LAST WEEK’S COMICS TODAY VOL 9
Welcome back everyone to another installment of LAST WEEK’S COMICS TODAY! Yes, I’ve changed the name of this column – it’s still Amazing, still Uncanny, and still filled with rousing and awe inspiring tales of comicbookery, but since we’ve been gone so long, I thought it would be nice to freshen it up a bit. Plus I think this title is a little more Clevery than that last one! We’ve got tales of heroism in the face of family drama in two of my absolute favorite books – MS MARVEL and SAGA.
So hang onto your butts True Believers, because here we go!
A quick warning, there will be SPOILERS for the books, so you if you fear spoilers like I fear getting the lowest word count in our Camp NaNoWriMo cabin and getting booted out before Kristin McFarland breaks out the S’mores, then finish up your books and come on back when you’re ready.
Then on with the show!
MS MARVEL #5 (MARVEL)
W/ G. Willow Wilson
A/ Adrian Alphona
When we last left Kamala, she was facing down a red-mohawked brospeh with a laser pistol and army of creepy little robo-critters whilst trying to save a kidnapped friend. I mistakenly thought this dude was The Inventor, the thus unseen villain working in background since the beginning of the series, but it turns out this is actually his Number Two, Doyle.
Kamala is at first confident she can conquer this Mid-Boss Battle with just her Giganto-Fist, but is quickly overwhelmed by a barrage of blasts from Doyle’s blaster and the swarm of his robo-kittens. After taking a laser to the ribs, and unable to heal while using her Embiggening powers (last issue she was able to recover from a gunshot wound, but only when in her regular Kamala-Body) she shrinks down flees Doyle’s lair without her friend.
Defeated and dejected Kamala runs home to gorge herself on junk food and laments how even though she has powers now, she never expected her first big battle to go down this way and kinda just wants her mom. She gets her wish after falling asleep their kitchen table when her Ammi lambastes her about why she was out all night and wearing a strange get-up (her Ms Marvel proto-costume). Kamala’s Abu come to the rescue though, ushering her mom away. He has a really touching heart to heart with Kamala about how they’re really just trying to protect her and how special she is to them. Kamala is empowered by his words and realizes that she doesn’t need to be a just a watered-down version of Carol Danvers, but can be her own Ms. Marvel and the best version of Kamala she can be.
AND THEN WE HAVE A TRAINING MONTAGE!
As a child of the 80s, I love nothing more than a good training montage. The ‘Hearts on Fire’ sequence in ROCKY IV is probably the greatest piece of filmmaking in the history of filmmaking. Everything is perfect – the music, the drama, ROCKY’S BEARD.
… okay maybe not, but it is pretty freaking awesome.
Back to the comic – Kamala and Bruno go through a series of training exercises – including her running track with super long Extendo-Legs, tossing a shopping cart into the river with her Giganto-Hand, disguising herself a mannequin in a dumpster and scaring Bruno and working out all shrunken-like in Bruno’s gerbil’s cage while trying to dodge super-sized gerbil poop. And finally Kamala assembles her true Ms. Marvel costume complete with the iconic yellow lightning bolt across the torso.
Recharged and recostumed, Kamala returns to face Doyle and the robo-kittens again. This time she uses her shrinky powers to take control of some of his little robots and turn them on their master. She grabs their kidnapped friend Vic and barrels through the remainder of Doyle’s human flunkies to freedom.
Even though Kamala’s first real challenge actually turns out to be a success in the end, all is still not right in Jersey City. An ominous warning is left at the door of Bruno’s café – a stuffy doll in in Kamala’s likeness strung up and the message ‘THE BIRDMAN COMETH” scratched in the glass behind it. Kamala appears in full Ms. Marvel regalia and states they have nothing to worry about because she’s here to protect them:
This is Jersey City. We talk loud, walk fast and we don’t take any disrespect.
The final scene of the issue is Doyle begging forgiveness from The Inventor and we finally get a reveal of the man himself, who seems to be some sort of parrot-mutant-thingie or a guy in a parrot-mutant-thingie mask. I think I would have preferred Doyle actually be the man in charge (loved the homage of his ‘to me kittens!’ line), but we shall see.
Another stellar issue her for G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona and co. Excellent character development for Kamala here – she gets her first taste of defeat at the hands of Doyle and his robo-minions causing her to reassess her strategy to save Vic. She realizes she just can’t Embiggen and Giganto-Fist her way through everything, but training herself to use all of her powers in unison is the key to victory. It makes sense she would get beat in her first real battle, too – I always like when a developing hero takes a few licks before he or she figures out figuring how to use their powers the right way – it gives a more human aspect to him or her. The flawed, struggling hero has always been much more intriguing to me than the paragons of perfection.
The scene between Kamala and her father was very important too. This story from the beginning has been about a young woman trying to figure out who she is and find her place in the world. And thus far she’s done so my trying to be anyone else but Kamala Khan. Even when her Abu asks her if she knows why they named her Kamala, she says she wishes they had named her something more ‘normal’. When he tells her it’s because it means ‘perfection’ and that she, Kamala Khan, not anyone else she might be able to change into, is perfect just the way she is, something in her clicks. She realizes she doesn’t need to be anybody else, but The Best Kamala She Can Be.
The importance of family and friends, having a super support system even when you have superpowers, is also reaffirmed in this issue, with not only this moment between Kamala and her Abu, but the training sequence with her and Bruno, and then at the end where she has become of a symbol of the community, a hero for the people and a true defender of the downtrodden. There’s a unity between her and her community, her home, that will surely empower her further against The Inventor.
SAGA #20 (IMAGE)
W/ Brian K. Vaughn
A/ Fiona Staples
I was reading SAGA in trade only for the last couple of years, because that’s how I read most of my indie books. Unlike the cape comics, they do read much better in chunks, because they’re one continuous story, rather than contained arc or adventures.
I couldn’t do it anymore with SAGA. It was too good and the cliffhangers were too epic for me to wait another six months to get back into it.
So here we are the with issue 20. There was a couple year time jump between issue 18 (the end of Volume 3) and issue 19. Hazel is toddler now, Marko is being a stay-at-home dad with this mother and pink-ghost-babysitter Izabel, while Alana works as an actress in some trashy space soap opera.
There’s a lot of stuff happening in this issue:
Alana and the moss-covered-janitor lady at the TV studio discuss the nature of their business, the latter postulating that entertainment is just the drug of the masses, a tool used by the powerful to keep the weak preoccupied. After which they do some actual drugs.
There a scene with Marko and Hazel’s teacher sharing an intimate moment, discussing their families and how hard it is just to get by sometimes. There’s a tease her of something more than just friendship brewing with her husband away on business all the time and Alana being preoccupied with her television role.
But the really big moment here is the death of Princess Robot at the hands of one of her custodial staff and the kidnapping of her newborn son. Pretty shocking stuff that made me gasp audibly when I flipped the page. The power of SAGA, folks.
BKV is a master storyteller – this comic hits all the right beats, there’s a fine blend of comedy, romance, action and drama, enough for each for any reader. The big themes in this issue are the common person trying to survive against the sprawling backdrop of events far beyond their control. You have Marko and the teacher talking about the absence of each other’s partners, Alana trying to figure out if her TV gig is really doing anyone any good, or is she just a bit player in a grander scheme placate the masses. And then, and probably the most poignant, is the story the custodian Robot tells just before he kills the Princess – the death of his from dysentery because there was no clean water due to the war. It’s all small stories telling a larger one about the strife of being a regular person in a time of great change and upheaval.
This story breaks genre barriers – it’s as much a story of middle-class families struggling to survive in a harsh reality as much as it is a grand space opera, and luckily you get enough of both to not have one overbearing on the other. It’s in these more intimate moments, against the wham-pow backdrop, that the story really excels.
Fiona Staples is just incredible in these pages, too.
I’ve lauded the character and facial expression work of Adrian Alphona and David Lopez on MS and CAPTAIN MARVEL, and Fiona is right up there with them. Everyone is drawn with such life and vivacity – comic work can at times look very stilted and a posed, but all of the characters look so alive here, you could just imagine yourself talking with these people, regardless of how bizarre they look. And speaking of that – the character and creature designs in this book are incredible – I especially love the design the moss-covered-janitor-lady at the TV studio and of course the Robot family with their TV heads.
The best sequence in the whole issue is when Alana takes Fadeaway (a designer drug all of her costars are apparently on all the time). The breaking down of the panels – where she goes from full costume to nude, the panels splintering and cracking as she falls deeper into the Fadeaway’s thrall until she’s just floating in some gigantic primordial lava lamp (spelling out F*** YES, btw) is just beautiful.
This week’s SUPERWOMAN OF THE WEEK is the one and only Gail Simone who wrote an amazing piece on her Tumblr last week to aspiring female comic creators. For the uninitiated, Gail is one of the true trailblazers in the comics industry, I remember reading her run on BIRDS OF PREY back in the early to mid 2000s and just being blown away by it. She was one of the few female writers in mainstream comics even just back then and she was freaking killing it. The flourishing of female creators, whose work we discuss in this column, owe a great deal to Ms. Simone.
So read her message and bask in the awesome and inspiration: