EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Iman Vellani Rocks Kamala Khan's Whole World in 'Ms. Marvel: The New Mutant'
Speaking to Marvel.com, Iman Vellani previewed what's to come for Kamala Khan in 'Ms. Marvel: The New Mutant' and broke down her first comic book writing experience.
The world as Ms. Marvel knew it just changed forever.
In AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (2022) #26, Kamala Khan made the ultimate sacrifice to help Spider-Man save the world—but death didn't keep her down for long. Just in time for X-MEN: HELLFIRE GALA (2023) #1, mutantkind resurrected her on their island home Krakoa, only to reveal that she herself is a mutant as well. However, before she had a chance to grapple with what that truly means, the anti-mutant organization Orchis launched a deadly attack that wiped out most of the Marvel Universe's mutant population and forced the X-Men underground.
Now, in MS. MARVEL: THE NEW MUTANT, Kamala must fight for her right to exist as a mutant in this world. For her first mission with the X-Men, she will go undercover at Empire State University, where Orchis plots their next move… but not if Ms. Marvel stops it first!
Speaking to Marvel.com, MS. MARVEL: THE NEW MUTANT writer Iman Vellani—who also plays Kamala in Marvel Studios' Ms. Marvel—opened up about her first comic book writing adventure. She revealed that she developed some of her ideas for the series years ago and explained how she used Kamala's dreams to really explore the character's identity. She also teased Ms. Marvel's new villains, praised her collaborators' work on the series, and so much more.
MARVEL.COM: While you're no stranger to Ms. Marvel, what is something you discovered about the character as you worked on this comic?
IMAN VELLANI: I don't want to say I didn't learn anything. It was more like I was so bombarded by the comic book writing experience, because that was so new for me. A lot of the scenes that we wrote for this comic, I had already written in my journal a long time ago. There were just things that I was pulling out and using, things from my own experience…because my life had changed so drastically in the last three years and so had Ms. Marvel's in the comics. So I wanted to incorporate a lot of what I learned throughout this entire process into her book.
I was learning a lot more about myself, actually, about how I deal with big changes in my life and the type of people I need in my environment, my support system, and I really relied on my family and my friends. So we had Bruno being a big character in this story, actually.
The comic book process was actually pretty intimidating for me. I hold so much reverence for the creative process and the talent behind them. I felt so pressured to make something good and represent Ms. Marvel in a way that was true to the path paved by G. Willow Wilson and Sana [Amanat]. That was kind of scary, but I had such a great co-writer, Sabir Pirzada, who also worked on the show.
I think the story is a really good representation of what Ms. Marvel stands for, what sets her apart from other heroes, why she's such a timeless character. I wanted to use this opportunity to highlight everything I love about this character and about her comics and her ability as a Super Hero. Hopefully, that does come across in some form or another in our book. Yeah, it's been a huge, wonderful learning process for me.
MARVEL.COM: What do readers need to know about this series before they pick it up for the first time?
IMAN VELLANI: As we all know, she did die in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (2022) #26. But all comic book deaths are very short-lived, and we've got a whole lot of Ms. Marvel left to tell! During Gerry Duggan's HELLFIRE GALA, we see Kamala resurrected by Krakoan Resurrection technology because Cerebro detected her to be a mutant this whole time.
Of course, this raises a million thoughts, feelings, concerns for Kamala internally, and she's like, "How can I possibly deal with this new thing while all the mutants are literally dying in front of me?!" She is thrown headfirst into what it means to be an X-Men at the Gala, and so she has no time to process any of this. So our series will pick up ten weeks after her death and, at this point, her friends and family—who all attended her funeral—their memories are wiped by the Miss Emma Frost, because that's a lot to deal with.
Kamala is just very alone at the start of the series. She doesn't want to bring her problems to the X-Men, because who wants to deal with a 16-year -old kid having a recurring nightmare, which is where we start the issue off? So she's dealing with a lot of the psychological aftermath of being resurrected and having to acclimate to these new colors that she's wearing, the new life that she's been given. It's a lot, and she just needs someone to tell.
MARVEL.COM: What excited you the most about exploring Kamala's mutant side?
IMAN VELLANI: It is a big deal! And how cool that she's a big enough character for this change to matter so much! The uproar on social media after it was announced was crazy, but so exciting for me that so many people cared, and obviously they hadn't read the story at this point, so they are not one to judge right now.
But I was so excited, because being a mutant is just—I mean, I never really read a lot of the X-Men comics; I will say that. That was really scary for me, because I was just deep diving on everything X-Men, finding my favorite characters. Grant Morrison and [Jonathan] Hickman's runs were basically my textbooks throughout this entire thing.
I think it was just so fun to explore this different side of her, because for Kamala, she's already dealt with so many different labels. She's been an Avenger, she's been an Inhuman, a Champion, Pakistani, Muslim. She starts off thinking that being a mutant is just another label to add to the list, and it doesn't really change anything because she's always had the X-gene, so it doesn't really matter. Little does she realize that this new suit, the new colors, they bear so much more weight than she was expecting.
The world's entire perspective on Ms. Marvel shifts very drastically, and for the first time, she gets a taste of what it's like to be seen as a villain and an enemy, because after Hellfire Gala especially, the world just hates mutants—it's horrible! We've put Kamala at Empire State University and created a program that's funded by Orchis... and it is hard for her, as it would be!
MARVEL.COM: How does it feel to help define this critical piece of her history?
IMAN VELLANI: Dude, it's powerful. It's so cool to be able to contribute to the actual Marvel Comics canon and this next phase for her, because it's a really big deal. I thought that they were going to give me a cute little miniseries or a one-shot and just, you know, "Go ahead, do your thing." And they were like, "No, she's a mutant, and you're dealing with the aftermath." I was like, "Oh my God! This is a lot more pressure and it's way too late to back out now!"
But yeah, I'm so well-supported and I've always been fascinated by the comic book making process. I would listen to a lot of podcasts—Women of Marvel was a big one—and just seeing it firsthand is like... I can't describe it as anything else than magical.
It's also so surreal the fact the words that I'm writing I wrote in my childhood bedroom and now people are going to read it in their homes. It's a much more personal thing. You're working with a team of barely ten people, compared to a movie, where it's like, add a couple zeros to that number. There's something very exciting and equally terrifying about that, because the experience becomes so much more personal between the reader and the creators.
Yeah, knowing that the fan base is going to get to know me a lot better, not only as the person who plays Ms. Marvel, but a person who knows her very well and is a fan of these comics—and not just Ms. Marvel comics! All comics! We've been inspired by Sandman, SILVER SURFER, a lot of the old X-Men books. There's so many different homages in this book. I'm just so honored that they're letting me do this in the first place. Yeah, it's wonderful.
MARVEL.COM: How did working with Sabir Pirzada help strengthen the script?
IMAN VELLANI: So Sabir's name came up pretty early on, I think. Editorial was like, "So do you want a co-writer?" And I was like, "Yes! Yes, I need one! I am not even going to attempt to do this alone." I know I have plenty of story ideas, but I've never written a comic book before. It's a very different medium. The scripts look very different than a movie script. I need someone who can help me just consolidate all my ideas into something cohesive.
Sabir was just the first one on the list of many, but he's so fantastic at not only writing, but being a collaborator, and a very generous one, at that. He's really good at giving me the upper hand on driving the narrative. I had so many ideas and wishes coming into this, and he was like, "Okay, here's what's important for the story that we want to tell. Let's lean into this and then hopefully we can bring some other things in." I just learned so much from him, not even directly.
We didn't have a sit down talk but he gave me a crash course on what it's like to write a comic book… It was a very quick turnaround, so immediately, we were doing it. But I was just taking note of the way he communicates his opinions, the way he responds to emails, the way he gives notes. It was so wonderful that I had someone who's so talented but also such a good human and has very good manners, honestly. I learned a lot from him.
Gerry Duggan, who wrote the HELLFIRE GALA, he was also a really great help at getting all the X-side things right, because this is new territory for Kamala and for me. I didn't read a lot of X-Men comics growing up, so I was doing a lot of research and also learning from Gerry, learning from Sabir, and then I would screenshot all my favorite comics. Basically, I have this whole folder of my favorite panels and tried to pay homage to all of those things. So Sabir, I'm so lucky that my first experience in this is with such an incredible, generous collaborator.
IMAN VELLANI: We do have two artists and they have very different styles, but it's story-driven and we really needed that. Carlos is taking a lot of the reality stuff and Adam will be in charge of all the dream stuff that Kamala is dealing with.
Carlos is so good at the emotions of all the characters and he's honestly such a good actor. I mean, that's really what the artist's job is, and my favorite part of every day is receiving those sketches in the morning and getting to make notes on them, if any. It's so fascinating to see how they respond to the material and how they respond to the words that I'm writing. It's just validating when they draw something which is exactly like how I pictured it.
Then, on the other hand, when they don't, it's like, "Okay, well, now I need to work on how I'm describing things, or maybe I need to leave some more room in my panel descriptions, so that they can go ahead and do whatever they want and they feel is right for the story that they want to tell." I've learned a lot about how to write a script so that the artists can understand, because the script really is a letter to the artist.
The more I learned about Carlos and Adam and the way that they draw and the way that they work and their tone and style, the more I would tweak my script, because I know them a lot better now and I think we communicate a lot better. Over the four issues, it's been quite a journey, but they're so talented.
MARVEL.COM: Like the rest of mutantkind, Kamala must fight Orchis for her right to exist. What can we expect from them here, in the wake of their devastating Hellfire Gala attack?
IMAN VELLANI: Every time there's a new attack on mutants, Orchis learns from their mistakes as well. Just like the Sentinels, they're evolving very quickly. They're learning about mutants very quickly. So I think all the mutants who are left on Earth are constantly on edge.
Ms. Marvel is coming into this being pretty naive about this whole thing. She's sent on this mission to find out what Orchis is up to under the Empire State University grounds, and she's like, "Nothing's happening. It's just a normal school. These kids are really smart. They like robots." And they're like, "No, no, Ms. Marvel, you do not understand. These people are up to something and it's up to you to figure it out." And she's like, "Okay, so I'm not going to have a normal summer now. Got to figure out what Orchis is up to."
And little does she know, they've been experimenting—in issue #1, we see that they've been experimenting on Chitauri, and she's like, "What can they possibly be up to?" And throughout the series, we learn a little bit more about the experiments that they've been conducting, and the Omega Sentinel is kind of the lead in this. Sabir has included a new character named Nitika, and she is also up to some things that even Orchis doesn't know about.
We have a lot of cool female characters that just have such a powerful hand within Orchis, and Ms. Marvel is like, "I know they're bad, the Mutant Massacre was all them, but I don't feel qualified enough to deal with this. I just became a mutant and I don't even know what that means yet." So she has to learn a lot about herself and a lot about the magnitude of discrimination that the mutants are facing. It's a big arc that she gets to face.
MARVEL.COM: What are you most excited for readers to see from this series?
IMAN VELLANI: I will say there are a lot of pages that take place in Kamala's dream world and there are very cool characters that we get to meet within that dream world, and they're just extensions of Kamala's psyche and reflections of who she is, and she doesn't quite even realize what she is capable of as a hero.
I think that journey that she goes on in her mind is honestly super fascinating and it's something that I really wanted. That was the first thing I pitched to editorial, is I really want to explore dreams and the psychological effect that a resurrection would have on a 16-year-old kid who has no one to talk to about it, right? That's been really fun. And with dreams, you can do literally whatever you want, so there is a lot to play with. Adam Gorham draws incredible stuff in those pages, so I'm very excited for people to see his work.
Don't miss MS. MARVEL: THE NEW MUTANT #1, on sale August 30!
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