Iman Vellani, star of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Ms. Marvel TV series and November’s The Marvels, knows a thing or two about being a teenage, Muslim, superhero-loving nerd who is suddenly rocketed into fame and public expectation alongside the folks she once admired from afar.
She also knows a thing or two about Ms. Marvel, the teenage, Muslim, superhero-loving nerd who just rocketed into fame and public expectation (when she realized she was a mutant) alongside the same folks (superheroes) she once admired from afar. Namely, the X-Men. This year’s Hellfire Gala event story revealed that while Kamala’s powers come from her Inhuman ancestry, she also has a dormant mutant X-gene.
So while Vellani has never written a comic before her new Marvel Comics miniseries, Ms. Marvel: The New Mutant, you can’t say that it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Today, Kamala Khan is embarking on a brand-new adventure as the newest member of the X-Men. Unfortunately, an alliance of mutant-hating humans and computer intelligences framed mutants for the massacre of dozens of human dignitaries and exiled almost all of Earth’s mutants to parts unknown.
You could say it’s not the best time to realize that you’re a mutant, but at least Kamala is in good hands. Ms. Marvel: The New Mutant is co-written by Vellani and Sabir Pirzada (co-writer of the Ms. Marvel TV series) and drawn by Carlos Gómez and Adam Gorham, with covers from Marvel legend Sara Pichelli.
Polygon sat down with Vellani over video chat this month to find out what it’s like to go from playing Ms. Marvel to writing Ms. Marvel — and from reading comics to making them.
“I thought I was working with the biggest nerds at Marvel Studios,” Vellani quipped, “but then I met the folks at Marvel publishing, and they’re a whole other level of nerds.”
Read on for the rest of our chat, which has been edited for clarity and length.
Polygon: You’ve played Ms. Marvel on TV and in a movie. Does writing her feel anything like playing her?
Iman Vellani: It feels like journaling, almost. I been incorporating a lot of my personal, real-life experiences that I’ve gone through in the last three years into this book. Kamala [in the comics] is dealing with a very massive change in her life right now, and that kind of happened to me. I wanted to use a lot of the things that I learned throughout the process, the types of people I would surround myself with, how I would cope with things, and put that into the book. It was very cathartic in a lot of ways for me to be given this platform and to express a lot of what I’ve been going through, through Kamala. I’ve always felt like I’ve lived vicariously through this character ever since high school. She is me, and I am her. And we’ve lived the same life. So I just feel so comfortable, whether it’s me playing her or me writing her. I feel like I understand her voice very well, because it’s very similar to my own.
Do you feel like you’ve learned something new about her through writing her?
In general, yes, but the biggest learning experience has been working with a co-writer and Marvel editorial. The collaboration process has been the most rewarding part of this whole thing. I thought I was working with the biggest nerds at Marvel Studios, but then I met the folks at Marvel publishing, and they’re a whole other level of nerds [laughs]. Suffice to say, I feel very at home.
And Sabir, who’s my co-writer, is probably the best and most generous collaborator ever, he really gave me the upper hand on driving the narrative and getting all my wishes answered. Anytime we came across any speed bumps or continuity issues, he’d be the first one with 20 different ideas about how to solve it, so that we get to tell the story that we wanted in the way we wanted it. I probably learned the most from him, not even directly, but just taking note of the way he responds to emails, the way he integrates editorial notes into his pages and coherently communicates opinions if there’s something that we don’t necessarily agree with. I probably would have been a lot more reluctant about this entire process if he wasn’t as good of a writer and a human being as he was. It’s been the most eye-opening part of this whole thing.
Seeing the comic book-making process firsthand is so magical. I am writing these words, and then people draw the words that I write, and then other people color those drawings. It’s just, it’s so... cool. I can’t describe it any other way. Every day when I get sketches, it’s so fascinating; it’s so rewarding when the artists draw the page exactly like how I pictured it. And then when they don’t, I’m like, OK, so this is my part, I need to be better describing the certain thing. It’s really constant learning. And I think I’ve progressed so much from issue 1 to issue 4.
Your scripts are very different from a movie script. It’s essentially a letter to the artist. It’s a lot more intricate; it becomes very more much more detailed. As you learn more about the artist and how they draw and how they like to work, your scripts change with that as well. It’s been really fascinating.
Do you have a favorite X-Men character?
It’s different for every medium. With the ’90s cartoon, I love Jubilee and I love Rogue. And with Grant Morrison’s run, I mean, Wolverine and Emma Frost are my top. And then House of X/Powers of X... it changes. I mean, there’s times where I really love Magneto. But can I say that? I don’t know. I love a lot of the women, honestly, the female characters are written so beautifully. It does change, and I think that’s what’s so beautiful about the X-Men, because there’s a plethora of characters. The more you read about any of them, the more interesting they get, and suddenly they’re my new favorite. Every every comic I read, I have a different favorite.
With Kamala becoming an Inhuman and a mutant at the same time, it has me thinking about when Iceman came out as gay in Uncanny X-Men #600, and he explained that he’d stayed in the closet so long because he was so afraid of having one more label that would make people look down on him. I know you can’t talk too much about what happens in the comic, but I wonder if you could speak to how Kamala is feeling about getting “one more label.”
We’re having her integrate into this whole world by going on her first undercover mission as the greenest member of the X-Men — a very small team now, post-Hellfire Gala, we really did not have a lot of characters to choose from [laughs]. She’s simultaneously struggling to acclimate to these new colors that she’s wearing, the new life that she’s literally been given. There’s a part of her that feels like she owes something to the X-Men, because they’re the ones who brought her back to life. But she doesn’t completely want to conform, because she’s like, You guys just told me I’m an X-Man, I still have homework, I don’t know what you want from me right now.
She comes to realize that being a mutant does set her apart in a way that she’s never experienced before. Especially post-Hellfire Gala, the hatred for mutants has taken over the world, since they think that mutants massacred everyone. Kamala enters this mission being a little naive to the magnitude of discrimination that she’s about to face and that exists out there for mutants. She’s also one of the only mutants who can also afford to have a life above ground; all the mutants right now are underground because people know that they’re a part of the X-Men. And right now, no one knows that Ms. Marvel is an X-Man until, of course, she comes out wearing her new X-suit.
I don’t want to give away too many details, but it is a real testament to the type of hero that she is and what she’s capable of. I think it’s really interesting that you brought up Bobby Drake, because Kamala has always been a mutant. She’s always had the X-gene, but now she’s public about it. And now people’s perceptions change. And she’s like, What does it matter? I was the same hero. Now they know I’m a mutant, now I know I’m a mutant. Why are people looking at me differently? She’s starting to realize how hard it must be to be a mutant and the discrimination that they face. For the first time, she gets a taste of what it’s like to be seen as the enemy. It’s a whole other side of her we kind of get to play with.
So just as we wrap things up, what are you reading these days? Other than research for work?
A lot of Paper Girls recently. My comic book store owner got me into them. And I do read a lot of Image Comics — Bitch Planet is my favorite — but I’m obsessed with Paper Girls. I love it, I think it’s such a fun story.
We now know that Kamala’s Inhuman status has prevented her mutant gene from activating. Are we going to see her mutant gene activate in this series and find out what her mutant power is?
Would you like for that to happen? I’m still editing issue 4...
Ms. Marvel: The New Mutant #1 hits shelves on Aug. 30.