'Fall of X' Declassified: Iman Vellani Breaks Down 'Ms. Marvel: The New Mutant' #1
'Ms. Marvel: The New Mutant' #1 writer Iman Vellani explains some of the choices she made in her Marvel Comics debut and teases what's to come in the issues ahead.
Following her death and subsequent resurrection in this year's Hellfire Gala, Kamala learned a startling truth: she is also a mutant. She didn't have long to adjust to this new facet of her identity, though, as Orchis launched a devastating attack on Krakoa that dramatically reduced the Marvel Universe's mutant population and drove the X-Men underground. Now, as she comes to terms with her mutant heritage, anti-mutant sentiment remains at an all-time high.
In MS. MARVEL: THE NEW MUTANT #1, Kamala faced her new reality with a new X-suit and a covert operation for the X-Men. She joined an Orchis-funded science program at Empire State University with her civilian identity in order to investigate the organization's latest scheme, only to face virulent anti-mutant discrimination after she saved her fellow students from an explosion as Ms. Marvel. Disheartened but determined, Kamala forged ahead with her mission, even as she continues to struggle with haunting, recurring dream…
Speaking with Marvel.com, MS. MARVEL: THE NEW MUTANT writer Iman Vellani broke down some of the biggest moments from her Marvel Comics debut issue. She revealed how G. Willow Wilson's seminal run on the character inspired the themes she explored in this series, as well as the scene that went straight from her journal to the issue intact. She also explored Kamala's dynamic with X-Men members such as Shadowkat and Emma Frost, emphasized the importance of Ms. Marvel's individual journey, professed her love for Bruno as a character, teased an appearance by Tony Stark, and so much more.
MARVEL.COM: MS. MARVEL: THE NEW MUTANT opens with a bit of a soft reset, with her new dual Inhuman and mutant status, a move to a new setting, and much of the supporting cast forgetting that Kamala is a Super Hero. What elements did you know you needed to include to keep her feeling like the character we all know and love?
IMAN VELLANI: I am such a big fan of G. Willow Wilson's run, obviously. Actually, her 2016 run was a big inspiration for a lot of the themes that we deal with in this book, because she's already been a hero and she knows what that's like. She knows the type of hero that she wants to be, but now she's more of a public figure and dealing with that side of things is a lot different than just fighting crime.
She's right now the only mutant who can afford to live above ground as well. The public doesn't yet know her secret identity or the fact that Ms. Marvel is part of the X-Men until, of course, issue #1, where she suits up and the only costume that she has on hand is her X-suit. So it's been pretty fun, because Kamala gets a real reality check of, "This is what being a mutant is, and it is different than anything else you've ever experienced in your entire life."
I think a lot of the things that I wanted to keep consistent from those old books was Bruno, was having her supporting character because he actually is a really big support for her life. Everything that she's dealt with, Bruno knows first. Bruno's mind has been wiped at this point, and she's like, "This is not going to cut it. I need someone to talk to; I'm telling him." So she tells him, and at least she has one person to help her [and] hold her hand throughout this insane journey that she is going on.
Another thing was I didn't want to include too many cameos in this issue. I know it's an X-Men book and we do have a few X-Men popping here and there, but what's so special about those Ms. Marvel books is it was very much her journey. It was her 1v1 against a villain. That's what I love seeing. I love seeing her creativity when she fights.
I love her super-powers so much, and I wanted to test the limits of what they're capable of. We have her transforming into some insane shapes in this book, which has been so much fun. Sabir [Pirzada] and I were really like, "What thing can she turn into? How far can her pinky stretch?" It's been all these fun questions that we get the pleasure of answering, so these fight scenes are honestly the best thing ever.
MARVEL.COM: As you mentioned, Kamala reveals her secret identity to Bruno pretty much right away. Why was it important to bring Bruno on this journey?
IMAN VELLANI: I personally have a Bruno bias, so that's a big part of it. But also, you need the guy in the chair—especially [considering] the fact that she's going to Empire State University. So we have Bruno dropping her off at the campus, but he does end up staying for a while, while a lot of havoc unfolds.
He bridges the gap between these students who hate Ms. Marvel. They're so smart. They're the brightest minds in the country and they're at this school. They can make things that you can only dream of and they hate someone before they even know what she's capable of. So Bruno is the voice to not only the students, but to Ms. Marvel, being like, "Look, these people don't understand who you are yet, and they're not going to understand until they see it." Because he's so smart himself, but he's not enrolled in the school, obviously.
I think Bruno is a really great audience surrogate as well, to allow us to use him to explain, because we don't want Kamala to constantly be having to break into monologue and being like, "You should not be discriminatory against me! We're just the same as you!" We've seen it so many times. Honestly, I didn't feel like there was any place for Kamala to stand in front of a group of students and be like, "Don't hate me," right?
Bruno was a really great opportunity to use him under the cover and be more low key about it. When they see that this kid who's equally as smart as them is helping Ms. Marvel and cares about her, maybe there's something there, right? So he was a really fun character to play with.
MARVEL.COM: Much of MS. MARVEL: THE NEW MUTANT takes place at Empire State University. What made this the right setting for your story?
IMAN VELLANI: A lot of my favorite scenes in the old Ms. Marvel comics are her in high school with her high school friends... Sabir was like, "Okay, so what if… she's going to a university-level program during the summer," and [editorial] was like, "Okay, okay, we can get behind that." "...And the program is sponsored by Orchis!" "Okay, we like that!" So the pieces fit right in, and I love having Kamala go to classes and have to walk through campus and people approaching her for clubs and stuff.
I love the realness of that, and then at the same time, you have all these kids who are secretly—not even secretly, they very outwardly hate mutants. The whole campus is against this one girl who lives in the same dorms that they're in, eating the same cafeteria food that they eat. She's part of them, and they hate her—for what? So Kamala gets to deal with a lot of that. Bruno is there to help support her throughout this entire journey.
But I just love the university setting. I didn't want to repeat a lot of the high school beats that we've already seen so many times. It was nice, because we could go to New York, so she's away from her family a bit, and there's a real isolation that comes with just being a kid who has to go to university now. It's such a big change. You're providing for yourself. You have to take care of yourself. You're doing adult things that you never would have imagined. It's scary, outside of the hero part. It's just growing up and that thought.
I know I had a hard time dealing with the fact that I was turning 20 or whatever. It was so weird! I don't know! Suddenly, I'm actually an adult and I don't have the teen label anymore. Of course, Kamala's still a teenager, but yeah, the sentiment is there.
MARVEL.COM: While Kamala must contend with Orchis at large, she is up against two formidable agents in particular: Karima Shapandar, the Omega Sentinel, and Nitika. How worried should we be about these two?
IMAN VELLANI: Pretty worried! As I've said, Orchis is constantly learning. I think the Omega Sentinel thinks that she has the upper hand on this entire situation, but we wanted to use Nitika as this character who might actually know more than Orchis does, might actually be smarter than Orchis is, might be doing her own thing.
So Sabir actually has written most of those Orchis scenes, and he's done a great job in keeping the suspense alive in terms of what is Nitika's deal, because she doesn't seem to be entirely on board with everything that the Omega Sentinel is on about. She might have a bias towards someone who is also South-Asian, and Ms. Marvel is very openly a South Asian hero. That's been a lot of fun for Sabir to play with.
I don't want to give too many details away because it all unfolds later in issue #4, as to what they were actually up to, but it is cool. Also, having these females in such incredible power positions, and they're all very similar in a lot of ways to Ms. Marvel, especially the Omega Sentinel and Nitika also being women of color. So yes, there's a lot that we're dealing with.
MARVEL.COM: Which X-Man that appears in the series would you say Kamala has the most interesting dynamic with? Why?
IMAN VELLANI: With the X-Men, they have this family vibe, but especially after the Hellfire Gala, everyone's kind of separated and everyone's dealing with the trauma in their own way. So Ms. Marvel is still figuring out who she can talk to, which X-Men teammate is there for her, who doesn't really want a piece of her.
We have Shadowkat, we've got Rasputin, Talon, Synch, Emma Frost, and all of them have a different dynamic with her. I think some of them even might have some resentment towards her, because she's this new mutant and she's getting all this attention; she's the only one who can be aboveground and not hide because she has a secret identity. She doesn't go out in the public and immediately people are like, "Mutant! We hate you!" A lot of these other guys, they have to be underground and have to stay hidden.
She's not best pals with Shadowkat as of right now, but Rasputin's a really fun character that we get to play with because she's from this future timeline where she is a big Ms. Marvel fan. For the first time, Ms. Marvel is being fangirled over and she's not doing the fangirling, so we wanted to play [with] that.
Obviously, Ms. Marvel is definitely a bit of a fan of the X-Men because she's read them, she's heard about them, but we wanted to make sure we weren't putting the X-Men too much on a pedestal for Kamala. I think she's grown up a little bit and is seeing heroes as real people now and not giving them that power over her of just being a fan.
There's a lot of different dynamics. My favorite that we get to explore more is her and Emma Frost. Emma and Kate Pride's relationship in those old books was something that really stood out to me and I wanted to explore more of that. They have a little interaction in HELLFIRE GALA, and I was like, "That's really interesting. Maybe we can have Emma come by at some point and be this almost mentor big sister person." But also, Emma has two different sides of her. There's an ambiguously villainous side as well that sometimes where we delve into. Yeah, there's a lot of characters and they all have a different take [on] this new hero in their team.
MARVEL.COM: Who else might we see appear in the series down the line?
IMAN VELLANI: Well, Mr. Tony Stark is marrying Emma Frost, so they might be together in my book. That's something I'm really excited about! When we were talking about cameos and stuff, I was like, "I need Iron Man." They were like, "Sure, you can have Iron Man. You know, with Iron Man, you get Emma Frost too." And I was like, "Oh, that's awesome. Okay, that's a lot of fun to play with." I love Tony. I mean, that's one of my favorite characters.
And then of course, in the dream world, we have a whole bunch of amazing fanfic characters that Kamala has conjured up; other characters that just live in her mind. Adam [Gorham] does such a great job at drawing them. So I'm really excited for people to see those characters, but we didn't want to make it too cameo heavy. This is still very much Kamala's story.
MARVEL.COM: A lot of this issue revolves around Kamala and her unsettling dream. What did this dreamscape allow you to do or show with the character, that perhaps you couldn't in a more straightforward Super Hero tale?
IMAN VELLANI: So I really wanted to do dream stuff, but with that, you have unlimited possibilities as to what you can do. So when I got to issue #3 and we were writing it, I was like, "This is scary!" because I took charge of all the dream stuff. I literally could do whatever I wanted, and the artist can draw whatever I wanted as long as I can communicate it.
There's a lot of pressure of like, "Well, I want to make sure I'm including the right things and I don't want to be too metaphorical and I don't want to be too literal because it's dreams and they have a weird way of speaking to you." So we have one figure who's guiding Kamala and almost acting as this extension of herself, so she can see herself mirrored in a figure that she admires. She's like, "Wow, how are you so sure of yourself?" And the figure is like, "Well, you know, I'm you! You made me. Everything that you're seeing is you."
I think Kamala getting to visually experience all the things that make her her and have it just—that whole dream sequence is basically a mirror held up to her face and she's getting to re-appreciate why she loves being a hero, why she's a good hero, and what she values in this part of the job. There's a lot that we are juggling and a lot of messages we want to get across, especially in issue #3, but with the help of our artists, it comes out pretty cohesive, I think.
MARVEL.COM: What is your favorite moment from the first issue? Why? Break it down for us!
IMAN VELLANI: There's two! Well, three. Oh, there's too many! I'll start with the dream one. I really love Silver Surfer. He's one of my favorite characters of all time, and I was like, "How can I make Silver Surfer even cooler? You mix him with Doctor Strange!" So we've got Doctor Surfer and he's the coolest person ever. The minute we got Adam Gorham to draw him, I was blown away. There's this splash page where Kamala is falling and she gets a full glimpse of Doctor Surfer, and it's just the coolest page ever and I just love it so much.
Then the other one is when—again in the dream—she's being held up by this massive pinky finger and she sees this entire audience of Super Heroes but they all have her face. I mean, we're being a little literal about it, but essentially, she's had so many titles over the years, of being a Champion, being an Inhuman, being an X-Man, being an Avenger, and she doesn't want to erase any part of herself, but she doesn't want to fully commit to any one identity.
So there's this moment of her looking down at the audience and every single one of the heroes that she's ever teamed up with, they're holding her face. The Carol Danvers Ms. Marvel is hosting this entire event that's going on in her mind and she's like, "You don't even know who you are. Face it: you're lost." I thought that was just a very powerful moment and, again, a mirror held up to Kamala, literally. That's a beautiful scene.
Another one would be when Kamala tells Bruno about everything that she's dealt with in this eight-panel page because she just can't have Bruno be mind-wiped; she needs her best friend. I thought it was a very beautiful scene. That was something that I had written and locked up in my journal a long time ago, and it was one of the scenes I was so sure about I didn't even rewrite it when I got to actually writing that page. It just worked so well with what we wanted to do. It shows their beautiful friendship, which is one of my favorite parts of the MS. MARVEL comics. So those would be my picks.
MARVEL.COM: Who ended up being some of your favorite X-Men characters as you conducted your research?
IMAN VELLANI: Okay. It's very different for every single medium. I was reading HOUSE OF X and then Grant Morrison's NEW X-MEN. From Morrison's run, Emma Frost definitely stood out, which is why I was so excited that I got to use her.
Kitty Pryde, Kate Pryde, she's another big one; I loved her whole thing of not being able to go through the Krakoan Gates—although after HELLFIRE GALA, the tables have turned.
Wolverine has always been one, but I think he's just been a big character in my life from the movies because I grew up with them.
I can't pick! It's different every single book I read, but I'm absolutely an X-Men fan. I didn't read a lot of X-Men comics in high school at all. This has just opened so many new doors for me. Now I just read all the X-Men stuff that I haven't got to yet for fun. It's great. I have a good pastime hobby now. There's so much history to catch up on! It's crazy.
Don't miss MS. MARVEL: THE NEW MUTANT #1, on sale now! MS. MARVEL: THE NEW MUTANT #2 hit shelves on September 27.
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