Considering that the character of Kamala Khan — better known as the modern-day Ms. Marvel — only made her debut in August 2013, she's already made quite a mark. Indeed, the comic's creator Sana Amanat was introduced at Women's History Month in March by none other than President Barack Obama:
"Ms. Marvel may be your comic book creation, but I think for a lot of young boys and girls, Sana's a real superhero."
High praise indeed — and fair, too. Kamala Khan has captured a generation and surely it's only a matter of time before she enters the MCU.
What Makes Kamala Khan So Special?
Right now, Marvel Comics has a strong focus on what are commonly referred to as legacy heroes. These are new characters who stand in the shadow of an older, established superhero; the original superhero becomes an inspirational figure, while the new one bears a powerful mantle to enhance their mystique. Kamala Khan, of course, has the title Ms. Marvel. She's testimony to the legacy of Carol Danvers, or Captain Marvel, who will be the first female superhero to star in a solo Marvel movie.
But Kamala Khan is a lot more than just a legacy hero. She's an everyman figure, created in the pattern of Peter Parker, a teenager who is introduced into a world of superheroes. Her response is everything any fanboy would have in those circumstances, and her team-ups are characterized by gleeful exuberance; her delight at being part of the Avengers is beautiful to see.
Curiously enough, Kamala Khan is dramatically countercultural in two ways. First of all, at a time when Islam is often mired in controversy in the US, she's an American Muslim; her complex cultural identity is the rich backdrop for her ongoing comics. This new Ms. Marvel's power as a cultural icon was never better displayed than in 2015, when the anti-Islamic American Freedom Defense Initiative purchased bus ads in San Francisco that equated Islam with Nazism. Street artists took action, using Kamala Khan as their symbol:
Another key part of Kamala Khan's brilliance is that she challenges stereotypes of youth. In the 1920s, social patterns began to change and the concept of the teenager emerged. This new subculture of society was met with fear and apprehension, and by 1954 Newsweek ran the cover: “Let’s Face It: Our Teenagers Are Out Of Control." The fear of youth has only seemed to increase with time, as the social differences between today's teenagers and their parents grows ever wider (in part due to the changing social patterns caused by new technology). In turn, this then leads to a fear of the future itself.
Kamala Khan stands front and center in opposition to this fear. She insists that the future is bright and today's teenagers will transform the world for the better. Her first supervillain was a new character who was trying to persuade teenagers that they were worthless, in order to use them as nothing more than biochemical power batteries — but check out Ms. Marvel's response to the kids who believed him:
All of these elements — the legacy of Captain Marvel, the boldness of her ethnic origin (she's the first American-Muslim superhero to star in her own book), and the countercultural message of hope — combine to make Kamala Khan a fantastic character. This is greatly helped by the brilliant writing of G. Willow Wilson, who has ensured that Kamala Khan's characterization transcends all these messages.
Is It Possible To Introduce Kamala Khan's Ms. Marvel To The Marvel Cinematic Universe?
Although Captain Marvel is already set to enter the MCU, the film won't be released until 2019. What's more, Carol Danvers' MCU debut will be as Captain Marvel; she's skipping straight past the Ms. Marvel title. Given that Kamala Khan was created in part standing in Captain Marvel's shadow, at first glance we'd seem to need time for that shadow to be set in place.
But that's not necessarily the case. Although the relationship between Kamala Khan and Carol Danvers is a fun one, there's no reason why Kamala couldn't simply be a separate character. She's well-developed enough to be a lot more than just a legacy hero, after all. What's more, the MCU's approach may actually make things easier; the lightning-bolt symbol that Kamala wears in honor of her mentor is likely going to be skipped completely in the Captain Marvel movie.
Tom Holland's Spider-Man has introduced a new dynamic to the MCU, one of exuberant youth that could well start a trend. Marvel deliberately chose to introduce the MCU Spider-Man as a 15-year-old kid, and there's no reason why he should be the only younger superhero out there. In another hopeful sign, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had its own release of Terrigen, the Inhuman chemical that triggered Kamala Khan's powers. Similar concepts will no doubt be part of Marvel's Inhumans movie, postponed until Phase Four. So the mechanics are there already.
How Could Marvel Pull It Off?
In my view, there are two ways Marvel could choose to introduce Kamala Khan. On the one hand, this introduction could take place in the movies; perhaps as a new Inhuman, one who encounters the Inhuman royal family and thus becomes our point-of-view character as we delve into a whole new corner of the MCU. This idea, obviously, would put her in Marvel's Inhumans movie as a particularly important character.
The second way is on the small screen, although Kamala's shapeshifting, body-morphing, size-changing power set might make her a bit too expensive for this medium. In narrative terms, though, I think this would be the best way to use the character; the rich, interpersonal dynamics of Kamala's world seem highly suited to episodic drama. ABC's shift toward one-and-done episodic formats wouldn't be a problem for a series featuring Kamala Khan, and might well make her an ideal fit. You could even broaden this theme to start introducing more young superheroes...
I know it's great seeing iconic superheroes on the big screen, but the reality is that comic book writers have created lots of good characters since the 1960s. There's no reason we can't see some of these up-and-coming superheroes join the MCU, and I for one think we're very much the poorer without Kamala Khan's Ms. Marvel. Bring it on!