The success of Deadpool proves there’s a fertile market for a story that dares to be overly meta. It’s not just about breaking the fourth wall or acknowledging the erratic sentiments of comic book message boards. The appeal of a meta-narrative acts as a mirror of sorts, reflecting the passions of fans, be they the healthy kinds and the not-so-healthy kinds.
Most fans agree that passions like Deadpool aren’t exactly healthy. More often than not, they earn the same R-rating as his movie. That doesn’t mean that a more PG-13 version of these passions is impossible. In fact, there’s another character who embodies the best of these passions and doesn’t need to make dirty jokes about it. That character, of course, is Kamala Khan.
There’s a long list of reasons why Kamala Khan is such a lovable, endearing character. Chief among them is the fact that she’s a fan. Before she becomes Ms. Marvel, she’s just another passionate fangirl who loves superheroes and writes fan fiction. She’s very much the embodiment of the passions of countless fans. That makes the setup in All-New, All-Different Avengers Annual #1 especially engaging because it offers insight into the fan fiction that reflects Kamala’s passions for superheroes. That insight makes for a cartoonish yet uniquely entertaining narrative that inspires the fanboys and fangirls alike.
Some parts of that setup are built upon Ms. Marvel’s current narrative. She’s an Avenger now and rapidly ascending the ever-shifting hierarchy of the Marvel universe. She even manages to do it without time travel, clones, or someone dying. That alone is a testament to her strengths. Despite this, she’s still a teenager and she is still woefully inexperienced. This means she constantly clashes with her teammates, especially her younger cohorts in Spider-Man and Nova.
This inexperience and immaturity, the foundation on which most teenage superheroes grow, makes her reaction to fan fiction stories about Ms. Marvel all the more entertaining. She can’t be expected to just ignore the insanity that often manifests in fan fiction. She’s a young hero who still isn’t accustomed seeing her name associated with embarrassing, easily accessible media. After the events of All-New, All-Different Avengers Annual #1, she’ll likely need advice from Peter Parker.
The story is organized through several colorful, laughably cheesy stories written by multiple writers, including Mark Waid and G. Willow Wilson. They each act as a commentary of sorts on the colorful proclivities of fan fiction, such as tendencies to create bizarre romantic entanglements and making unpopular political statements. These stories never take themselves too seriously and aren’t going to be confused with canon in this or any other universe. That’s what gives them their charm.
It’s because of that unique charm that these stories tend to evoke strong reactions. As some of these stories unfold, Kamala’s reactions are almost as relevant as the story themselves. Take one story involving Ms. Marvel attaining the rank of Captain Marvel. At first, it plays out like a story that Kamala Khan would love. Then, an overtly politically incorrect twist at the end completely reverses her reaction. It’s the kind of reversal that no competent editor will allow in a comic, but one that manifests all too easily in fan fiction.
Then, there’s the story about She-Hulk and a love triangle. It’s not a love triangle that would make it into an X-men movie, but it involves She-Hulk being woefully out-of-character in professing her love to a giant monster. It’s as strange and entertaining as it sounds. It’s also not-so-subtle commentary on the way love triangles play out, both in canon and in fan fiction. It doesn’t take much to make them laughably absurd.
Despite this absurdity, it’s the strange love story that involves Ms. Marvel, Miles Morales, and a world where everyone is an anthropomorphic animal that bothers Kamala the most. What makes this part of the story stand out is that, as quirky and cartoonish as it is, neither she nor Miles are completely out-of-character. It’s another not-so-subtle comment about fan fiction. As crazy as it can be, it is possible for certain truisms to manifest within these absurdities.
These truisms play right into the meta themes of this story. In the end, Kamala Khan’s sentiments are similar to those of fans. A few intriguing reveals at the end shows that she’s not alone. It creates a larger message of sorts, one that implies that superheroes are aware of the quirky fandoms they inspire. Sometimes those quirks reveal genuine insight for these characters. It doesn’t have to involve the bizarre quirks of fan fiction, but they do help get the point across.
For the most part, however, the quirky little stories in All-New, All-Different Avengers Annual #1 don’t factor too heavily into Kamla Khan’s reaction. Some are just pure entertainment value of the most absurd kind. At a time when Marvel is exploring the dire, depressing issues manifesting in Civil War II, this offers a nice reprieve, even if it doesn’t tell a wholly cohesive story.
The lack of cohesion keeps the narrative from gaining any depth. In a story that explores the absurdities of fan fiction, there’s only so much depth that’s possible, but not much is realized outside a couple stories. Some of those stories may be quirky. Some are more forgettable than others. There’s still undeniable entertainment value to be had. There’s also an important message to convey.
The internet chatter can and will annoy superheroes (or actually, the writers) every bit as much as the villains their characters face. With All-New, All-Different Avengers Annual #1, Kamala Khan learns this the hard way. It’s just one of many steps she’ll have to take in her quest to become a better hero.