Friday, January 27, 2017

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 4: Last Days by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona

This book pissed me off. (I don't know why I keep reading Big Two superheroes, since they keep finding new ways to piss me off. At least I just get them from the library now, so I'm not spending my own money on my own frustration.)

I've been mildly frustrated with some aspects of the "good superhero story" Ms. Marvel since the beginning -- see my notes on volumes one and two and three for more details -- mostly because the "Kamala is a normal young woman in a real world" aspects keeps being overwhelmed by the "superheroes have to act LIKE THIS and talk in stilted terms about their capes and responsibility for at least five pages every goddamn issue" aspects.

(Look, folks: dressing up in colorful clothes and running around beating up people is essentially silly. Please stop calling attention to how silly it is!)

And then this fourth volume -- ominously titled Last Days, though two more collections of this ongoing series have been published since, so it's not that "last," is it? -- doubles down on the superhero shit-shoveling by having our heroine's role model (the previous Ms. Marvel and current Captain Marvel -- I can't make this stuff up, people) wander through the story in the drabbest costume possible (very different from the one she wears on the covers, oddly) to stimulate even more pointless conversations about how important and special it is to put on a mask and run around beating up people who steal TVs.

That would be dull enough, but the whole point of Last Days is that some apocalyptic thing is going on -- there's a planet in the sky over NYC, though not over Jersey City, where Kamala actually is, and that has led to widespread looting and panic exactly the way actual crises in the NYC area over the last decade-plus have not. (Speaking as someone who evacuated, with hundreds of thousands of others, from Manhattan into Jersey for both 9/11 and the blackout of '02, let me say a personal fuck you to the idea that such people are automatically going to be causing chaos.) So that's bullshit, to begin with -- the same kind of pernicious bullshit that leads to Trump lying about seeing thousands of Muslims celebrating in the streets.

Of course, the lesson of the real world is that we don't actually need superheroes to keep order and make peace, so any superhero story has to by definition be set in a more crapsack version of our world. But I wouldn't expect a comic primarily about a Muslim family to lean so heavily on the "law and order" vibe.

Anyway, the apocalypse is happening next door. It doesn't seem to be actually affecting the Gold Coast directly, though, aside from the opportunistic criminal assholes. But everyone in town is heading to the high school for shelter, why? It's not the refugees from New York going there, which would make some kind of sense, but the regular cast, the people whose houses and businesses are right around the corner and all seem to still be perfectly fine now.

But wait! It gets worse.

There's no sign that the electricity is even off, no mention of services being out. But the police and fire and other governmental folks are completely absent -- there's not even a "oh, yeah, every single cop in Jersey went into The City, because that's totally a thing that would actually happen" throwaway line of dialogue. So the entire population of Jersey City has run into shelter because of word-of-mouth reports of some vague, unknown thing happening in Manhattan.

This is the Manhattan of the Marvel Universe, mind you, the one that Galactus visits on a yearly basis and which has been torn down and rebuilt at least a dozen times since the last time history was reset. One might assume that people would have a more nuanced reaction to potential apocalypses when they happen on a monthly basis.

The final piece of bullshit on top of this towering and unbelievable pile of poo is that none of our teenage main characters can find out anything about the goings-on in Manhattan besides those initial confused reports from eyewitnesses. These teens apparently don't own cellphones, and have never heard of social media. TVs have also entirely disappeared from the world, as have radios -- this is a purely pre-Industrial world, where news can only be spread by couriers.

OK. OK. I get that writer G. Willow Wilson wants to focus on what's going on in Jersey City, and not get into whatever this particular stupid line-wide apocalypse actually was. I do get that. But she does that here by ignoring both how people actually react to real crises and the media landscape that currently exists. Instead of writing a story about plucky small people living their lives in the shadow of looming danger, she instead has written the story of a group of moles who can't see their paws in front of their damn faces and who panic when they bump into each other.

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln did like parts of the play. There's some good family stuff, although a family member does get superpowers, which we could have done without. (If the characters in Big Two comics were statistically average, 75% of the US population would be superpowered.) And Adrian Alphona's art is human and warm as usual.

But, all in all, Last Days is a textbook case in how not to tie into a line-wide story. If I were Emperor of Comics, books like Ms. Marvel wouldn't have to tie-in to those things anyway -- of course, I also would eliminate superhero universes and the idea of line-wide crossovers, so that particular point would be moot.

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