How Marvelous Is Ms. Marvel?

Ms. Marvel is the second of the unofficial Disney+ Phase Two introducing new headliners. She made it onto a billboard that looks blatantly photoshopped. The proudly ignorant are boycotting the series. Or is that just Poe’s Law in action?

Marvel Studios has had great success streamlining decades of continuity for modern audiences whilst maintaining the comics’ spirits. Kamala Khan only dates back to 2013. They shouldn’t need to make any drastic changes. I generally feel that unless there’s a compelling reason for altering things, adaptations should be as close to the source material as possible to best represent the stories they’re ostensibly based upon. Marvel’s alterations range from good (inventing Layla El Faouly) to neutral (Kate Bishop being Hawkeye’s only fan) to bad (America Chavez as a damsel in distress). Rejiggering this fan favorite headliner filled many with trepidation as to where in that spectrum it’d land. So in addition to season one SPOILERS, this review will contain additional kvetching about changes in translation. (I do that anyway, so I’m not sure if it’s to a greater degree this time.) I HATE CHANGE!

You can remove the Inhumans from Kamala Khan’s origin without having to replace her powers! The Flash & Doom Patrol managed to showcase stretchy superheroes well on TV budgets. Elongated Man & Elasti-Woman weren’t even the leads of those series either! Her powers are supposed to be an awkward puberty metaphor that’s sometimes comedic ala Turning Red, so it’s acceptable if they look a little goofy. Even though Inhumans was a nadir, Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness laid groundwork for Terrigen mists. (Ditto Agents Of SHIELD!) She can freely use “Embiggen!” as her catchphrase now that Disney owns The Simpsons too, except now she can’t embiggen. If they didn’t want to bother with Terrigensis, her stretchy powers could’ve be changed to Skrull or Deviant heritage rather than Inhuman. Moon Knight showed Disney+ series aren’t even concerned with laying down context in advance anyway.

DSITMOM also debuted a Mr. Fantastic, so Kamala wouldn’t even be beating him to the plastic punch. The MCU isn’t worried about umpteen superheroes with superstrength, energy projection, or flight being redundant. They could easily differentiate between how she & Reed Richards apply their similar powers. Korg premiered before The Thing but they only felt the need to tweak his rocks from orange to gray to preempt confusion. Nobody was confused by both Thor & Ronan The Accuser wielding hammers. Thor: Love And Thunder even stars two Thors as a selling point! Ms. Marvel & Mr. Fantastic can’t have similar powers because it’d confuse audiences, but a huge percentage of their output can figuratively or literally have multiple versions of their protagonists?

When Kamala first acquired her power, she shapeshifted into Carol Danvers because she didn’t have any super role models that resemble her. Surely Brie Larson would’ve guest starred in one episode. It’d advance a rookie’s narrative better than her Shang-Chi cameo. Kamala becoming proud of herself  instead of trying to be somebody else is an important moment. The new glowy power looks too cool, which undermines that theme. Kamala isn’t cool because of her powers; her personality is what makes her powers cool. She doesn’t need a cosmic upgrade. Were CGI crystals easier to animate than realistic stretchy skin? They could’ve just used oversized prosthetics ala Everything Everywhere All At Once for more realism, but supposedly Disney wants to reduce dependence on unionized departments to keep costs down. (VFX animators aren’t pleased with the crazy workloads for low pay.)

Bisha K. Ali is showrunner. Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah, Meera Menon, & Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy direct. A plaque on Kamala’s high school commemorates many of her early writers, artists, & editors. Conspicuously absent is editor Sana Amanat, who was influential in her creation. The “Higher, Further, Faster” episode of Marvel 616 makes a strong case for officially considering her Kamala’s co-creator. Meanwhile her guidance counselor is (mostly) named after G. Willow Wilson.

Canada’s Iman Vellani is perfectly cast as Kamala Khan, the third character to go by Ms. Marvel after Carol Danvers & Sharon Ventura. Vellani even cosplayed Kamala for Halloween! She refuses to believe the MCU is 616! Vellani is actually a stretchy metamorph; she just plays someone that makes purple energy constructs on TV. She crushes her first professional acting gig. Paddington & her are pals.

“Kamala-vision” adds visual panache to a series that’s already refreshingly vibrant. Neon lights at the Circle-Q rearranged themselves to make it much easier to read Kamala’s & Bruno’s text conversations. The paper animation makes Kamala’s videos unique. She also has plenty of winged sloths. I bet Disney markets them much better than WB did Beebo. The credits that integrate images from the comics with Jersey City are sublime. The Karachi variation is keen too.

Kamala being a fangirl in a universe where superheroes exist parallels the movie about the superhero formerly known as Captain Marvel. Her being an ascended fan would be more unique to the MCU if they didn’t give Spider-Man & Hawkeye II that trait too. It doesn’t make much sense for Kamala to be a Captain Marvel fangirl in the MCU. Her first Earthbound adventure was low profile & covered up by SHIELD. Carol didn’t stick around to help out Earth during The Snapture years. After showing up fashionably late to throw down with Thanos, she apparently went back to space again. The public would only know her as one of several superheroes who pitched in during that battle royale if at all. If they didn’t want it to feel like they rushed to Ms. Marvel, they ought to have rewritten Endgame so Carol spends a significant time Earthbound.

Why does Kamala’s cosplay come with a helmet if Carol had stopped wearing hers by then? Is Kamala a hipster who only likes the really obscure superheroes? Is Carol Danvers merely a “Blorbo from my shows” to Kamala? Has she written Valcarol/Marval slashfic? Did she latch on to Carol just because she’s the least problematic to humans unlike Scarlet Witch? She dodged a bullet not modelling her persona around Wanda.

Kamala’s extremely devout brother, Aamir (Saagar Shaikh) is more charismatic & fun than his comics counterpart. Even her dad (Mohan Kapur) is more supportive & upbeat, leaving her mom (Zenobia Shroff) to to be the main buzzkill. Making her an authoritarian who resents her family’s matrilineal superpower is very similar to Turning Red.

Did Randy Havens’s thirty seconds as a driving instructor prevent him from returning for Stranger Things season four? Or is his presence merely to make Stargirl comparisons easier? If she epically failed her driving lesson, why didn’t she get chewed out for losing her bicycle?

Bruno Carelli (Matt Lintz) is neither particularly shaggy-haired nor Italian-American. He looks generic. Bruno is conflicted about attending CalTech early if it separates him from Kamla. This inventor prodigy is Kamala’s best friend who wants to be her best boyfriend too. He’s got competition in Kamran & Red Dagger.

Kamala’s mom is aghast as Captain Marvel’s tight costume. I could understand her disliking her costumes from the comics that are drawn like bodypaint (Carol can psychically manifest her suits, so she has a better excuse for them not behaving like regular fabric than most.), but her MCU suits have plenty of padding & panels so her curves are downplayed. (A major complaint from the ComicsGate reviewbombers was that Brie Larson wasn’t voluptuous enough for the role, which was disproved when she filled in for Jimmy Kimmel.) Now that the MCU has homogenized nearly all the supersuits for practicality, the criticism that Carol’s is too sexualized feels less valid. Now there’s hardly any contrast in modesty between these Marvels. Danvers always wearing full body costumes also means Kamala doesn’t realize she doesn’t have to dress skimpily to be a superheroine. It misses a cross-cultural contrast when neither Carol’s nor Kamala’s costumes resemble different notions of bathing suits.

Her mom wants her to attend AvengerCon with her dad chaperoning. Kamala is mortified by the Big Hulk & Little Hulk costumes. She may scoff, but she could’ve beaten She-Hulk to the punch & looked like she had more muscle while she’s at it.

Why are 90% of the fan depictions of Captain Marvel in her blue costume with long hair & helmet? Her movie doesn’t exist in-universe. Her helmetless red suit with short hair should be much more prevalent. How hard would it’ve been for the art department to invert the colors of Kamala’s posters of comics Carol? If they’re going to be so flagrantly breaking immersion like this, they might as well have people wearing “Coulson Lives” shirts. Luis would be a better podcast interviewee than Scott Lang.

Kamala & Bruno do make it to Zoe’s party in the second episode. More importantly, she wears the ushanka/mackinaw! Kamala’s & Kamran’s moms are both fans of the Kingo acting dynasty. Damage Control returns as Islamophobic SHIELD replacements instead of the silly superhuman disaster clean-up crew. How does their mandate differ from SWORD’s?

Kamala’s luminescent crystal powers emerge when she puts on her great-grandma’s antique bracelet at AvengerCon. How wild would it have been if she acquired wiggly Adventure Time noodle arms instead? Much like SHAZAM, she has to rescue bystanders from a catastrophe she accidentally caused. Instead of stilt legs, she mostly uses her Violet Lantern powers to generate hovering stepping stones that she has to hop across like a video game platformer. Why doesn’t she focus on just making one that floats to where she wants to go? If the crystal constructs are hardlight as in holograms, they wouldn’t weight anything while defying gravity.

Is her bracelet half of Captain Marvel’s Nega Bands or Quasar’s Quantum Bands? It looks like it came off of a dead Kree, although it’s from a temple with a Ten Rings floor logo just to be extra confusing. The comics bracelet had secret smuggling compartments to act like a utility belt as it was a genuine Pakistani family heirloom. It’s ironic that the piece of her costume meant to reflect her culture is now so alien that even the extradimensional relatives don’t know where it’s from.

The Muslim aspects of the series feel authentic. (As momentous as Ms. Marvel is for the MCU, I’m still mad we didn’t get closure for fellow Muslim superheroes Zari & Behrad Tarazi on Legends Of Tomorrow.) It raises the issue of institutionalized misogyny without vilifying the whole religion. Nakia (Yasmeen Fletcher), not the Wakandan one, successfully campaigns to join the mosque’s board to improve conditions for the women’s areas. It optimistically shows youths can get involved to make a difference rather than accepting inequality or renouncing their faith. Sheik Abdullah (Laith Nakli) still gives Kamala great advice on heroism.

Kamala is descended from Djinns that got stuck in our dimension. Holy Alan Davis! I didn’t expect them to replace Inhumans with ClanDestine! They’re a terrible adaptation since they just look like regular people, don’t have unique powers, & instantly turn evil when Kamala doesn’t help return home them immediately because the energy expended could be hazardous. They sort of feel like Dark Phoenix’s D’Bari. It’s mentioned that they’ve probably been mistaken for legitimutant Djinn. If the bracelet doesn’t originate from their Noor dimension, that makes their inclusion more tenuous. They rudely interrupt her brother’s wedding reception with intent to maim, so they lost all sympathy from me. Not all Djinnfolk are kinfolk! Suave Kamran (Rish Shah) is much more sympathetic than his mom, Najma (Nimra Burcha).

The ClanDestine are some of the worst villains in the MCU. They’ve got the same motive as Reverse-Flash without being compelling. They may want to turn fuse this world with one made of energy crystals. If the point of Ms. Marvel is to disprove negative stereotypes, making the baddies violent swarthy foreigners is regressive. Kamala’s classmates being radicalized into fascism & HYDRA gentrifying Jersey City would be more topical threats. Where’s The Inventor, a cockatiel claiming to be The Wizard Of Menlo Park that considers youths expendable resources? (We have to settle for Edison Easter eggs.) The Canadian Ninja Syndicate would be fun foes that show not everything has to be huge stakes.

KamalaKhan

“Not cool, man! Why would you do that?”

When Kamala fought Kamran in the comics it was a one-off arc to confirm her being Inhuman & then move on. It showed that although she is Inhuman she’s not defined by them. She wasn’t a chosen one since there are plenty of Inhumans, & she wasn’t even one of the royals. The only Inhuman she bothers associating with is Lockjaw because everybody loves that giant teleporting pupper. She was an underdog who earned her headliner status through hard work. She might’ve still had some of that appeal if the bracelet randomly gave her powers rather than it being dependent on her special DNA.

Immediately after her family thinks she ruined her brother’s wedding reception, Mrs. Khan whisks Kamala away to Pakistan to see her grandma. (Like Atlanta filling in for Jersey City, Karachi was was played by Bangkok.) The timing of this is so abruptly unbelievable, especially as she’d been grounded even before the wedding. This vacation separates Kamala from most of her supporting cast, so it feels like it could’ve been saved for a second season rather than shoehorning it in so early.

Kamala learns about her great-grandmother wielding the bangle during Partition & meets Red Dagger (Aramis Knight), who turns out to be a member of a secret anti-Djinn cabal. They don’t seem particularly efficient if they couldn’t take out the handful who’ve been around for decades. Although she had at least a two day head start, the Djinn break out of prison stateside & instantly attack Kamala in Karachi. Can they teleport?

I expected great-grandmother, Aisha (Medwish Hayat), to be a Pre-Partition superheroine, but she apparently settled into married life with Hasan (Fawad Khan) as soon as she abandoned her ClanDestine comrades. They’re a very pretty couple. Upon being fatally stabbed by Najma, she summons Kamala back in time to rescue her daughter … by accidentally leading her back to her father with sparkles. This is so simple it doesn’t feel like it was necessary to endanger the space-time continuum or even require superpowers. Why didn’t they trust audiences to get invested in historical trauma without crowbarring in Kamala? It opens a rift back to the Djinn’s Noor dimension in the present. The Djinns die entering it (their crystalization evokes Agents Of SHIELD’s Terrigensis) becuase they scoffed at safety, but not before Najama beams powers she never had before into Kamran all the way over in New Jersey.

Kamala’s mom & grandma discover she’s a superhero. Since MCU Carol Danvers never wore the black Ms. Marvel suit, they get the inspiration for her lightning logo from Kamala’s broken name necklace. Red Dagger gives her his scarf. Her friends & family give her all her costume pieces rather than her & Bruno designing it together. Kamala’s dad points out her name translates as “Marvel.” So they did a lot of work justifying Kamala as an independent character but still had it all conveniently tie into her idol anyway.

Ms. Marvel’s costume is both a good & bad translation. It passes the squint test because you can unmistakably tell it’s Ms. Marvel. The problem is that it’s much too fancy. Ms. Marvel’s original costume was homemade from a burkini, puff paint, & a special chemical that allows it to grow & shrink with her.  While Kamala’s a popular fanfic writer, she’s not the most skilled seamstress. Her outfit being simple, unlike Peter Parker’s handmade suits, made her more relatable. You shouldn’t need to be an advanced cosplayer to get her look. Her MCU costume appears professionally designed with the finest of fabrics. I like the textures & how it embraces her Pakastani heritage, but it also misses the point about it not looking too fashionable. It should take her a while to upgrade to a supersuit this spiffy. This one evokes her Kree Stormranger nano-suit by being over-designed. Her more casual Karachi costume looks closer to how I envision her traditional supersuit.

Zoe Zimmer (Laurel Marsden) was the Flash Thompson (or Cheryl Blossom, considering she starts dating Nakia Bahadir) to Kamala. While her early interactions with Kamala on the show are awkward, she doesn’t come off as a bully. (There’s no follow through to confirm she intentionally hit Kamala with a basketball.) So her redemption arc isn’t as dynamic. It seems more like Kamala has unjustified misgivings about her just because she’s popular. That could parallel Damage Control mistrusting Ms. Marvel because they correctly assumed she’s Muslim. It’s nice to have a lead who’s allowed to be wrong about things, but it’s also weird that it positions the rich white girl as the one owed an apology. There is the briefest allusion that Zoe is gay in the series climax.

The finale is better than I expected if still muddled. The timeline gets wonky as Kamala’s mom presents her with a finished supersuit upon their homecoming, which is somehow only slightly after Kamran accidentally exploded Circle Q while they were overseas. Are the MCU’s airplanes much faster than ours?

The Damage Control agent goes rogue to attack fugitive Kamran who’s being hidden in high school. This is an awkward sequence pitting goofy booby traps against federal agents with sonic weapons. Surprisingly the side who’d realistically win does. It’s uncomfortably depressing knowing that even if Kamala’s crew are doing the right thing, they’re still getting busted for abetting a fugitive, assaulting federal agents, trespassing, & vandalism. Those are some life ruining charges. They get arrested but not processed, so we’re just supposed to presume that both the feds & cops gave them a mulligan for meaning well. That feels like it’s giving law enforcement too much credit for being mind readers. Did Matt Murdock make their serious charges vanish overnight too?

Kamala says “Embiggen!” in the climax & generates a slightly larger crystal exoskeleton. So she’s like X-Men’s Armor. The effect doesn’t look particularly marvelous. Her purple crystals blur with Kamran’s teal crystals. She would’ve stood out better if she was fleshy not crystalline. She convinces bereaved Kamran to flee the country without killing anyone. The Jersey Citizens stand up for her against the mean Damage Control lady (Alysia Reiner), who’s relieved of duty by her boss who’s upset by all the negative publicity this caused. (Raiding an occupied mosque was fine but not a mostly empty school.)

Bruno tells Kamala that he found something weird in her DNA, which shouldn’t be surprising since she’s descended from extradimensional beings. It seems like it’s belatedly setting her up to be be both a ClanDestine & an Inhuman. Bruno says “mutation” & the X-Men cartoon theme they used to introduce Illuminati Xavier plays. So Ms. Marvel may be “616’s” first mutant (unless that gulag guy from Black Widow does turn out to be Ursa Major). This is ironic since she was created to be an Inhuman during the period when Marvel & Disney were mad Fox had the X-Men adaption rights. Does this feel like they’re making her too complicated to anyone else?

MsMarvel

She gets saddled with Nightlight but ought to aim for Princess Sparklefists since her idol isn’t using it in the MCU.

In the stinger, Kamala’s bracelet suddenly turns her in to Captain Marvel. This should’ve happened before before she had her complete self-acceptance arc. Or more likely the bracelet exchanges the two intergalactically like Rick Jones & Mar-Vell using Nega Bands. Watch The Marvels next year to find out which! I prefer Carol’s Endgame suit to the new one she has has here.

I really liked the vibe of the series when it was just Kamala being a friendly neighborhood superheroine. They just couldn’t resist going big so soon. Learning about her heritage would’ve been a great hook for season two once they’d established her. Cramming it in now shortchanges both the Jersey City & Karachi storylines. They could’ve made it work if this was more like thirteen episodes, but it’s too much for just six. The last episode speedruns in a bunch of allusions that could’ve been weaved in earlier.

Her Marvel Legends figure looks like they stretched her out, which wouldn’t be too bad if Kamala retained One Piece powers. A noble spirit embiggens the smallest woman? Maybe Hasbro will correct the proportions for the version it releases for The Marvels? (Unless she gets snubbed for it like Scarlet Witch in DSITMOM.) That one could come with some purple energy constructs too.

Changing Ms. Marvel’s powers is something that probably won’t affect your enjoyment of the series if this is your first exposure to her. Marvel has been doing such a good job promoting her in comics, cartoons, & video games, however, that it’s not as likely anymore. Making her lineage more unique sounds good in theory, but wasn’t executed as well either. With everything else being adapted nearly perfect, the changes are even more conspicuous. It ruins the more obscure Damage Control & ClanDestine in the public eye by removing their benign whimsy.

Kamala will return in The Marvels, which isn’t a good title unless it’s adapting Kurt Busiek. Captain Marvel 2 should’ve been Captains Marvel since Monica Rambeau is co-starring. Ms. Marvel also joins the Avengers at some point to thwart a mysteriously not dead Ultron aboard a Disney cruise ship.

This was frustrating because they got the casting & characterization so right for the most important characters. Then they sidelined most of them for a convoluted story about Djinns that aren’t really Djinns. When it’s just being a faithful adaptation of Ms. Marvel, it’s wonderful. It’s all the stuff they added on that bogs it down.  It barely scratched the surface of her supporting cast. So like all the Disney+ series so far, it’s got some great elements hamstrung by some some decisions that someone should’ve noticed were bad ideas. They were trying to re-invent the wheel but not in a way that yields cogs or tires. I’d rank it below WandaVision & Hawkeye but ahead of the rest. Hopefully her show will also get another season since there’s still plenty they can do with her as a solo character.

The next D+ series up is She-Hulk: Attorney At Law, but my next blog is a mystery!

2 thoughts on “How Marvelous Is Ms. Marvel?

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