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Ms. Marvel is exactly what the MCU needs

Contributed by
Jun 4, 2018

Next year will see the release of Captain Marvel, the long-awaited introduction of Carol Danvers to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which will then be followed by her inevitably badass battle for the soul of the universe in the fourth Avengers movie. While progress has been made in regard to gender parity in the genre, it’s a sad sign of the times that it’s taken over 20 films for Marvel to let a woman headline her own story. For fans of the character, particularly the iteration as written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, the opportunity to see Brie Larson embody one of the comic book world’s most criminally underrated heroines is a groundbreaking moment in the medium. Her debut to the universe also brings with it the promise of another beloved heroine.

It’s been all but confirmed that a later phase of the MCU plan will see the introduction of the newest Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan. Having made her debut in 2013, Khan (created by editors Sana Amanat and Stephen Wacker, writer G. Willow Wilson, and artist Adrian Alphona) quickly became one of Marvel's most loved new heroes. A Pakistani American Muslim teenager from Jersey City, Kamala's origin story saw her discover her Inhuman genes, which activated to give her polymorph powers. Seeking to emulate her hero, Carol Danvers, she dons the mantle of Ms. Marvel and becomes a heroine for her Jersey hometown.

Rogue One star Riz Ahmed has already put in a Twitter bid to write the movie, calling up Kumail Nanjiani and Mindy Kaling to join forces with him. Nothing has officially been announced yet, and the chances are this won’t reach any traction until we’re fully in Captain Marvel hype mode. However, that a Kamala Khan movie could be a reality is a miracle unto itself. It’s also exactly what the MCU needs.

It feels reductive to Ms. Marvel to distill her magnetic success down to diversity, but it’s hard to deny the impression seeing her in the comics has had. Strong Muslim representation is few and far between in mainstream pop culture, especially when it comes to young Muslim women. Kamala is a Muslim woman whose life is impacted by her faith, but she is not exclusively defined by it. Islam is a guiding force that leads her toward using her powers for good, and conversations she has at her local mosque make for some of the series’ most affecting moments. Finding stories and characters like that in any genre is a task, so the opportunity to see it on the biggest screens possible, intended for the widest audiences, shouldn’t be downplayed.

Identity is a key marker of the superhero tale. Heroes don masks to hide their identities, live double lives, or try to balance a semblance of normalcy with the overwhelming chaos of public notoriety. Everyone knows the story of the mild-mannered young man who saves the world, but we’re less familiar of that Marvel narrative applied to people who aren’t muscled white dudes named Chris. Kamala’s identity and the way it shapes her life is relatable to everyone, even in its specificities as a story of a Jersey girl who tries to stay awake during class and mosque and find time in between fighting crime to hang with her friends at the convenience store. The foundations may be familiar, but Kamala is a fundamentally fresh voice in a very busy genre.

On top of being a new brand hero, Kamala is also a classic brand of fangirl. The audience is frequently told of the worldwide impact the Avengers have, but we seldom see it in action. Through Kamala, we get a glimpse into one of the way this age of heroes is consumed — via fandom. Kamala has no time for playing it cool now that she’s among her heroes. She’s an old-school fan and she loves it. Her giddy brand of adolescent enthusiasm, similar to the nerdy glee of Peter Parker, makes for some of the best scenes in the comics. There may be no moment that encapsulates the sheer joy of meeting your heroes quite like the time Kamala gets to hang with Wolverine and can’t help but let him know about the super awesome fanfiction she wrote about him. Superheroes are awesome, and Kamala knows it. Seeing this level of excitement — the way that, frankly, most of us would react if we met an Avenger — would be a welcome addition to the MCU.

This enthusiasm also highlights the major reason Kamala is needed in the Marvel universe. Heroes are meant to inspire. They do good in the hopes that it will help others to stand up to bullies. Being on the right side isn’t always easy, but it’s worth it, and sometimes the good guys need to remind the rest of the world of that fact. Kamala is the creation of such inspiration. She idolizes Carol and wants to do good by her, as well as everyone else she has been such a devoted fan to.

So much of the next phase of the MCU will be about the passing of the baton. While speculation continues over who will return and who will stay dead in the fourth Avengers movie, it’s undeniable that a new generation of heroes will come to take over the mantle from the original icons. Attention will fall to the young ones, from Peter Parker to Black Panther’s Shuri, and Kamala should be among those ranks. It meant so much to so many women to see Wonder Woman on the big screen, but the absolute dearth of women of color leading their own stories in the biggest movie juggernaut in modern cinema is a glaring issue that should be rectified.

The creative possibilities for a Ms. Marvel movie are immense. She could be the lead-in the franchise needs to do Inhumans right (since we’re all pretending the ABC TV series didn’t happen), and the story would provide an opportunity to explore another American city that wasn’t New York. Kalama would bring more vibrancy and youthful energy to the series, along with more of the humor that worked so well in Thor: Ragnarok. Whatever direction they take, Marvel can and will break new ground with Ms. Marvel, and the next phase of the franchise will have the heroine we all need and deserve.