Ms. Marvel, the latest superhero outing from Marvel Studios, is finally here. The first episode introduces us to Kamala Khan, a young Pakistani-American living in Jersey City. She has all the problems of your average 16-year-old girl: navigating high school, managing her social life, trying to find a ride to the local fan-run comic book convention.
The series stars breakout Canadian actress Iman Vellani, and she absolutely steals the show in the first episode. Her portrayal of Kamala is accurate to the source material and displays a profound understanding of what makes Ms. Marvel such a compelling superhero. She’s young and idealistic, full of hope for the future, and fascinated by her heroes, the Avengers.
Of course, the series takes some creative liberties with Ms. Marvel’s superpowers–boh how she gets them and how they manifest themselves. Let’s break down just who Ms. Marvel is and look at how her MCU and comics counterparts compare, and then dive into the episode.
Who Is Ms. Marvel?
Ms. Marvel is a superhero created in 1977 who has appeared in Marvel comics for decades. Well, sort of. The timeline here gets a bit complicated. The first character to use the name “Ms. Marvel” was Carol Danvers, a supporting character who first appeared in the pages of Captain Marvel in 1968. Now, some MCU fans might be a bit confused by that statement. After all, isn’t Carol Danvers the one and only Captain Marvel?
In the comics, the original Captain Marvel was a Kree warrior named Mar-Vell. Carol is initially a love interest for the book’s star, but she seemingly dies in an explosion in Captain Marvel #18. She reappeared in 1977 as the star of her own book, which retconned her death into the catalyst for her new powers. When she was caught in the explosion, her DNA mixed with Mar-Vell’s and gave her the same cosmic powers as her former ally.
Mar-Vell later lost his life, though, oddly, it wasn’t while fighting cosmic villains. Instead, the Kree superhero battled cancer and passed away in a 1982 storyline aptly titled The Death of Captain Marvel. Years later, Carol Danvers took up his mantle and now battles villains under Mar-Vell’s old moniker, headlining the comic series of the same name. That’s why most MCU fans know her as the one and only Captain Marvel!
Okay, But What About Kamala?
You might be wondering what any of this has to do with Kamala Khan, the only modern character who uses the name “Ms. Marvel.” She was first introduced in Captain Marvel #14 in August 2013 and is a mega-fan of Carol Danvers. In her early stories, audiences learn that she’s an Inhuman, a human with modified genetics who can awaken to a set of bizarre superpowers if she’s exposed to a gaseous substance called Terrigen Mist.
After becoming exposed to Terrigen, Kamala develops stretchy powers similar to those of Mr. Fantastic, also known as Reed Richards. She takes the name “Ms. Marvel” due to her love of Carol Danvers, noting that the superhero is no longer using her old moniker. Kamala becomes a member of several crime-fighting teams, such as the Champions and the Avengers. She eventually meets her idol, Captain Marvel, and discovers a newfound resolve to fight for justice.
When Kamala received her own standalone comic in 2014, she became the first Muslim character to headline her own ongoing series in Marvel Comics. Her background as a Pakistani-American and practicing Muslim makes her a very important character to a wide audience of comic book fans who idolize Kamala’s ability to balance her obligations to her family as well as her duties as a superhero.
The first episode of the Disney+ Ms. Marvel series, Generation Why, introduces a surprisingly comics-accurate version of Kamala Khan. She’s still 16, she’s still from Jersey City, and she’s still the youngest sister in a family of Pakistani immigrants. Her mom, Muneeba, is worried that Kamala is spending too much time daydreaming about superheroes and not enough time studying.
Her dad, Yusuf, is a well-meaning father who doesn’t really understand his daughter’s fascination with the Avengers. Her older brother, Aamir, is as devout as he is helpful, promising to talk to their parents to help get Kamala to go to the Avengers-themed convention she’s been preparing for.
At school, Kamala isn’t very popular. She seems mostly invisible, as classmates stand in front of her locker and shoot the breeze while she awkwardly asks them to move so she can grab her chemistry textbook. When she bumps into cool-girl Zoe on the stairs, the scene is so palpably cringey that anyone who had a tough time in high school will instinctively cover their eyes in vicarious embarrassment.
Who Do You Want to Be?
The series’ themes seem to touch on something deeply personal for people who come from minority backgrounds. Near the end of the episode, Muneeba asks Kamala who she wants to be. She implores her daughter to focus on her own story, not someone else’s. This is something many people who come from immigrant families can sympathize with–their parents worrying that they’ll focus too much on “someone else’s” culture and not enough on their own heritage.
Muneeba is so worried about her daughter forgetting who she really is that she gives her one request before heading to the Avengers Convention: she must go with her father and wear an Incredible Hulk costume fashioned from a shalwar kameez. Kamala inadvertently hurts her parents’ feelings by calling the homemade outfit “embarrassing,” a statement she immediately regrets and tries to walk back. Her parents expressly forbid her from going to the event if she won’t go with her dad, and Kamala hatches a plan to sneak out and go behind their backs.
From what audiences can tell, though, Kamala doesn’t seem to be in any danger of forgetting where she comes from. While she makes a convincing Captain Marvel-themed cosplay outfit, she’s quick to add her own personal flourishes: a sash tied at her waist, and a wristband from her grandmother.
Muneeba seemed quick to get that wristband away from the family when it arrived in the mail. Kamala soon learns why during the cosplay contest at AvengersCon. When she becomes blinded by the flashing lights of the gathered crowd, she instinctively raises her hands to shield her eyes. Suddenly, Kamala emits a blast of purple energy from her outstretched hand.
That energy knocks over some of the large props in the convention center, and a giant swinging Mjolnir nearly takes Zoe out of action. Kamala uses her new powers to save Zoe’s life, creating an outstretched hand of purple energy before fleeing from the convention center. Thankfully she was wearing a mask when everything went sideways!
When she returns home, she’s met by her mother’s look of disappointment. Muneeba knows her daughter snuck out against her wishes, but she doesn’t yet know that Kamala has taken the cosmic bracelet from the attic. She clearly knows more than she’s letting on about the bracelet and about her mother’s connection to its bizarre superpowers.
The Powers Have Changed
As you might have noticed, that’s not remotely the kind of powers Kamala has in the comics, and it’s not how she gets them, either. The MCU’s version of events has Kamala donning a bracelet from her grandmother that gives her superpowers involving purple light that can become corporeal. In the comics, she has stretchy powers as a result of her Inhuman DNA being activated by Terrigen Mist.
The MCU version of her powers does seem to take some inspiration from the comics, though. In the episode’s climactic scene, Kamala uses her hard-light powers to create a giant hand, just like she does in the source material. Notably, a character with “Marvel” in their name getting powers from a bracelet is also nothing new. Mar-Vell, the original Captain Marvel, wore a pair of “Nega Bands” that allowed him to switch places with Rick Jones, his human ally. It’s… a long story.
Kamala’s powers are derived from her lineage in both versions of events, though, so this isn’t that big of a departure from the source material. In the comics, her Inhuman DNA allows her to become a superhero. In the MCU, her powers are distinctly more Pakistani–they come from a bracelet clearly made in South Asia. While some fans might not like this change to her origins, others are happy to see where the show goes with her new origin story.
Kamala Khan will meet her hero, Carol Danvers, in the upcoming 2023 film The Marvels. That film will be a sequel to both Ms. Marvel and Captain Marvel, and will likely show the fallout from the Secret Invasion that will take place in the Disney+ series of the same name. Ms. Marvel is streaming now on Disney+ and will air every Wednesday. The series will run for six episodes and concludes on July 13. The only question fans have now is whether or not Carol will make a cameo in the series before it ends!