What Ms. Marvel Does Better Than Any Other MCU Show

When comparing DC to Marvel, the distinction people often use is that the heroes of the DC universe are superheroes first, humans second, while Marvel is about regular people first. When the MCU began with "Iron Man," it took more than half of the film's runtime before we actually saw Tony Stark in his iconic suit of armor. Say what you will about the juggernaut that is the MCU, but in the beginning, they took their time to make sure we cared about the heroes as people rather than pieces of IP.

Yet, as the franchise grew into what it is today, many of the Marvel movies started to focus more on worldbuilding than the actual characters. They introduce more side characters and story threads than they have time for. Sure, this has improved with the Disney+ TV shows, which allow the stories to breathe out a bit more (even if many of them should have been movies), and "Moon Knight" is at its best when it threw interconnectivity aside in favor of exploring its protagonist's fractured mind. Now, "Ms. Marvel" is carrying that torch and making sure we care about Kamala Khan first, and Ms. Marvel second.

Classic teenage Marvel hero

The moment Kamala debuted in the comics, she drew comparisons to another iconic teen superhero — Spider-Man. Comics writer Dan Slott described her as "the closest character to classic Peter Parker" due to the way her comics focused on the teenager part of the teenage superhero angle. 

"Ms. Marvel" the show follows suit. From the first episode, the show understood the assignment and also what makes Marvel heroes so compelling to read and watch, and focused on the personal life of Kamala. We spent most of the first episode with Kamala as a regular teenager before she even gets her powers, as we get to know her circle of friends, her family dynamics, and her insecurities. 

Indeed, so far we've spent more time learning about Kamala's home life than we've seen her train. We know more about what her friends are up to than what Damage Control has to do with the story. Like the best Disney Channel Original Series, "Ms. Marvel" is a show with a protagonist that has a secret life, but still mostly just cares about the protagonist being a regular teenager and trying not to embarrass herself at school. 

A story about identity

Even when the show dives into the mandatory mystery box, everything-is-connected MCU stuff, it is still very much rooted in Kamala's home life and her personal experience. Her powers may not be Inhuman after all, and they may be different from the comics, but the way the show is rooting Kamala's powers in her family and her identity is a delight to watch. It is not just that Kamala is struggling to control her abilities and the damage it is causing those around her, is that the abilities are an intricate part of who she is.

In the latest episode, Kamala talks to her grandmother, who tells her that even at her age she has issues defining her identity given that she was born and raised in India but her passport is Pakistani. The exploration of the Partition of India is a fascinating subject we don't see a lot of in western media, but it is absolutely a brilliant move that "Ms. Marvel" brings that part of history to a superhero show not just to introduce it to teach new audiences about it, but also to juxtapose Sana's identity struggles following the true horrors of Partition, and Kamala's current identity struggles with being part interdimensional being with powers.

A show that makes us care

Seeing Kamala visit Pakistan and explore her family's past and how it impacts her present is insightful and profound, and the most entertaining part of the show is when it simply lets us into Kamala's mundane life. Seeing Kamala just try to explore her complex family dynamics, her conservative older brother, her stern mom, and her well-meaning dad is interesting enough to sustain a whole show, superpowers or not, and their relationship feels more real than most of the ones we've seen in the MCU so far. Likewise, Kamala is one of the very few characters in the Marvel universe who has genuine friends who are neither love interests or teammates, and that counts for something.

When Aamir's wedding was ruined by the arrival of the Clandestine, it is heartbreaking because we've spent so much time with these characters and know how much the wedding meant to them, and also because of course, Kamala was going to get all the blame.

We will inevitably reach a point in the story where Kamala puts on her classic suit, fights a giant CGI-laden villain, and joins a hero group. But in the meantime, "Ms. Marvel" is at its best when it forgets about all of that and it just focuses on Kamala Khan the teenage girl from New Jersey.

"Ms. Marvel" is streaming on Disney+.