I don’t have a lot of time to write recaps these days, but you had to know this was going to be an exception. I love the Ms. Marvel comics with a joy and intensity that is near-incredulous—I almost can’t believe something this good, this made for me in a world where nothing is ever made for me, actually exists. And I’ve been waiting for this TV adaptation to drop with both extreme excitement and deep dread, because what if they ruined it? The high school dramedy vibes I got from the first trailer only made me more nervous.
But y’all, I absolutely LOVED Episode 1.
High school junior Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) has her head in the clouds and heart with her heroes, the Avengers. Her parents are counting on her to help with her big brother’s upcoming wedding, and her teachers are pushing her to start paying more attention in class, but all she wants is to show off her Captain Marvel costume at the first ever AvengerCon.
Her best friend and partner-in-fandom Bruno Carrelli (Matt Lintz) convinces her to at least try to ask her parents for permission after her first idea (pass her driving test and drop in to AvengerCon while doing “errands”) fails spectacularly. But Kamala’s Ammi is not down with her plan to do “historical reenactment” (bwahaha, good one) in tight pleather pants with sketchy strangers.
I can’t say I was a teenage fangirl—that particular affliction came to me later in life—but I definitely remember having arguments like these with my own Ammi. I can’t even recall over what, exactly, but the stubborn insistence on that one particular outing with friends whose names I can no longer bring to mind, that I remember. This show encapsulates it so well, and in the same context I lived: as a second-gen Pakistani teenager that didn’t want to be like everyone else, but also hadn’t yet figured out how to be comfortable being different.
Seeing his little sister so bummed, her older brother Aamir (Saagar Shaikh) convinces his parents to let her go—in bright green, Hulkified shalwar kameez, matching with her Abbu so they can go together. Kamala is as horrified as any 16-year-old would be, and throws this olive branch back in her parents’ faces with the kind of hurtful words that 16-year-olds have also perfected the art of.
So she sneaks out with Bruno the night of the con. For her required special touch in the Captain Marvel cosplay competition, she grabs the arm bangle that her Nani sent her—and which her mom is weirdly twitchy about—aaaaand of course it turns out to give her glowy magical powers, with which she manages to both destroy the convention displays and save her popular ex-friend Zoe from harm.
But when she gets home, Ammi is waiting in her bedroom, and she’s not mad, she’s disappointed. Yeah, that’s how much it hurts when her mom says she doesn’t recognize Kamala, lying and sneaking around and paying no regard to her real life in favor of cosmic nonsense.
This first episode is a perfect introduction to Kamala Khan, and while I know we’re full up on origin stories, this barely scratched the surface of her powers. It’s about who she is as a person, and I love how fully we get to know her in this premiere, before the hero fangirl turns into the actual hero. The hand-drawn animation of her fan YouTube channel is a perfect way to set up who she is, and if it’s a little fanservice-y, it doesn’t feel gross and cash-grabby the way these DisneyMarvel properties often do; it feels detailed and joyful in a way that obviously comes out of genuine love.
ALSO, CAN WE TALK ABOUT THAT ART DIRECTION? This show combines live action with animation in a way I haven’t seen before, with Kamala’s colorful drawings extending all over her world, crawling over the brick walls and sidewalks she passed, overflowing into the space she occupies as a material representation of her irrepressible imagination. It’s gorgeous, vibrant, and gives the show an energy that reminds me a little of Into the Spider-Verse and is so well-suited to the show’s themes. (Deservedly so, as the directors have cited that superior film as an inspiration.)
Directed with Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah's (Bad Boys for Life) signature style, this premiere looks great (and very expensive, how much time and money did they spend on that AvengerCon set?), and all the actors are bringing it. Iman Vellani is charming, adorable, and just weird enough that she makes an excellent Kamala. Zenobia Shroff and Mohan Kapur are wonderful as Ammi and Abbu (and can I have a verklempt moment in the corner about how it feels to hear Kamala call them what I call my own parents? It’s such a small thing, but it makes my jaded heart ache a little).
What really shines here is the writing, which is funny, moving, and lived-in. Kamala’s Pakistani-ness, her Muslim-ness, feels natural and unremarked upon, and that’s not something I’m used to seeing in a world where the rare Muslim character, when she does appear, is either fetishized or given the cringy After-School Special treatment. (And those are the depictions that attempt to be positive…let’s not touch the Islamophobic narratives in this temporary bubble of happiness.)
Yes, the origin of Kamala’s powers has changed, and the sitar music in the background as her fingers glow instead of EMBIGGENING is a little over the top, but I don’t mind. I never cared about the whole inhumans connection to begin with, and this way Kamala’s powers are another inheritance from her family that she has to grapple with. It complicates what might seem like a typical immigrant story of generations clashing in a really lovely way.
Maybe what Kamala’s been searching for this whole time is actually a legacy from her foremothers—and what her Ammi fears most is not losing Kamala to white American culture, but her getting caught up in the same impractical daydreams as her own mother. There’s definitely hints of a history there that I can’t wait to find out more about.
This is what you get when the entire team behind the camera is from or adjacent to your community; when there is not a single Pakistani American character but an entire neighborhood of them filling the screen. Head writer Bisha K. Ali (Loki, Four Weddings and a Funeral) is British Pakistani; the directing team not only includes El Arbi and Fallah, Belgians of Moroccan descent, but Oscar-winning Pakistani Canadian Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and Indian American Meera Menon. Sana Amanat, who created the Ms. Marvel character back in 2013, is an executive producer. As happy as I am to see Kamala and her family in the show, it makes me even happier to see so many names in the credits who I know are coming to the show from a place of love and understanding. Even, dare I use that hated word, authenticity.