Carol Danvers (aka Ms. Marvel) has agreed to lead the Mighty Avengers on one condition: that she be given leadership of a strike force to stop super- villains before they become an imminent threat. Her strike force, codenamed Lightning Storm, has just completed their first disastrous mission again A.I.M. and M.O.D.O.K. Two valued team members died and Ms. Marvel is looking for answers. In addition, Carol is experiencing weird physical sensations as a result of the battle.
The issue starts with the Raft (a maximum security installation for super- villains on Ryker's Island) being assaulted, presumably by the Puppet Master's minions. The operation goes awry when they divert their attention to a strong S.H.I.E.L.D. contingent. The Puppet Master is none too pleased with the outcome.
Ms. Marvel goes to the X-Mansion to meet with Beast to discuss her bizarre physical manifestations. She expresses fear over her condition while the Beast contemplates over her descriptions. Apparently, Carol is hearing a strange voice in her head. The voice has come to develop powerful superpowers for Carol as well as developing a growing personality. Beast's scan comes up completely clean. For all intents and purposes, Ms. Marvel is in perfect condition. The two friends hug. Carol thinks to herself that she doesn't deserve such good friends in her life.
Meanwhile, Ms. Marvel's protégé, Arana, fights a small group of thugs in Brooklyn. Her mind is elsewhere. Arana thinks of the events that led her to signing up for training with Ms. Marvel as a part of the Superhuman Registration Act. Her nightly patrol is interrupted by her protective father. He asks if Arana has been with Carol Danvers. The two family members get into a petty argument with Arana storming off into the night. The next day, Ms. Marvel gets into a throw-down with Battleaxe while trying to contact William Wagner (Carol's current love interest with a mysterious secret). A group of men, dressed in army fatigues, help Carol to detain Battleaxe. She intimates to them that they must show ID in order to prove they aren't unlicensed bounty hunters. In response, one of the men fires his weapon at Ms. Marvel. The men proceed to take Battleaxe away while Ms. Marvel recovers from the blast. Before they can get away, Ms Marvel fires off a few energy blasts and interrogates one of them men in the air. She is startled to discover that the man has clear white pupils. Before she can investigate further an incoming message from Agent Sum alerts her of new recruits to Operation: Lightning Storm. Ms. Marvel leaves the men for the proper authorities.
Ms. Marvel arrives on her Minicarrier 13 to find that the Machine Man and Sleepwalker will be joining her. Ms. Marvel gets irritated at the cold, analytic speech patterns of Machine Man. Carol has a brief conversation with Sleepwalker where he describes how his powers work.
J. Jonah Jameson and Ms, Marvel's publicist, Sarah Day, have a conversation regarding Ms. Marvel's kiss to Wonder Man (Ms. Marvel kissed him in order to break the spell M.O>D.O.K. had put on him). However, the media is treating it as tabloid fodder, intimating that she let cops die while having an intimate moment. Jameson threatens Day with his inside information regarding Carol's activities with former fugitive Julia Carpenter and Arana.
Later, Arana's father calls S.H.I.E.L.D. in order to verify his daughter's safety. S.H.I.E.L.D. reports her as missing but they reassure Arana's father that all is fine. Back on Minicarrier 13, Ms. Marvel and Machine Man begin to interrogate Battleaxe and the weird army men. Machine incredulously wonders why they arrested people without knowing their identities. Machine Man is suspicious of the new developments. S.H.I.E.L.D. wonders why another group of men would want to bust out a super-villain known as Exterminatrix. Carol and Machine Man try to think of a rational explanation for how the Battleaxe and Exterminatrix events are related. They decide to head off to Chile to investigate further.
Unfortunately, the Puppet Master has beaten them to Chile. He introduces himself to potential buyers and shows his extensive collection of female puppets. Uniqueness will command a hefty price tag. We see various female superhumans, including Tigra being held against their will. The latest specimen to come in is revealed to be Arana.
The last arc of Ms. Marvel dealt with the re-emergence of long dormant super- villain, M.O.D.O.K. Thus, it comes as no surprise that writer Brian Reed chooses to dust off another neglected super-villain in the case of the Puppet Master. Reed's love of neglected characters also extends itself to the inclusion for Machine Man and Sleepwalker on Ms. Marvel's strike force. Reed's talent for character inclusion is an admirable exercise in making the Marvel Universe wide and varied. It's refreshing to see a writer decide to highlight obscure guest-stars instead of a humdrum Wolverine or Spider-Man cameo.
After a brief absence, Arana returns for this newest arc. We get some more characterization regarding her overprotective father. Reed has spent a lot of time building this relationship up. However, there seems to be no logical pay- off. S.H.I.E.L.D. looks irresponsible for confirming the worst fears of Arana's father. Arana's father also looks bad for not being more accepting of her daughter's career. It's a rather two dimensional portrait when it comes to the father-daughter relationship.
Meanwhile, Ms. Marvel is once again burdened by her own expectations against the reality of fighting criminals. Reed inserts a funny scene where Ms. Marvel tries to balance her personal life while in heated battle. This is something I greatly enjoyed simply because it makes Carol into neurotic powerhouse. She may have fantastic superpowers but she also has to deal with "normal" problems. Reed also did a credible job of starting to lay the seeds of a love-hate relationship between Ms. Marvel and her newest super- powered recruits. Having Ms. Marvel's strike force composed entirely of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents was admittedly a boring move on the part of Reed. He seeks to rectify it by including superheroes with strong personalities and interesting powers. Machine Man was simply delightful while Sleepwalker lurked more in the background this issue.
Ms. Marvel also tries to get some lasting answers for the weird physical manifestations she experienced in the last arc. It is always nice to see a writer have a longer-term goal in mind than just simply going from arc to arc. Ms. Marvel's strongest aspect is that it never relies on "events" to maintain reader interest. Sure, Carol has her defined spot in the Marvel Universe but her adventures remain wholly distinct and refreshing from books that seem to endlessly crossover with "universe changing events." Having long- term goals is what keeps reader loyalty. In retrospect, it is astonishing that Ms. Marvel has now lasted for eighteen issues with no end in sight.
Lopresti's pencils remain unchanged from earlier critiques. His work on the title is entirely competent and serves the writing direction of the title. However, there are some key weaknesses which keep the art from becoming an integral standout to Reed's scripts. Once again, I have to take umbrage with his styling of Ms. Marvel's hair. Not even the ugliest women in real life have hair that looks like mashed potatoes, let alone a blonde bombshell superheroine. Apart from that, Lopresti seems to have mastered his fight scenes. Once again, Greg Horn provides a striking cover image that captures the ethos of Ms. Marvel.
A new arc signals a new direction for the character. However, the developments were logical and enjoyable. Ms. Marvel remains an entertaining read and well-worthy of more readers.