When we last saw Ms. Marvel she was abducted by the Puppet Master. Elsewhere, her Lightning Storm team (Agent Sum, Machine Man, and Sleepwalker) met the controlled Arana and defeated her. The Puppet Master seems to have settled nicely in Chile, complete with a coterie of super-powered women under his exclusive control.
The Puppet Master begins his control over Ms. Marvel. However, a voice inside Carol's head resists the mind control and turns her body blue (see Ms. Marvel #18). Her brief outburst subsides and Carol is once again herself. Before the Puppet Master can react, Ms. Marvel knocks away his sculpture. Her battle with the villain leads her to discover a mass of super-powered women waiting to be controlled. Needless to say, Ms. Marvel is disgusted and appalled and what the Puppet Master has done. Before she can react, the controlled Stature grabs Ms. Marvel.
Ms. Marvel's Lightning Storm team is under siege from the controlled remnants of the Chilean army. The team is trying to find the source of control that the Puppet Master has used against Arana. Stature bursts through the roof of the Puppet Master's mansion with the captured Ms. Marvel. She decides to throw a car at Stature. The impact of car on cheekbone does little damage. In response, Stature throws a house at Ms. Marvel. Our hero accidentally catches the house's occupant going to the bathroom. Finally, Ms. Marvel steels her power and slams into Stature's chin, knocking the controlled woman out cold. Lightning Storm is attacked on all sides by the Puppet Master's vast supply of women. Unfortunately Sleepwalker is put out of commission when Rick Sheridan awakes back on Minicarrier 13. Arana breaks free from Machine Man. Additionally, Ms. Marvel enters the fray and cracks a joke about having to save the men.
Carol and her team confront the downtrodden Puppet Master. He tries to get Arana to attack Ms. Marvel. All he wanted to do was live out his last days in peace and happiness. However, Arana cannot bring herself to kill Carol. She blurts out that Carol is her mother. Ms. Marvel is shocked that they have grown that close together. Ms. Marvel instructs everyone to leave so she can deal with the Puppet Master herself. She breaks the control of one woman and orders her to smash the Puppet Master's statues. Ms. Marvel then confronts Phillip Master, the Puppet Master.
He tries to attack Ms. Marvel by attempting to press a button in his desk drawer. Ms. Marvel hits him with a photon blast instead. Apparently, Masters has been retired and would have happily committed suicide if it meant the death of Ms. Marvel. He controlled all the super-powered women to amuse himself. The Puppet Master manages to press the button, exploding the mansion. This is despite the fact that Ms. Marvel could have easily stopped him. Carol survives thanks to her newfound abilities that sometimes manifest itself as a blue entity. She regrets her invincibility. Later, Carol lies that she could not stop Masters from committing apparent suicide. Every single woman captured has survived and is receiving medical treatment. Nevertheless, Ms. Marvel "killed" a man. She rationalizes that the Puppet Master will never hurt anyone again. Arana thanks Ms. Marvel profusely for all that she has done.
Later, Ms. Marvel checks in with Beast. He tells Carol that nothing is wrong with her. However, he did find a ping that has given Ms. Marvel a Wolverine- like healing factor. The ping is apparently a transmission that is repeating a bit of data over and over again. It could be a distress call or a signal beacon. Minicarrier 13 comes under attack. Ms. Marvel's quarters are invaded by a bizarre alien life-form.
Everything comes to a head in this issue. Therefore, we can finally see the efficacy of Reed's approach and a clearer picture of his long-term plan for the character. Reed is going in a direction that challenges Carol to be the best when she's at her weakest. Thus, this arc had her being mind-controlled and transformed into the blue entity while her protégé was under the control of the Puppet Master. I get what Reed is doing but I don't see any sense of direction. Things wrap up way too neatly in this issue and we never get any sort of lasting impact or impression on each of the characters affected. Instead, we get an anti-climactic cliffhanger, if that makes any sense at all.
Sexual aggression and rape must be brought into this discussion thanks to the Puppet Master's powers. He controls super-powered women to do his bidding all under the guise that he wants to live the end of his life peacefully. In retrospect, this makes no sense at all. Why would you need super-powered women? Is it some sort of weird fetish? Needless to say, this motivation was seriously under-explored. In addition, why would the Puppet Master go to all that effort and not have every single Marvel hero knocking on his doorstep? The cynic in me would suggest they are too busy arresting superheroes for that bone-headed Iron Man, director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and an obligatory cameo appearance in nearly every single Marvel title. But all that is for naught because Ms. Marvel came to Chile armed with her Lighting Storm team.
When you have a villain who is committing possible acts of rape the general tendency is to despise said villain. However, I actually felt sorry for the Puppet Master. This guy is at the end of his rope and all he wanted was a little fun. Ms. Marvel ruined it for him. Masters was living the high life. No doubt, the guy is bonkers and I am not condoning what he did. But the guy is obviously off his rocker. So what does Ms. Marvel do? She goes and beats the tar out of him and allows him to commit suicide! The Punisher would do that but not a superhero striving to be the best of the best. Ultimately, Reed never fleshes out the rape allusions so we can honestly hate Puppet Master. And perhaps that is the problem. The Puppet Master is the wrong villain for this arc because he is campy and utterly lacking in malice. Reed should have taken some notes on how Brian Michael Bendis dealt with rape in Alias (both Mattie Franklin and Jessica Jones had fantastic character arcs).
Unfortunately, there were other problems with this issue as well. The revelation that Arana considers Carol to be her mother was completely out of left field. I've been informed that this is something that happened to Arana way back in her own series. However, the way it is handled by Reed is entirely without a sense of emotional feeling. Once again, the ribald interactions of Ms. Marvel's supporting cast carried this issue.
The art remains above average. I am actually starting to enjoy how Ms. Marvel is portrayed. She is sexy but contains an understated power. Fill-in penciler Greg Tocchini should probably stay with the title. He knows how to draw dynamic battles and vivid facial expressions. Greg Horn turns in one of his usual (but solid) photo-realistic covers.
The final part of "Puppets" left a lukewarm feeling for this reader. I really hope that Reed has a solid plan in place for resolving Ms. Marvel's "blue" transformations. He certainly could not dust off the Puppet Master and make him a viable threat.
Devoted fans of Ms. Marvel should note that issue #20 has a variant zombie cover. I, for one, am sick of Marvel's obsession with zombies and their editorial decision to "zombify" nearly every title. Leave that stuff to the Marvel Zombies title.