Ms. Marvel, vol. 6: Civil War II

I’m pretty sure I know Kamala Khan. She’s that student who raises her hand to say something brilliantly wrong. She lets her enthusiasm override reason and common sense. She’s loyal to friends, but she acts before she listens.

Kamala Khan’s superhero self, Ms. Marvel, faces some of the same issues as Kamala Khan the Pakistani-American living in Jersey City. In one panel we see Ms. Marvel leaping from one building to another with the newly rebuilt One World Trade Center in the far distance. In the real world, some (most notably Donald Trump) accused Muslims in Jersey City—families exactly like Kamala’s—of celebrating the destruction of the original World Trade Center on 9/11. In the fictionalized world, this volume’s villains have a similar obsession with order and keeping the peace.

In nearly all of the volumes in the Ms. Marvel series, there are distinct and direct parallels to contemporary issues, and the muted tones and high realism of the artwork is meant to remind us that superhero life and real life aren’t so far apart. If Ms. Marvel were more…dare I say…heroic, these comics could come across as overly preachy and moralizing, as if Ms. Marvel were the Smokey the Bear of racism and classism. Instead, readers are invited to see Ms. Marvel work her way through issues, too. When Captain Marvel introduces Ms. Marvel to Becky St. Clair and her cadre of predictive crime fighters, Ms. Marvel is in awe of the ability to stop a crime before it has the ability to harm others. Tyesha, Kamala’s friend, tries to warn her that such a system could cause new problems, not resolve the problems that already exist. While Ms. Marvel’s evolution from stopping crime to stopping unnecessary oppression is swift and predictable, it is still satisfying to watch.

Characters who have made larger appearances in other volumes make a small showing here, and readers learn more about Kamala’s family life in Pakistan, setting the stage for future international adventures.

The Ms. Marvel series continues to be a refreshing delight for teen readers who are looking for a superhero who is as worried about fighting crime as she is getting a college scholarship.

Ms. Marvel, vol. 6: Civil War II
by G. Willow Wilson
Art by Adrian Alphona and Takeshi Miyazawa
ISBN: 9780785196129
Marvel, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: (12+)

Blackjack: Second Bite of the Cobra

blackjackSeventeen years ago, in the waning days of the Great War, Arron Day watched his father, soldier of fortune Mad Dog Day, walk back into Cairo, humbled by defeat at the hands of the Cobra, a Bedouin warlord fighting to evict the British from his people’s land. The Cobra spared the lives of those he defeated, leaving them to their shame as he disappeared back into the desert. Now a mercenary himself, code-named Blackjack, Arron has renown, success, wealth, and a new home in the wealthiest part of New York City despite the efforts of those who don’t believe an African-American man should share their neighborhood. But the past comes calling when Blackjack receives word from Cairo that the Cobra has returned, and Silas Lincoln, his late father’s partner, has been grievously wounded attempting to capture the man. Day immediately plans his return to the land of his childhood, determined to bring the Cobra down. Aided by Maryam, Silas’s new partner and an enigmatic martial artist with a mysterious past, Blackjack plots his revenge, unsure who to trust in this new-old city of alliances and betrayals.

In Blackjack, Alex Simmons has created a new, old-school herohuman, flawed, driven, and layered. Simmons’ story, like his protagonist, is multi-faceted; Second Bite of the Cobra is a wild adventure, but it’s also a story of family and loyalty and of finding yourself in a world that tries to label you according to its narrow views. Set in 1930s Egypt, in the tense period between the world wars, Blackjack captures the spirit of those tumultuous times, as men fought for the soul of countries and continents and to advance their own self-interests. Though the focus is on the adventure, Blackjack touches on serious social issues, including racial prejudice, colonialism, and cultural and resource exploitation, with an authenticity that gives the story depth. Joe Bennett’s art helps to set the scene, capturing the striking locations and giving each character a distinctive face and personality, and contributing to Blackjack’s old-school appeal.

Blackjack brilliantly harkens back to the early days of adventure comics, a fast-paced and violent quest for vengeance set in an exotic locale and peopled with inscrutable characters. Arron Day is a compelling hero, a man who survives and thrives by the quickness of his mind and the strength of his arms. At a time when readers are seeking more diversity in comics, Blackjack offers a story with a strong African-American protagonist and a diverse supporting cast. Maryam is a strong female supporting character whose origins seem to be Bedouin or Egyptian, and Blackjack’s recruited team includes a Frenchman, a Native American, and a white man who goes by Red, short, he claims, for Redneck.

This Dover edition reprints the Blackjack series originally published by Dark Angel Productions in 1996, and the volume includes a new foreword by Joe Illidge and an afterward by David Colley. Dover doesn’t provide an age rating for Blackjack, but it is likely appropriate for most teen collections. While there is plenty of fighting, including numerous deaths by guns and swords, the violence is generally not over-the-top, though it is frequently on-screen. Some readers, however, may be disturbed by instances of violence against children in addition to the body count. The Cobra is presented as a Muslim, with numerous references to Allah, while references are also made to Bedouin cultural practices and beliefs, including the honor killing of women who have been victims of sexual violence that may be concern to some readers.

Blackjack is a new look at an old genre, a remembrance of a time when heroes didn’t wear capes or armor, but instead were human, flawed, and still capable of dazzling through their exotic adventures. Readers tired of the superhero saturation of many mainstream comics may find that Blackjack offers a strong hero with a different kind of appeal.

Blackjack: Second Bite of the Cobra
by Alex Simmons
Art by Joe Bennett
ISBN: 9780486798523
Dover, 2015