One of the greatest strengths of Ms. Marvel season 1 is how it balances all the bubbly vibrancy of a teen movie with the action-packed MCU that Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) dreams of joining. After the six-episode season, she’s officially in: a hero with possibly a weightier origin story than the show initially let on after reinventing her powers. But true to the adolescent movies the show takes some of its stylistic cues from, she isn’t immune to everyday things like curfews and crushes.
Kamala’s connections to the world are bigger than just the boys around her. She has a much-needed everyday life, with family and friends who deeply care for her well-being (and will gently rib her at a moment’s notice). This article should not be taken as any sort of insistence that Kamala needs a boy in her life — season 1 of Ms. Marvel was mostly resistant to the idea that boys were Kamala’s priority in any way. Though she was pulled into the orbit of Kamran, and later the Red Dagger, her focus is rightfully on her superheroics.
So this is more an intellectual exercise: While Kamala and Ms. Marvel are more interested in her family history and the powers she’s adapting to, we’re just thinking about how fun her boy options are.
The case for Bruno
Look, I’m going to be upfront about this: I think Bruno is the best boy because I’ve read the comics, and I’m attached to that version of the character.
Writer G. Willow Wilson makes Bruno’s socioeconomic niche much more present in the comics. He works at the Circle Q for subsistence, not pocket change; he lives with his grandmother because his mother’s drug addiction became so severe that she lost the capacity to care for him. Artist Adrian Alphona gave the same nuance to his character design, giving Bruno dark hair and notably darker skin than other white characters, the kind of Mediterranean features that could cause him to be read as anything from Italian (accurate) to Sephardic to Latino to Middle Eastern, depending on what subway stop he walked out of.
Wilson used the “best friends to… maybe?” dynamic between Bruno and Kamala to explore the tension between loving who you love and wanting to preserve your family’s traditions in the face of cultural assimilation. Wilson’s Bruno is very aware of all of that nuance, and the way he’d be disappointing her family — who he also loves — by trying to date her.
But even setting the comics aside: TV Bruno is a good kid! This is not one of those cases where he’s helping Kamala become a superhero because he expects smooches in return. We know that because of how he immediately jumps to help Kamran, a guy he loathes, when Kamran shows up in his home in trouble.
TV Bruno is earlier in his path than comics Bruno, but now that he’s getting some time away from Jersey City and the Circle Q, he’s going to level up and come back to be an even better boy for Kamala than he started. I’m Team Bruno and proud. —Susana Polo
The case for Kamran
I spent most of the early episodes rooting wholeheartedly for Bruno, the archetypal best friend and gear geek. Kamran’s suaveness and instant aura of coolness felt off to me — teens aren’t really known for being smooth operators, and I’m personally distrustful of anyone who seems like they have their act together during high school.
But there were a few particular moments that made me like Kamran. The first happened when the two have a cute date at a diner. Kamala tells a story and starts to reflexively explain what ammi means. He pulls her hands into his and reminds her that he already knows. She doesn’t need to explain. The mood shifts into one of ease — Kamala gets to acknowledge how much time she has to spend explaining her ethnicity, traditions, and existence. Here’s someone who gets it.
The next moments are just some good, old-fashioned heroism: Kamran shows up at Kamala’s brother’s wedding, in direct defiance of his mother’s wishes, in order to protect Kamala. Later, he accepts Kamala’s help and escapes.
I’m not saying Kamran is perfect. Yes, he did that unnecessarily showy swimming pool entrance. And yes, I absolutely hate that he kept calling Bruno “Brian.” (We like Bruno, protect Bruno.) But that turned out to be an honest mistake. And Kamran seems to do the right thing when it actually matters — so far, at least. —Nicole Clark
The case for Kareem/Red Dagger
I simply think that all romances should start with a knife throw.
I kid, I kid. (Mostly).
I do always punt for the charismatic rogue, however, and Kareem fits that to a T. His actor, Aramis Knight, does a fantastic job of making Kareem charming without being cheesy. It’s a dashing escapade that Kamala deserves! Plus, the Red Daggers offer Kamala some much-needed context and information about the source of her powers, so in addition to being a whirlwind romance (if that is the path she picks), Kareem is also a necessary plot tool. With the legacy of the Red Daggers upon his shoulders, he is almost a foil to Kamala, but not quite as directly as Kamran. Instead of a complete reflection, they’re more like evocative parallels.
But flowing hair, knife-throwing skills, and mysterious red mask aside, Kareem is also a friendly guy who invites Kamala out with his friends and shows her around. Too often the charismatic rogue ends up being too much of a flirt or jerk — but not Kareem! We love to see it. —Petrana Radulovic
The case for… all of the boys???
This isn’t exactly a case for Kamala to end up with all these boys — or to spend a ton of time in a love triangle (quadrilateral?) with any of them. But I did want to acknowledge how much I appreciate this show creating flawed, realistic guy friends for Kamala, all of whom tend toward tenacity and gregariousness, even in harsh circumstances.
kamala collecting boys like infinity stones #MsMarvel pic.twitter.com/MnXQlWqrhX— kevin ४ (@kvnlaufeyson) June 29, 2022
That’s pretty cool! Especially compared to so many shows where every single guy friend is basically a jerk and simultaneously a potential love interest. If Ms. Marvel does head in a romantic direction — and you know I love a kissing show — these all seem like reasonable options. But don’t hold me to that; I haven’t read the comics, so I don’t know if any of them end up becoming jerkface villains. It would be a classic Marvel move. —NC
The case for no boys at all
So I know conventional wisdom says that every TV show has to have a will-they-won’t-they plot, to keep people coming back in hopes of seeing how the romantic tension plays out. But in this case, I’m absolutely on Team They Won’t. The least interesting thing about Kamala Khan on this show is which boy she likes. She’s navigating all the pitfalls of being an American kid born to first-generation immigrants. She’s uncovering deep family secrets. She’s figuring out how to be a good Muslim and a good daughter while staying true to herself. She’s figuring out supernatural powers and superheroism, and a heritage that’s apparently part supernatural, part something else entirely. And she’s also working through the perfectly mundane but monumental challenge of being a really imaginative, creative kid surrounded by parents, teachers, and administrators who just want her to settle down and get an education. She’s got a lot going on, and it’s all way more important and engaging than her deciding who to kiss first.
But even if that wasn’t true, I personally think her little harem-anime squad is pretty drippy. Bruno is way too much of a classic Nice Guy™, the kind of boy who hangs around a female friend doing favors for her because he’s carrying secret feelings for her, which he isn’t brave enough to express until she shows an interest in someone else and he starts getting sulky and jealous. Kamran is a straight-up gaslighter who did eventually do the right thing, but still hasn’t really answered for the way he entered her life with lies and manipulation. (Also, c’mon, he’s way too old for her. Vellani is currently 19; Rish Shah is 26, and looks it. He looks more like a model who belongs on her dream-inspiring wall posters than the guy she should be hanging around with.) And Kareem lives halfway around the world, so he may be a great “Canadian boyfriend” to keep the other boys at bay, but smooching is pretty impractical.
An awful lot of the charm of Ms. Marvel is in how young Vellani seems in the role, how independent and distinctive she is, and in how much she owns her own life and personality. I get it, shippers, you like kissing. But maybe give her a little space to breathe in her own life before she starts tying it into someone else’s? —Tasha Robinson