‘The Magnificent Ms. Marvel’ No. 1 gives beloved hero fresh start

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Grade: 3.0/5.0

When “Ms. Marvel” No. 1 was released in 2014, editor Sana Amanat and writer G. Willow Wilson expected that the first Marvel comic book to feature a Muslim lead would only reach 10 issues. In the last five years, Pakistani American teen Kamala Khan has starred in more than 60 of them, becoming one of Marvel’s flagship characters and earning Avenger status along the way. Now, with Wilson exiting the series after a considerable contribution to the Marvel Universe, superstar scribe Saladin Ahmed picks up the torch, offering a fresh start to “The Magnificent Ms. Marvel.”

Ahmed is no stranger to the character, having written a grittier, alternate-universe version of Kamala Khan in the acclaimed “Exiles.” Such experience lends itself to a sturdy debut for “The Magnificent Ms. Marvel,” which continues Wilson’s story while offering an ideal starting point for new readers.

The issue opens on an alien planet in a far future, in which a father tells his daughter of the Destined One, who despite being a mythic hero, “always honored her distinguished kin and clan.” Cut to Kamala Khan, getting lectured by her father after pummeling a supervillain into submission. Here, Ahmed’s toggling between an off-planet frame story and Kamala’s more familiar street-level heroics suggests an embiggening of Ms. Marvel’s milieu.

Ahmed has previously teased a “leveling up” for Ms. Marvel, and while moving Kamala beyond the confines of her Jersey City home would be a logical next step for one of Marvel’s most beloved characters, the issue doesn’t forget that the charm of Wilson’s run largely lay in Kamala’s grounded relationship to the series’ supporting cast. Ahmed weaves in appearances by Kamala’s best friend Nakia, will-they-won’t-they love interest Bruno and her parents — all of which are welcome, even if such interactions are hindered by (admittedly necessary) exposition.

One hopes that, having done the legwork of enticing new readers in this issue, “The Magnificent Ms. Marvel” makes a bolder leap into a brand-new era for Kamala Khan. In particular, the issue’s hints of a cosmic story prove intriguing and, most of all, the issue teases a powerful emotional reckoning with her parents.

And while the tactile, idiosyncratic aesthetic of original “Ms. Marvel” artist Adrian Alphona remains the definitive rendering of Kamala Khan, Minkyu Jung’s pencil work reliably dramatizes the character’s polymorph powers. Additionally, color artist Ian Herring, a mainstay from the original days of “Ms. Marvel,” lends the new series a largely lighthearted color palette that makes each page feel distinct.

Ultimately, “The Magnificent Ms. Marvel,” in demonstrating how a character lives on beyond her original creators, further emphasizes the fact that Kamala Khan is a central pillar of the Marvel Universe. Of course, that’s old news for fans of the character. But in light of recent events, it’s worth reaffirming who our heroes are.

It’s impossible to read the story of a Muslim superhero without thinking of the recent Christchurch terror attack. At the risk of restating the obvious, one comic book can’t reverse institutionally enforced bigotry, or the ways in which Western cultural production is entirely complicit in the Islamophobia that made such an attack possible. However, recent events have demonstrated the extent to which “Ms. Marvel” need remain magnificent for a new and — one can only hope — more empathetic generation of readers.

Harrison Tunggal covers comic books. Contact him at [email protected].