When it comes to Ms. Marvel in the MCU, Marvel Studios risks making a colossal blunder and a rare misstep. Nothing had been said about Kamala Khan before she made her comic book debut back in 2013. New characters are rarely well-established in popular culture, so writer G. Willow Wilson planned an exit strategy for Ms. Marvel if pre-orders were low when the first series launched in February 2014. Instead, the Muslim-American hero became a cultural phenomenon, and now Iman Vellani, who will play her in the MCU, is set to make her debut.
According to reports that have surfaced in recent months, Marvel’s traditional powers of shapeshifting, size manipulation, and stretching have been reworked with new energy constructs. Although fans speculate that it’s to distinguish Kamala from Mr. Fantastic of the Fantastic Four, who they see as having a similar power set, the change is dramatic. In reality, it’s probably since Ms. Marvel’s abilities can look problematic in live-action, like a kind of grotesque horror show.
Recently released images show Kamala wielding an “embiggened” version of her hand, which appears to be some sort of force-field construct while surrounded by a shimmering purple energy field. “She’s got very comic book powers,” remarked G. Willow Wilson, her co-creator. I wish them luck in bringing it to life-action, but I have my doubts that they’ll be able to do it without making it look horrifying.
In all honesty, the redesign is a colossal blunder. If a superhero’s powers can be switched without compromising their identity, this is a reasonable assumption. The powers of Ms. Marvel, on the other hand, were purposefully chosen because they don’t naturally lend themselves to a cinematic experience. Ms. Marvel’s abilities extend Khan’s, who is best viewed as an “Everyman Hero.” Ms. Marvel’s powers shouldn’t be “pretty” or “sparkly,” according to Khan co-creator Sana Amanat, who spoke with Nylon about the topic.
“Her being a polymorph seemed to make sense. There’s a really great message there when you think about a young girl, who doesn’t like the way she looks and doesn’t think she fits in, who can change to look like anything. And her not being herself was a big part of her own self-exploration. You know, in the first issue, she morphs into her idol [Carol Danvers], and that was a very specific choice we made because of her thinking that the ideal and the concept of strength and beauty and perfection is someone who is literally her opposite in terms of looks. So, that power set really was organic to her story. And, I wanted to make sure she didn’t have typical pretty powers with sparkly explosions and her hair blowing in the wind. Or even powers of flight. We wanted to make sure it was a little quirky; she’s a teenager. Her powers are a little awkward, and I think that’s kind of fun to play with.”
In the case of Kamala Khan’s Ms. Marvel, Marvel Studios appears to have overlooked just how iconic the character has become. She’s indeed a relative newcomer in the MCU, having only appeared in a handful of films before. She had a more significant cultural impact than the average comic book hero because of Marvel’s first Muslim-American hero. Ms. Marvel’s co-creator Sana Amanat met with former President Barack Obama in 2016, who made a passing reference to the superhero.
By 2015, street artists were using images of Kamala Khan to oppose the anti-Islamic American Freedom Defense Initiative. Ms. Marvel, like the best superheroes, has come to stand for something much more significant than herself, so her adaptation must be made with reverence and care. The comic book relaunch of Ms. Marvel ahead of her MCU debut is even more concerning. Ms. Marvel: Beyond the Limits, written by Samira Ahmed for young adults and illustrated by Andrés Genolet, will be released in December, and the solicitations hint that her abilities will evolve.
Because of Marvel’s desire to bring the comics and the MCU together, Kamala Khan’s status quo could undergo a significant change. The result is that the Ms. Marvel blunders made by Marvel Studios could spread to other mediums.