It’s hard to believe, but it’s been nearly five years since MS. MARVEL #1 debuted. As Marvel’s first Muslim superhero, Kamala Khan was bound to spark interest. She grew and evolved into a beloved part of the Marvel Universe. There are many people responsible for her evolution, but none more so than G. Willow Wilson, creator and writer of MS. MARVEL for most of its run. Wilson imbued the series with her own experiences as a Muslim-American, giving it a sense of realism while also balancing humor, drama, and traditional superheroics.

Wilson has recently left MS. MARVEL, with Saladin Ahmed taking over writing duties on the newly titled THE MARVELOUS MS. MARVEL. While we at ComicsVerse wish Ahmed the best of luck, Wilson’s departure merits seeing how her style developed. So, let’s analyze the beginning and end of her run, with the initial MS. MARVEL collection NO NORMAL, and the newly released TIME AND AGAIN.

Character In MS. MARVEL

MS. MARVEL is a book that focuses on Kamala Khan’s struggles with life and superheroing. As a result, character focus is an important part of the story. NO NORMAL begins with Kamala Khan in her native Jersey City. Kamala relishes the smell of bacon (which she is forbidden to eat, as a Muslim) with her friends Bruno and Nakia. It’s a quiet beginning, but it does a good job highlighting Kamala’s quirky nature and the tone of the book.

MS. MARVEL
MS. MARVEL #1, page 1. Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

Wilson demonstrates an understanding of Kamala. Other characters appear hit and miss at first. Kamala’s friends Nakia and Bruno feel like archetypes; Nakia is a stricter Muslim that makes Kamala look less strict by comparison. Bruno is the cliché opposite-gender-friend-with-a-crush-on-the-main-character. Zoe and Josh, who seem to fill the role of antagonists, feel more ignorant than mean-spirited. Their main role is to give a weak push to get the story going. Kamala’s family fares better, as her parents come across as loving but overly-protective, and her unemployed (but still somewhat tolerated) brother Aamir helps highlight the differences in how the Khans treat their children.

Growth and Stakes

By TIME AND AGAIN, however, these characters show much more growth. By this point, Bruno had been injured helping Kamala, and the two are slowly rebuilding their relationship. Bruno is no longer willing to blindly follow because of his crush, and Kamala understands the value of their friendship. Zoe (Josh is no longer in the picture) is now Kamala’s friend, and has gone through her own struggles realizing her orientation. Nakia is no longer a Muslim counterpart, but a more valued friend. Aamir has grown up as well; he is married with a family of his own.

Kamala however, grows the most between collections. NO NORMAL shows her more as a quirky girl getting powers out of nowhere. Her journey to superhero is solid, but because it’s new, the stakes aren’t particularly high yet. By TIME AND AGAIN, Kamala has experienced many more hardships, and now has a reputation to uphold. Kamala is more aware of how her actions affect others, though she hasn’t lost her quirkiness either. It shows Wilson’s ability to grow characters from smaller roles, and also develop a lead without losing sight of the character.

Balance

NO NORMAL is a solid superhero origin story, but Wilson seems more comfortable exploring Kamala’s home life and family. Kamala carries the weight of being a child of two worlds, a common problem for children of immigrants. Kamala’s mother interrupts Kamala’s fanfiction to lecture her on cultural standards. Aamir highlights Kamala’s family role as well. Both parents (somewhat) tolerate his choices, but are stricter with Kamala. They refuse to let her go to the party for fear of what might happen to her. This better demonstrates conflict, especially when Kamala sneaks out anyway, mentally voicing her frustrations.

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MS. MARVEL #1 page 9. Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

However, the superhero elements are fairly rote. Anyone that’s read a young hero origin story could guess the elements of the story as they happened. Kamala feels outcast. Something strange gives her powers. She learns to control them. She gets in over her head. A trusted friend helps her. To be clear, these are solid superhero origin elements, but they feel more rote, especially when compared with the stronger dramatic scenes.

TIME AND AGAIN finds its balance, though. By this point, Wilson is better able to merge drama with superheroics, as Kamala struggles to work with her two lives. This is well done in the collection’s initial slumber party story, where Kamala is trying to re-bond with her friends. Reconnecting with Bruno is another good development, as they attempt to understand Kamala’s powers together. These feel like real superhero issues, but also carry the weight Wilson’s drama is known for.

Story

While NO NORMAL was something of a rote origin story, it can be somewhat excused since Wilson and everyone else was trying to find their footing with the book. The safe structure of the hero’s journey was the cocoon they needed to help develop Ms. Marvel into the character we know today. Even the predictable elements lead to strong character building. This is truly highlighted after Kamala’s first superhero setback, where her concerned father has a heartfelt talk with her.

MS. MARVEL
MS. MARVEL #5 page 10. Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

It’s a strong scene that gives the Khans more definition, and also helps Kamala regain her lost confidence. It also defines her motivation and gives the more rote superhero scenes more weight. As a result, the superheroics may be safe, but the dramatic weight helps them feel more important and meaningful.

One Mistake

However, there are still problems with the more developed superheroics in TIME AND AGAIN. As mentioned, the drama does mix far better with the superheroics at this point. Wilson had shown she was capable of solid writing with street level villains like The Inventor, who are more at Kamala’s level. Her addition of the Inhumans also worked well. Despite these successes, there are still signs Wilson has limits in the superhero game. A major story in the collection is Kamala and Bruno trying to unravel exactly how her powers work. It’s a good idea that does affect the story well (making Kamala’s powers go wonky during a fight with the Shocker), but it takes up a lot of time.

There’s a sense that Wilson didn’t really know the answer herself, but had to frame a big reveal. Unfortunately, the answer she eventually comes to (Kamala takes mass from her future self to grow/shrink) feels like bad sci-fi at best. To be fair, the story was strong up until that point, but it does show that Wilson can only go so far into the superhero genre. Still, it’s one misstep in a largely solid collection.

NO NORMAL/TIME AND AGAIN: A Solid, Mixed Bag for MS. MARVEL

MS. MARVEL: NO NORMAL stands as a solid start for a new character, as well as for Wilson’s style. TIME AND AGAIN highlights the best and worst of Wilson’s development. Kamala comes across as a relatable teen, and easy to root for. The majority of characters grow and evolve over time, especially the Khans; even the more initially static characters like Nakia and Zoe evolved as the series went on. However, it’s also clear Wilson is better at writing drama than big scale superhero exploits. The drama does work as a major component to fuel Kamala, but without it, this would be a far more by-the-numbers young hero story.

That doesn’t take away from how much fans have grown to love Kamala, or how strong Wilson’s writing can be. When she works at the proper scale, Wilson creates good threats for Kamala to fight, a clear sense of character, and a good sense of an unlikely hero’s journey. NO NORMAL is by no means a perfect debut, and TIME AND AGAIN’s one big reveal makes Wilson look out of her depth. However, they show Wilson’s many strengths and bookend her development in a strong way. Flaws aside, we were lucky to be able to watch her journey.

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