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Kamala Khan takes on the internet in Ms. Marvel: Stretched Thin

This latest adventure makes a stellar addition to the rapidly expanding catalogue of Marvel's breakout teen sensation
Kamala Khan takes on the internet in <i>Ms. Marvel: Stretched Thin</i>
Illustration: Nabi H. Ali, VC's Joe Caramagna
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Teenage superhero Kamala Khan, a.k.a. Ms. Marvel, is quite literally stretching herself thin, trying (poorly) to balance her superhero responsibilities, friends, family, fan-fiction writing, school, and forum moderator duties. As is the case with any overburdened teenager, her mental health is suffering; the one place she receives constant, unwavering affirmation is from a loyal reader—and commenter—of her Avengers fan-fic. It’s through this social sphere of digital isolation that a predatory villain threatens to upend not only her life but that of her friends, colleagues, and family. The book’s action rarely bleeds from panel to panel, and the paneling itself mostly eschews grids to focus on fluid pacing. It also adds to the shifting conception of superheroes in the modern age by showcasing how difficult it would be for a superhero of Ms. Marvel’s generation to hide her identity.

 Stretched Thin is a moving work for younger readers that feels tailored to their worldview without condescension. The book’s action rarely bleeds from panel to panel, and the paneling itself mostly eschews grids to focus on fluid pacing. Crucially, the artwork also orients the reader to Kamala’s perspective in a subtle manner that keeps true to the character’s trait of being extremely online—so much so, her powers not functioning properly (due to stress) is referred to as “glitching.” At certain moments, the art style will shift slightly to replicate other popular forms of media, as when one panel is reminiscent of a video game fight screen, or when one page recreates a famous poster from Spider-Man: Homecoming. Not only does this feel catered to younger readers who are also likely familiar with these pop-culture ephemera, but Kamala seeing the world through this lens is fitting; even with superpowers, she really is just another online zoomer.

It’s beyond the scope of this review to get into all the details about the superb use of perspective in Stretched Thin. Suffice it to say, the location of certain group scenes (like a family dinner) are set up with almost perfectly axonometric panels—a skewing of perspective in which multiple angles or sides are visible. It isn’t too far a reach to suggest that the concept of “togetherness,” particularly in scenes where literally no perspective is dominant, can be tied to the book’s larger theme of confronting and dissecting online predation. Ultimately, it’s not her powers that defeat the predator, but the counsel of her friends, one of whom even talks her through a climactic panic attack. The book ends with Kamala inviting her family and various friend groups to watch a movie together, thereby addressing part of the cause for her stress: the compartmentalization of her life.

In addition to the axonometry reinforcing the notion of communal opposition to predation, there are little details, such as Kamala’s friends being given their own hero caption boxes alongside her. Their boxes detail “powers” like critical thinking, which aid Kamala through her crisis later. Those meta moments show how the very medium of comics is used by the book to illuminate its themes. Stretched Thin is a wondrous book, one that examines a problem which far too many teenagers experience online; it can be quite emotionally raw at moments. It’s a testament to its craftsmanship that the book counters this grappling with isolating predation not only via community, as seen through its characters, but through comics qua comics.