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‘Ms Marvel’, Episode 1

Recently, we covered superhero heritage with our rrretrospective of 2012’s The Avengers , now a shocking TEN YEARS OLD. So, it only felt right that this month we cast our sights to the future of Marvel, with Disney+ mini series Ms Marvel.

Billed as a superhero story for the present day – set in Jersey and featuring Marvel’s first Muslim hero – the series has already got critics and Marvel fans alike divided in their opinions. But what did our rrramble writers think?

A close up picture of Kamala, the teenage main character of Ms Marvel. Her long brown hair is down, framing her face, and eyes are shining a supernatural shade of pink.  She looks shocked, but determined

Tom

There’s a moment in episode one’s second act when Kamala and Bruno dance-fight on a roof while testing some sparky gloves, as an earnest score plays. It’s a familiar image being turned into something new – and it’s the scene which crystallizes why Ms. Marvel is the most fun TV I’ve seen in months. This is a story about comic fandom told through a wholly new perspective. It arrives like a wave and I’m entirely sold.

So, why does it work? Well, it’s filled with adventure. Step aside, Stranger Things, MCU’s new headliner has an ace card to play – and its combining your supernatural groove with the home realities of Netflix’s Never-Have-I-Ever. The result is a clever and cheeky premiere, using our knowledge of hero journeys to then shake that up repeatedly. Kamala’s nerdiness about the universe is used for YouTube (those gloves are a hot gadget) but this plays second fiddle to a cooler treasure which unleashes Khan’s powers.

All the pilot’s beats are here, but unlike standard shows, their setups offer newness. The lushly colorful opening sequence is a disgustingly effective way for us to know what matters to Khan, and her self-aware awkwardness will serve school-set plots brilliantly. Iman Vellani is just utterly likeable, kinda nuts and an immediate star, one who can switch from goofy to vulnerable in a heartbeat.

Heart can go a long way – and it imbues several characters with lovability even when we know they won’t always be allies. Kamala’s parents attempting to side with her Avengers love is a neat narrative trick, their later “we don’t trust anyone” a concise summation of their histories. Gabe the therapist is funny, but also a device to clarify themes central to the story. Friend Bruno, yes, looks like Peter Parker – and still plays his moments to make the spotlight for Vellani sparkle.

I beamed throughout. There’s whoosh the speed of Brooklyn 99, reminders of Prank Patrol and stunning visuals: an upside-down crash back onto a sofa; starry text messages on the ceiling(!) and – my favorite – graffiti cartoons coming to life while these teens walk through their city. Coating these with a pack of pop culture nods in the writing elevates this to the upper echelons, further. These writers know Gen Y’s values, and their navigation of specific hardships, universal ones and deep dives earns them credit.

Those choices, then, commit Ms. Marvel to showing and unpacking Kamala’s family and traditions, which slowly cook up the key question: how do you navigate your family’s values with who you want to be? It’s a conflict nicely signposted by the mother for the episodes ahead at the end, there, but, seriously, such a well-articulated struggle could catapult so many new shows into our TV screens, and arguably make us better people for learning it.

There’s a crazy, compelling road our hero’s about to tread (Kamala will forever be a hero to me). Its consequence? A few valuable lessons to be realized:

The imagination is wild and beautiful.

Love your heroes and love yourself.

Ms. Marvel is here to stay.

Kamala Khan sits in Ms Marvel costume (red, blue and gold) - complete with hi top trainers - on top of a city lamp post. In the distance, the sky is blue and purple. We see clouds and stars.
What is it with superheroes and lamp-posts?

Juliette

I don’t think pilot episodes are generally the best indicator of how a series will pan out. Ms Marvel has had a good enough start to the series, but I didn’t love the episode. Online, it was clear that the series alienated some Marvel fans due to Kamala’s change of powerset from the comics, and how the series is targeted towards a younger audience. Whilst the ‘young’ tone is part of the reason I didn’t love the episode, it’s great that Marvel is branching out with its Disney+ shows, and its clear that there needs to be lighter material alongside the heavier watches. I am sure Kamala will face hardships, but it’s good to see something more fun. 

I think I wasn’t completely sold by the first episode because I don’t feel attached to characters or plotlines yet; Kamala’s youth and sheltered life means everything feels low-stakes. I’m not biting my nails worrying for the safety of these characters like I may have in Wandavision or Moon Knight. Iman Vellani is very charismatic, but Kamala as a character seems quite generic so far – a quirky, sheltered outcast burdened with the expectations of a strict Asian family – and the side-characters don’t seem too different. Aside from the sassy quips from Kamala’s mum, the humour isn’t really hitting for me and the portrayal of Gen Z is a bit cringey: sliding in some references to Instagram followers feels like a disconnected attempt at relevance for younger audiences. I’m a tiny bit uneasy about seeing a strict and overbearing Asian mother (think Turning Red); yet again, I think it’s a predictable characterisation and narrative decision. However, I recognise it is very real for many Asian families and I’m sure that, like Turning Red, Kamala’s mother will be fleshed out as the story progresses. I think I’m uneasy because as we are exploring more South Asian and Middle Eastern narratives, I’m seeing a lot of overdone tropes repeated, and I – among others – am desperate to see something a bit more out of the box.

Despite these reservations, there was a lot about Ms Marvel that I enjoyed. I love that Kamala’s origin story is tied to her heritage and the questions this throws up around whether her grandma was superpowered – there’s some great drama around what extent Kamala’s mother is aware of this, too. I haven’t seen much exploration of South Asian culture in American media, and so particularly enjoyed the shopping scene with an American version of London’s Southall. I do wonder whether Carol Danvers (Kamala’s idol) being white will be acknowledged, and whether this could be a source of tension if Kamala and her meet; like the real life Marvel audience, Kamala until recently only really had white women to look up to. Whilst Danvers is great, she can’t relate or connect with Kamala’s lived experience as a woman of colour. I can also empathise with her mother’s frustration as perhaps she feels disappointed Kamala is so attached to a white woman.

In general, I enjoyed the meta explorations of Marvel’s fandom through Kamala’s own superfan status, and found Kamala’s animations and fan theories are super endearing (she’s correct about Thor being a gamer!). I also loved the animations depicting Kamala’s imagination. Side note: I hope we get a deeper exploration about civilian’s opinions and feelings about the Avengers/superheroes in general (and not just feeling resentful about the Battle of New York or mourning fallen heroes such as Nat or Tony) – there’s a depth there that the MCU is only just beginning to touch upon. I was pleasantly surprised to see Alysia Reiner (from Orange is
the New Black
amongst many others) in the post credit scene, and I am hoping for cool antagonists. I’m cautious that Marvel may push the cliché of having Kamala being unable to control her powers (yawn), but I guess it is inevitable these antagonists will weaponise Kamala’s powers for their gain, and ultimately make her their scapegoat.

Overall, I was a little underwhelmed by the episode, but the post-credit scene piqued my interest and I am impressed with Kamala’s powers. Whilst I suspect it won’t be my favourite, I have faith in the series. Fingers crossed that I’ll be pleasantly surprised after a few more episodes!

A side by side comparison of comic book Kamala Khan - dressed in a traditional Kamala superhero outfit in red, gold and blue - and Iman Vellani, the actor portraying Kamala Khan in Ms Marvel on Disney+.
Undoubtedly some of the best casting in the MCU to date

Amy

I’ll be honest: Ms. Marvel fell off my radar. I hadn’t seen any advertising for this series, not even a trailer. It turns out that this was a surprise benefit, because it meant there were no expectations or fandom hype to contend with.

The quirky and vivid style of the opening sequence struck me; the colourful flair of the show is visually compelling. The way Kamala’s doodles come to life in the background makes the show feel like a comic come to life, which I guess is the point. These stylistic choices give Ms Marvel a distinct identity from other Disney+ series, and make it feel youthful and fun.

As Kamala narrates her life, I got stereotypical teen-drama vibes. Kamala Khan is a likeable and witty character; an enthusiastic daydreamer with a rebellious streak and a good heart. Heart aside, does anyone else want to tell her that she needs to apologise to her father right now?! He was so excited to go to Avengers Con dressed as The Hulk, and she broke his heart (which broke mine). Typical teenager, embarrassed by their parents.

There’s good chemistry between the characters, and ultimately the family has believable dynamics and relatable conflicts. Also, was that a hint of romance between Kamala and her tech-genius friend, Bruno? Their friendship is heart-warming, and I’m intrigued to see where it goes. Is there something more between them? Will he be a side-kick, or end up being a secret villain? Who knows? Apart from a short end credits scene, there didn’t seem to be much hint of a villain for Kamala to go up against…yet.

I liked Ms. Marvel enough to watch the next episode, but feel like there still needs to be more of a hook. Whilst watching, I was never too excited but neither was I ever bored. Hitting the in-between, in the coming episode, I’ll need more reasons to keep watching. The end credits scene added some intrigue but, so far, the plot doesn’t feel particularly fresh.

Despite saying that, I have to praise the show for including Muslim representation. ‘It’s not really the brown girls from Jersey City who save the world,’ says Kamala, a line that got me in the heart. I hope we see her grow in confidence and into her newfound powers. Iman Vellani is fantastically cast as Kamala Khan, and she shines in the role – both literally and figuratively.

A love letter to fans, Ms. Marvel is packed with Easter eggs and references. In the MCU, the heroes are real but celebrated in the same way as we celebrate our fictional heroes. Instead of Comic Con, they have Avengers Con. This world will be familiar to many fans and will make Kamala a very relatable character. She’s a nerd like us! 

Ms. Marvel will probably pull in a large teen audience who are able to relate to Kamala and her issues. She struggles to fit in and is stuck at a crossroads in her life, starting to plan her future. And, of course, acquiring super powers through a mysterious artefact…happens to us all.

You can watch Ms Marvel on Disney+.

One reply on “‘Ms Marvel’, Episode 1”

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