The Splash Page: Generations, at last, in “Marvel Team-Up” #1

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Samuel G. Reece, contributing writer

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The Marvel Universe has always been one with room for teenage superheroes. Every ten years or so, there is a wave of refreshing new, young characters who will be the future of the Avengers or the X-Men. What began with Spider-Man and the first generation of X-Men in the 1960s carried over into the New Mutants of the 80s, the New Warriors of the 90s and the Young Avengers of the 2000s. In the last decade, a new generation of heroes has appeared, and for a little while now, they’ve all been on a team together as the Champions. Unlike previous generations of teen heroes, the Champions have tended to be refreshed versions of old characters, carrying on an old mantle. There’s Miles Morales, star of the Oscar Winning “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,”  Nadia Pym as the Unstoppable Wasp and, of course, their leader, Ms. Marvel.

Kamala Khan is a character that the comics community fell in love with as soon as she appeared. She was a normal Jersey City teenager caught in a genetic accident she had no control over that turned her into a superhero. Just as Carol Danvers was becoming Captain Marvel, Khan took the reigns as the new Ms. Marvel. And there’s so much to Khan. Yes, there is the headline-catching aspect of a Muslim super-teen with a Pakistani background, but there is also her place as the Marvel Universe’s latest loveable, geeky screw up. In many ways, she’s more Spider-Man than her teammate and friend Morales, the character designated to pick up the legacy of Spider-Man for the 2010s. Like those early Spider-Man books, “Ms. Marvel” had a multiple-year run with a consistent creative team, creators G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona. Khan has become a multimedia star, from YA novels to audio dramas to multiple cartoon appearances and their subsequent dolls, toys and tie-in merchandise. Unlike previous generations of young, legacy heroes in the Marvel Universe, Khan (with perhaps only Morales and Doreen Green, the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, as rivals) has become a mainstream superhero –  and her appearance in a Marvel movie seems imminent.

That’s why this first issue of “Marvel Team-Up,” a series that served as one of the primary Spider-Man titles in which he teamed up with various other characters, is so important as a symbol of Khan’s success. After the end of her initial run and the launch of her new series, “The Magnificent Ms. Marvel,” Khan has been deemed not only worthy of a second ongoing series, but is a well-defined enough character that other people are teaming up with her. And, in this first issue, she’s teaming up with former star of the book Spider-Man in what feels like a meaningful passing of the torch.

After “Secret Empire,” the big Marvel crossover event in which the United States was taken over by a Nazi Captain America (we try not to talk about it). Many members of the Champions, Ms. Marvel’s new-generation team, were transported to various times and spaces in interactions with versions of their older counterparts. Those stories, in a series called “Generations,” worked to establish legacy as an important part of the Marvel Universe and to establish these new characters as long-term figures who were going to stick around. Khan’s connection to her mentor, new movie star Captain Marvel, has been a part of her character since the very beginning, but so have her similarities to old movie star Spider-Man.

The first issue of “Marvel Team-Up” feels like the promise of “Generations,” answered. Writer Eve Ewing, artist Joey Vazquez and colorer Felipe Sobreiro have a lot of fun with a two-sided book that meets in a central scene. We see the life of Khan, who wishes she was older and had more autonomy, and the life of Peter Parker, who wishes he had the freedom of youth. The conceit of this story, it seems, is that an accident will grant each, “Freaky Friday” style, their wish. Ewing understands how similar these characters are, and begins to tease at the possibility of their differences.

“Marvel Team-Up #1” gives us, finally, after five years of a Marvel Universe where Spider-Man and Ms. Marvel both exist, a story that understands both of them and sets them against each other in interesting ways. For once, it not only feels like a new generation of heroes might stick around, but that one of its members could become a key part of the Marvel Universe in a way that hasn’t been seen in decades. It feels like the past and present of this world are finally meeting. It feels like “Generations” at last.