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Why we'll always love Ms. Marvel's comic book powers

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Kamala Khan has finally made it to the big time. With the premiere of Ms. Marvel on Disney+, the first Muslim superhero to headline their own Marvel comic completes the journey of pop-culture ascendance she's been on since she was first created by writer G. Willow Wilson, artist Adrian Alphona, and editors Stephen Wacker and Sana Amanat in 2014.

As portrayed by Iman Vellani, the personality and aesthetic that has already made Kamala an icon to so many fans remains intact with the Ms. Marvel show. She is still an avid superhero fan who makes her own Avengers fan-fiction, she's still the child of Pakistani immigrants who live in Jersey City, and she still pursues her own superhero responsibilities with exuberance once her powers manifest. But every adaptation necessarily brings about changes to fit a new format, and a very noticeable one is that Kamala's powers work very differently on screen than they do in Marvel comics.

In the Ms. Marvel show, Kamala manipulates energy into physical constructs like stepping discs or a giant fist. We're only two episodes in, so the full mechanics and potential of her powers have yet to be revealed, but so far they bear a striking resemblance to the Green Lantern ring from DC Comics — especially since Kamala's ever-present wrist bangle seems to play a key role in her powers. Lots of thought went into this change, as Amanat explained to EW in a Summer Preview interview last month. Since Vellani is set to star alongside Brie Larson's Carol Danvers and Teyonah Parris' Monica Rambeau in the upcoming film The Marvels, MCU architects clearly wanted Kamala's capabilities to line up more visibly with those energy-based heroes.

Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan in Marvel Studios' MS. MARVEL. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2022; Marvel Comics
Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan in Marvel Studios' MS. MARVEL. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2022; Marvel Comics

Marvel Studios; Marvel Comics Ms. Marvel (Iman Vellani) has finally made it to the MCU, with some changes.

But let's take a moment to celebrate Ms. Marvel's original power set. In the comics, Kamala is a shapeshifter. Rather than manipulating energy, she manipulates her own body. In her first appearances, she is literally able to take on the look of another person, like her mother or Carol Danvers, but after that, she focuses more specifically on changing the size of her body rather than the look.

Kamala can grow to a huge size, or she can shrink to be very tiny. What differentiates her from a character like Ant-Man is that she can also change the size of individual parts of her body rather than the whole at once. Her signature use of this is making her fist gigantic. Kamala herself would call this action "embiggen," and her popularity helped get that word into the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 2018. The show pays homage to that signature move by having Vellani's Kamala make big fists out of energy, but there's definitely an extra resonance to doing it physically.

Kamala Khan is defined by many things — her religion, her ethnicity, her hometown — but most of all, she's an incredible teen hero. In addition to fighting supervillains, she also faces struggles relatable to any modern young person: Drowning in extracurricular activities, finding a balance between work and personal life, trying to do right by both her family and friends.

MSMARV2015004_int-13
MSMARV2015004_int-13

Marvel Comics Kamala Khan struggles with both her powers and her responsibilities in 'Ms. Marvel' #4 by G. Willow Wilson and Takeshi Miyazawa.

The best thing about her original, physical powers is that they fit right into these teen problems. What young person hasn't woken up one day to find some part of their body suddenly mismatched with the rest?

"Not all of us have superpowers, but we all remember being 16 and feeling out of place in our bodies," Wilson told EW in 2018. "Having different limbs growing at different rates, it's a struggle we can all relate to."

Among other things, these original powers would admittedly be difficult to represent consistently on screen. TV shows and comic books are different mediums with different strengths and drawbacks. Thankfully, we can probably count on them both being able to continue on their own way. The days of Marvel comics redesigning characters to fit their MCU actors seem behind us as it's become clear that movie viewers and comic readers do not totally overlap.

Whatever your preference, it's a great time to be a Ms. Marvel fan!

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