Spoiler warning: Yes, you probably know how Amazing Spider-Man #26 ends by now, but in case you don't, it's probably best if you look away.
When news broke that Marvel Entertainment was killing off Ms. Marvel (Kamala Khan) in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man #26 — news that initially broke as a spoiler before being officially confirmed by Marvel, all of which happened two weeks before the issue’s actual release — it was a development many initially disregarded as being gratuitous, if not outright cynical on Marvel’s part: using the death of a fan-favorite character to boost sales on what is already one of its flagship books.
The defense to such a charge was a simple one: Wait and see. No-one outside of Marvel (and the appareny leaker) had read the story, after all. Perhaps there was something in the execution — no pun intended — of the idea that was going to redeem it for everyone. Maybe there would be something in the story to push it away from its seemingly cynical origins towards being a story with true heart, meaning, and emotional impact for those who read it, regardless of their pre-existing relationship with Kamala.
What's missing from the death of Ms. Marvel
I’ll cut to the chase: a lot. Amazing Spider-Man #26 is many things — not least of which, a big fight issue that offers some closure to existing Spider-Man plots that have been running for the last year or so, and in doing so, restores some of the character’s standing in the Marvel Universe — but what it very definitively is not is a story worthy of Ms. Marvel’s death.
That’s not to argue that it’s a bad story, per se; if a reader is going through this issue with no emotional attachment to anyone other than Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson, they’re likely going to find fewer problems with it than I do, because those characters are given something of an emotional arc that has some weight and forward motion to it — as well as some sense of closure to their arc of the past 12 months. That makes sense; this is, after all, an issue of a Spider-Man comic. If it didn’t work as a Spider-Man story, we’d all be in far more trouble, all things considered.
Unfortunately, it’s such a Spider-Man story that using Ms. Marvel at all feels curiously out of place, even before readers get to the climactic reveal. Her appearance in this story has been foreshadowed by almost a year’s worth of appearances, where Kamala was interning at Norman Osborn’s company for… reasons that didn’t really make a lot of sense… and she had befriended Peter Parker for reasons that similarly didn’t feel particularly organic or logical; if nothing else, her presence in the series had been suitably established, if not necessarily believably. That she shows up for this fight doesn’t come as a surprise, then, just something that feels utterly unnecessary to the point of feeling superfluous; similarly, the Fantastic Four cameo in the issue feels just as pointless, as if their presence was a contractual obligation that no-one responsible for the issue was particularly enthused about.
What happens in the death of Ms. Marvel
A spoiler, for those who haven’t read the issue: Kamala is killed by the villain after shape-changing into a doppelgänger of Mary Jane. She seems surprised both by being violently stabbed in the gut, but also by not healing when she returns to her true form (read more about the issue here). That last part is a reference to the original G. Willow Wilson/Adrian Alphona Ms. Marvel run from 2014, where she shape-shifted into Captain Marvel’s form before being shot, only to heal when she reverted back into Kamala-form — it happens in #4 of the original series, but there’s no actual direct reference to it, or explanation in the Amazing Spider-Man issue; it’s just an odd, vague nod to a plot point that arguably explains Kamala’s choice to disguise herself as MJ in the first place more than anything else in the comic.
Stripped of that additional, important, context, The Amazing Spider-Man #26 reads like a story wherein a side character sacrifices themselves for no reason other than providing the central characters with a new reason to feel sad; it doesn’t just come across as an illustration of the Women in Refrigerators trope, but a particularly heinous one, destroying a beloved character in the process as fodder for someone else’s feelings — and a character that Marvel had previously promoted to no small degree as a signifier of their commitment to fictional diversity, to boot.
There's an element in that choice that might seem exciting to some fans (and creators): a sense of 'nobody is safe' that hints at a creative freedom that could seem thrilling. On the other hand, there's also a sense of 'nobody is safe' that could seem alienating and disspiriting to fans who had finally felt seen by Kamala, and saw themselves in the character and her central role in the Marvel Universe.
What's next for Ms. Marvel and Marvel
Yes, we all know she’s going to come back to life, but that’s not just no defense, it’s arguably condemning the entire plot development further: what’s the point of doing it if it’s not going to stick? It’s difficult to come to any answer that isn’t depressingly cynical, and rooted in short term sensationalism and raising sales on a number of “essential” issues over the next few months mourning Kamala before bringing her back to life.
Ms. Marvel was, to this point, an inspirational figure for many fans, who saw her as representing an alternative to the superhero business-as-usual. With Amazing Spider-Man #26 and what follows — the Fallen Friend one shot, whatever comes afterwards — she’s been forcibly co-opted into that world, and neither she nor her fanbase will make it through intact. (Although she might return with a power set matching her on-screen incarnation, because synergy.)
There’s certainly a tragedy at the heart of Amazing Spider-Man #26, but it’s not the one that Marvel is advertising.
Zeb Wells, who wrote Amazing Spider-Man #26, was warned that fans would be very upset with him after reading the issue.