What you need to know about Ms. Marvel

The first Muslim superhero to get their own Marvel comic is coming to Disney Plus. So what's this diehard fangirl all about?

What you need to know about Ms. Marvel
Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan in Ms. Marvel Photo: Marvel Studios

Step aside, Spider-Man: There’s a new friendly neighborhood superhero in town. Come June 8, Kamala Khan, to drop her non-made-up name, will join the Marvel Cinematic Universe on the small screen in Disney+’s Ms. Marvel before transitioning to the big screen next summer in The Marvels, the second Captain Marvel film.

In her day-to-day life, Kamala shares more in common with Parker than with the other Avengers we’ve met previously. Concerned with surviving high school, school bullies, crushes, and an overprotective family, Kamala’s story is, like Peter’s, about a teenager who’s trying to get by while dealing with some (mostly) cool powers. (They also both grow up across the river from Manhattan. She’s in Jersey City, and he’s in Forest Hills, Queens, so they’re different rivers. But still.)

But Kamala’s is also a tale about feeling out of place, being a second-generation immigrant, and learning how to become a good human being. So how did she end up a superhero, anyway? And where, exactly, does she fit in the MCU? Let’s dig in.

Who is Kamala Khan?

When we meet her in the comics, Kamala is living with her older brother, Amir, and her parents, who are immigrants from Pakistan.

Unlike a lot of other superheroes (Captain America, Spider-Man, Tony Stark, Natasha Romanoff … the list goes on and on and on and on), Kamala hasn’t experienced huge personal tragedy. She has a happy home life, barring the usual teenage angst and children-of-immigrants rebellion. With loving parents, she doesn’t have the impetus to create a found family like many superheroes do, which means the Ms. Marvel comics can instead focus on other issues. (We’ll get to those later.)

As well as family, Kamala has a couple of really close friends, meaning she’s not isolated at school, either. She hangs out at the local Circle Q, where Bruno (who has a crush on her) works, and she spends most of her time with her bestie Nakia.

Kamala is, to put it mildly, a massive fan of superheroes: She writes fan fiction about The Avengers, and if she existed in real life she’d be updating her latest fic daily. (She’d also be willing and able to lecture everyone about how the best way to search AO3 is to order stories by kudos, as any other method is simply wrong and will guarantee you just see badly written, incomplete fics.)

Oh, and there’s the small fact that Kamala Khan made history as the first Muslim superhero to headline their own Marvel comic book, which launched in 2014 and was authored by G. Willow Wilson and illustrated by Adrian Alphona. Prior to that, she’d been spotted in the background of a scene in a Captain Marvel comic book in 2013, which brings us nicely to….

Who is Ms. Marvel?

Ms. Marvel is the moniker taken by Kamala when she gets her superpowers. The name was previously used by Carol Danvers, but since she became Captain Marvel, it was up for grabs. Kamala is one of the Inhumans, and her powers are triggered by the Terrigen Mists, released by the Terrigen Bomb. In the comics, she sneaks out to a party using a handy tree outside her bedroom window and gets caught in the mists, activating her latent powers.

Ms. Marvel is a polymorph and can change herself to become really small or really big (a bit like Ant-Man). She can also isolate various body parts, like her fists, and make those larger when she’s regular human sized (a bit like Mister Fantastic). She also has the ability to heal (like Wolverine), although she can only do this when she’s in her regular body. What’s more, she can look like other people (like Mystique). Basically, her powers are a mishmash of other superheroes but all with a Kamala twist. Her catchphrase? The delightful, unashamedly comic-book sounding “EMBIGGEN.”

However, expect to see a different origin story in the show and perhaps some other changes (purple glowing lights that don’t appear in the comics among them), which fans of the books are, to say the least, apprehensive about.

What other superheroes appear in Ms. Marvel?

As mentioned, Kamala is a huge fangirl. In the first issue of the comic book, while under the influence of the Terrigen Mists and in her Terrigen cocoon, Kamala has a vision of Captain Marvel, Captain America, and Iron Man.

We know Kamala is going to be in The Marvels, but we’ve yet to find out if Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel (the real, non-hallucinated version) will pop up in the show. It’s not an impossibility, since presumably some setup between the two is needed. Holding out for an episode-six credits scene is not as foolish as we might think.

Other superheroes and villains that weave in and out of the Ms. Marvel comic books include Spider-Man, Loki, and Wolverine, and many more. Kamala runs into the latter in the sewers when she’s after the Inventor (the first villain she encounters), and Marvel Comics has just announced the pair will be teaming up for Ms. Marvel & Wolverine, the first in a series of oversized one-shots by writer Jody Houser.

But even though Marvel Studios now has the rights to the X-Men, it’s highly unlikely that Wolverine will be making an appearance in the first season of the show. It’s a pity, as the pair’s first meeting provides some of the funniest moments of the comics, as an overly excited Kamala enthuses to a grizzled, very tired Wolverine. (To be fair, though, he does take the news that she writes Wolverine/Storm fan fiction pretty well.)

What does Ms. Marvel explore?

While the Ms. Marvel comics are about Kamala learning to use her powers, they’re not really about Kamala learning to use her powers. Like a lot of comic books, the powers and the superheroing within them are metaphors.

When we first meet Kamala, she’s dissatisfied with life and doesn’t feel like she fits in with her peers, most of whom are white. She’s smelling bacon (not a euphemism), wishing she could go to parties, and thinking that the cool girl at school doesn’t think she’s cool because of her brownness and Muslimness and otherness. So when she first gets her powers, she actually comes out of her Terrigenisis looking like Captain Marvel, all blonde haired, blue eyed and, yes, white. It’s because Captain Marvel seems “beautiful and awesome and butt-kicking and less complicated,” but Kamala soon realizes that whiteness and a proximity to it aren’t the answer to why she feels like she doesn’t belong.

Although Kamala hasn’t suffered big losses in her life, she is a child of immigrants who left behind their homeland and everything they knew and are trying to maintain their cultural and religious practices in an America that offers freedom—but only if you act and look and think a certain way. Caught between worlds, the Ms. Marvel comics are about a girl trying to navigate life and forge her own sense of who she is through her faith (both religiously speaking and in herself), her family, her friends, and the type of human being she wants to be.

We’ll just have to wait and see if the show captures that.

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