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What You Need to Know Before Seeing ‘Ms. Marvel’

Before Marvel’s next small-screen origin story starts on Disney+ on Wednesday, catch up with Kamala Khan’s comics history and delve into the significance of her MCU debut

Disney/Getty Images/Ringer illustration

A little more than a month after the conclusion of Moon Knight, Marvel Studios is turning again to Disney+ to introduce a new superhero, as Ms. Marvel ushers Kamala Khan into the MCU.

For the most part, Phase 4 of the MCU has been about the fallout from the Infinity Saga and how the heroes left behind have moved forward after half the world’s population suddenly vanished for five years and then returned. But it’s also been about introducing the next generation of superheroes. After Marvel Studios eased its audience into its transition to TV by giving familiar characters (such as Wanda Maximoff and Loki) expanded roles, the studio’s 2022 slate on Disney+ is full of origin stories centered on new heroes like Moon Knight, Ms. Marvel and, later this year, She-Hulk.

After Moon Knight experimented with the horror genre in Steven Grant and Marc Spector’s action adventure, and before She-Hulk: Attorney at Law becomes Marvel’s first legal comedy, Ms. Marvel will be more of a young adult, coming-of-age story featuring the 16-year-old Kamala Khan. Created by head writer Bisha K. Ali (Four Weddings and A Funeral, Loki), and with a directing team led by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah (Bad Boys For Life), Ms. Marvel will run for six episodes and set up the events of The Marvels in 2023. (More on that later.) Iman Vellani stars as Ms. Marvel, which makes Kamala the MCU’s first Muslim superhero and the first character of South Asian descent to headline their own MCU series or movie, as Marvel Studios continues to make strides in improving representation—both on screen and behind the scenes—after lacking diversity throughout much of the Infinity Saga. (With Chris Evans moving on from his Captain America days to voice Buzz Lightyear and continuing to experiment with his facial hair, having more white dudes named Chris leading Marvel movies than either women or people of color is hopefully a thing of the past.)

Ahead of the Wednesday premiere of Ms. Marvel, here’s everything you need to know about Kamala’s comics origins and what’s in store for her jump to the MCU.

Introducing: Kamala Khan

As Marvel superheroes go, Kamala is still a relatively new character, as she made her comics debut with a cameo appearance in Captain Marvel no. 14 in 2013 before getting her own solo series the following year. Preceded and surrounded by title characters who have histories that extend back to the 1960s, when the Marvel Comics era began in earnest (following several decades under different publication titles), Kamala is the most recently created character to headline their own live-action series or movie in the MCU. And given that Kamala is a 16-year-old girl trying to navigate her awkward teenage years and the pressures of high school, she’s the youngest title character to enter the MCU in more ways than one. (Technically the only younger character would be Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Homecoming, who was 15 years old in his first solo film. But nobody remembers that guy anymore, right?)

Kamala is a Pakistani American teenager who proudly hails from Jersey City, and before she became the MCU’s first Muslim superhero, she was the first Muslim superhero to headline their own Marvel comics series. The character was created by Sana Amanat, Stephen Wacker, G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, and Jamie McKelvie, and as Wilson told Marvel.com in 2013, Kamala “struggles to reconcile being an American teenager with the conservative customs of her Pakistani Muslim family,” so “in a sense, she has a ‘dual identity’ before she even puts on a superhero costume.” When Wilson and editor Sana Amanat started Ms. Marvel, they had the modest expectation of creating a miniseries that could reach 10 issues; Wilson ended up writing 60 issues of Ms. Marvel in five years before passing the torch to the next writer, with the series’ first trade paperback, No Normal, landing on the New York Times Graphic Books bestseller list and earning a Hugo Award for best graphic story in 2015. And less than a decade after Kamala’s comics debut, she’s coming to Disney+.

If you’re unfamiliar with Kamala, you may be wondering why she’s borrowed Captain Marvel’s former moniker and a similar costume design. The Ms. Marvel name was once used by Carol Danvers when she got her own title series in the late 1970s, as the Captain Marvel name was already taken by the Kree warrior Mar-Vell. (Marvel really didn’t try too hard in coming up with the names for that one, did they?) Several characters have taken on the mantle of Captain Marvel over the years, including Monica Rambeau, and it actually wasn’t until 2012 that Danvers took on the title herself, paving the way for Kamala to become Ms. Marvel soon after. And the high school student is a character built on Marvel comics lore: Kamala is a massive Avengers fan who wears superhero-inspired clothing to school and spends her Friday nights writing Avengers fan fiction.

One night, after Kamala sneaks out of her house to go to a party, she becomes a superhero herself. She leaves the party early after being fooled into trying alcohol and facing some casual racism from a classmate, as she often does, and she stumbles into a mysterious, green Terrigen Mist. Kamala later discovers that the mist activated her latent superpowers related to her hidden Inhuman genes, which links her to a race of superhumans who were the central focus of a brief, disastrous ABC series in 2017 before getting canceled after one season. (The leader of the Inhumans, Black Bolt, also made quite a, uh, memorable return in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.) Kamala’s powers are something of an amalgamation of some of the Marvel heroes that have come before her: She can extend her limbs like Mr. Fantastic, shrink or enlarge her body like Ant-Man, and has a healing factor like Wolverine. She can even shape-shift into inanimate objects or other people, such as when she subconsciously transforms herself into her favorite superhero, Captain Marvel, the moment she gets her powers. Over time, though, Kamala learns that her shape-shifting abilities weaken her other powers, so she begins to use them less frequently as she masters her other gifts and becomes a hero in her own right.

Kamala is Vellani’s first on-screen role, and as an MCU and comic book fan herself, she seems like the perfect candidate to bring the Avengers superfan to life. “My parents would give me $20 of allowance every month,” Vellani said in a special preview for the series on Disney+, A Fan’s Guide to Ms. Marvel. “I would spend it on comic books. And then one day, I picked up a Ms. Marvel comic ‘cause I was like, I’ve never seen a brown person on the cover of one. And I read it [and] fell in love with her.”

Changes from the Comics to the Screen

I know I just wrote about Ms. Marvel’s comics-based superpowers and Inhuman origins in the preceding section, but Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige and the creative team behind Ms. Marvel had other plans for Kamala’s rebirth in the MCU. Her powers—along with their source—are seeing drastic changes in the character’s transition from the comics to the small screen. “We adapt the comics; it’s not an exact translation,” Feige recently told Empire. “[Kamala] came about in a very specific time within the comic-book continuity. She is now coming into a very specific time within the MCU continuity. And those two things didn’t match.

“What we will learn about where those powers come from, and how they come about, is specific to the MCU,” Feige continued. “You will see great comic splash panels in some of our action sequences. If you want big, giant hands and arms, well they’re here in spirit, if not in stretchy, plastic-type ways.”

In the comics, Kamala’s stretchy limbs, along with her often awkward inability to initially control them, serve as an effective metaphor for puberty and the challenges of trying to balance her life at home, school, and as a new superhero. Even more, her shape-shifting abilities—and how she uses them to transform herself into Captain Marvel—are a means through which Kamala can hide from her identity, as she becomes the classically beautiful white, blond superhero that American society has made her believe she needs to be. But over time, Kamala comes to realize she doesn’t need to pretend to be anyone else; it’s another effective storytelling tool that can measure her growth as a character.

In the Disney+ series, though, Kamala’s powers are not only different, but they also don’t appear to be a result of her Inhuman genes. As Feige said, the source of her powers is “specific to the MCU,” and—with the exception of Black Bolt’s cameo in Multiverse of Madness—the Inhumans have not yet been reintroduced into the MCU. While Kamala’s familiar abilities in the comics work well as allusions to other superheroes, given how much of an Avengers fan she is, Marvel Studios might not want to make her powers too similar to other franchise characters like Ant-Man or Mr. Fantastic, the latter of whom just appeared for the first time in Multiverse of Madness and will reappear in the Fantastic Four movie in the near future.

Instead, the source of Kamala’s powers appears to be the bangle that can be seen in the Ms. Marvel trailer, a bracelet that has been in Kamala’s family for generations. Rather than “embiggening” her own flesh and bones, Kamala seems to use the bangle to project the giant fists that have become her trademark power in the comics—not unlike how the Green Lanterns’ Power Rings allow their wielders to manifest pure energy into physical constructs based on their willpower and imagination. Though the powers may be different in function, the purple lights that glow in Kamala’s eyes and emanate from her body share a somewhat similar visual style to Captain Marvel’s. (In the Ms. Marvel trailers, Kamala also describes her new gifts as “cosmic.”)

While we’ll need to wait to see how Kamala’s powers relate to “her heritage and lineage,” as Feige teased in the same Empire interview, it seems likely that her bangle could be revealed to be a powerful relic from the comics known as a Nega-Band. These bracelets, which can similarly transform mental energy into physical energy, are products of the Kree Empire, the alien race introduced in Captain Marvel. Should Kamala’s family heirloom share a Kree lineage, the bangle would only deepen Kamala’s ties to Captain Marvel. As Ms. Marvel unfolds, we’ll need to keep an eye out for how Kamala’s powers link back to her idol, as well as how the Disney+ series will help set up the events in The Marvels. Speaking of which …

The Marvels and Beyond

Ms. Marvel follows Moon Knight as only the second Marvel superhero to be introduced on screen in their own title series on Disney+ (or the third if we’re including Kate Bishop as the second lead in Hawkeye). But unlike Moon Knight and the MCU’s new Hawkeye, we know exactly when Kamala Khan will be appearing next: Ms. Marvel will be joining her idol Carol Danvers in the upcoming movie The Marvels.

Directed by Nia DaCosta (Candyman), The Marvels is set to hit theaters on July 28, 2023 and will serve as the sequel to 2019’s Captain Marvel. Vellani joins a cast led by Brie Larson, who reprises her role as Captain Marvel for the first time since she showed up in a post-credits scene in last year’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Not much has been revealed about the film’s plot, but the fact that the movie is named The Marvels—rather than keeping Captain Marvel in the title—seems to suggest that Ms. Marvel’s role will be significant, along with that of the returning Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), who gained superpowers of her own during the events of WandaVision. Together, the three superheroes with a shared comics history around the “Marvel” name will team up to face a threat formidable enough that the overpowered Captain Marvel would even require assistance in the first place.

Beyond The Marvels, Kamala’s place in the greater MCU isn’t as clear at the moment, but it seems likely that she could join the ranks of all of the other young superheroes that have been introduced in Phase 4. Between Kate Bishop (Hawkeye), the Maximoff twins (WandaVision), Elijah Bradley (The Falcon and the Winter Soldier), Kid Loki (Loki), and America Chavez (Multiverse of Madness), the majority of Young Avengers members from the comics have already been introduced to varying degrees. In the comics, Kamala belongs to a different group of young superheroes called the Champions, which features members like Miles Morales and Vision’s daughter Viv, but it seems more likely that she could headline the Young Avengers (alongside Hailee Steinfeld’s Bishop) should the team ever form in the MCU. There has yet to be any announcement of such a project, but—and I’m beginning to feel like a broken record here—a Disney+ series sometime in the not-so-distant future seems inevitable.

Before we can see what the future holds for Kamala Khan, we’ll have to meet the MCU’s newest hero first, as she goes from being an Avengers fan to reaching a place where she can fight alongside her favorite Avenger after just six episodes.