As I lined up Kamala Khan’s outstretched, oversized hand, I expected her to just give the advancing soldier a bit of a smack, maybe knock him around a bit. Instead, as I let go, her palm shot out, crushing the soldier like a bug on the back wall test chamber. If I hadn’t been quite so horrified, that might have been the perfect moment for a clever superhero quip. As it happened, I ended up more concerned about wiping off all that viscera.
Earlier this month, Crystal Dynamics confirmed Kamala Khan - perhaps better known by her superhero alias, Ms. Marvel - as the sixth playable character in Marvel’s Avengers. Rather than a roster-filler, however, Kamala will be the campaign’s main character (to begin with, at least), the central figure that attempts to unite the scattered Avengers after the events of A-Day.
The reasoning behind this makes a lot of sense. Crystal Dynamics sees Ms. Marvel as a blank slate, unlike most of the characters at its disposal. Studio head Scott Amos boasts that the studio has 80 years of comicbook history to draw from but Kamala Khan, created in 2013, is relatively new addition to the Marvel Universe and, as such, doesn't have decades of accumulated lore and audience familiarity: “we get a lot of flexibility on creating and re-creating our version of her. She’s kind of a new character for most people, and we get to bring her to life in a big screen way through our story. And that's exciting, having those core five icons that people might be familiar with, and then a sixth one who has that freshness." Compared to the decades of history attached to characters like Thor, Captain America, and Hulk, the new arrival has plenty of room for creative freedom, and her youth gives a fresh perspective on the grizzled been-there-done-that story of the 'classic' Avengers crew getting back together.
Buckle up lore nerds: in Marvel’s Avengers Khan is present at A-Day, the disaster that consumes San Francisco and forces the super-squad to disband at the beginning of the game. Caught up in the chaos she breathes in Terrigen Mist, granting her superhuman abilities, but also making her into what the dystopian AIM corporation refers to as an ‘Inhuman.’ For years, Kamala is forced to keep her powers under wraps, eventually seeking out the Avengers when she discovers that A-Day could have been a setup.
The sense that Kamala is an outcast permeates her character. In her reveal trailer, she struggles to stand up to Stark and Banner, only one-upping Iron Man when he wrongfoots himself during their conversation. When I take her into the training room to test out her skills against a bunch of AIM baddies, the confident one-liners that you might expect from a superhero are subverted as Kamala tries to hype herself up, and even the most devastating combos aren’t delivered with the surety of the more established Avengers. It’s a performance immediately reminiscent of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, another superpowered teenager trying to come to terms with not only their sense of self, but their status as one of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
Thankfully, that same uncertainty isn’t present once Ms. Marvel really gets some bad guys in her sights. After the initial shock of that bug-splatter moment, it doesn’t take long before wave upon wave of AIM soldiers find themselves on the wrong end of Kamala Khan and her hyper-stretchy limbs. Amos refers to her combat style as ‘ranged-melee’ and, as I chain some simple combos together, Kamala’s arms slingshot back and forth at breakneck speed, sending distant enemies flying before snapping back into place. One particularly satisfying move sees her leap into the air, trailing one augmented foot for the briefest of moments before whipping it forward into the head of an unfortunate bad guy.
Ms Marvel isn’t the most mobile of the Marvel’s Avengers cast - her ability to evade area-of-effect abilities in particular is limited to the occasional clumsy scrabble across the floor - but that’s made up for by her ability to ‘Embiggen.’ As she grows in size, Kamala transforms from plucky hero into towering colossus, able to swat smaller enemies aside and level the playing field against their larger counterparts. When Kamala transforms, she gains a host of new combos befitting her more hulking physique, and even her dodge gains a small impact area when she lands. The cooldown on Embiggen is long however and, in the controlled environment of the training room, it was difficult to get a sense of how well her most potent abilities could be woven into standard combat: but using it to dispatch the final dozen enemies of a tricky wave is beautifully cathartic.
Kamala Khan offers Marvel's Avengers something that, until this point, it was missing: a way to escape the clutches of the MCU. While billions in cinema revenue played a major part in helping this game get made, the attachments that fans formed with the actors that brought the Avengers to the big screen saw those same fans unsure about to react to these new faces. While Black Widow and Captain America have a decade of cinema behind them, Ms Marvel has just a few years of comics. Her presence, not just as a new arrival but as a main character, offers an entry point for those who haven’t spent ten years engrossed in the movies, and keeps up Marvel’s tradition of bringing more of its ‘fringe’ characters to new audiences. And with abilities that put her on a par with Thor and The Hulk, Kamala Khan already feels central: even in a team as established as The Avengers.