Technically, all the comics the general reader reads are corporate. Like most art, one of the reasons for making it is profit. That’s just the way it is. When you look at Marvel and DC, this applies even more so, especially when you consider that they’re owned by two of the biggest media conglomerates in the world.
Yet, when those comics are good, you don’t really feel that corporate element, rather, you feel the heart and soul poured into all of those pages, into that entire story, to make you as a reader feel like your precious time and money spent was worth it. Because you felt something due to the story itself. Something good. Sometimes bad too, but you can still look deeper and recognize the craftsmanship that went into it, and say that “Maybe this just wasn’t for me,” and that’s fine.
When those comics are bad, however, you can feel the absence of that love, that care, that heart and soul. All you feel – whether on a conscious or subconscious level, is the fact that these are put on a production line and churned out, without a care in the world. Without any indication of whether it’s good or bad or has fine craftsmanship. Just something put out there to make a profit, and nothing more.
I hate to say this, I truly do, as someone who’s first ever ongoing comic was this title from when I started reading comics regularly a few years ago, but Amazing Spider-Man is the most corporate comic put out by the Big 2. This issue absolutely puts that to light, and hammers it in.
The superhero is the modern mythology. That fact is inescapable. As such, within comics, the most popular A-listers are stuck in a cycle where they’re never allowed to grow and always stuck to the same status quo, because according to the higher ups, that would mean these characters are unfamiliar to the general audience. This happened with Peter Parker and his supporting cast back in 2007, where being married and growing deemed him “unable to be relatable”. Thus, he was shifted back to the status quo, and since then, he’s never grown in any meaningful way. Between where “Brand New Day” started and now, he’s never quite grown as a character.
At the same time, superhero comics are also cyclical. No one truly stays dead anymore. If a character dies, you can expect them to come back in a few years – which is why now the conversation has shifted to whether that death is meaningful or earned, and if that story is good.
We also expect comics to be more respectful to women and people of colour. We’re way past the Sixties and Seventies where female characters get killed for man-pain or POC for white guilt, and we expect better now. If they are to die, we expect them to be treated with respect, for the book to truly earn it, and give the character a deserving send off.
Kamala Khan’s death is none of those things. It’s fridging a beloved character, the only Pakistani- and by extension- South Asian character appearing in a Marvel ongoing, for nothing but white people guilt, especially white man guilt. There’s a lot to talk about regarding this, and the optics of what happened, but first it’s a good idea to go through the rest of the issue that leads up to this point.
This issue is a disaster, both in terms of the writing and the interior art.
Romita Jr. is someone who is very admittedly not for everyone anymore, and his art throughout this run so far has been a mixed bag. In this issue, it might be his worst, and not even Hanna’s inks or Menyz and Arciniega’s colours can save it. Everyone’s expressions are all over the place. The characters’ faces look like they’ve been vertically stretched out. Whenever a character expresses themselves, whether it be shock or guilt, it doesn’t look like the characters are actually feeling it, but rather it looks like they’re acting, and failing miserably at that. Even the action looks miserably uninteresting, spare one sequence of Peter beating Rabin. It just genuinely looks like Romita Jr. was either lazy or on a tight deadline. There’s also colouring inconsistencies throughout the issue, such as a sequence where the colour of their clothes change even though it’s the same scene. It’s very odd.
The writing is a mess. Tonal discrepancies plague the book generally, but this issue hits it the hardest since “Dark Web”. This arc overall is something that should’ve been the second or third arc of the book. Making us wait a year for it was wholly unnecessary, especially considering the answers that we end up getting here. We find out who Paul really is, who the kids are, two issues earlier we find out why Norman and Peter are buddy-buddy, and all of it feels like it could’ve been told at least six months ago. After making us wait a year, all of this feels like a waste of time, especially now that we’re finally here.
This issue picks up where the first few pages of issue 21 left off- an issue that came out almost 3 months ago. Since then, the issues filled in what happened during the 6 month timeskip, leaving this issue alone to deal with Rabin finally coming back. In this issue, we get to know why Kamala joined Oscorp, the answer to which is mostly a non-answer because we don’t get into any actual reasoning beyond something vague. We then see our heroes fight Rabin, and a flashback to that panel from issue #1 where Paul punches Peter, where we finally get the context of that panel and find out who Paul really is. Stuff that happens to the kids, the Fantastic Four fight a kaiju created by Rabin, and then Kamala dies, where the issue ends abruptly.
All of this is sped through over the course of 31 pages, where none of these moments are ever given enough panel space to really sit with the reader, instead feeling like they’re being crossed off of a checklist. It reads like they suddenly remembered that Kamala is in this book, it’s her 10th anniversary, and she’s in an upcoming MCU movie, and instead of giving her another miniseries (or even an ongoing) to build off of the hype, they decided to shoehorn her into this arc and give her a “Death of” book.
On that note, it’s time to talk about Kamala Khan, her role in this issue, this book generally, and the optics of her death. Kamala Khan was one of the new legacy characters from during Alex Alonso’s reign at Marvel, a Pakistani-American Muslim superhero- the first to headline an ongoing comic at the company. The first trade of her first Ms. Marvel run, written by G. Willow Wilson, won a Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story.
She’s a character that many readers- especially those who are Muslim and South Asian- identified with, and was extremely popular until Marvel stopped giving her ongoings for some reason. She is also, at the time, the only South Asian character to be in a Marvel ongoing.
To market this arc, Marvel decided to go back and reference the “Death of Gwen Stacy”, through covers that homage the arc and Spider-Man: Blue, a title all about Peter and Gwen’s romance. While the term “fridging” itself wasn’t coined until the late-Nineties, Gwen Stacy’s death in the Seventies has been one of the most prominent examples of the trope. She died for man-pain, and even though in future comics we saw how her death affected other characters such as Mary Jane Watson, that wasn’t the case in the issue where she died, nor subsequent issues.
Referencing an arc- iconic as it is- that fridged a character, while also teasing throughout the current arc that you’re going to fridge another character is in extremely poor taste. Throughout the arc, it’s implied that Mary Jane needs to die for Rabin to ascend to full power. She didn’t die, but it’s about the implications of it. Throughout this run, and really if you want to go back, for almost the past decade of the Amazing Spider-Man title, maybe even longer, Mary Jane has been a background character. She’s only treated as an extension of Peter, whether it be to be his girlfriend who waits for him at home or to drive unnecessary relationship angst that helps neither of them as characters. Even with Paul, we have yet to know what the official term of their relationship is. A summary from a few issues ago references Paul as Mary Jane’s husband, but that’s as far as it goes- nothing on panel confirms it. The way their relationship forms is also odd, considering that- if they are meant to be romantic- it happens because she’s trapped in that alternate dimension with him and spends time with him to survive. Ultimately, it’s fiction, and these characters are at the whims of the creatives behind the wheel. There could’ve been so many better ways to actually do this and bring in actual meaningful drama, instead of having her get with the guy she was trapped in an alternate dimension with alone.
That is bad enough, which is why killing off Kamala is worse. Kamala is barely in this run- only appearing for around 8 to 10 pages before this issue- and we don’t get any answers as to what she’s doing in the book except for the fact that she’s working at Oscorp. In this issue, we only find out she’s in it to keep an eye on Norman, and we don’t even know what for. Another mystery box. Then she goes around to try and save MJ, before transforming into her to trick Rabin, which results in her death.
If you go back to the first arc of Kamala’s first solo series, the only reason why she transforms into Carol Danvers, a white woman, is because of her conflict with her own race- her own culture- before she goes through an arc of accepting herself for who she is. It’s a powerful first arc, and something we don’t see in superhero comics. As of recently, her power to shapeshift wasn’t used much (if ever) so bringing it back for this, and having her die while she’s transformed as a white woman, is an exceptionally bad look. Add onto that the fact that she dies in a book where she doesn’t have a proper relationship with any of these characters, where she dies and only asks if she was a good hero and gives a corny speech, when she’s a Muslim character who should be reciting a character.
On top of that, the character who kills her is named Rabin, which is a Jewish name, and Rabin is obsessed with the idea of killing Mary Jane as a blood sacrifice, which is an antisemitic story trope. This issue hits you with the combo of antisemitic, Islamophobic, and misogynist writing all in one go.
But that’s not shocking to me, really. When the editor-in-chief of your company is a white man who pretended to be Japanese and never faced consequences for it, and the editor of this book has edited this book the same way for almost 10 years now – where women are barely treated with any ounce of respect or allowed to be fleshed-out characters in their own right, I doubt anything else could be the outcome. In the letters page of this issue itself, the editor talks about how they’ll honor her death in Fallen Friend #1, with a tone that indicates excitement. Given his comments online about the death, I doubt he actually thought about or cares about the optics of this decision.
Kamala Khan died in a white man’s arms, surrounded by white characters whose expressions give off the idea that this isn’t a big deal, on top of being characters who she never truly interacted with in the first place. She died in a book where she was barely a character, as much as Marvel’s marketing insists that she was an important part of it. She didn’t die an earned death, she died due to marketing, to promote a one-shot when they could have easily at least given her a mini series.
On top of that, the arc ends by extending the Rabin/Paul/MJ/kids mystery even further. It’s the same problem the Spencer run faced, where overarching arcs lasted a lot longer than they needed to thanks to artificial padding. I firmly believe that what’s wrong with Amazing Spider-Man as a title is an editorial issue, given that during Nick Lowe’s tenure we went through four different corporate Spider-Men, three returns to status quo, three Norman Osborn returns, all over the course of the past decade.
I cannot fathom, in good faith, still paying for this title, or still reading it, when there are infinitely better books, even Spider-Man books, published by Marvel right now. If you want a good Spider-Man ongoing, go read Cody Ziglar and Federico Vincentini’s Miles Morales: Spider-Man, or go watch Across the Spider-Verse this weekend. If you want a good Kamala Khan story, go read G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel– it’s one of the best books Marvel has published in the last decade.
Speak with your wallet. Supporting a book by creators who didn’t even think of hiring a sensitivity reader, or an editorial who doesn’t know what to actually do with Spider-Man as a character and keeps putting him through the same character arcs and the same stories over and over again, is just telling them that you actually like it. Buy better books, books that actually care about characters and readers who aren’t cishet white men.