[Contains SPOILERS for Ms. Marvel #14 and 15.]
Since landing her own ongoing series, Inhuman and legacy character Ms. Marvel a.k.a Kamala Khan captivated readers thanks to her down-to-Earth personality and youthful exuberance – which is perfectly characterized by writer G. Willow Wilson and captured by artist Takeshi Miyazawa in Ms. Marvel #15. Throughout her storied exploits, she landed herself a coveted Avengers gig, met her namesake and idol, Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers), and subsequently became disillusioned with her during Civil War II (after Danvers' proto-fascistic use of the Inhuman Ulysses' precognition). Later, after her friend Miles Morales a.k.a. Spider-Man came under fire, Kamala railed against her one-time icon, even parting ways with the Avengers.
Co-founding the Champions with Nova (Sam Alexander), Viv Vision, Amadeus Cho (Hulk), Miles, and young Cyclops, the young team set off to meet their own heroic ideals and fix "real world" problems. Between her school daze and crime-fighting antics, though, life can get very stressful. Like many teens her age, Kamala finds solace on the web through yet another alter ego, her avatar inside a World of Warcraft-like video game. However, when one of her teammates reveals personal information about her supposedly anonymous identity, Ms. Marvel realizes her online world has crashed into her real world in a terrifying way.
A Teammate Goes Too Far
One of the most refreshing things about Kamala Khan and her continued adventures is how relatable she is. While many comics are driven by familiar characters with few remaining surprises and quirks, Ms. Marvel is still coming to grips with her powers and her role in shaping the world. Comics involving similar legacy characters like Sam Wilson as Captain America or Jane Foster’s Thor often focus more on their internal struggles as related to their own self-worth at filling in for others (which can also be meta-critical and illuminating) or simply walk the same paths as their predecessors. Kamala Khan, on the other hand, has the advantage (and disadvantage) of being young and impressionable. Like many teens, she's still establishing her own identity, much less her place in the Marvel pantheon.
Her reveal as an online gamer, especially in this day and age, is not only speaks to the times but is completely understandable for a stressed out teen. Video games allow millions of people from all age ranges and backgrounds to blow off steam and communicate in a safe environment, one where they won't be judged by any merit beyond their actions and interactions. Naturally, once her guild-mate "Leetskillz" uncovers her address, Kamala is highly unnerved. Donning her costume, she goes in search of her cyber-stalker but finds something far more disturbing.
The Worst Kind of Troll
After tracking down one her other online cohort with insider knowledge, Kamala quickly discovers that he hasn’t been online recently, meaning the security leak is coming from beyond their core group. She expands her search, but her troll is one cyber-step ahead of her. Not only that, but he or she is capable of cracking into just about anything that runs using a computer chip. As a result, she’s forced to fend off a driverless, hyper-aggressive SUV and a rogue backhoe.
Worse still, whoever attacked and tracked her knows everything about her life, including her alter ego. Despite fears that her closely guarded secrets are about to gush out across the internet, she drags herself back to school, only to find out she’s not the focus of her classmates' unhealthy attention. Another student, Clara, sent some rather personal messages to her boyfriend that went very public. While consoling her, Kamala realizes that Clara had been hacked by the very same creep who hit her.
After a little more web-digging, Ms. Marvel’s able to trace a virulent file on her computer, "Doc.X," to a specific location. The offending bug apparently belongs to the foreperson of a constructions site, Tess Beckford. But when Kamala arrives at the trailer, she finds it empty. Almost empty, that is. Her troll tracker reappears, taunting the hero from the safety of a computer screen again. Kamala's frustration explodes, and she demands to face her attacker in person.
Outside the trailer, she confronts a normal-looking construction worker. But when she punches the woman, she appears to have super strength, which hurts quite a bit. During their battle, Tess mutters about her inability to "get into" Kamala’s mind. After the Inhuman warrior finally vanquishes the construction worker-turned-hacker, the police arrive on the scene. Suddenly, the super-powered, trash-talking foreperson seems weaker, perplexed and genuinely dismayed at the turn of events. Kamala begins to suspect Ms. Beckford might not actually be responsible for the virus or the super-powered battle – an assumption that is confirmed later, when her favorite troll reaches out to taunt her.
Her troll also reveals that it didn't merely develop the Doc.X virus, it is the sentient "embodiment" of it.
Ms. Marvel’s latest story arc works on numerous levels (as most of her solo adventures do). Aside from digging into the troubling issue of online trolling—especially relevant in a time where they're somewhat ubiquitous—writer Wilson also delves into the blurring lines between public and private personas. The exhilarating first half of “Damage Per Second” also adds a disturbing sci-fi twist to the tale. Could crackers one-day be able to figure out the human mind’s wavelength and control our bodies? The concept may sound pretty out-there, but considering cloning and pocket communication devices were the pipe dreams of 60s fantasists, as well as the rapid pace of technological development, it's become a genuine possibility.
While mind-control and resultant superhuman enhancements are still a little bit theoretical in our world, fortunately Ms. Marvel is immune to this A.I. super-villain's invasive tactics. Even if she can avoid being physically hacked, she (like everyone else) isn’t immune to an unwanted, revelatory data flow. She’ll definitely have to firewall her data leaks before deleting this Information Age foe from the system.
Ms. Marvel #15 is currently available online and in print.