Ms. Marvel #25 review: Birth of the Kamala Khan Corps

It seems like Ms. Marvel is everywhere these days! Yet nobody can find Kamala Khan!

Ms. Marvel #25

Writer: G. Willow Wilson

Artist: Nico Leon

Colorist: Ian Herring

It’s been a rough year for most people, yet it’s arguably been just as hard for Kamala Khan. Her best friend (and first love) Bruno Carrelli is in Wakanda, and all but hates her. Another friend, Josh Richardson, joined fascist-in-training Becky St. Jude as the masked villain Discord. In defeating him, Kamala learned exactly what a large percentage of civilians genuinely hate Ms. Marvel. Finally, when Middle Eastern vigilante Red Dagger moved into town and got instant approval and fame, Kamala had enough.

Image by Marvel Comics

Yet as Kamala Khan has reached a spiritual and emotional crisis, the gears move behind the scenes. Jersey City’s original super villain, who controlled the underworld when Ms. Marvel arrived, was the Inventor. Yet while the Inventor is long dead, Dr. Gregory Balthazar Knox, the man who created him, is being paroled. Facing an utterly lazy and indifferent parole board, Knox says all of the right things to earn his release. Yet it seems like his plans for Jersey City are far from resolved!

Image by Marvel Comics

Will the Real Ms. Marvel Please Stand Up?

Without a unifying presence, the crime in Jersey City remains strange and random. It is a burg which counts among its rogues a Canadian ninja (who isn’t Wolverine), after all. On one street, a midget mugger in an outfit more stereotypical than “the Hamburglar” is trying to rob a woman with a butter knife. Ms. Marvel suddenly drops to the rescue. Yet it isn’t Kamala Khan, nor is it someone with any powers or experience. Instead, it’s Michaela “Mike” Miller, who is over her head.

Image by Marvel Comics

While Michaela manages to take down the mugger (albeit by surprise), it’s the exit which does her in. Traditional crime-fighters make leaping down from a rooftop look so easy! Managing to “sprain everything,” Mike officially ends her superhero career. It’s consequently revealed that she’s not alone in covering Ms. Marvel’s slack. All of Kamala Khan’s friends are united in replacing the missing heroine for as long as they can. Even worse, they don’t know where Kamala has gotten to!

Image by Marvel Comics

Gabriel Hillman, Kamala’s “step-brother in law,” provides the basement for them to crash. Nakia Bahadir is there to support the others, while disagreeing with the principle. Zoe Zimmer is eager to don the tights and prove herself a hero, even if she may have less experience than even Mike had. At least being a former cheerleader, Zoe is remotely athletic! All the four know is that Ms. Marvel hasn’t been seen since saving a train, and their best pal Kamala Khan has made herself scarce.

Image by Marvel Comics

Due to the Power of Sandwiches, Meet Kamala’s New Pal!

Due to both stress and trying to deal with muggers, the entire quartet are exhausted both physically and emotionally. Entering their drama at pure random is Naftali, an Orthodox Jewish student of Coles Academic High School who is Kamala’s “sandwich buddy.” He is apparently a minor pal of Kamala’s who has never been on panel before. Full of gusto and moxie, he vows to sort out where Kamala is once she isn’t seen to grab a beloved sub sandwich from him!

Image by Marvel Comics

Yet when Naftali tracks down her big brother Aamir Khan, he learns a portion of the truth. Kamala hasn’t been kidnapped by Inhumans nor is on a top secret Champions mission. In fact, she hasn’t even been grounded! Kamala’s disappearance seems like it is entirely her doing. She is taking a break from everything — friends school, the internet, and (secretly) being Ms. Marvel. Her brief vacation in Karachi was not enough to settle herself, and now Kamala has quit everything cold turkey.

Image by Marvel Comics

Is it permanent? Nor even Aamir knows. All he does know is that he has a baby coming, and he’ll need Kamala on his side for free babysitting help. As a result, he’s willing to protect her from any nosy pals like Naftali. All Aamir will hint is she’s “gone somewhere they’d never think to look.” Therefore, it means at least one more night of someone else filling in for Ms. Marvel! Zoe gets her wish, even if her idea of a patrol is practicing flips off a light post in the upscale waterfront area.

Image by Marvel Comics

Never Look at a Nursing Home the Same Way Again!

Since there is another costumed hero in town, it isn’t long until the pair meet! The Red Dagger turns up and immediately smells a fake. Yet his eagerness to find Ms. Marvel is due to equal parts nobility and guilt. Red Dagger knows that the heroine was out of sorts after their train adventure, and is eager to make things up to her. Zoe, however, recognizes that he’s crushing hard from afar, and risks getting obsessive. As if that wasn’t enough, then things take an even weirder turn!

Image by Marvel Comics

An old man in a scooter has escaped a nursing home at slow speed! Even worse, he claims people inside are being locked in “a science dungeon.” That sounds like something Doctor Doom would build, or Mr. Fantastic would name a book club. While Zoe sees him as a crank, Red Dagger is at least respectful enough to humor the man and offer a routine investigation. Yet what they find seems typical of any middle-class American nursing home, complete with bets taken on checkers!

Image by Marvel Comics

Much as before, Red Dagger mingles his skills and innate charms with inexperience with American customs. The very concept of a nursing home for the elderly appears strange and cold to him. He also runs afoul of Martha, a resident of the home who, like most women, immediately crushes on him. Yet the pair have stumbled upon something villainous after all. Dr. Knox is posing as an orderly, and before long the pair are attacked by a giant cyborg lizard! Is this how the end comes?

Image by Marvel Comics

As the Result of a Strong Cast, This Issue Is a Hit!

It’s a rare issue of Ms. Marvel without Kamala Khan, yet G. Willow Wilson knows how to pull it together. She last did this back in May, when she devoted an entire issue to Bruno’s misadventures in Wakanda. Come to think of it, was that where Kamala went? At any rate, Wilson uses the opportunity to focus on the rest of the cast, as well as introduce a new one. Naftali appears in 20% of the issue and immediately makes an impression. I hope we get another sandwich mission!

Image by Marvel Comics

Removing Bruno Carelli for a long haul could have crippled the series. He was Kamala’s best friend and dominated the first “ship” of the series. Yet life is about growing up, or moving on, and that is what Bruno did. To a degree that is what Kamala faces now, that her struggle to be both a teenager and a superhero were harder and took more effort than she could imagine. Much as they do with Ms. Marvel herself, Kamala’s cast are able to pick up the slack for the star on panel too!

Image by Marvel Comics

What is most noteworthy is how much this issue serves as proof of how strong the supporting cast is. Kamala Khan is missed, of course; she’s the star. Many franchises have done “the lead is missing” episode. Done poorly, it can seem like filler. Yet with Wilson’s skill with this cast, it proves to be fascinating. I never would have expected Zoe to ever interact with the Red Dagger, yet it proves to be a lot of fun. Seeing how the kids struggle to live up to their heroine is also interesting.

Image by Marvel Comics

Most of Spider-Man’s Friends Didn’t Figure It out, Either!

The elephant in the room is that none of the kids can figure out why both Ms. Marvel and Kamala Khan are missing at once. Some might call this a plot hole at worst or a standard superhero trope at best. I find that it showcases that while superhero comics are slowly evolving to be more contemporary and relevant, some of the classic fundamentals can remain. Losing a secret identity is often a cheap way to wrest short-term drama or escape plot corners, and I commend Wilson for avoiding that.

Image by Marvel Comics

Speaking of plot corners, the return of Dr. Knox helps resolve the series’ long-running demerit. Ms. Marvel has often struggled to maintain a rogue’s gallery, since many of her opponents come and go after one arc. Aside for Chuck Worthy, Becky/Lockdown, and to a lessor degree Hijinx, reoccurring villains who are Ms. Marvel’s alone have been scarce. Knox’s return ties things back to Kamala’s arch nemesis from her first volume, and solidifies the high stakes everyone faces.

Image by Marvel Comics

Among the Best Ongoing Series of the Year!

Yet as great as Wilson’s script is, Nico Leon’s art all but steals the issue here. Alongside Ian Herring’s stalwart colors, Leon came close to emulating the feel of founding artist Adrian Alphona. This isn’t merely in his takes on Dr. Knox or Naftali, nor his depiction of a giant cyborg chameleon. It’s in the endless visual gags which are between the scenes of many panels, as well as his offbeat designs. From Zoe’s books to the signs at the nursing home or in Gabe’s basement, there is a lot for eagle-eyed fans to uncover.

Image by Marvel Comics

The “Carol Corps” was an affectionate name given to fans of Carol Danvers in real life who rallied around the heroine when she finally gained the mantle of Captain Marvel after outlasting her former male counterpart by decades. It was even the title of a Battleworld mini series, co-written by Kelly Thompson, and has become a part of Danvers’ legacy. By showcasing that she has a corps of her own, it cements the legacy of Ms. Marvel as Kamala Khan’s alone. Here’s to more marvelous stuff in 2018!