As Marvel Studios’ newest project, Ms. Marvel, debuted its first episode, fans can now officially experience the first chapter in Kamala Khan’s Marvel Cinematic Universe journey. The new hero is also relatively new to Marvel comics, but the charismatic character has a strong following among fans. Fans are excited for Kamala to join the MCU, but one major change to the character has been hotly debated: her live-action character has significantly different powers than she has in the comics. While even star Iman Vellani, creators of the Ms. Marvel comics, and Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige have all expressed their support for the changes, some remain unconvinced. Now that the Disney+ series has formally introduced those powers, let’s dissect the differences between the comics and live-action powers and the debate surrounding them.
In the Ms. Marvel comics, Kamala’s Inhuman lineage is activated by the Terrigen Bomb. When she was exposed to the Terrigen Mist, she became able to stretch her body in pretty much any manner. Not only can she extend limbs, but she can grow or shrink, as well as shapeshift. These same abilities allow her to rapidly heal from injuries and effectively grant her super strength and speed. Kamala refers to her powers, particularly when she enlarges herself or parts of her body (such as her fist), as “embiggening.” Interestingly, it was later revealed that she is able to do this by time-traveling on a molecular level, meaning she is borrowing or giving her cells to past or future versions of herself in order to add or lose mass which allows her to embiggen or shapeshift.
While we will learn more about her live-action powers over the course of all six episodes of Ms. Marvel, there is no doubt that Kamala’s powers in the MCU are substantially different. First, the MCU has not officially introduced Inhumans to the live-action Earth-616, so no connections between the Inhumans and Kamala can currently be made. Instead, the bangle gifted by her grandmother unlocks powers that we can infer are related to her family history and lineage, at least in some way.
In terms of her actual powers, she seems to be able to project crystal-like light structures that are solid yet breakable. From what we saw at AvengerCon, she can shoot the projections away from her, suspend them in the air, or even use them as extensions of herself. Many have pointed out that these powers seem similar to the DC comics hero Green Lantern. The shot where she projects an extended arm and large fist to catch Zoe is clearly an homage to her comics abilities.
The debate goes beyond general disappointment that Ms. Marvel’s powers have been changed. On one hand, her embiggening powers are just cool. They look extraordinary on the page, and while shapeshifting and elongating are not exclusive to Kamala’s character in Marvel comics, something about the way Ms. Marvel uses her abilities always feels unique. Some fans have expressed disappointment purely on this front, but many also speculate that the MCU did not want her to have similar powers to the someday-introduced (to Earth-616) Reed Richards, aka Mr. Fantastic. Others guess that the budget for a Disney+ series may not have allowed for her comics powers to translate well to the screen. Both may be true (or false), but the main factor cited by the series’ creators is that her new powers are better suited to connect Kamala to Monica Rambeau and Captain Marvel in The Marvels.
In addition, plenty of fans are upset that Kamala does not seem to be Inhuman. As noted, though, establishing her as an Inhuman is not particularly practical in the current MCU. Even if Marvel Studios wanted to introduce the group through Ms. Marvel—which does not make the most sense—Kamala’s connection to them would not carry much weight. But the fact that her powers seem to still be linked to her own genes and family lineage is functionally similar to her Inhuman origins in the comics, even though it may not connect her to a larger superhuman group like it did in the comics. Still, it has yet to be seen if or how the ultimate source of her powers may relate to the greater MCU.
However, the biggest debate centers on how integral Kamala’s shapeshifting powers are to her story in the comics. Much of Kamala’s journey as a Pakistani teenager in Jersey City in the age of superheroes centers around her self-identity. Early on, after she discovered she had powers, she shapeshifted to look like Carol Danvers in the retired Ms. Marvel costume, because she struggled to reconcile how she viewed herself with what she thought superheroes looked like or should look like. Kamala’s story resonates with many, and her powers were the perfect conduit for her self-expression as well as an easy metaphor for self-consciousness. When she was afraid, embarrassed, or felt defeated, she could shrink to hide; when she felt confident, she could embiggen. Many fans are concerned that without her comics powers, that aspect of her and her story will be diluted. However, many people who worked on the series have openly given reassurances to fans that those worries are unnecessary and that Ms. Marvel does justice to Kamala Khan’s character.
Fans can judge Kamala’s new powers for themselves, as Ms. Marvel‘s first episode is now streaming on Disney+.