One year later, Ms. Marvel’s premiere reigns supreme

Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan in Marvel Studios' MS. MARVEL. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.
Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan in Marvel Studios' MS. MARVEL. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved. /

Happy first birthday, Ms. Marvel!

Well, to be fair, the Pakistani-American superhero known as Ms. Marvel, a.k.a. Kamala Khan, is more like 16 or so years old, and her first official solo Marvel comic turned nine years this year, but I’m referring to the onscreen iteration of this character from Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Last summer marked the debut of Ms. Marvel, the MCU’s sixth live-action streaming series on Disney+. The first episode, entitled “Generation Why,” premiered on June 8th, 2022.

You might be asking: what’s the point of an article about a single-season show from a year ago, particularly in an era where any media is lucky to remain in the public consciousness for more than a couple of weeks? Surely a one-year-old show holds little to no relevance to general audiences anymore and isn’t worth talking about, right?

To give myself a little credit, there is an argument to be made that Ms. Marvel is at least partially relevant because its title character, played by Iman Vellani, is appearing in an MCU movie later this year (the Captain Marvel sequel, The Marvels, out November 10th, 2023), but that’s actually not why I’m writing this.

The main reason I’ve felt so inclined to look back on Kamala Khan’s live-action debut at this moment in time is because of its recent anniversary. I’m the kind of person who absolutely adores marking time, and I deliberately track anniversaries for as many parts of my life as possible, particularly when it comes to the media I’ve enjoyed.

I’ve just always found that an anniversary, especially the first anniversary of something, is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on how my relationship with that particular piece of media has evolved in the last 365 days. As well, it forces me to consider how that art changed me in that same period. There’s just something about using a full calendar year as a nice, clean point of demarcation. Given this, and given that I’ve been a massive proponent of the MCU Disney+ shows ever since early 2021, acknowledging the anniversary of one of the shows in this fashion just makes sense.

There have, of course, been several series in the last few years since WandaVision introduced the concept of integrated television content to the MCU, but I’ve elected to highlight Ms. Marvel because I not only regard it as one of the best introductions to a new character in the entirety of this franchise, but also because this show, and particularly its premiere episode, has had a profound impact on my own life.

So let’s get started, shall we?

One year ago, I was pretty much the same degree of MCU fan as I am right now, but the key difference is that despite having already devoted nearly half my life to these superhero stories, I’d never actually experienced anything remotely close to the gratifying sensation of seeing myself portrayed onscreen.

All that changed with the first episode of Ms. Marvel.

Before I go any further, it feels pertinent to note that I am neither Pakistani-American, nor a member of the Islamic faith, and I’m also not a teenage girl anymore, but if there’s one trait I will forever share with Kamala Khan, it’s a fervent, near-obsessive enthusiasm for all things fandom. I imagine many fans of Marvel can relate to this, and I’d reckon it’s precisely why Kamala so quickly became such a beloved character.

(If you would like to read about the impact of this show as written by members of those communities I mentioned above, I’d encourage this column by The Guardian‘s Saima Mir, or this article in The Washington Post by Jalal Baig, among many, many others available online.)

Written by series creator, head writer, and executive producer Bisha K. Ali, and directed by executive producers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah (collectively billed as ‘Adil & Bilal’), the first episode of Kamala Khan’s small-screen adventures is far more recognizable as a coming-of-age story than as a superhero origin story – and that’s exactly the point.

As supervising producer Jenna Berger put it during the behind-the-scenes Assembled: The Making of Ms. Marvel documentary special:

"“We always said that this show needed to be able to exist without Kamala having superpowers. We’re really focused on building the stakes of Kamala’s personal life. The stakes of her friendships, of her family, and the things that she wants before she ever gets powers.”"

When I was rewatching this episode in January to ring in the new year (yes, I’m a nerd, if you couldn’t already tell), I legitimately forgot that Kamala would acquire her Hard Light powers by the end of the 45-minute runtime. It took until the point in the episode where Kamala’s best friend, Bruno Carrelli, is providing suggestions for a final flourish for her Captain Marvel cosplay for it to occur to me that there was an entire action sequence/rescue moment still to come in the episode. (Mind you, this was also my ninth time viewing it, so it’s not like I was unfamiliar with the material.)

I was just so engrossed in the day-to-day, high school, Jersey City life of Kamala that I didn’t find myself missing her superhero adventures at all in this first installment of her show. I just adored spending time with Kamala and her friends and family in her world, and I still do – I’ve now seen this episode a dozen times since it aired!

Perhaps the most significant conclusion I’ve come to in the year since this show began is that this first episode has ascended to the status of being my favorite piece of content from Marvel (I love rankings almost as much as I love anniversaries). I admittedly enjoy some other MCU shows and movies just a smidge more than Ms. Marvel in its six-episode entirety – namely, WandaVision, Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Avengers: Endgame – but this one specific episode miraculously and delightfully manages to capture everything I’ve ever loved about this franchise, this genre, this style of storytelling, you name it, in a 45-minute package. I can confidently point to Ms. Marvel’s premiere and say: “That. That’s why I love Marvel.”

Critically speaking, it’s highly regarded, tied with the finale as the show’s highest-rated episode on IMDB, and as the premiere, it signifies the beginning of an important moment for South Asian and Muslim representation in mainstream media, a moment that was extremely long-overdue.

It’s also just really freaking fun, incredibly earnest, and endlessly rewatchable for me as a Marvel fan.

Right off the bat, the episode uses the same music from Ms. Marvel’s main trailer, The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights,” to great effect as we watch Kamala reenact the events of Endgame for her YouTube channel via paper cut-outs. It’s immediately clear from this opening sequence not only who Kamala is as a character, but also what tone this show will embody.

From there, the episode continues to be impeccable, introducing us to a bevy of distinct and well-rounded supporting characters (Kamala’s mother, Muneeba, her guidance counselor, Mr. Wilson, and the aforementioned Bruno are my standouts here, portrayed by Zenobia Shroff, Jordan Firstman, and Matt Lintz, respectively). It has imaginative, colorful, and stylistic visuals (that texting sequence, anyone?), complemented by a brilliant score from composer Laura Karpman. The music of this show perfectly captures Kamala’s energy, as well as the intersecting cultural and youthful flavors that make her who she is, and Karpman cleverly plants the seeds for nearly all the main themes in just this first episode, including, of course, Kamala’s hero theme.

As a bonus, this episode even has a post-credits scene that I really wasn’t anticipating, one that ties into Spider-Man: No Way Home and sets up the series’ Jersey-based group of antagonists, the Department of Damage Control (DODC).

There’s clearly plenty of praise to bestow upon Ms. Marvel’s premiere, but there are two sequences in particular in “Generation Why” that have taken up permanent residence in my brain ever since last June, and I’d like to devote the rest of this anniversary article to putting them both in the spotlight.

The first is what I’ve dubbed the ‘Big Hulk, Little Hulk’ scene that takes place between Kamala and her parents, Muneeba and Yusuf. In it, Kamala has just been informed that she can, in fact, attend AvengerCon after all…with some stipulations. Kamala doesn’t agree with her parents’ proposition to have Yusuf accompany his daughter to the event, teenage embarrassment likely playing a considerable part in her reaction here, and the moment devolves to the point where Kamala makes an unintentionally hurtful declaration and her parents’ deal gets taken off the table entirely.

I genuinely cried watching this scene the first time I saw it, and I think it was because I honestly didn’t know who my heart broke for more — Kamala, for having a family that may never understand her in the deep, personal ways she so desperately wants to be understood, or Muneeba and Yusuf, for trying their very best for Kamala (including her mom sewing an entire Hulk costume for her and her dad willingly dressing up in said costume and donning full face paint for her) but still having those efforts go unappreciated by their teenager who fails to recognize what’s truly important here.

One year later, the emotional resonance of this interaction is as strong as ever, and in my opinion, it remains one of the most masterfully crafted scenes in the entire show.

It’s then immediately followed by another exceptional scene, as Kamala goes to Bruno for support, and to sort through her emotions after having this fight with her parents.

I will literally never forget what Kamala tells her best friend during the quiet moment they share on the rooftop of his apartment:

"Kamala: “Yeah, but maybe they’re right. Maybe I spend too much time with fan art, and costumes, and with my head stuck in fantasy land. So…”Bruno: “Who is “they”?”Kamala: “My mom. My teachers. Mr. Wilson. Everyone. There was a girl who decided she wanted to go backpacking around Europe. And you would literally think she joined a death cult given the way all the aunties just gossip about her.”Bruno: “I’m lost. What does that have to do with AvengerCon?”Kamala: “Because dressing up as Captain Marvel is weird.”Bruno: “No, it’s not.”Kamala: “It is childish. And I know that, okay? And let’s be honest, it’s not really the brown girls from Jersey City who save the world.”Bruno: Sure they do. You’re Kamala Khan. You wanna save the world? Then you’re gonna save the world.”"

Truthfully, this short exchange is quite possibly the most personally significant conversation I’ve ever witnessed in a movie or show, and it’s the reason Ms. Marvel will always occupy a prestigious spot in my heart. The self-doubt Kamala expresses here is so frighteningly relatable to me, as is her self-awareness. She fully understands the way she’s perceived by those around her and in her community. She already knows what people think about this side of her. She’s well aware that her interests – and more importantly, the intensity of them – are far from conventional.

All these people she’s listed to Bruno may indeed be watching out for her and trying to enlighten her as to the error of her ways, but they’re not telling her anything she doesn’t already know.

This all speaks to me on such a deep, meaningful level, as a working adult woman with a non-creative job who’d prefer to be known for my unceasing enthusiasm for storytelling and superhero fandom over pretty much anything else in my life.

Case in point – I’m very excited for Kamala’s next onscreen appearance as one of three leads in The Marvels on November 10th. This Captain Marvel sequel is really important to me, and I’d like to ensure that I have zero distractions in order to give the film the attention it deserves, so, naturally, I used a week’s worth of my limited vacation days to have that entire second week of November off.

Just like Kamala, of course, I know that it’s weird to love something as much as I love the MCU. I’m well aware of how abnormal it is to schedule my life around Marvel’s movie releases and their Disney+ show episode drops. I fully understand that my time could be better spent contributing to society in several more traditionally acceptable ways than, for instance, rewatching Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.3 seven times in theatres in less than two months, or No Way Home four times in its first five days of release.

This is exactly the degree of intense fangirl behavior that’s nearly impossible to explain to my coworkers, most of my family, many of my friends, and certainly strangers on the street, but you know what? It all feels exactly like what  Kamala herself would do.

So, how has this last year changed me, then? What have I learned from watching Kamala’s trials and tribulations over the course of six episodes? What’s different in my life, if anything, as a result of this show?

Well, I’m happy to report that because of Ms. Marvel, I took the plunge and began journeying into the world of Marvel comics for the very first time (the movies had been my entry point for this franchise, not the comics that inspired it). I also accidentally found a creative writing partner in the comments section of some Ms. Marvel fanfiction stories – we’ve since collaborated on a novella, and I’ll be visiting her for the very first time in a month from now. I even finally started a podcast with my best friend, something we’d been talking about doing for years (the episode dedicated to Ms. Marvel includes mention of that very rooftop scene I praised earlier in this article). And, to bring it all full circle, in the time since Ms. Marvel aired, I also began contributing to Culturess.

All in all, in this regard, it’s been a pretty good year.

Therefore, as exemplified by Kamala over the course of her show, I vow to continue to embrace this side of myself rather than abolish it. Who knows where else it could lead?

Happy anniversary, Ms. Marvel, and thank you to everyone involved both in front of and behind the camera, for everything they’ve done for the underrepresented communities I’m not a part of, and for those that I am. I never knew how much I needed this show in my life.

All six episodes of the first season of Ms. Marvel are available to stream on Disney+.