Why Ms. Marvel's powers look different from the comics
Ms. Marvel is finally making her screen debut — but she looks a little different than she did on the page.
From the moment Kamala Khan popped up in Marvel comics, she became an overnight fan favorite, winning over readers with her sunny optimism and her uniquely stretchy power set. Now, the wide-eyed Jersey City native is coming to the small screen, with Iman Vellani starring in Disney+'s new TV series.
Fans have been clamoring for Kamala to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe for years (her early champions included celebrities like Riz Ahmed and Mindy Kaling), and so far, the show has the same joyous, youthful vibe as the comics. But there's one key difference between the two: Kamala's powers in the show look very different than they did on the page, and some fans have been left wondering about the reason for the change.
In the comics, Kamala has a uniquely original set of abilities, a far cry from your standard super-strength or flight. She discovers that she has Inhuman DNA, which is activated when she's exposed to Terrigen mist. (You may be familiar with the Inhumans if you watched ABC's short-lived show — or if you saw Anson Mount's Black Bolt get his head exploded in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.) Once the mist activates her powers, she discovers she has the ability to stretch and morph her body at will. Sometimes that means extending her limbs to extraordinary lengths, Mr. Fantastic-style, and sometimes that means growing or "embiggening" her fists to beat up bad guys. (Kamala proved so popular that Merriam-Webster even added the word "embiggen" to the dictionary in 2018.) In some ways, Kamala's strange, unorthodox powers proved to be the perfect metaphor for puberty: What could be more teenage than grappling with weird, gross new discoveries about your body?
The show, however, takes a different approach: Kamala gains superhuman abilities when she tries on a bracelet her grandmother sends her. She doesn't yet know the history of the bracelet — or how it gives her powers — but suddenly, she has the ability to manipulate energy. Thanks to her newfound abilities, she can create physical shards of light, which she can use as steps to walk through the air, or as shields to protect herself. She can also use that cosmic energy to stretch her limbs or "embiggen" her fists — but this appears in the form of light, as opposed to her actually stretching her body.
Ms. Marvel just premiered, so we'll have to wait and see exactly where Kamala's powers come from — or how they might evolve. But in interviews with EW, executive producer Sana Amanat and head writer Bisha K. Ali helped explain the change. For Amanat, the decision came down to making sure Kamala's powers worked on screen, while still staying true to her spirit. After all, she would know: In addition to working on the show, Amanat actually co-created the character in the comics, first developing Kamala with writer G. Willow Wilson, editor Steve Wacker, and artist Adrian Alphona.
"The powers do look different, which is very controversial," Amanat told EW. "I know people are like, 'How dare you change the powers!' I know people are upset about it, but as someone who's probably one of the closest people to this character from the inception, and having spoken to Willow about this as well, I think Willow and I have always felt that this made sense. This was the right move because there are bigger stories to tell."
Ali echoed Amanat's thoughts, telling EW that adjusting Kamala's powers was a "huge decision." Ultimately, she says, it came down to the fact that the show has ties to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Kamala's powers needed to match up with other stories. After all, Vellani has been confirmed to star alongside Brie Larson's Carol Danvers and Teyonah Parris' Monica Rambuea in the film The Marvels, hitting theaters in 2023.
"It was a big conversation between me and Kevin [Feige] and Sana, right from the start, of how we translate this to the screen," Ali said. "The thing that was really vital to me was that in the comic books, her powers are inherently connected to her internal journey — how she feels about herself, how she's navigating the world, how she perceives herself. Whatever we changed them to had to have that same connectivity with her psychology and the journey she's going through and the way she sees herself. I think we really accomplished that. I think if fans can give it a chance, they might see our reasoning."
Plus, Amanat added, Kamala's powers may manifest differently on screen, but their goal was always to maintain the same fun, quirky spirit. So yes, there will be plenty of embiggened fists.
"It's really fun to give Kamala different kinds of powers that feel big in scope and cinematic in a different way," Amanat explained. "We can do a lot of fun things with her. I don't want to spoil too much about how she uses her powers, but they're fun and bouncy. At the same point, the essence of what the powers are in the comics is there, both from a metaphorical standpoint and from a visual standpoint. We're doing the embiggened fist. We're doing the elements that make her feel and look kind of crazy, but also really cool. I think it's going to be familiar to people, but at the same time, different in a fresh and unique way."
Ms. Marvel airs Wednesdays on Disney+.
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Iman Vellani suits up as Pakistani American hero Kamala Khan in this Disney+ Marvel series.