Every time a new MCU project hits screens big or small, people inevitably claim that the newest thing feels different from the rest. That’s the nature of loving these films and TV shows and wanting to celebrate the creators behind them. But with Ms. Marvel we get to see something truly unique. Not just visually but woven in narratively in a way that feels absolutely singular in the franchise. The MCU‘s Kamala Khan is a trailblazer just like her comic book counterpart.
But I’m not talking about the groundbreaking fact that she was the first Muslim Marvel superhero with her own title. Or that she’s breaking that very same boundary in the MCU as a Muslim hero. I’m talking about the teen being the MCU’s first fully-fledged cartoonist. The vital and beautiful role her art plays in the visual and narrative language of Ms. Marvel is truly unique.
Comic art is the reason that any of these shows and the billion dollar movies that preceded them exist. For passionate fans of superheroes and the comic medium, that’s not a radical statement. But it’s rare that we see comic book art or actually comic books play an important part in the MCU. For the first 10 years, that made sense as the films focused on a grounded world where superheroes are real. The brief moments of cartooning we have seen like Thor’s cute sketches of Mjölnir or Steve Rogers notebook don’t end up informing the characters or their journey. But now as we meet a generation of kids whose whole lives have included caped crusaders—like Kate Bishop and now Kamala Khan—it makes sense that we can begin to build that art into the larger landscape of the MCU through their fandom.
The first two episodes of Ms. Marvel establish Kamala as a passionate and extremely talented teen who loves art. While she doesn’t make comics (yet), the premiere begins with beautiful animations made out of her illustrations of her favorite heroes. While that in itself is a dynamic and exciting opening, as the first and second episode explode onto the screen, we see cartooning built into the wider world of the show. Superheroes fly behind Kamala along graffitied walls as she shares her passion for them. Ms. Marvel production designers Natasha Gerasimova and Christopher Glass seamlessly make art a part of Kamala’s world in a way we’ve never seen.
Historically, it also continues an oft-forgotten comic book tradition of heroes who are also artists. The most well-known example is the Green Lantern, Kyle Rayner. He was a literal comic book artist before he took on the power ring. His background as an artist allowed him to have an even wider imagination for his will-based power. One of the MCU’s most famous characters also had a stint as a comic creator. Yep, Steve Rogers actually once worked for Marvel Comics, according to his comic book lore. We see that referenced in a brief moment in The First Avenger where Steve sketches himself as a dancing monkey. It’s not just comic artists, though. The X-Men’s Colossus often sketched and painted his superhero colleagues. So although Kamala’s art is new for the MCU, it’s actually connects her to the heroes she loves so much.
It’s not just Kamala’s art either. On the teenager’s walls we see a giant Captain Marvel poster by Terry and Rachel Dodson. There also seems to be costume sketches by Ms. Marvel co-creator Jamie McKelvie on there, and likely a lot more. Though Marvel is not new to Easter eggs, it feels groundbreaking to actually acknowledge the artists and the art that made the show possible. The series feels like it’s following the lead of the groundbreaking Into the Spider-Verse, which was a celebration of animation, art, and artists, including Miles Morales himself. That makes a lot of sense as in the comics Miles and Kamala are friends. And we can totally imagine them making a jam comic in the MCU whenever Miles appears in live-action form.
It’ll be interesting to see how her art plays into the series going forward, especially as we know that Kamala’s mother is an artist too. In episode one as Kamala attempts to go to Avengers Con her mother makes her a literally incredible Hulk costume that matches with her father’s. This is another nice nod to one of comics’ most famous creatives: Janet van Dyne. In the comics, the original Wasp was a fashion designer who created her own costume and ones for other heroes. It feels like that legacy of her mother’s art is going to become more relevant as we get further into the series. Whatever happens, Ms. Marvel’s celebration of art and creation is an exciting step forward for the MCU!