I know the internet so before you start on me we are not talking about the quality of a work that hasn’t hit Disney+. Of course I haven’t seen it, and I also don’t plan to in the near future. I am talking about comments made by an actor and a decision made by a studio, one of which I actually kind of understand, and how it relates to the continuing discussion on superhero comic adaptation and comics’ status in the media pecking order. I am also not slamming the actress who made said comments but it does highlight what I’ve said about actors versus fans when it comes to adaptation.
The character’s creator admits part of her goal was to put Muslims in a more positive light while at the same time creating a superhero fan girl getting to live her dream versus her strict family customs. This is explicitly stated and that’s not up for debate. Some people will be happy with that and some won’t, that’s not my problem. No, the big controversy comes the changes in origin and powers for Kamala Khan. This isn’t the character’s first trip outside of comics, having appeared in a couple of animated works, which is only slightly higher on the pecking order than comics. It is however the first time her powers have changed, replacing her usual morphic powers with some kind of energy powers, creating an energy form of her fists or something like that. In an article Kevin Feige defended the change while actress Iman Vellani doesn’t care about the change. This is what we’re talking about, and while the change actually is understandable, the lack of concern shows how little the comic adapters care about the comics.
First we need to talk about her origin. I went looking for a few videos trying to find a good one, but Marvel put this out and I had to use it because…comics are weird, yo!
A clone of Thomas Edison…merged with a cockatiel. I’d say “you can’t make that up” but clearly someone did. Even then I looked up a Comicstorian video from when she moved into video games and her powers even more bizarre. The short version is we’re not getting into it. Ms. Marvel, taking one of Carol Danvers’ old codenames (I still say Warbird was Carol’s best codename) because Kamala is a huge superhero fangirl, mostly uses her powers to enlarge or shrink her body though apparently she does have some level of shapeshifting I didn’t know about until researching for this article because they never bring it up.
Kamala is apparently one of those humans with the gene to become an Inhuman, but given how badly The Inhumans did for Disney+ I wouldn’t be surprised if they want to distance themselves from that show. That doesn’t mean there couldn’t have been some other way to give her powers in a similar manner. Spider-Man is already so different from the original that I don’t care to watch the other two MCU movies no matter how many movie cameos they shove into it. (No love for Nicholas Hammond, the Japanese Spider-Man, or the voice actors I noticed. Imagine Doc Ock being taken out by Leopardon.) Still, use the multiverse somehow, some stray magic shot or leakage gives her the powers instead of some bracelet she can remove.
Not that the actress minds, or even cares about the powers. Like other superhero performers before her Vellani just likes playing the character she’s given and doesn’t care about being faithful to the comic. Someone posted this page scan from SFX Magazine in which she said she didn’t care about the powers.
For all I care she could shoot sausages out of her fingers, as long as she still goes on that self-discovery journey.
Not sure how shooting sausages would work. The same twitter account posted another quote she made in the article praising creator G. Willow Wilson’s run. She likes the character’s self-discovery but doesn’t really care about her powers. Her powers are part of her character. Watch the video from today’s quickpost. Her “embiggen” powers speak more to the character’s “otherness” from her strict Muslim household and from her friends who don’t understand her religion, neither of whom understand her draw to superheroes. I can at least speak to the otherness, growing up with a strong imagination, poor social skills, shyness, weak stomach, and short fuse, all of which made me a bully target during my school life and made it hard to relate to other people. Presumably the powers are in the bracelet, which she can take off any time she wants. Compare it to the comics, games, and cartoons in which the powers are part of her and the weirdness of those powers play into that theme of being apart from others and how weird it feels to not being able to connect with others. Creating energy fists isn’t exactly that weird and in fact is a lot cooler and less off-putting than Kamala’s traditional powers. I didn’t even think of that angle until seeing Pages To Pixel’s video.
So the idea that her polymorphic abilities are strange is certainly on point. Then again, that’s where the surface viewers come in. I’ve seen fans make fun of her ability as a cut-rate Reed Richards when they were introduced in the comics and in the Marvel animated shows. They say that enlarging her fists and stretching her limbs is a silly power, and I’m betting that’s what Marvel Studios and Disney+ are seeing and that’s why the powers were changed. As for the origin, tying her to a failed show would not look good to them, but as I said there are ways around that. The idea of the new Inhumans like Kamala were because Disney hadn’t bought Fox yet and didn’t want to promote the X-Men while 20th (21st?) Century Fox was still gripping the movie license. So Disney told Marvel to essentially replace the mutants with the Inhumans, and the allegory just didn’t match up as both teams already had their set roles in the Marvel mythology.
Compare Ms. Marvel to…well, a lot of others are comparing her to Spidey, so let’s start there. Peter was also ostracized, but because of his love of science, and we see the same thing in the manga reviews with Yu Komori. In both cases they get powers from a spider through science. Spiders are creepy, which given his first appearance was the last issue of a horror comic is rather fitting. Peter and Yu both go through times of being praised as Spider-Man and at the same time easily ostracized, while always being an outsider without the mask and sometimes with when it comes to fellow heroes. Even Peter’s Aunt May talks about how creepy spiders are and is uncomfortable with Spider-Man. There are other teen heroes in Kamala’s mold as well, like Chris Powell, the Darkhawk. He comes from the 1990s and has a grudge against criminals, so he gets this dark and creepy armor and powers like the “darkforce blast” while being almost jet black. The “edge against crime” is fitting for the edgy 1990s. On the opposite end is Solarman, a comic creator wannabe who gets a brighter superhero costume and powers, literally as the sun is the source of his powers. Ben Tucker is almost the opposite of Chris as he came from the 1980s. Frankly he might have been a better fit for DC Comics. Speaking of which there’s Firestorm, Gerry Conway’s attempt to do Peter through DC’s style. Ronnie Raymond considers himself a dumb jock with no control in his life. As Firestorm he actually has a genius in his head and can turn almost anything into almost anything else. In all these cases there’s a thematic connection between their powers and the personalities or character arc. “Removable bracelet that has a cool power” just doesn’t have the same theme as “freaky morphing powers”. As far as the special effects angle they’ve been doing Plastic Man for years on really cheap budgets. I’m pretty sure a 2020s Disney budget web series can outdo a low-budget 1980s tossed-in TV host segment.
What I’m saying is we need a Darkhawk…no, that’s a different thought. Sorry. What I mean is silly as the surface viewers may think it is, Kamala’s stretching powers are actually rather important not because they’re in the comics but WHY they’re in the comics, and the games, and the cartoons. The powers are part of her theme and character arc, which is just good superhero design whatever you may think of her. It plays into her theme. If they wanted to replace them to play to the “cool kids”, at least come up with something that makes sense to Kamala Khan’s story. That’s not what happened and the result may have weakened her, even if just a little bit. The MCU origin is going to have to make up for that mistake.