Teenage superheroes have always had a unique appeal, as well as a unique set of challenges. It’s not just their youth, inexperience, and idealism that sets them apart. They deal with complications and obstacles that adult heroes rarely have to worry about. Say what you will about Hawkeye’s abilities. At least he doesn’t have to worry about turning in homework on time, dealing with parents, and enduring puberty.
When it comes to teenage superheroes who embody that unique appeal, Ms. Marvel checks every box. She’s young, idealistic, lovable, tough, determined, awkward, and overwhelmed with balancing her superhero life with her personal life. Since her debut in 2014, some of her best moments have come from struggling to maintain that balance.
Now, that balance is completely thrown off in “Ms. Marvel #6” and for once, it has nothing to do with aliens, Hydra, or high school. What unfolds in this comic is more personal. It puts Kamala Khan in a position where no superpower or superpowered allies can make a difference.
It’s a difficult position, even for adult superheroes. Superman faces it almost every time he clashes with Lex Luthor. However, Kamala Khan isn’t Superman. She’s a teenage girl still growing into her superhero identity. What happens to her in “Ms. Marvel #6” is an impossible challenge as much as it is a turning point.
Since he took over, writer Saladin Ahmed has taken Ms. Marvel’s journey far beyond the limits of Jersey City. She’s teamed up with the Avengers, led a team of aspiring young heroes in the Champions, and fought in an alien war in which she saved an entire planet. She has had her share of triumphs lately, even when compared to adult superheroes.
Then, just after she acquires a flashy new costume powered by alien technology, her parents drop a bombshell. Her father is dying. He’s not just sick. He’s not just facing some new condition that requires treatment and management. He is dying and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.
For a superhero who just saved an alien planet and is on a first-name basis with the Avengers, this is akin to the ultimate gut punch, followed by the worst hangover, and topped off with the most agonizing heartbreak. This is the kind of news that even adult struggle with, long after they’ve built lives apart from their parents. Kamala Khan is just a teenager. Superhero or not, this shatters her world.
It’s a heartbreaking turn of events for a character who has been on a solid winning streak lately. Almost every teenage superhero faces setbacks. Kamala has had more than her share, from love interests who ran away to idols who abused her trust. This is more than a setback.
Since her debut, Ms. Marvel has stood out in a great many ways. One particular way that sets her apart from the Peter Parkers and Bruce Waynes of the superhero world is that she didn’t need a parent or loved one to die to become a hero. Kamala comes from a loving, tight-knit family who instill in her the values that would make anyone a hero in their own right.
Her family has always been a big part of her story. Like many teenage superheroes, she struggles to navigate family life alongside her superhero life. At the same time, her family has largely been a source of strength, even when they hound her about being late for school. Now, her family is facing one of the worst situations that any family can face.
Ahmed doesn’t rush Kamala through the various stages of acceptance. The plot of “Ms. Marvel #6” starts with a heart-breaking revelation, but follows Kamala as she tries to make sense of it all. Being young and idealistic, her first instinct is to try and fix this. She’s a superhero. She’s supposed to do the impossible and succeed where others fail.
This is different. She can fight to save her father’s life, just as she fights a typical supervillain. However, even when saving the day, the effects of her father’s news is apparent. The art by Minkyu Jung even captures that mood at every turn.
“Ms. Marvel #6” is one of those comics in which elaborate heroics and flashy costumes are secondary, at best. The events in this story signal a major upheaval in Kamala Khan’s superhero journey and it’s not one she can embiggen her way out of. Right now, her personal journey is more important than that of any hero. Tony Stark even shows up to remind her of that. He even brings gyros to belabor the point.
More often than not, when teenage superheroes are faced with loss and heartbreak, their first instinct is to lash out. You can usually set your watch to them doing something reckless or self-destructive out of anguish. That’s not just a trait common of superheroes. That’s something teenagers struggle with in the real world.
It once again strikes to the heart of why Kamala Khan is such an endearing character. It’s not just that she succeeds where other female superheroes falter. Her struggles, even though they involve Avengers and aliens, feel real and genuine. The idea that she’s poised to endure one of the hardest things any family can endure is both powerful and relateable.
After the events of “Ms. Marvel #6,” it’s not unreasonable to say that Kamala Khan’s life will never be the same. Even though that seems to happen with teenage superheroes every other week, this feels different. This isn’t part of some elaborate plot by a cunning supervillain. This is a terminally ill loved one.
Whether you’re a hero or a nobody, this is a challenge nobody is equipped to handle. Kamala Khan now faces the prospect of losing her father. It’s heartbreaking, but it also helps reaffirm just how much heart she has. That heart helped make her a hero. It also makes the prospect of watching it break feel that much more difficult.