Get To Know Kamala Khan a.k.a. Ms. Marvel
By Ramya Kumar
We are less than 50 days away from Disney+ and Marvel’s next highly-anticipated TV installment to the MCU, Ms. Marvel, which follows the titular hero also known as Kamala Khan (played by newcomer Iman Vellani). Upon first watch, the trailer provides classic Marvel easter eggs for fans to micro analyze and theorize about while they wait for episodes to be released this summer. However, before using Ms. Marvel’s trailer to decipher the show’s place in the cosmos of the MCU’s seemingly infinite interwoven plots and characters, audiences must take the time to appreciate Kamala Khan’s individual story.
Kamala Khan, a Muslim Pakistani-American teenage girl, is a profoundly unique character to even exist, let alone be a life-saving superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe—a historically majority white franchise. Kamala Khan marks major firsts for the Marvel Universe as she is the first Muslim Pakistani-American superhero and the first superhero who grew up reading fanfictions! All these elements and more lay the foundation for her story, which—at its core—serves to be heartwarmingly relatable to “Brown girls from Jersey City” and around the world who, like Kamala Khan herself at the beginning of her story, might not believe they have the power to change the world.
Kamala Khan’s comic book journey began in 2013 when she was created by writer G. Willow Wilson, artist Adrian Alphona, and editors Stephen Wacker and Sana Amanat. The comics were originally planned to only last 10 issues, but after becoming the first Muslim Pakistani-American superhero in the Marvel Universe, Kamala Khan quickly garnered widespread acclaim. Her story has now spanned dozens of comics with numerous authors, including comedian Hasan Minhaj for Ms. Marvel #30, and most recently, Samira Ahmed for Ms. Marvel: Beyond the Limit, describing her struggles to come of age as a teenage superhero and Pakistani-American Muslim girl. According to the comics, Ms. Marvel’s superpowers thus far include shapeshifting, spontaneous regeneration, bioluminescence, and superhuman strength—all of which will likely be developed further in her upcoming MCU journey. She gains these powers after accidental exposure to terrigen mist which activates her dormant Inhuman side. In the comics, Kamala assists Loki, Spider-Man, the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and even the Avengers in their quests to fight off evil. One of the more prominent villains exclusive to Kamala’s story is “The Inventor”, a half-bird half-man product of scientists’ attempts to clone Thomas Edison gone wrong, who has not yet been confirmed to play a role in her TV show, but will likely make an appearance.
While the trailer does not show audiences a great deal of what Kamala’s powers will look like—although we do see glimpses of her bioluminescence and superhuman strength—the new poster released in tandem with the trailer (along with the final shot of the trailer) are identical to the cover of Ms. Marvel #5, the description of which reads, “How does a young girl from Jersey City become the next biggest super hero? Kamala has no idea either. But she’s comin for you, New York.” This comic was one of the first 10 books of the Ms. Marvel comic series and features Kamala Khan learning how to control her newfound powers, perfecting her costume, and battling her first set of villains. The show’s obvious references to this comic imply that this first season of Ms. Marvel will focus on her origin story.
Kamala Khan’s entrance into the MCU has been long awaited since the comic’s rise to fame. In 2018, Riz Ahmed, Mindy Kaling, and Kumail Nanjiani tweeted about bringing Kamala Khan’s story to the screen, and after Marvel’s announcement in 2019 of the show’s arrival, Ms. Marvel has been one of the most anticipated Phase 4 installments. In the trailer, we see Kamala navigating the ups and downs of high school, and everything else that comes with being a teenager. Like most high schoolers, Kamala does not know what she wants to do with her life, gets annoyed with her parents, and has a huge crush on a boy, Kamran (played by Rish Shah), who she spends ample time fantasizing about. We also see her praying in the mosque, dancing in kurtas, fighting with her parents, trying to make sure people pronounce her name correctly—all while learning how to save the world. This already obvious relatability of Kamala will be one of the standout aspects of her character. The trailer shows Kamala dreaming about being a superhero, idolizing her favorite hero—Captain Marvel—and when her dreams come true, we see her expressing the childish, unbridled joy that would overcome any teenager after finding out they have superhuman strength and the ability to recover from bullet wounds in seconds.
The official description for the show reads “An avid gamer and a voracious fan-fiction scribe, Kamala is a Superhero mega fan with an oversized imagination—particularly when it comes to Captain Marvel. Yet Kamala feels like she doesn’t fit in at school and sometimes even at home—that is, until she gets superpowers like the heroes she’s always looked up to. Life gets better with super powers, right?” Along with her relatability to all girls and audiences, the best parts of the trailer (and the soon-to-be released show) will be the purposeful representation for “Brown girls from Jersey City”. Within the specificity of Kamala’s journey, audiences of all backgrounds will still be able relate to the universal coming-of-age themes in superhero movies that have typically exclusively featured white characters. The impact of diversity in superhero media cannot be underestimated, especially on young children and teenagers who—without these movies or TV shows—would never have been able to watch people who look like them save the world. Ms. Marvel will supplement Marvel’s growing, but still very short, list of diverse, non-white characters who will save humans from whatever the cosmos tries to throw at them, and this series will hold a special place in the hearts of so many people from diverse backgrounds who have never seen themselves represented in superhero media to this day.
In addition to its lead, the show’s cast stars newcomers Sagar Sheikh, who will play Kamala’s older brother, Amir Khan, while also featuring Laith Nakli who most recently received praise for his role in the hit show Ramy. However, the series will also star seasoned actors such as Bollywood veteran Fawad Khan as Hasan—a crossover that I, personally, cannot contain my excitement for. The showrunner is writer and stand-up comedian Bisha K. Ali whose writing credits include episodes of Marvel’s previous Disney+ exclusive series Loki, Mindy Kaling’s Four Wedding and a Funeral, and the acclaimed Netflix series, Sex Education.
Ms. Marvel is poised to take over as Marvel’s next big thing in anticipation for the next Captain Marvel installment in 2023 in which Kamala Khan is confirmed to play a major role. Ms. Marvel’s deliberate portrayals of the struggles and triumphs coming-of-age as Brown Muslim girl are all the aspects of Kamala’s story that gave her character its literary success to date, and these same shining features will catapult the show to even more fame and praise amongst its target audience: Brown girls who might not believe they can change the world (yet).