The following contains spoilers for the first episode of Ms. Marvel.Often, shows and movies struggle to accurately or respectfully capture the experience of being a teenager. This is bound to happen when the people who have dropped out of high school for at least 20 years are the ones writing the material; however, it is annoying for the younger crowd who are teenagers or who have recently attended high school. Many who watch these programs may feel that their experience has not been portrayed correctly.
These shows and movies often seem condescending or just so far removed from the current high school experience that they are barely relevant to today’s real teens. This is especially true when it comes to addressing fan culture. There was some concern that this was how the MCU’s latest Disney Plus show, Lady Marvel, it would come off. Some feared that she would paint Kamala’s narrative through the simplistic and exaggerated trope of “she’s bullied because she’s a nerd” that appears in nearly every coming-of-age story. Fortunately, however, it appears the show is handling this story very carefully. As such, she seems much more faithful to the experience of being a teenager and resonates with the audience as a result.
Of course, it’s hard to judge when much of the show hasn’t been released so far. However, the first episode was so heavily focused on teen struggles over any kind of superhero element that the show’s approach was very clear. Rather than recreating the kind of high school experience shown in the movies and shows of the ’80s and’ 90s, there is a much more modern and grounded vibe to the show, even with all of its stylized and accentuated elements.
For example, there are hints that Kamala doesn’t have many friends at school, but she isn’t pushed into lockers and insulted by everyone in the hallways. She is clearly a bit of a social outcast, but she is not actively bullied. For many young people watching, this is a much more realistic way of portraying someone who has nerdy interests and may not fit the rest of their peers. That’s not to say that the most aggressive bullying isn’t happening yet, but the kind of cliques and clichés that pop up in many teen media are simply no longer accurate for the timing. Instead, Kamala’s experiences reflect those of the viewers.
The show is also clever in portraying the very real idea of how nerdy culture has made its way into the mainstream – or at least, how those with niche interests have created their own close-knit communities. Being in comics e Star Wars it is no longer something that people feel they have to hide, because it is easier to find others who share that enthusiasm. Marvel movies are the highest-grossing movies at the box office these days, so that’s no longer a shameful thing fans have to hide. In Ms. Marvel, when Kamala and Bruno go to AvengerCon, they see Zoe, a popular girl from their school who is entering the Captain Marvel cosplay contest. Superheroes aren’t just for “nerds” anymore. Someone who is relatively well liked by their peers is also part of that culture, even if they clearly don’t convey this fact.
The show also touches on the importance of fandom culture for Kamala as a way to express herself, especially when she feels stifled by her strict parents. Many teens use the media they consume as an escape to distract themselves from the problems they face in their real life. Superheroes are clearly important to Kamala and make up a large part of her personality, but that’s not the only thing she cares about, and the show makes that obvious. Even just with this first episode, Lady Marvel it is already painting its titular character as well-rounded. Show her all sides of her personality so that the audience can connect with her.
The way the show portrays text messages is also creative and incorporates a real part of the way teens communicate. There are so many scenes in teen-focused shows where the characters write things like “How RU?” or “I go to the shop”, which seems incredibly out of this world. It’s just another way the show manages to portray the teenage experience to the best of its ability.
The first episode looks like a good omen for the rest of the show, which will hopefully continue to tell Kamala’s story in this respectful and realistic way. Considering that much of the current MCU fandom is made up of teenagers (or adults who were teen Marvel fans ten years ago), it makes sense that they might want to do their best to represent that part of the fan base. The show’s creators tell a story that resonates with its audience and doesn’t make fun of their entire existence, as some shows may be tempted to do.
MORE: Ms. Marvel Premiere Review