Her Twitter can be found at http://twitter.com/KateElliottSFF. The tweet I’m referring to can be found at http://twitter.com/KateElliottSFF/status/513050016680665088.

[8] Amanat, Sana. “Myths, misfits & masks”. TedxTeen 2014. Retrieved on 28 September 2014 from http://tedxteen.com/talks/tedxteen-2014/217-sana-amanat-myths-misfits-masks.

[9] Cross, Katherine. “The nightmare is over: They’re not coming for your games”. Polygon, 29 July 2014. Retrieved on 28 September 2014 from http://www.polygon.com/2014/7/29/5947661/the-nightmare-is-over-theyre-not-coming-for-your-games.

[10] Cross, Katherine. “Violence is how we get ahead”. Polygon, 24 September 2014. Retrieved on 28 September 2014 from http://www.polygon.com/2014/9/24/6833845/violence-is-how-we-get-ahead.

[11] Hurley, Kameron. Dribble of Ink, May 2013. Retrieved 28 September 2014 from http://aidanmoher.com/blog/featured-article/2013/05/we-have-always-fought-challenging-the-women-cattle-and-slaves-narrative-by-kameron-hurley/.

[12] Meadows’s blog can be found at http://fozmeadows.wordpress.com/.

[13] Romano’s Tumblr can be found at http://bookshop.tumblr.com/.

[14] Romano’s articles for The Daily Dot can be found at http://www.dailydot.com/authors/aja-romano/.

[15] Romano’s articles for The Mary Sue can be found at http://www.themarysue.com/author/aja-romano/.

[16] The Feminist Frequency website can be found at http://www.feministfrequency.com/.

[17] saathi1013. “My Meta: Greatest Hits”. Retrieved on 28 September 2014 from http://saathi1013.tumblr.com/mymeta.

[18] Thompson, Kelly. “She Has No Head! — No, It’s Not Equal”. Comic Book Resources, Good Comics, 21 February 2012. Retrieved on 29 September 2014 from http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2012/02/21/she-has-no-head-no-its-not-equal/.

[19] Thompson, Kelly. “She Has No Head! — Revisiting “No, It’s Not Equal”. Comic Book Resources, Good Comics, 16 June 2014. Retrieved on 28 September 2014 from http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2014/06/16/she-has-no-head-revisiting-no-its-not-equal/.

[20] The Disability in KidLit website can be found at http://disabilityinkidlit.wordpress.com/.

[21] The We Are Comics Tumblr can be found at http://wearecomics.tumblr.com/.

[22] The We Need Diverse Books Tumblr can be found at http://weneeddiversebooks.tumblr.com/.

[23] The Women of Marvel pocast episodes can be found at http://marvel.com/podcasts/12/women_of_marvel_podcast.

Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #7 “Healing Factor, Part Two” (By G. Willow Wilson, Jacob Wyatt, Ian Herring, et al)

“I don’t like hurting stuff. Even giant sewer alligators. I mean … is it possible to help people without hurting other people? Or, you know … reptiles?”

“No, it ain’t. It all circles around. The hurt I mean. Sometimes you can avoid hurting other people, but it usually means you get hurt pretty bad instead. The pain’s gotta go somewhere.”

“I don’t want to believe that.

“You’re young.”

(Kamala Khan and Logan/Wolverine, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #7)[1]

“The only power worth snot is the power to get up after you fall down. Everything else—the fancier, flashier powers—that’s just extra.”

(Logan/Wolverine, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #7)[2]

“It took me a while to figure out that Ms. Marvel could be me. That I didn’t have to be someone else in order to wear the lightning bolt.”

(Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #7)[3]

Issue #7 “Healing Factor, Part Two” continues Kamala Khan’s team-up with Logan/Wolverine from the X-Men. At the end of issue #6, the two of them were faced with a bionic megagator, even bigger than the one they’d already defeated.[4] With Logan injured and without his healing factor, Kamala has to take the lead in battling the Inventor’s creations and finding a way back out of the sewers. Most of this issue is dedicated to continuing Kamala and Logan’s student-teacher interaction. I really enjoyed the conversations between Kamala and Logan as they travel through the sewers under Jersey City. Despite the brevity of their team-up, they have some meaningful and funny conversations that I think will likely have an impact on Kamala.

One of the several moments that stood out was the passage quoted at the beginning of this review, in which Kamala asks Logan if it’s possible to help people without hurting someone else. Logan’s answer seems very in character for him. Kamala’s response is something that a lot of us readers can probably relate to; we love superheroes because they often have stories in which good triumphs over evil and the heroes can figure out a way to solve the problem while still being moral. The idea of a world where that’s always possible is very appealing. Like many superheroes faced with moral dilemmas, she’s thinking seriously about what being a superhero entails. This exchange also stood out to me because of her religious and racial background. Kamala’s question to Logan challenges the stereotype about Muslims being violent, showing that people of all demographics have a conscience and think about what would be the right thing to do in a difficult situation. Additionally, perhaps because of various discussions regarding racial profiling around the time this issue was released, the different demographics of the two characters having this conversation really struck me. In society, there’s often a double standard when determining if a person’s use of violence was unjustified or justified in a certain situation; people use different standards (sometimes consciously and sometimes subconsciously) when determining the situations in which it’s considered appropriate to use peaceful means and the situations in which it’s acceptable (if regrettable) to use violence in order to fight for a cause or defend oneself, based on the demographics (including factors such as race, religion, gender, and so on) of the person whose actions are under discussion. This double standard often labels the violent actions of people in the majority as justified, even if other peaceful means could have been taken, while labeling violent actions of people in the minority as unjustified, even in cases when they were defending themselves. (Sometimes, people even attempt to justify violence against people in the minority who were peacefully protesting in favor of equal rights, while not favoring violence against protestors who were using violence or threats at events where most protestors were of a majority demographic.) We also see people of all demographics being more willing to forgive immoral actions by people in their own group than by people in another. Yet, here we have two characters of different races, religions, genders, and ages having a conversation about the topic. The fact that Logan gave her the same advice he’d likely give to any new superhero, regardless of their race or religion (or whether they were a mutant), was meaningful.

After defeating the megagator, Kamala and Logan continue their journey through the maze of sewers under Jersey City and continue their conversation. There are lots of humorous and serious moments, with Logan giving Kamala advice and Kamala clearly enjoying talking to one of her favorite superheroes. Towards the end of the issue, Kamala and Logan locate Julie, who Logan had been looking for. Julie’s hooked up to machines and her body seems to be providing a power source for the Inventor’s inventions. This part of the story isn’t really well-developed. It’s reminiscent of various science fiction stories, but there’s not really an explanation of why the Inventor is using people as a power source and how that’s connected to the kids at the abandoned house in Greenville. This seems to be foreshadowing Kamala’s future adventures, so we will hopefully find out more in later issues.

Kamala and Logan go their separate ways, Logan taking Julie with him. At the very end of the issue, there’s a conversation between Steve Rogers/Captain America and Medusa (Queen of the Inhumans). Logan had surmised that Kamala must be an Inhuman based on her description of how she acquired her powers, and he informed Rogers of this. Rogers tells Medusa that Logan’s impression of Kamala was that she wants to find her own way. Medusa decides to send someone to be her companion. The last page of the issue sets up the next story arc, introducing us to a character Kamala will soon meet.

The writing was really enjoyable to read in this issue; Kamala and Logan are two of my favorite superheroes, and reading their conversations was lots of fun. Logan’s been written by many authors over the years, and I really like the way that Wilson writes him here; he’s a character who’s clearly had a long life filled with fighting and who sees himself as part of the older generation that should try to impart some advice to the youngsters. That he’s acutely aware of the loss of his healing factor but won’t let that stop him also comes across. Kamala’s enthusiasm for being a superhero and her bravery really come through. She’s really able to shine, even despite a team-up with a more well-known character. Regarding the artwork, I mentioned in my previous review that I was having trouble getting used to Jacoby Wyatt’s style, but I think this second issue helped me get comfortable with it. Though the white eyes and a couple of other things still weren’t to my taste, there are some great pages and panels. There’s a particularly fun full-page image of Kamala and Logan making their way through the sewers while having a conversation that staircases diagonally up the page.

I’m glad about the decision to include a team-up between Kamala Khan and Logan. It’s a story of one of the most beloved and ever-present characters teaming up with a new teenage superhero who’s just getting started — passing the torch to the next generation, if you will. For Kamala, it’s an important part of her character development and her learning how to be a superhero. It’s a way to transition from her discovery of her powers to her inclusion in the wider fictional universe of which she is a part. That the team-up happens so close to Logan’s upcoming death[5] adds more emotional impact to the idea of teaching the next generation. I know The Powers That Be will eventually (hopefully) resurrect him at some point, but the team-up is a nice choice so close to his most recent final chapter. Logan’s become a ubiquitous character, included in numerous titles and team-ups with almost every superhero in the Marvel universe at some point or another. Some of the best stories about him are the ones in which we see his heart and his concern for students; over the years, he’s been a mentor to several young characters in various comics titles and adaptations. It’s nice to see him in that role one more time. It’s a good team-up story with some meaning.

In conclusion, I really enjoyed “Healing Factor”. Though I find two issues to be a short arc, it’s a really fun story with two awesome characters. Even better was the fact that the team-up included some relevant and interesting character development that will lead to future storylines for our heroine.

###

References

[1] Wilson, G. Willow; Wyatt, Jacob; Herring, Ian; et al. Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #7 “Healing Factor, Part Two”. Marvel, 20 August 2014.

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

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

[4] Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #6 ‘Healing Factor, Part One’ (By G. Willow Wilson, Jacob Wyatt, Ian Herring, et al)”. Posted on 13 September 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 16 September 2014 from https://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/09/16/book-review-ms-marvel-vol-3-6-healing-factor-part-one-by-wilson-wyatt-herring-et-al/.

[5] “The Death of Wolverine Vol 1”. Marvel Database wiki. Retrieved on 26 September 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Death_of_Wolverine_Vol_1.