It’s finally here! With the release of Ms. Marvel on Disney+, fans of Kamala Khan finally get to see their favorite Pakistani-Muslim-fangirl superhero from Jersey City in live action. Sitting at 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, the debut of Ms. Marvel is a critical hit (just ignore the silly review bombs on other sites). I personally smiled through the entire episode. The top word that kept coming to my mind was “delightful.”
Let’s take a look at the first episode, how it compares to the comics, and what clues we can see about what’s coming next. And we’ll talk about those changes to her powers.
The episode wastes no time setting itself apart with a lively animated opening sequence. The standard Marvel Studios graphic is overlaid with The Weeknd’s popular “Blinding Lights,” an upbeat and unfailingly catchy tune that sets the tone right away. We then move right into establishing Kamala’s Avengers fandom, as she excitedly tells the story of how the Avengers defeated Thanos–mostly because of Captain Marvel, of course. This seemingly silly opening scene is actually quite dense with information and setup, so let’s dig in.
The vibrant collage-style animation of the opening scene establishes the visual style for the series. The backdrop of Jersey City buildings and signs are used throughout the episode as a canvas for lively animations that represent Kamala’s imagination and provide information to the viewer. The show’s creators have a strong grasp on how they want this show to look and feel, and that style is clearly conveyed from the first moments of the episode.
Kamala’s Fandom: Switch from Fanfic to Fan Art and Videos
In the comics, Kamala’s primary outlet for her Avengers fandom is writing over-the-top fanfics starring her favorite heroes. For the series, her focus is much more on creating fan art and running her YouTube channel, Sloth Baby Productions. This change works well for the visual style of the show, with the animations and graphics being in the style of Kamala’s doodles. Even though actual fanfic hasn’t been mentioned, the spirit of fanfic is still present, with Kamala constantly daydreaming about different Avengers scenarios.
The footage of her opening video and her YouTube channel also provide several fun Easter Eggs. And they all give insight into Kamala’s life and character, as well as the broader MCU:
- We see the titles and thumbnails for several of her other videos, including “Ant-Man and the Wasp’s romantic vacation in Paris!”
- There’s another one that’s less clear on its exact topic, but the title is “Where did she get her POWER?” and the thumbnail says “Bitten by a radioactive feminist.” But who is it?
- SCOTT LANG HAS AN AVENGERS PODCAST. And it’s called Big Me Little Me.
- Despite the insanely high production quality of Kamala’s videos, she has definitely NOT gone viral. We see that her past videos only have a handful of views each, and the only comments are from her two best friends, Bruno and Nakia.
- She also only has two subscribers, almost certainly Bruno and Nakia. This information sets up Kamala’s outsider status, which is reinforced in later scenes at school and with her peers.
- Kamala figured out Thor is a gamer!
As you can see, the first two minutes of this show are PACKED with fun surprises and new information. For instance, the totally on-brand revelation about Scott Lang’s podcast was good for a chuckle, and it makes complete sense for the universe. Like Kamala, Scott also fell into superherodom accidentally, and he still feels more like a fan than a full Avenger. Let’s hope Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania opens with Scott recording one of these podcasts.
Iman Vellani is the perfect Kamala Khan
Finally, the opening sequence is a charisma showcase for star Iman Vellani. Before we even see her face, Vellani demonstrates that she has the perfect amount of nerdy, unbridled enthusiasm to play our “Beta” (the Khan parents’ affectionate pet name for their daughter). I was charmed from the show’s first frames, but her delivery of one particular line solidified her status as the perfect Ms. Marvel:
“Our heroes were done for . . . until . . .CAPTAIN MARVEL BLASTED IN! Who was this glorious, well-coiffed hero?”
Vellani strikes the perfect balance of wit, energy, and borderline insanity that tells us exactly who Kamala Khan is.
The Life of Kamala Khan
Religion and Family
After the animated sequence is over, the episode quickly establishes Kamala’s family life, religion, and cultural upbringing, all of which are central to her character in the comics. Like most families, the dynamics among the Khans are complicated. Her parents adore Kamala but also have very strict expectations. Kamala struggles to balance her family’s relatively strict Muslim faith with her desire to live as a “normal” American teenager. In fact, the first run of Ms. Marvel comics is called “No Normal”.
The personalities of her family members are set up quickly through deft writing and acting. We see that her brother, Aamir, is the most religiously observant of the family; their father jokes that he won’t stop praying long enough to eat. Through the discussions about Kamala’s driver’s test, we see that her Ammi (mother) is the harsher, stricter parent while her Abbu (father) speaks with her more permissively. These characteristics are all in line with her family members’ personalities in the comics.
Aamir’s upcoming wedding is also central from the start, just as it is a major storyline through the early comics issues. The series skips over Aamir and Tyesha’s quick courtship, but we’ll be meeting his fiance soon, as Travina Springer is set to play Tyesha.
Friendships: Bruno and Nakia
Kamala’s scenes at school show that she is far from popular, but she has loyal friends in Bruno and Nakia. We only meet Nakia Bahadir briefly here, but we see that she is both funny and likes to lightly tease Kamala. For instance, she wins her bet with Bruno that Kamala wouldn’t pass her driver’s test. Nakia is a social activist in the comics, which the show alludes to when her comment on Kamala’s Youtube video says “PLANET IN CRISIS, click to donate.”
Bruno Carelli, Ms. Marvel’s tech-savvy best friend and sidekick in the comics, plays a prominent role from the beginning. Bruno is lifted straight from the page here: he works at the Circle Q market, builds technology from scratch, is close with the Khan family, knows about Kamala’s powers, and gives her his unwavering support. We also get hints at their romantic feelings for each other. If the comics are any indication, these feelings will only get more complicated as they become full-blown superhero and sidekick.
Kamala Khan’s life is based on her love of the Avengers. It is so extreme that her quirky guidance counselor, Mr. Wilson, tells her she needs to start focusing on her real life. So when the fan event AvengersCon comes to New Jersey, she will risk just about anything to go. She and Bruno make a plan for them to attend without her parents ever knowing.
This storyline combines plot points from Ms. Marvel #1 and the Marvel’s Avengers video game. In the comic, Kamala, chafing at her parents’ strict rules, sneaks out of the house to go to a forbidden party. In the video game, she goes to a huge Avengers Day event, accompanied by her doting Abbu, who is proud that she was a finalist in a fanfic competition. The series keeps the sneaking out aspect but incorporates an Avengers convention (although the convention in the series is very much a fan event, while the event in the video game is actually hosted by the Avengers).
In all three cases–the comic, the game, and the series–it is this event that changes Kamala’s life.
Ms. Marvel Powers Change
One of the most talked-about aspects of Ms. Marvel ahead of its release was the change in powers for Kamala Khan. In the trailers, we saw that Kamala’s powers were energy/light based, much like Green Lantern, and that they are tied to a golden bracelet she wears.
This differs from the comics, where Ms. Marvel has polymorph powers that allow her to stretch her body and shapeshift. The episode shows that she can shoot out patches of light, which are visibly translucent but physically solid. She can also use that light to mimic the stretching/extending of her own limbs. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who cheered when we saw her save her classmate with a stretched-out arm-of-light.
These more energy-style powers are likely crafted to make her fit more seamlessly with Carol Danvers and Monica Rambeau in The Marvels, set to be released July 2023. In multiple interviews, producers and cast members have said that the powers change will make sense as we see Kamala be integrated into the larger MCU. Plus, even the creators of Kamala Khan have admitted that her original power set was better suited to comics than live action.
How Does Ms. Marvel Get Her Powers in the Comics?
In the comics, Kamala is coming home from that disappointing party when she is hit with the Terrigen Mist, which unlocks latent powers in people who have Inhuman ancestry. The mist was released by the Inhuman Black Bolt, who we recently saw in Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Inhumans are people who gained powers due to experiments by the alien race the Kree. (Captain Marvel’s powers are also tied to the Kree in the comics).
The status of Inhumans in the MCU is complicated, but Ms. Marvel’s creative team seem to have moved away from the Inhuman origin of Kamala’s powers. Instead, her powers will be tied to her cultural identity and heritage.
Ms. Marvel’s Bracelets Explained
Kevin Feige really likes magical objects. Between Infinity Stones, the Ten Rings, the Dark Hold, and practically every item in the Sanctum Sanctorum, the MCU depends heavily on objects that are imbued with power. So it’s no surprise that, in the absence of Terrigen Mist, Kamala Khan gets her powers from an ancient, mysterious bracelet.
This bracelet does have its origin in the comics. Kamala wears a golden bracelet, a family heirloom, as part of her Ms. Marvel costume. One issue includes a flashback of when Kamala’s great-grandparents fled India to escape a violent outbreak between Hindus and Muslims, and planned to make a new home in Pakistan.
One panel shows that Kamala’s bracelet was her great-grandmother’s wedding bangles, and that she had hidden money in them to keep it safe during their travels.
Having Kamala’s powers come from these bracelets makes sense for the MCU. As Feige & Co. establish the new set of heroes for Phase 4, the bracelets fit right in with Shang-Chi’s Ten Rings, just as her energy powers fit with Carol and Monica’s. Time will tell what the overarching story will be when these heroes finally join together, but we can see some connecting pieces already being put into place.
More importantly, it appears that Kamala’s powers will tie directly to her Pakistani ancestry. The bracelet belongs to Kamala’s maternal grandmother. Ammi makes several remarks about how her mother lived in a fantasy world just like Kamala. She also hides the bracelet in the attic the moment Kamala gets it in the mail.
But the most telling line is at the end, when Ammi says to Kamala, “I’ve seen what happens when people get obsessed with their fantasies.”
Clearly, there is a family history here that Ammi wants to hide. Who was Kamala’s grandmother, and how much does Ammi know about the bracelet’s powers?
We can expect to find out more in upcoming episodes: one shot from the trailer shows what appears to be a flashback of people escaping a war-torn village.
Predictions and Lingering Questions
Now, we have five episodes to go (as well as all of Phase 4!). I’ll leave you with a few predictions, as well as some lingering questions.
- We will DEFINITELY be seeing a Carol Danvers cameo by series’ end. In the opening scene, Kamala really emphasizes her belief that Captain Marvel hasn’t abandoned Earth, clearly setting up for an appearance.
- We’ll see a main villain revealed in the next couple of episodes. Unfortunately, it probably won’t be Ms. Marvel’s wacky first villain from the comics: The Inventor, the giant birdman clone of Thomas Edison.
- Where is Kamala briefly transported to when she puts on the bracelet? It looks like a cross between Black Panther’s Ancestral Plane and the universe-hopping in Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
- Is Kamala’s grandmother an Inhuman? Or will the source of her power be tied more closely to her Pakistani heritage (à la the Ten Rings)?
- Will there eventually be Terrigen Mist and polymorphing in Kamala’s future?
That’s all for Episode 1! I’ll be back next week with more thoughts as we get to know the MCU’s Kamala Khan.