Translating a superhero’s costume from page to screen can be tricky business. For a character like Kamala Khan, AKA Ms. Marvel, there’s a lot more meaning imbued in her super suit than simply how cool it looks and whether the actor can eat during breaks. It holds deeper meaning about how she sees herself and how she carries her family and community with her as she moves through the world.
Den of Geek spoke with Iman Vellani for an interview and caught up with the cast and crew at a press conference before the show premiered to learn more about the Jersey City hero’s beloved costume.
As Sana Amanat, Executive Producer of the show and co-creator of the character herself put it, “What was really fun about I think this, was adapting the comic book design into something that felt like a super suit that felt very Marvel, but still authentic to I think what the comic did and to her heritage.”
Amanat said she believes it’s the first costume they’ve done in-house, with their own costume designer, Arjun Bhasin, and his team creating it.
Ms. Marvel builds up to revealing the titular hero’s costume throughout the series, saving it for the final episode. Early on, Kamala Khan saves a boy while at Eid, so she ends up wearing parts of her makeshift training costume over what she was already wearing. Later, at her brother’s wedding, there are major action sequences where she doesn’t have time to change at all. Both offer glimpses at what a Pakistani Muslim hero could look like, costumed or otherwise.
“We have a whole scene where she fights in shalwar kameez, which is a cultural outfit,” Vellani says. “How monumental is that for so many young girls to see?”
Throughout the season, Kamala assembles her costume in bits and pieces, sometimes literally and sometimes figuratively. Her bangle comes from her great-grandmother Aisha by way of her grandmother, and Bruno gives her a domino mask. Her mother tells her she won’t be going out dressed like those other girls and makes her a shalwar kameez-style Hulk costume for AvengerCon. While that’s not what she ends up wearing, it’s clearly a conversation they both think about throughout the series. Nakia gives her a red scarf for her driving date with Kamran and the Red Daggers give her a blue vest, and again, both are building blocks, spiritually if not literally.
In the final episode, we learn that Kamala’s immediate family all know about her powers and support her. As part of that support, her mother presents her with a costume she had made in Karachi. The color scheme is similar to her idol, Captain Marvel, but the silhouette is in line with her Pakistani heritage, the garment taking the form of tights, a kameez, and a dupatta.
“Even just if you look at the detailing,” Amanat said, “there’s a lot of cool textures in it that Arjun incorporated that feel very South Asian in a very subtle way, and yet have that texture and weaving that superhero suits have.”
For Vellani, those cultural details “made it feel a lot closer to home.”
Kamala’s mother, Muneeba being the one to commission the suit and give it to her daughter is a sign of how important this is, and the fact that she has to go her own way, while still taking care of her daughter and ensuring she doesn’t forget who she is. For her part, Kamala isn’t struggling to resolve the hero/fan side of herself with the Pakistani/Muslim side of herself, because they’re all one side: Kamala. It feels like an acknowledgment of the growth both characters have had over the course of the season.
Ms. Marvel’s lightning bolt
The lightning bolt has been updated, as well as its origins. In the comics, its a clear callback to Carol Danvers’ own Ms. Marvel costume, which Disney+ viewers caught a glimpse of in Zoe’s mash-up outfit at AvengerCon. But in the world of the MCU, Carol Danvers has only ever been Vers and Captain Marvel, so the lightning bolt needed another story.
Kamala wears a necklace bearing her name in Arabic and in the penultimate episode, it breaks during a fight. Kamala’s mother Muneeba picks up and notices the way the the Arabic letter kaf, which functions phonetically like a K and is the first letter in Kamala’s name, has broken to look like a lighting bolt. It goes along nicely with the theme of embracing her identity and being her own kind of hero, not just dressing like all the other superheroes and cosplayers do, as well as the idea that her power has ties to her heritage as a Pakistani Muslim.
The first dress in the MCU?
Kamala’s costume is one of, if not the first, superhero dresses in the MCU, as Vellani pointed out, though she says that comes with its own problems.
“We were trying to figure out how to make it not ride up any time I’d move,” she says.
Ms. Marvel’s costume is so much more functional than a lot of other superhero costumes, especially those for women. She’s wearing Chuck Taylor All-Stars instead of heels (not even wedge-heeled boots like many costumes try to hide, as though we won’t notice) and she gets the benefit of pants plus the modesty of a salwar kameez. Nothing too low-cut – she’s literally a teenager, after all.
Thankfully for Vellani, it’s also at least somewhat functional irl. “It’s kind of comfortable,” she says. “I mean, I’ve heard stories about the Spider-Man suit and everything. This is functional. I do need help going to the bathroom, but it’s nice.”
When she wore the final costume, Vellani walked to and from set in what she described as her “Sith Lord cape” so paparazzi couldn’t snap a picture and ruin the surprise of the final costume. Vellani was apparently similarly guarded with colleagues on set, barring the queue of interested folks from coming in to see the costume during an early fitting.
Eventually, though, they all got to see it. “The room just stops whenever I walk onto set with my giant cape that protects my costume from being seen by paparazzi and everything,” she says. “Then I take it off, and everyone’s just clapping. I mean, it didn’t happen in real life, but that’s how I imagined it every time I’d walk onto set in my super suit. Yeah, it was very surreal.”
It turns out Kamala’s daydreaming tendencies come naturally to Vellani, as well.
Cosplaying as Kamala Khan
For Vellani, it’s something of a full-circle moment. She says putting on the costume for the first time was “pretty emotional. All I could think of was the cosplay that I made for Ms. Marvel when I was 15, which was insane because I remember painting that lightning bolt on my dress the same way that Kamala does in the comics and… The parallels are just crazy.”
By now, viewers have likely seen the viral photo of Vellani as a younger teen dressing up as Kamala Khan, years before she was cast as the character.
“I read a Ms. Marvel, and two months later it was Halloween,” she says of the photo. “I’m like, ‘I know who I’m going to be. I haven’t even read all the comics yet, but I love this character.’ I went to school the next day so fricking proud of myself that I made the suit, and no one knew who I was. Everyone thought I was Flash. It was terrible. I went to the comic book store across the street, and I bought a Ms. Marvel comic, and I was just holding it up next to me. Only my English teacher recognized who I was and was very proud of me. So I hold onto that. But it was kind of embarrassing in the moment, but whatever.”