G. Willow Wilson has done it. She’s given us a true-blue-new Peter Parker character without giving us an actual analog to him. Kamala Khan has teenaged problems to go right along with her superpowers, but her problems aren’t the same ones that Puny Parker dealt with all the way back in the swingin’ ‘60s, but the notes resonate just as strongly as they did back then. And I don’t say this to be reductive, or to try and fit what is a truly engaging, unique character into a small box: I’m saying that what Peter Parker did for teenaged superheroes back then, Kamala Khan is doing for them now. This book is a joyous celebration of awkward teen years and of hero worship in an era where more and more teenagers are probably looking to superheroes (even if they’re on the silver screen rather than the printed page) for equal parts envy and inspiration. Wilson does the impossible and writes a realistic teenager discovering her superpowers. I only bring up her heritage because I saw FAR too much chatter dismissing it as “stunt casting,” but in an era where Muslims are portrayed as caricatures, both the good and bad kind, it’s amazing to see a family look as average and “American” in pop-culture as this one does. There’s the hard-working, caring, but perhaps overly strict parents, the weird, slacker brother and the put-upon protagonist with a secret and a great circle of friends and foes. This issue, in particular, makes it clear that Kamala isn’t content to let things be as they’ve always been, and contains some incredible, eye-widening drama at its climax.
The art...WOW, the art. I’ve been a fan of Adrian Alphona since The Runaways, but his style’s only grown more beautifully exaggerated since those days. The proportions always match up against one another, and they DO make Kamala’s mass-shifting abilities a LITTLE stranger because EVERYone looks a bit exaggerated, but Alphona’s art is another piece of what makes this book so much fun. His linework is animated and impossible to ignore which is why it’s so interesting that Ian Herring’s colors are as muted and subdued as they are. That’s not a complaint, clearly, but there’s a very real element to the coloring in this book that serves to make the wild linework stand out even more in juxtaposition.
Maybe it’s because I’ve been a fan of the source for over two decades, but hearing the teens in this book jonesing for “Squishees” broke the immersion a bit for me. That is a product that exists in The Simpsons and NO WHERE else (except in real-world 711s when the movie came out…)
This book shines brightly in a very dark, serious era. Though Marvel’s books tend to have a little more levity, a great many of them are still serious, for both good and ill. This title brings a smile to the reader’s face that can’t be denied. The writing, the art, everything is engineered to be a joy, but that doesn’t mean there’s no drama, and it’s great to see some real story and character development to let us know that this book isn’t just going to be pure fluff.