There is something particularly painful about watching an adaptation that manages to get so close to being what it needs to be. Adapting stories from books or comics to the screen is a specific kind of art. Perfection is, understandably, unattainable; but you can still come out on top if there is a clear love for the source material and a true understanding of the characters. What it really comes down to is what parts of the original story are cast out, and if those changes will be accepted by fans.
Ms. Marvel’s first two episodes available for review stand on that very delicate line. Marvel’s latest six-episode Disney+ miniseries follows Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), a Pakistani-American teenager who discovers she has powers and has to learn how to use them while keeping them a secret from her family and most of her friends. Kamala was introduced to the Marvel Comics universe in 2013, and has had a multitude of solo runs and team appearances since 2014. The first issue of her solo-run series had seven reprints and was on the top of digital comic sales for a significant amount of time. Simply put, Kamala Khan and her story resonated with a lot of people, and it takes about 10 seconds of hearing about her success to understand why her character was pulled into the MCU. Marvel’s upcoming projects have more women and people of color in the spotlight, and Ms. Marvel will undoubtedly be the poster-child series for this new wave of diversity in the franchise.
And for what it’s worth, Ms. Marvel is probably going to end up being the best of Marvel’s Disney+ shows so far. Iman Vellani shines as Kamala, and it is without question that she’ll be able to make the jump to the big screen when The Marvels comes out next summer. There is no way to explain how great she is in this other than to say that she embodies the true spirit of Kamala Khan. Vellani’s real-life status as a Marvel superfan truly serves to enhance her performance, because Kamala is the exact same way—but it doesn’t rest on that, either. She excels in hitting every single emotional note with aplomb.
While Ms. Marvel would be nothing without Vellani’s glittering show of talent, it would also be lost without the way art is used in the series. While Kamala writes Avengers fanfiction in the comics, her fandom work is expanded into her being an artist as well. Kamala’s drawings are constantly integrated into the visuals of the show, sometimes becoming animated to add a little flair. There is a lot of street art that is seen as well, often supplemented by the same type of animation that we see with Kamala’s art. That, plus all of the lighting work and the needle drops make for a really well-rounded and lighthearted coming-of-age story. Anyone who has a problem with Marvel movies looking like muddy concrete will be greeted with a vibrant show that isn’t afraid to used color to its advantage.
None of the great things about Ms. Marvel mean that the show is without its flaws. While it does a decent job of adapting Kamala’s characterization and her relationship with her friends and family, there are fundamental changes to the origin of her powers and how they manifest themselves that heavily deviate from the source material. While she is an Inhuman in the comics, It is easy to understand why the MCU doesn’t want to acknowledge that group outside of a fleeting cameo in Multiverse of Madness. Kamala’s powers are more closely tied to her family in the show, and that adds a nice bit of depth between her and her mother outside of their pre-established dynamic. However, instead of being a shapeshifter and polymorph (being able to grow and shrink any part of her body), Kamala’s powers instead manifest as shiny, purple-blue constructs that can only be described as mildly Green-Lantern-like. Because of this, the depth we gain between Kamala and her mother is subsequently lost because we don’t see her struggle with learning to accept her powers for what they are despite how they look.
Kamala’s powerset in the comics is intentionally weird-looking in order to parallel the common struggles teenagers face as they grow into being an adult. G. Willow Wilson, one of Kamala’s creators, stated in an interview that she didn’t want her powers to be “sparkly, hand wave-y, floaty, pretty powers.” That aspect of Kamala is one of the most important things about her in the comics, and losing that in favor of powers that are, in fact, sparkly, hand wave-y, floaty, and pretty is really unfortunate. Sure, the powers could have pushed the show into the realm of the uncanny valley, but that is also of the point of them. Given the proper amount of time, the VFX artists working on Ms. Marvel absolutely could have figured out how to make things work visually, and the show would have been better for it.
As I said earlier, Ms. Marvel is walking on a tightrope when it comes to how they have changed things. Nakia, one of Kamala’s best friends, has been given a different backstory and a wardrobe that is significantly different to her portrayal in the comics. Yasmeen Fletcher’s casting in the role has also proved controversial as a Christian playing a Muslim character. This, along with Kamala’s powers changing led to #FixMsMarvel being used to protest the adjustments the MCU was making. Regardless of how the changes to Nakia’s story end up, the most important perspective to listen to about their implications is that of the people who Marvel is claiming to represent on screen. It is not hard to recognize that their track record with diversity of any kind is mediocre at best. While I personally am not qualified to say how well they specifically handle religion in Ms. Marvel, it won’t be hard to find someone who is once the full series has aired—and their voices should be amplified.
Ultimately, Ms. Marvel will breathe a new life into the MCU that hasn’t really been felt since Spider-Man: No Way Home was released. Ignoring all of my comic knowledge for the sake of seeing the series for what it is, this show has the potential to be very balanced and straightforward in a way that none of Marvel’s Disney+ ventures have managed to accomplish thus far. Hardcore fans like myself will undoubtedly be put off by some of the mentioned changes to Kamala’s story, but at the end of the day, she’s still Kamala. More casual lovers of the MCU will undoubtedly love the miniseries for Iman Vellani’s performance and the ambiance that the the production team clearly worked very hard to create. Ms. Marvel may even push more people to dive into the comics that got us here in the first place. Things might be different there, but Kamala Khan will always be lovable and relatable no matter what medium she’s in.
Ms. Marvel premieres June 8th on Disney+ with weekly episodes.
Kathryn Porter is a freelance writer who will talk endlessly about anything entertainment given the chance. You can find her @kaechops on Twitter.
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