Several months ago, Ms. Marvel encountered the malevolent alien Cru. Cru's goal was to defeat the Brood. With Ms. Marvel's help, the Brood were defeated. Since then, Ms. Marvel has been experienced weird bodily developments including an enhanced healing factor. Now Cru has come back to reveal to Carol that a part of the alien resides in the masked adventurer. Cru takes Carol to Monster Island only to discover the Brood have been secretly nesting an army to take over Earth. Ms. Marvel's Lightning Strike team is in hot pursuit of the pair.
Carol lies unconscious, physically attached to Cru. They are weak and near powerless until Cru can remove a fragment of her body from Carol. Carol recognizes they are in danger from an approaching Brood force. The Brood set out to kill Cru, who has been a thorn in their side. Carol sets out to defend the still unconscious Cru from their insectoid interlopers. Carol fights off the Brood bravely but loses track of Cru. The remaining Brood leave with Cru in tow, having acquired what they wanted all along. However, Carol discovers that a fragment of Cru still resides inside her head.
Back on Minicarrier 13, Rick Sheridan (AKA Sleepwalker) acquires a device that will put him to sleep for three consecutive hours. This allows his Sleepwalker form to take over. There is a catch. After one use of the device, Rick must deign to use it again for twenty four hours or risk permanent brain damage. Sleepwalker assents to the arrangement.
Sum and Arana get into a petty argument. Arana feels as if she is being treated with kid gloves. She desperately wants to find Carol despite her having missed school for a week. Arana jokingly suggests she stay on the ship due to alien quarantine in progress. Sum picks up on Arana's joke and uses the crux of the idea to pick up the unique energy signature of Cru's ship. A short time later, the members of Lightning Strike including Arana and Wonder Man assemble to discuss their options in locating Ms. Marvel. Cru's ship has landed in the Bermuda Triangle. Machine Man and Sleepwalker express reservations in journeying to such a foreign place. Sum recognizes the exact location as Monster Island. They make immediate plans to head off.
Meanwhile, Carol has trailed the Brood force to their base of operations. Carol and Cru have an argument over killing sentient creatures used by the Brood as slaves. Carol states that she still can't activate her powers. Cru disagrees and states there is much more to Carol than her Ms. Marvel persona. Cru feels that Carol wastes her talents on this world. Shockingly, Caro stands next to Ms. Marvel.
With the appearance of Ms. Marvel, Carol demands that Cru get outside of her head. Ms. Marvel proceeds to defend themselves from the Brood. The Ms. Marvel defending is really Cru and it is a memory of her own world. The images inside Carol's head shift to reveal a battered world. Another of Carol's personas, Warbird, warns her to hide from the Brood. Carol descends to a shelter below and finds Cru being operated on and face to face with her Binary persona. Cru remarks that she and Carol are very similar. Beautiful women were both turned into killing machines and monsters.
Back in the present time, a Cru-enhanced Carol fights off several Brood. Unfortunately, a Brood manages to blast Carol/Cru. The villainous insects take her to their Queen. Carol regains consciousness, Cru being noticeably absent in her appearance. Carol stands face to face with an arch-nemesis she thought had been killed long ago: the Brood Queen!
Ms. Marvel #22 was a complicated if ultimately satisfying issue. Immediate points must be given to Greg Horn's cover rendition of Ms. Marvel's different costumed personas. It immediately sets the tone of the issue as well as standing out among the comics racks. Having Horn on covers for so long has been a treat.
The plot structure in this issue is a bit uneven. There's never a solid indication where Carol is from page to page. Rapt attention is needed in order to figure out where Carol is from panel to panel. Reed and Lopresti do not quite connect as they did from last issue. Lopresti provides some stunning visuals but never meshes with the script. There is no seamless transition. Thus, the reader is forced to concentrate on figuring out where Ms. Marvel is at any given time instead of focusing on the unfolding plot. The different iterations of Ms. Marvel contribute to the issue's unevenness. In a certain sense, Reed wants the reader to feel disoriented. However, I felt that there was too much disorientation and it ended up being a plot gimmick more than anything else. The interactions between Carol and Cru are interesting in and of themselves without resorting to cheap parlor tricks. Reed does not give his story enough credit in this regard.
Once again, the Lightning Strike team goes a long way in making this issue seem cohesive. I continue to be impressed at the slow pace in which Arana's character is being developed after the jarring development in the last arc. Arana's caring attributes towards Carol are more natural. She is written with a more teenage sensibility which certainly fits her age. She even manages to be a driving point in the plot this time around.
Elsewhere, Sleepwalker gets a scene all to himself. This was a welcome development after being non-existent last issue. I still feel though that the character is getting short-changed, especially after Reed chose to guest-star Wonder Man for this particular arc. Nevertheless, Machine Man remains oddly hilarious and Agent Sum has his own little character moments.
Carol's inner emotional state is heavily examined by Reed. This is the point at which the multiple iterations of the character do work. Ms. Marvel is a character that has had many status quo changes despite her relatively short shelf life compared to a character such as Spider-Man. It was nice to see Carol acting tough and choosing not to back down from an impossible challenge. No matter what happens, Carol does not give up. She slowly is realizing her goal of becoming the best of the best. Of course, new readers will definitely struggle if they have no sense of her history. However, for long-time readers of the character it is a welcome chance to explore her psyche.
The cliffhanger is welcome as well. Reed has made it a point of bringing back Ms. Marvel's traditional rogue's gallery. A big part of her cosmic adventures was the Brood. Bringing back the Brood Queen is akin to Iron Man getting back the Mandarin in his own series. Reed has certainly been more successful at writing old villains than his introducing new ones (see Puppet Master).
Lopresti's art is fantastic on its own. The art suffers a bit when it tries to integrate with the script direction. Ms. Marvel still needs a book that can be rightly deemed a sequential narrative. Too often, one can read the script captions and balloons and understand what is going on without the panels. In contrast, a quick scanning of Lopresti's work without the script is a confusing mess. There should be some attempt at equal balance between the script and art. Reed and Lopresti still need to work on this as they continue to work on the character.
This issue was a fun read with plenty of superheroics to be had by all. However, a few confusing elements made the story quite choppy and at times hard to follow. Nevertheless, the next issue promises to be exciting.