This is the start of a 6 week test for me so we will see how this goes. I’ve never reviewed a TV show without at least a season or even a second episode. Future reviews may be wisps. But we will see.
Who is the breakout comic book character of the last 15 years? There are a number of good answers. Harley Quinn pulled away and got a semi-solo film along with a hit show. Obviously Deadpool. I could argue the Guardians of the Galaxy. But there is a character that feels unique to me. Kamala Khan made her first cameo 9 years ago, her first true appearance 8-1/2 years ago, and had her first TV episode yesterday. I know a ton of people who don’t really read comics but who got in to read her. To me, Kamala is the indisputable breakout character.
So it goes without saying her first appearance in live action–she was in Marvel Rising in animation–had to be correct. The pressure was almost impossibly high with the maximum amount of eyes. There couldn’t be a Thor that gets summoned by a college student here. Especially when you factor in the glorious climate we’re in. If you’re doing a show with a Muslim heroine good enough absolutely isn’t. Great was needed. The pilot had to be true to the character and high quality. If not, no second shot.
Whew, we’re good for now.
The first episode is a fantastic start, a stylish, funny, clever adaptation of the comics that draws from a diverse blend of influences ranging from the comics and the Avengers game to Clarissa Explains it All and Chris Columbus’ golden age. This is a 40 minute ride that also accomplishes what most Marvel pilots haven’t and feels like an actual pilot to an ongoing series as opposed to a self contained story. I actually felt like I was watching a show.
The pilot, named after the first arc of the comic in one of many nods to the material, focus on Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), a Muslim teenager in New Jersey facing a very normal life as a fangirl. She’s Avengers obsessed with her YouTube channel rapidly filling in how the world views the heroes along with answering the plothole of how anybody on the street knows what happened at the end of Endgame. (Scott Lang is a constant podcast guest.) She’s a normal high schooler with a best friend (Matt Lintz), a popular girl enemy (Laurel Marsden), and of course parents that don’t understand her (Mohan Kapur and Zenobia Shroff).
The show kicks off when a box of her grandmother’s things is sent to Kamala as she is looking to fix up a Captain Marvel costume for a fan con. Kamala discovers a bracelet and adds it to her costume as she sneaks out to the con. Then she puts the bracelet on and of course everything goes awry as it gives her hard light powers. A disaster ensues. And of course she gets caught by her mother. But we know what she can do. End of episode.
I’m working from what amounts to one issue of a comic. And I think the fact that I can judge this in those terms is how you know it nailed the job it has as such. We have a heroine. We have a cast. We have a world. We have a distinctive tone. We have an origin. The only thing we don’t have is the costume yet. But we have so many things in place to run from here. And it’s hard not to want that next episode.
I’ll get the obvious thing everyone is praising out now. This show belongs to Iman Vellani who is Christopher Reeve and Hugh Jackman level perfect as Kamala. Yes there’s a lot of metatext that she’s very similar. I don’t care. I care that she sells Kamala and she is from the first word the character we love. If the character never got her powers, I would be hooked on just her.
But of course she’s not the only actor singing. I was shocked at how much Kapur and Shroff sell their work as her parents. The easy thing to do is to have these characters be stern and unlikable. They’re deeply warm, funny people that obviously love their daughter. They really help push this to another level. If the show is to be about a daughter going against her parents, I genuinely feel like the deck is stacked fairly to make it hurt. Lintz and Marsden also fill their roles well, though they don’t have all the material I know their characters can get just yet from the comics. These are characters to watch.
The show gets off to a strong start technically. The pilot comes from directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah who show tremendous flair here. The show has a distinct, weird look with graphics that feel genuinely of a young woman’s mind and even a great fantasy scene. It’s also well written by showrunner Bisha K. Ali. The dialogue crackles.
I’m not all in here. It’s too early to tell if the change of origin from Inhumanity (one of my least favorite comic events ever for the record) to a family artifact will work. It feels like it could go bad. I also feel like while a clash between generations is a teenage trope, I want this to feel real and earned and not the typical one we see with Muslim characters as if conservative families of all kinds don’t have it. Lastly, it really does irk me her Muslim friend Nakia is barely in it while her white bully gets far more screen time. (Bruno, Lintz’s character, is in proportion to the comics.)
We’re off to a great start though. This is what Kamala Khan deserves.