Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 4: Last Days trade paperback (Marvel Comics)

Thursday, February 11, 2016

[Review by Doug Glassman, who Tumblrs at '80s Marvel Rocks!]

Few characters better represent Marvel's evolving approach to their fandom than Kamala Khan. The post-Infinity introduction of the new Ms. Marvel title made national news headlines for starring a teenage Muslim girl, and fans took to her rapidly, seeing a lot of themselves in this fangirl-turned-superhero. Ms. Marvel served as an in-road for fans to encounter Marvel's Inhuman push as the most visible and memorable "Nuhuman." Kamala had the typical crossovers into other titles, such as the Amazing Spider-Man two-parter included here; she also got to meet Wolverine shortly before his death. The Last Days trade comes at the heels of Kamala meeting Loki and crushing on an up-and-coming Nuhuman supervillain.

In the lead-up to Secret Wars, just about every title ended with the characters seeing the Incursion of the Ultimate Earth with Earth-616. Only some received the "Last Days" branding, and the logic behind which ones did and didn't is still a little vague to me. In the case of Ms. Marvel Vol. 4: Last Days, Kamala's home of Jersey City goes berserk at the sight of the incoming alternate Earth, and it's up to her to keep the peace. Hindering this task is the aforementioned evil crush, Kamran, who is intent on turning Kamala's brother into a Nuhuman despite how bad off Earth is at the moment. Even without reading the previous issues, there's enough context to understand what Kamala has gone through and how her faith and family affect her life.

Even with the title's post-Secret Wars relaunch assured, writer G. Willow Wilson and artist Adrian Alphona decided to make one of Kamala's greatest dreams come true and have a team-up with Captain Marvel. This ended up being a great move for both characters since the Captain Marvel title just kind of ended without a grand finale. Carol Danvers had been Kamala's idol since the start of the series, both for her heroic deeds and for her "normalcy" in comparison to an awkward Pakistani-American teenager. It's not a great time for a team-up; clad in her dark uniform from Avengers: Time Runs Out, their meeting occurs right before Carol gets on the lifeboat in the first issue of Secret Wars.

One of the recurring themes of Ms. Marvel: Last Days is how personal the stakes are for Kamala. Apart from the few Nuhumans she and Carol fight, the Marvels primarily have to deal with the chaos of a town waiting for the world to end. This battle comes while the duo search for Kamala's ultra-religious brother Aamir, who gets his powers triggered by Kamran much to Aamir's dismay. It's a running theme throughout the book that Aamir simply wants to be left alone to his studies; the new ongoing will hopefully address how he deals with his unwanted abilities. In the last issue, Kamala also finds out that her mother knows about her secret identity, resolving a running plot thread while still maintaining some tension since her father is still blind to his daughter's activities. The book closes out with more mending of fences before Kamala and her love interest, Bruno, spend one last moment together before the Incursion hits.

There's a truly powerful moment in Carol and Kamala's team-up where they find an abandoned pet shop with supplies set out for the animals left there. Carol, well-known for loving cats, has to console her young protégé over the fact that the apocalyptic situation isn't going to get any better and that they can't stop to rescue the pets. Adrian Alphona's incredibly detailed art enhances the scene greatly, from the helplessness of the cats to the increasingly reddening sky as the Incursion point approaches. For all its detail, Alphona's art also has a sketchy quality that can feel a little strange; individual faces sometimes look mushy in a scene with numerous people. One minor oddity is the font used: Ms. Marvel uses the Ultimate-style typeface, which feels weird that the same typeface is used to indicate beings from another Earth in the pages of Secret Wars.

Between the character's current popularity and the potential for an even larger audience, there's a strong chance that Kamala will end up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It's not a surprise that Kamala made the jump to an official Avengers team with the launch of All-New, All-Different Avengers. She's a lot of fun in that series thanks to a love/hate relationship with Nova and her continuing idolization of older superheroes. I would recommend going back and reading the entire series, which is either in two hardcovers or four paperbacks. (An omnibus wouldn't surprise me either.) Powerful on its own, Ms. Marvel Vol. 4: Last Days works even better with the full weight of the character development behind it.
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