Disney Plus’ Ms. Marvel series is one of the MCU’s better recent entries, but Kamala Khan’s new live-action superpowers have been a point of contention for fans of the comics who are concerned about the show’s ability to translate the source material across mediums. Comics Ms. Marvel’s main thing is smashing stuff with her humongous fists. But her polymorphic “embiggening” powers are also a metaphor for the ways that Kamala, a Muslim-American teen born to Pakistani immigrants, moves through the world, and the creative team behind Ms. Marvel very much wanted that to be part of the show as well.
In Marvel’s comics, Kamala develops the ability to morph her body into a variety of shapes in sizes, but in Ms. Marvel, she instead discovers that she’s capable of manifesting glowing constructs made out of hard light. Though Kamala’s only just come into her powers by the end of Ms. Marvel’s first episode, ads for the series have spotlighted the different ways that she’ll use them over the season. And while you do see her creating her signature fists, there’s been much more emphasis on her doing things like creating platforms to step on and throwing up defensive shields.
During a recent interview on the Empire Film Podcast, Ms. Marvel head directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, and Kamala Khan co-creator Sana Amanat opened up about some of the thinking that went into reimagining Kamala’s traditionally stretchy powers. While El Arbi and Fallah understood that Marvel head Kevin Feige was looking for a new adaptation of Kamala’s story rather than “literally a translation of the comic books,” the directing duo wasn’t initially sure how they could tackle the concept of hard light in a way that would look impressive.
“So we adapted the superpowers, and it was very interesting because the first thing we read was like, ‘hard light,’” El Arbi said. “The hard light felt like, ‘Okay... this was not really described in detail.’ So it was cool to create this new superpower with the visual effects team.”
According to Fallah, it was always their goal to remain true to the spirit of the books rather than be precious about specifics because Ms. Marvel is its own story similar to, but distinct from, the books.
“We wanted to capture still the spirit from the comic book — that she doesn’t know how to use that superpower — but still have those moments when the hand becomes big,” Fallah said. “From just pure visual standpoint, it was really cool to play with that light and the crystalline aspect of it.”
In addition to their metaphorical significance, Kamala’s abilities in the comics are also an important part of how she’s connected to the larger superheroing world where figures like the Inhumans have played much larger roles compared to the MCU. In the books, Kamala first comes into her powers after being exposed to a mutagenic mist that activates dormant Inhuman genes in unsuspecting people who don’t know they aren’t fully human.
That particular event was already kind of touched upon in ABC’s now-canceled Agents of SHIELD and Inhumans series that effectively ended the Inhumans’ presence in the MCU (save for a surprising Black Bolt cameo in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness). Though Amanat didn’t address whether Ms. Marvel will acknowledge the Inhumans or reveal Kamala as being one of them, she explained that it was important for the show to find a way for its hero to have a similarly significant connection to something larger than herself.
“In the same way that her powers in the comics were really influenced by this big event that happened in the Marvel Universe at the time, we wanted the show to have Kamala’s powers link to something much bigger,” Amanat said. “Both in the MCU, but also link to sort of her legacy, her past, her kind of cultural inheritance, and her family.”
With Kamala next set to appear in Nia DaCosta’s The Marvels alongside Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel and Teyonah Parris’ Monica Rambeau, it makes a certain amount of sense that Ms. Marvel would set its heroine up to organically fit into a story on a more cosmic scale. Amanat echoed El Arbi and Fallah’s sentiment that “the essence” of Kamala’s original powers is still very present and said that we can expect to see them “evolve across the season” in ways meant to get to the heart of the ideas in the comics.
“But there’s some cool things that happen with her powers that I think are fun and quirky and also just her navigating them, and them kind of showing up in weird ways,” Amanat said. “I think that’s just a lovely metaphor still of her kind of growing and evolving herself and her learning to understand what it means to kind of show yourself as who you are versus pretending to be somebody else.”