It’s the second installment of the timely and topical ‘mecca’ story-arc, from the creative team of G. Willow Wilson, Marco Falla and Ian Herring.
Last issue saw the mayorship and governance of Jersey City taken over by sinister forces, including Dr. Faustus’ former underling, Chuck Worthy, and his chief lieutenants, Lockup and Discord. As Ms. Marvel, Kamala charged in headlong and unfortunately fell to the electrical powers of the mysterious villain, Discord (there’s something eerily familiar about this guy).
Meanwhile, the Worthy’s administration has instituted a zero tolerance policy against anyone with super human powers or abnormalities (a thinly veiled metaphorical stand-in for ultra-jingoistic white nationalism). Kamala’s brother has been apprehended by Worthy’s goons, charged with having possessed super powers and not divulging his status to the authorities. Aamir had only possessed such powers for a brief time following his exposure to a mysterious quasi-terrigenic gas by Ms. Marvel’s foe, Kamran. These powers quickly wore off, but the mere fact that Aamir once possess powers is enough for the Worthy administration to identify him as a threat to public safety who should have his U.S. citizenship revoked and subsequently deported back to his birth country of Pakistan.
The issue begins with a harrowing scene where the detained Aamir is interrogated. Aamir doesn’t quite understand the situation and he assumes that he has been arrested by the NSA or FBI. He imagines that he has been detained under the assumption that he is an enemy combatant, an Islamic extremist plotting acts of terror against the United States.
In expounding on his innocence, Aamir delivers an extremely interesting speech about the types of people do and do not fall in with such extremism. What he says is poignant, not devoid of compassion and, above all else is strikes me as absolutely correct.
And yet Aamir has not been arrested for suspected terrorist ties, his charge is that he possessed super powers and failed to register this with the city municipal government. Befuddled, Aamir states that he only possessed these powers for a brief moment before they wore off; a statement that his interrogator interprets as an admission of guilt. In a knife-twisting extra punchline the interrogator also notes that Aamir was seen walking down the street carrying a pressure cooker (it was actually a slow cooker containing left overs that Aamire was bringing to his neighbors).
All the while, Aamir’s interrogation is being watched in an adjacent room by Lockdown and Dischord. The interrogator excuses himself to speak with these two, He states that Aamir is a small fish, no real threat and suggests they cut him loose. Discord disagrees, he wants Aamir further detained. Discord is ardent and zealous in his crusade to rid Jersey City of all of the freaks and super powered beings that has robbed the city of its normalcy. The juxtaposition between Discord’s extremist zeal and what Aamir had said about what can lead one to becoming terrorists is rather overt, but a satisfying parallel.
Elsewhere, Ms. Marvel is waking up from being knocked unconscious in her battle with Discord. Although bested, Discord chose not to detain her and left her where she was. In the twilight of her regaining consciousness, Kamala hallucinates that her old friend Bruno is at her side. The visage of Bruno voices a bit of exposition, noting that Kamala has a tough fight on her hands and is going to have to come to terms with the fact that not everyone is going to like her. The world is not black and white, all good or all bad. What is right and what is wrong is colored by opinion and she has to wake up to the fact that she will never be universally accepted for who she is.
Ms. Marvel shakes off the cobwebs and darts back to the heart of the city where she quickly comes across a political rally held by the new Mayor Chuck Worthy. Worthy is whipping up the crowd with his promises of bringing back peace and economic prosperity by ridding the city of all of the costumed freaks and super powered beings.
It’s all a rather straightforward straw man argument wherein a minority population is identified and vilified, held responsible for all the woes that trouble a politician’s constituents. It’s also a rather obvious analog to the type of fear mongering that the Trump administration utilized to win the American presidency. Any doubt of this is wiped away when Worthy notes that the rumors of his affiliation with Hydra is merely alternative facts propagated by the fake news media.
Worthy has spotted Ms. Marvel among the crowd. His goons, Lockdown and Discord attack. A tremendous battle ensues and Ms. Marvel is forced to flee when Discord unleashes a mobil missile platform that fires off a bevy of explosive projectiles.
The narrative switches to the now abandoned offices of the former mayor, Stella Machesi. The liberal minded wheelchair bound Machesi was elected mayor several issues back in a one-shot tale where Ms. Marvel and her allies were able to battle through the barriers of district gerrymandering and get out enough of the vote to defeat Chuck Worthy’s dastardly plans to win the election. It was an idealistic story that as quite clearly written and illustrated before the November election that saw Trump earn the presidency by way of the electoral college despite losing the popular vote by a sizable margin. And it would seem that Worthy has stolen the Mayorship by way of similar Byzantine back door politics.
Ms. Marvel, roughed up by her fight with Discord arrives at Machesi’s offices asking for her help. Machesi has little to offer in the way of aide. She notes that Worthy has seize power by tapping into the populace’s more baser instincts: their fear and greed. Before the two can formulate a plan, they are interrupted by Discord who calls out for Ms. Marvel from the street below.
Discord demands Ms. Marvel’s surrender and has paraded out a group of his detainees so to motivate her giving herself up peacefully. The individuals Discord had detained appear to be innocents, people who have been arrested simply because they are different, because they are Inhumans or Mutants and their physical appearance is deemed by the status quo as being abnormal. They haven’t done anything wrong, but Discord and Lockdown have been given the authority to apprehend them nonetheless and Discord notes how easy it could be to misplace paperwork and keep them imprisoned without charge trial all but indefinitely.
Once more, Kamala cannot help to feel that there is something distinctively familiar about Discord. He knows how to press her buttons almost too well. It’s almost like he is a former friend who had gotten to know Kamala and now uses that intimate knowledge as a weapon.
As a final threat, Discord brings out Aamir who has also been detained without charge. Discord aims his power gauntlet at Aamir, threatening to kill him. Amir has been identified as an abnormal, something less than human and Discord could kill him with impunity… unless Ms. Marvel agrees to surrender.
And it is with this frightening cliffhanger that the issue ends with the promise of continuation.
Wow. This issue pulls absolutely zero punches.
After the preview pages for this issue was released last week, I received a question from a fellow fan bemoaning the fact that Wilson and company was producing such a politically charged story in the pages of Ms. Marvel. While I can understand the wish that comic books might remain pure escapism devoid of politics and social issues, I don’t blame Wilson for making the decision to go in the other direction. Indeed it could be construed as irresponsible were she not to address these issues.
Ms. Marvel is the first Muslim-American character to headline a mainstream superhero comic. Her religion and ethnicity is not her only character trait, but it is a facet of who she is; and to that extent it would be something of a dereliction of duty to sidestep the harsh realities that Muslim Americans have to contend with in real life. People who are Muslim, people who may look as though their family lineage might herald from the Middle East, India or Pakistan are forced to live under the looming threat of being misidentified as enemy combatants, potential terrorists… some sort of threat to Western society. They live with the fear that they could be disappeared by the government, detained and held indefinitely without trial or legal representation. This is not just a plot point for the issue, this actually happens in real life.
There’s an interesting parallel process to Ms. Marvel’s sense of popularity both in the fictional world of the Marvel Universe and actual reality. Ms. Marvel arrived with a splash and was an immediate darling of liberal minded comic fans. It was cool that there should finally be a big name Muslim super hero, but it was the great quality of the writing and art that really made the comic a hit. Kamala is such a well-rounded and fully developed character; she’s fun and relatable, lovable. And yet times have changed and the shift in the political atmosphere has emboldened those with bigoted, intolerant views to be much more open and vocal in their feelings. Quite suddenly there were comic book fans who were vocal and upfront over their dislike of the surge in liberal, multicultural characters in superhero comics. Suddenly there were people out there expounding their hatred of Ms. Marvel, a hatred based on her being a girl, of her being Muslim, of her being the darling of the so-called liberal elite.
All this was likely quite jarring for Ms. Wilson and the other creators working on Ms. Marvel. And to the same extent that Marvel itself has had to contend with the fact that not everyone likes Ms. Marvel, Kamala herself has had to cope with this matter.
Ultra-conservatives and Trump supporters are likely to be a touch alienated by this issue, by seeing the sinister Chuck Worthy as such a poorly disguised representation of the so-called Alt-Right. Yet, the chances that people with such views are actually reading Ms. Marvel is likely pretty slim. So screw’em…
The politically charged nature of the story might not be for everyone. Some may prefer super hero tales that are a bit lighter, that avoid the unsettling truths of the real world. As for me, I like it and I completely understand Ms. Wilson’s desire to take on these matters. It helps that Kamala and I share political convictions. I definitely recommend this issue, but am aware that there may be some who find the heavy socio-political nature of the story to be disquieting. Three out of Five Lockjaws.