Episode Analysis Ms Marvel: Generation Why
Did Ms Marvel Generation Why meet the challenge of translating Kamala from the comics to the MCU?
Warning: The following contains spoilers for all of the MCU, read at your own risk.
I liked it.
As always we’re getting the quick review out of the way first so there you got: Ms Marvel Generation Why was a good episode. It gives me Hawkeye vibes in that it seems to be aiming for solid good as opposed to shooting for the sun and thus risking failure. As always we’ll see how the season progresses but by the end credits I was feeling comfortable, which is a good thing. I know this may seem like shade but it genuinely isn’t. If all MCU Disney+ shows follow the Hawkeye model I think they’d be well served! Not everybody can be Moon Knight (and, as Moon Knight’s five minute long finale showed, not even Moon Knight could sustain being Moon Knight.)
Of course the episode itself was a lot of setup so to that end I want to spend some time talking about Ms Marvel in her comics context and how they’re translating her for the screen because that is a big factor. As part of that we’ll talk about the ep itself, so let’s get started.
Kamala Khan in the Comics vs the MCU
Let’s point out the winged sloth in the room: they changed Kamala’s powers for the MCU. This was the first thing fans of the character noticed as spoilers and then trailers for the show started to come out and it’s also the thing that made fans of the character go WTF.
Now to be clear, the MCU has translated comics characters all the time. Taskmaster in the comics is a guy. Sam Wilson in the comics talks to birds. Comics Tony Stark is, extremely notably, a recovering alcoholic. The list goes on.
These are key things to have changed about the characters. However the changes work (sorry butthurt Tony Masters fans) because they respect the core of the character’s concept while making them fit into the world building we’ve seen in the MCU. Redwing can be a drone because MCU Sam Wilson appears in more grounded (heh) movies and TV shows where extra strong and fast super soldiers is as far as they want to extend the disbelief of the audience. MCU Tony Stark doesn’t have to be an alcoholic when he’s being played by Robert Downey Jr who can bring the addictive mindset to the character without jeopardizing his own real world recovery in the process.
So what about Kamala Khan?
Well we’re gonna have to wait and see. But the thing I want to come out of the gate saying is that it’s not bad, in and of itself, to change Kamala’s powers. Likewise it’s not bad in and of itself to tweak her character. The issue is how well are these changes going to work.
For me it’s too early to say. I don’t want to condemn anything in the first episode because we don’t know where they’re going from here. I’ll say there’s things that made me go hmm. There’s things that made me side eye. But these are things that are not insurmountable. I’m still going to talk about them though so that those not familiar with the comics understand why fans of the character are doing side eyes in the first place.
Setting the wayback machine for when Ms Marvel was announced in 2013 you have to understand that part of the landscape was that Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel had only been around for about a year. And, butthurt fanbois being butthurt fanbois, of course the announcement that an icky girl with girl cooties was taking on the title of Captain was a total woke publicity stunt that would be reversed in two seconds and wah wah wah.
Which sadly was not a ridiculous assumption. Not because calling Carol Captain Marvel was “woke” (she’s actually a full bird Colonel so “Captain” is a lesser title and this was something they addressed in the comics when she took the name on) but in the sense that comics characters change their names all the time. It was not out of the realm of possibility that Carol would be Captain Marvel for a while and then they’d switch her over to any of the other names she’s gone by in the past or even make up something new if comics sales demanded it.
Therefore when Marvel teased a Ms Marvel series ahead of announcing a new comics lineup there was a feeling of dread in the Carol Corps (Captain Marvel’s fanbase) that Carol was losing her “Captain.” Finding out that the book was actually going to be about a Pakistani-American Muslim teenage girl from Jersey City was both a relief and very exciting. Calling Carol Ms Marvel again would’ve been a demotion. A teenage girl taking the name on is someone moving towards adulthood and owning her own strength and independence.
That Kamala was also a diehard fangirl was an extra bonus. Kamala played MMORPGs! She wrote fanfic! She wrote fanfic about the Avengers! She’s one of us!
With regards to Kamala’s powers in the comics, she’s basically super stretchy. This trailer which shows off her in game power set for the 2020 Avengers game gives a fair idea of what she can do. (And also shows that the CG exists to make this happen, more on this in a sec.)
Now the reason why Kamala is stretchy is that it was symbolic of who she was as a person. It was not a coincidence that a brown girl from Jersey was looking up to a beautiful blonde white woman as her hero - and remember this is in the comics where there are a metric buttload of heroes for Kamala to choose from and Carol was still the one Kamala went with. Kamala felt like she didn’t have anybody like her as an inspiration. She felt like she wasn’t society’s ideal in any measure. She felt like - wait for it - she didn’t fit in. Of course her power was going to be that she could bend herself into any shape and make herself into any size.
(If this feels a little too on the nose please remember that Tony Stark’s path to becoming a hero began with him needing to replace his heart. Subtle has never been our watchword.)
Bringing this to the MCU, the starting argument most people made for changing Kamala’s powers is that it’s too much like Reed Richards and they’re saving that for Fantastic 4 and blah bloo blee. But look, if you want to make the “We’re not redoing powers” argument you need to remember that the only difference between Tony Stark, Carol Danvers, and Ikaris shooting energy beams is that Tony uses a flat hand, Carol makes a fist, and Ikaris’s come out of his eyes. Like let’s not kid ourselves that power individuality has been a guiding force of the MCU at any moment in time.
The next argument is that the FX for realistic stretchy powers is way too expensive to do correctly. And I get it. We all know part of why Moon Knight’s finale was blink and you’ll miss it is because the Ammit vs Konshu kaiju battle ate up the entire FX budget and probably a few other shows’ besides. But that isn’t a reason to not do it. The Flash had Elongated Man and their budget is entirely based off of Grant Gustin standing outside the WB studios with an open guitar case and a sign saying “Will remind you I am not Ezra Miller for cash.”
I’m not saying giving Kamala her full embiggen might not have looked stupid but in a world of the final act Black Panther CGI battle we, both the fans and the studio, need to get off our high horses about some nonexistent platonic CGI ideal when it comes to these movies and shows. Don’t get me wrong, I would be thrilled if Marvel Studios stopped going for “Cheap and Fast” in the “Cheap, Fast, Good: pick two because you ain’t getting all three” decision making tree of their special FX. But they aren’t so we can either repeat to ourselves it’s just a show or for some reason make the decision to stress about things that do not involve the cure for cancer. I’m firmly in camp number one here.
But whatever. They changed Kamala’s powers and the supposed official reason is that it fits better into the MCU story today. Hopefully that gets explained over the course of this season because you know my feelings about shows whose only claim to quality are based on what might happen.
That being said, the fact that Kamala’s new powers are prettier than her stretchy powers has people nervous. Also I, personally, am not a fan of how the setup for these powers is forcing Kamala as a character to be a head in the clouds dreamer which also does not tie with her comics counterpart.
Now I’m not condemning the show on this yet. I’m merely putting a sticky note next to this as an item of concern which hopefully will be resolved by the end of the season. But in much the same way that Big Bang Theory has people going “This is so great for geeks and nerds! It mentions geeky and nerdy stuff!” and also people going “Yeah, it mentions it to make fun of people who like those things” I side eye the idea that MCU Kamala’s fannishness is presented as a weakness instead of a strength.
You see the thing about Kamala in the comics was that she was passionate about what she felt. She wanted to do the right thing even if, as a teenager, she wasn’t wholly sure what that was. Her being a fan of the Avengers to the point that she wrote fanfic about them was an example of how strongly she felt about being a hero. She inspired other heroes because she could see the big picture of what they meant to people outside of simply saving someone’s life one day.
Changing her writing about the Avengers by putting it into the framework of this being something that marks Kamala as a daydreaming scatterbrain is completely the wrong way to go about it. It’s like taking Carol’s getting back up because fuck you and turning it into Carol having some weird pathological fear of chairs.
I’m also going to be a super picky bitch (which, let’s face it, is my brand) and say I’m not a fan of taking Kamala’s fanfic and turning it into videos. I get it, TV is a visual medium. But you can just as easily visually translate her fanfic visually as you can her making an actual video. If anything it makes more sense to do it that way because you’re showing what’s in her imagination. And to be fair, the summary for the show on the Disney+ site says she writes fanfic so maybe we’ll see it in a future episode. But, again in the Big Bang Theory of it all, I can’t help but notice that in general the MCU loves to show fannish behavior so long as it’s approved fannish behavior. Kamala’s video is essentially a news story, not fiction. Peter Parker and Ned love Star Wars but their love is to buy branded Lego products and put them together exactly according to the instructions. Even Kamala being a cosplayer is approved because Marvel Studios loves using cosplayers to advertise their movies to the point where they set up special areas in movie premieres for their photos to be taken.
Fanfic, on the other hand, is transformative. It’s taking the source material and making it your own. And I get that legally that’s not a great place for those who own the rights to the material. I’m not disputing that. But combine nudging Kamala away from fanfic with taking her love of fannish things and framing it as her weakness earns a significant side eye from yours truly.
Now this could be fixed! It may be that the setup here is that they say everyone considers it a weakness at first but by the end of the series, since her imagination is what helps her shape her powers, it turns out to be what makes her uniquely suited to be this kind of hero. This is why I’m not saying it’s an awful thing that should be condemned, it’s just something I have flagged as something to keep an eye on.
But Was Ms Marvel Generation Why Any Good?
I did like it! Honestly, I did! All of the above isn’t a failing grade. It’s not even a grade! It’s food for conversation and future observation. In terms of the show itself I thought it was good.
I want to give a particular shout out to how they did not shy away from Kamala being Pakistani and Muslim. Before the show aired I was telling a friend that I was worried that Ms Marvel wouldn’t get the Moon Knight treatment of things like being allowed to use music more appropriate to the characters and the culture so I was thrilled to be wrong both in terms of the score and the soundtrack. I especially loved that they didn’t shy away from it in the moment when Kamala’s powers kicked in.
I loved how they handled Kamala’s family. In the comics this was also one of the things where they made it very clear Kamala’s culture and religion shaped who she was as a person, and that the same culture and religion was expressed differently by the members of her family. I’m too lazy to double check it but I’m pretty sure the intro of Aamir spending so much time praying over his food instead of eating it was pulled directly from the comics.
I liked how they reinterpreted why Kamala would be a fan of Carol. Another difference between the comics to the MCU is that when Kamala became Ms Marvel Carol was still spending most of her time on Earth, based out of Manhattan. So in the comics it made sense that Kamala, across the river over in Jersey City, would be familiar enough with Carol to be a diehard fangirl of her. MCU Carol, on the other hand, has barely been on the planet. So translating that into the concept that somebody could appear when you least expect it and save the day really worked for me, particularly for Kamala as a teenager trying to find her place in the world.
I loved how many comics shout outs there were in terms of names and straight up visuals, like the posters in Kamala’s room. I’d love for the people who worked on those comics to be paid more for their influence and appearance in this show but in terms of the handling of it I liked it. They were there and if you know you know but it wasn’t something that hit you over the head or demanded your knowledge of the comics in order to appreciate the episode. I won’t give specific examples in case they turn out to be spoilers but I also liked how there were some details in references and conversations that either were a tip of the hat to some of Kamala’s notable comics storylines and/or are foreshadowing things to come for the series.
I’ll also say that while I have my reservations about how fannish things are being presented, I did like how they handled cosplayers. My guess is that they simply put out a call for local cosplayers to be extras (and I could swear one of the Captain Marvel cosplayers was a notable one in the community but I can’t say for sure). But even so it was nice to see the authenticity of how there are different cosplay types and takes on the characters. Also let us bask in the irony that Yusuf’s take on Hulk is undoubtedly going to be a popular one at conventions to come in spite of Kamala’s embarrassment over it.
I’m going to say this as a full caveat for the series as a whole: I never liked Bruno Carrelli. From minute one in the comics he struck me as a Nice Guy more than a friend to Kamala and I have to say his MCU counterpart isn’t giving me any different vibes. Frankly the fact that MCU Bruno is a close talker makes me dislike him even more. This is no shade on the actor who’s doing a great job, this is just me giving disclosure that frankly Bruno can sit with Dr Strange in the pile of Marvel characters I never gave a shit about nor needed to appear in the MCU.
But otherwise yeah, I did like it. Solid outing, looking forward to seeing where we go from here.
As always, things that don’t fit anywhere else:
- “It’s not the brown girls from Jersey City who save the world” was a clunky line to me where they put it. I’m totally fine for the line as a concept, but it didn’t feel connected to the conversation Kamala and Bruno were having. They weren’t discussing wanting to be a hero or even the idea that Kamala as a brown girl couldn’t do anything a white girl could do. I would’ve much rather this line appeared in a moment where Kamala was debating being a hero. Or, hell, wondering what to put down as her ambitions for the future for that conversation with her guidance counselor.
- What convention only takes place at night? Even small fannish conventions start either mid Thursday or Friday and go through Sunday. I get that the cosplay competition might be at night (since I confirmed with a friend who goes to more comic cons than I do that that’s when those tend to take place) but the entire convention? That was such a weird detail that it threw me. Like when Muneeba accused Kamala of wanting to go to a party at night I was like okay now Kamala clarifies that this is happening on a Saturday afternoon and… nope, apparently entirely at night. Just have Kamala say the only part she cared about was the cosplay competition and it would’ve fixed it.
- Kamala gets powers out of nowhere in the middle of a public place and she and Bruno have zero conversation about it? Like at all? I get that they’re probably saving those scenes for episode 2 but that was another moment which threw me out of the story for no reason. Like just add some dialogue! “Are we going to talk about this?” “If I don’t get home before my parents catch me I won’t be alive long enough to talk!” boom, done.
- Absolutely loved all the shout outs to Black Widow at the convention, especially the reminder that she should be honored along with Tony in terms of people who gave their lives to save the world.
- How in the hell do people on Earth know the Guardians of the Galaxy? I’ll buy Rocket and Nebula since maybe it was known they were working with Natasha during the five years. But Groot? Gamora? Peter? Drax? They only showed up for the final fight at the Avengers compound! As far as the people of Earth should know even if they did know the Guardians were there they shouldn’t be any more significant to the story than Wakandan Soldier #183.
- I liked the little detail that Kamala’s cosplay in fantasy was better than it was in reality.
- Scott Lang having a podcast absolutely tracks.
- “Are you staying for dinner? Okay I’ll pack you something to go.” and that’s how you know Muneeba’s not Swedish.
- I’m not a huge fan of how the MCU in general is only using purple to indicate powers these days. Maybe it’s leading to something where there’s a specific connection between things like Wakanda’s vibranium, the Egyptian gods, and now Kamala’s abilities but as it is I just feel like somebody over there forgot to kick in the $4.99 to unlock the full color pack in Draw Something.
- The show is being headed by, and this ep was written by, Bisha K Ali whose previous claim to fame was writing the worst episode of Loki and yes we’re aware that’s a category with stiff competition. That being said, just because she had a bad time on Loki doesn’t mean she’s necessarily bad in general. Notably Loki’s costume designer thrived when working on another show. So I note the history just for another thing to be aware of as we compare and contrast. Hopefully with Ms Marvel, like Our Flag Means Death, we’ll see the positive difference a production team can make.
- I’m always a fan of seeing Anjali Bhimani in things. Though I have to wonder if she got personal amusement out of being in a scene where she’s commenting on somebody else being too short.
- The Trust a Bro van in the closing credits was a cute touch.
And that’s all for now! See you next week, same Kamala time, same Kamala channel.