Kamala Khan AKA Ms. Marvel makes her big MCU debut on Disney+ this week - but what was it like to bring her comic book story to life?
Phase Four of the MCU is expanding even more than ever before - even as far as Jersey City. We caught up with Bisha K. Ali, the head writer for 'Ms. Marvel', ahead of the release of her latest writing project, where she divulged everything to do with working on this YA approach to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the first Disney+ series to do so.
For non-comic book readers, Ms. Marvel might not be all that familiar to you, but she is one of the newest heavy-hitters to join the ranks of Marvel comics of the past decade. First launching in 2014, the teenager is the very first Muslim superhero to get her own series of comics, and the six-episode Disney+ series will showcase her superhero origin story, while also tackling social commentary within her family, friends and community.
The character of Kamala Khan, a second-generation Pakistani immigrant, is played by rising actor Iman Vellani and sees the Avenger enthusiast discover cosmic powers while also keeping her newfound lifestyle secret from her prying family.
Here's what the incredibly charming and warm Bisha K. Ali (who also worked on another previous Marvel project, 'Loki') had to say about working on the new series.
You've worked on both British and American TV series in the past ('Sex Education', 'Loki'), so what was it like for you to write from an American superhero point of view for this series?
I'd kind of learnt the US process already, but in terms of getting the voice of Kamala Khan and the young American voice, I filled my writer's room with young people and that really helped. And we had a great staff writer called Aisha, who lived in New Jersey, from Pakistan, fresh out of college and her voice very much influenced a lot of the writing. I think having those people as real references in the room was super helpful to me.
I'm also just an endlessly annoying person, and so I will ask strangers lots of questions and will try and get to know people and that curiosity always helps me as a writer and certainly helped me in this case.
But also (sorry I will go on forever!) the comic books have such a clear voice. The dialogues in this are already in the comic books too. It was by no means a matter of my skill but also a matter of so many great resources around me and so many great people to learn from. That's how I approached the "modern American/Pakistani experience".
What was your most memorable day on set?
The most memorable day for me wasn't even on set - it was the day I got the call from the team saying 'You got the job!' [laughs]. The other big day for me was when I first met Iman (Vellani). I don't know how to express this, but I'm sure once you see the show you'll know what I'm talking about, but as soon as I met her, I thought 'It's Kamala. She's here'. And for me, that moment is seared on my brain and on my heart. Oh - and seeing her in her suit. That was sick!
Mohamed Diab recently directed 'Moon Knight' and he talked openly about representation in the MCU right now. What's your take on the universe?
The ubiquity of Marvel and the global fan base that it has, getting to see ourselves and the representation in that - and we're not going to represent billions of Muslims, that's not possible - but it hopefully is breaking this door open and there can be more and more stories from this background. We're not seen as one thing, we're seen as many different things. And if this show can be one part of throwing that door open and telling people 'We are part of the media, we are part of the world, we are different and diverse', within our own communities too, then I think that we'll have done a huge job and that would be one of the greatest honours of my life, to be part of that story.
Animation is a huge part of the storyline in 'Ms. Marvel' - how did that all come about?
It was definitely a range of people's ideas and I'm always eager to give credit to other people, so it was definitely a team effort on that one. There's a sequence in the pilot in particular that I remember writing in the first draft and experiencing this rush of emotion. There are so many scenes that I just writing verbatim on that first draft, frankly. But there's one scene that sets up the idea of living in her fantasy world and then off the back of that it grew and developed. We had big conversations with the directors about how we bring these comic book pages to make them part of the fabric and texture of the show.
I think that was the jumping-off point from that sequence and it was a combination of everybody's brains firing on all cylinders - and that's the fun bit! The most fun of making a TV show or a film is the collaboration that was a spark and then turns into this raging fire of ideas. The animators are incredible - everyone is so talented!
This is very different to 'Loki'...
I'll always say this, but the big connectivity here is character. Whatever the scale of the show was, or world-building was, it was always coming back to character. In 'Loki', it was dropping him into a new world and stripping him of everything he had; he has to start afresh in this new situation. Kamala then has her own journey in hers. That's the connectivity.
What was hard at the beginning was adjusting a little bit. I would go to Kevin Feige, I'd be pitching him wild stuff right at the top like 'Maybe Kamala can meet up with Loki?', and he'd be like 'No, no, turn the dial down on your TVA brain'.
It was good that I worked on 'Loki' first, because you get to know all of the Marvel gossip and hang out in their studios! 'WandaVision' was next door and I loved all of that... I don't know if that answered your question [laughs].
How much of your personal history or experience has gone into 'Ms. Marvel'?
I'm going to get emotional, but yes, a huge amount. But not just for me but for all of the other Pakistani writers. We were really talking about these topics in-depth and then having conversations with our families about these in depth. It's a hard history because we're talking about immigration, civil war, and being outside of the community you're in. Those are very vulnerable conversations to have - and then turning this into a Marvel series. It was such a journey.
'Ms. Marvel' is streaming exclusively on Disney+ now.