Iman Vellani and Sabir Pirzada Share Their Favorite Ms. Marvel Memories
The co-writers of Ms. Marvel: The New Mutant swap stories of their favorite superhero stories and how they first learned their comic’s big twist.
In the summer of 2023, Marvel Comics did the unthinkable: It killed off Kamala Khan (aka Ms. Marvel), only to bring her back a few months later… as a member of the X-Men. Granted, superheroes “die” all the time only to come back, and the revelation that Kamala was a Mutant had been telegraphed earlier that year in her live-action show. But still, this was a big deal. Behind the scenes, Marvel also pulled off one more twist: hiring Iman Vellani (best known for playing Kamala in the MCU) to co-write the story with comics and TV scribe Sabir Pirzada. For Inverse’s 2023 Superhero Issue, the dynamic duo reunited on Zoom to talk about why they love Ms. Marvel so much, the challenges (and thrills) of introducing her to the X-Men universe, and their own origin stories as comic book fans. — JAKE KLEINMAN
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Iman Vellani: It’s weird starting these things. How’s things going for you? How’s your day been?
Sabir Pirzada: Exciting! The writers strike is over, and there’s so much to be done. So just scrambling with the agents and managers and doing phone calls and figuring out what the lay of the land is.
Vellani: Hopefully ours gets sorted out soon as well, but today, we are talking about the comic. I think we should backtrack a little to our own origin stories. You were always a comic book kid, right?
Pirzada: I wanted to be a comic writer from the get-go. The first scripts I ever read weren’t TV scripts or film scripts. They were comic book scripts. I’ve pretty much been reading comics ever since I could read.
Vellani: Who introduced you to comics? No one in my family read any comic books. I had to walk into a comic book store myself and figure out what I was doing. It’s the most intimidating feeling ever.
Pirzada: I want to hear about this. What drew you to go into a comic store to begin with?
Vellani: I was a huge MCU fan, and that was about it. I loved Iron Man, but I didn’t know anything about comics. I think I wanted to prove my fandom — and prove my point to dudes in my class. Part of me just wanted to be taken seriously as a nerd. So I walked into the comic book store and I knew I had to find issue number ones and I had to find Iron Man. My first comic was Invincible Iron Man No. 1 by Brian Michael Bendis.
Pirzada: I’m impressed that you were able to navigate the comics landscape without somebody to hold your hand. I had the benefit of my older cousin. He had this massive comic collection in Mumbai, India. So when I went to visit him and his family, I dove into his collection. He could curate it for me and say, “OK, you like Spider-Man, start here. You like X-Men, start here.”
“I was solely against DC. I refused to touch a DC comic.”
Vellani: Did you have a favorite comic growing up?
Pirzada: When I was younger, I had a soft spot for the Flash. His powers were the coolest, and he always had a really interesting Rogues Gallery. Of course, there’s always Batman. That was a big one for me, probably because of the Michael Keaton movies. But pretty quickly I got into Marvel. My Marvel collection far eclipses my DC collection.
Vellani: I was solely against DC. I refused to touch a DC comic.
Pirzada: Oh, really?
Vellani: It felt like the enemy. When Marvel had a win with their movies, I was like, “I’m winning today. It’s a good day.” I think the first DC comic I read was when someone gifted me Sandman.
Pirzada: I wonder if the generation gap between us is showing. When I was growing up, DC versus Marvel was a fun thing. There was a whole line called Amalgam Comics where they fought against each other. It didn’t feel like you had to pick a side.
Vellani: Ms. Marvel kind of started it all for me. That was the first character I became fully obsessed with in comics that didn’t exist in the MCU or any other media. It was mine. No one else knew who she was in my school. I dressed up as her for Halloween and got a lot of awkward stares. People thought I was the Flash.
Pirzada: Oh, because of the lighting bolts! Of course.
Vellani: The craziest part was a girl who was actually dressed as the Flash asked me if I was the Flash.
Pirzada: Do you remember your first Ms. Marvel comic? Was it the first issue or did you start somewhere else?
Vellani: No, it was Ms. Marvel No. 14. It’s called Mecca. I think on the first page, Kamala was sad about killing a goat for Eid or something. And just the fact that Eid was written in a Marvel comic blew my mind. I remember going home, and I sat down for dinner with the comic book, and I was reading it to my parents. I don’t know how much they cared, but I was losing my marbles. It was the coolest thing ever that my culture, my religion, was in a comic book. But she was also a nerd. It was a literal mirror held up in front of me in a comic book page. I went into a deep dive after that. I read all of the G. Willow Wilson run online. My life changed after that. And now we get to contribute to what’s happening and her story.
Pirzada: No pressure.
Vellani: I know! I was losing my mind when they agreed to let me write a comic. I was reiterating to Jordan [White], our editor, a million times, “I don’t know what I’m doing and I have never done this before.” He’s like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s fine. Just the ideas matter.”
Pirzada: I’m so curious what they told you when you first joined. How much did you know about the whole plan with the character at the time?
Vellani: There were a lot of little birdies talking in my ear. First, I told [Kamala Khan co-creator] Sana Amanat I was serious about doing this. She said, “OK, I’m going to make a couple of calls for you.” I got a call from her a month later, and her tone was so weird. It was like this big secret she couldn’t tell me, but she was going to anyway. She told me what she heard from the X-Men offices about how they’re going to kill Kamala and bring her back a Mutant. She just dropped this bomb on me and said, “They want you to do it.”
Then there was a lot of her passing information onto me before it became official. All I heard was “death, X-Men, death, X-Men.” I was scared because I never really read X-Men comics. So I started watching the X-Men ’90s cartoon.
Pirzada: A classic.
“That wasn’t supposed to be foreshadowing that she was going to become a mutant or one of the X-Men, but it was very fortuitous.”
Vellani: Yeah, it was just a lot of X-Men all at once, but I feel secure in my knowledge now.
Pirzada: I didn’t know much when they called me. You were already involved. They basically said, “This is what we’re doing. Iman’s on board to do it. Are you interested in co-writing?” I was reeling.
I had written a two-issue series called Dark Web: Ms. Marvel, and in one of those panels, there’s a nod to the famous John Byrne Wolverine image in the sewers from The Dark Phoenix Saga, where Kamala takes on the same pose. That wasn’t supposed to be foreshadowing that she was going to become a mutant or one of the X-Men, but it was very fortuitous.
Vellani: You’ve worked in massive writers’ rooms before. I’m curious, was our process very different from what you normally experience? Basically, how would you rate me as a writing partner on a scale of one to 10?
Pirzada: [laughs] I give you a 15 out of 10. It’s been great!
My first goal was to make sure you get to tell the stories you want to tell and that you have the space and empowerment to do it in the best way possible. But it’s been fun because we both have the same religious and cultural upbringing and the same level of fandom. So we can bring our autobiographical experiences to this very special character. It’s been a really fun collaboration. I’ve never co-written a comic before, either. So we had to figure out that process together.
“Kamala has always been that type of personal therapist for me.”
Vellani: It’s been so eye-opening. I became way more self-aware as a person through writing this arc for Kamala, who’s also coming to terms with growing up and having responsibility for a much larger community with the X-Men and still protecting herself and the relationships that matter to her.
Pirzada: Yes, Kamala has always been that type of personal therapist for me in the sense of unlocking all the things I didn’t realize I was dealing with until I realized, “Oh, wait, there’s lots of things that Kamala is dealing with that are almost exactly the same as what I’ve been dealing with either at an earlier age in life or even now.”
Vellani: That’s a great way to put it.
Pirzada: It’s not exclusive to a younger time in my life at all. Her experiences are just as relevant to me now.
Vellani: Do you have a favorite part of writing the series?
Pirzada: I think there’s actually a challenge in the fact that she’s now a member of the X-Men and that there’s a whole other side of the world we get to play with. Her supporting world of characters is so robust that, if we’re not careful, we can end up spreading ourselves too thin. It’s been an interesting process to wade through our initial wishlist, to have to narrow that down and pick and choose what elements of her life are most important now that she is a Mutant.
Vellani: See, this is why you’re so great. I had so many ideas coming into this. I didn’t know if I was ever going to write a comic book again. It was literally glorified fan fiction for me in a lot of ways. You helped hone in on the actual story. What is the arc that we want to take Kamala on? I wanted this book to emulate a lot of what I loved about G. Willow Wilson’s original run. I think it’s the epitome of not just Ms. Marvel books but storytelling in general. She’s able to build so much of Kamala’s world and characters just in that first panel of her smelling bacon at Circle Q. It’s so specific! We tried our best to kind of preserve the charm of those books.
At the same time, being in X-Men territory was intimidating, but it also gave us the liberty to get a little darker and deal with more mature themes. Finding that tonal balance is a little tricky for me, but you were always there to lean on.
“I am just such a sucker for Bruno.”
Pirzada: The page limit forces a lot of decisions to be made, as do deadlines. That helps tremendously. And the fact that the X-Men books are so well interconnected. Being in touch with the editor and knowing what they’re doing on the other series answered a lot of questions for us.
Did you have a favorite character? I want to hear your favorite characters, not necessarily to write, but just to read in Kamala’s world and then in the X-Men world.
Vellani: I am just such a sucker for Bruno, you know this.
Pirzada: Yeah. That does not surprise me.
Vellani: I love their relationship. I don’t have a Bruno in my life, per se. Maybe that’s why I love him so much because I want a Bruno in my life, a guy in the chair who solves all my issues and doesn’t complain. He’s her moral code. She could always think about him when making decisions, and I really appreciate their relationship.
Pirzada: You were my favorite Bruno writer, and I’m excited for everyone to see how you wrote the character in Issue 4. It’s some really beautiful stuff.
“You were my favorite Bruno writer.”
Vellani: I’m excited for people to see that, too. I think my favorite X-Men character is Emma Frost. I like the way you wrote Emma in Issue 4 as well. She’s just such a fun character to read. In Grant Morrison’s run, she was the highlight for me. She has so many different sides. She has that maternal aspect. I think a lot of people are loving the mother-daughter relationship between Kamala and Emma. It’s so great.
Pirzada: Yes, the relationship with Emma is very different from every other relationship Kamala has in her life. She doesn’t have someone who can challenge her in the same way that Emma can as someone who’s older, more experienced, but also more opinionated. Sometimes holding the opposite opinion to Kamala, forcing Kamala to stand her ground, but also be open to learning from her. There’s so much to unpack there.
Vellani: She doesn’t sugarcoat anything. She just tells Kamala how it is: “You’re a mutant now and it’s going to suck for you, but you’ve got to deal with it. Also, you look fabulous in that outfit.” It’s so great.
Pirzada: Do you have a favorite Ms. Marvel storyline from the comics that you’ve read? It doesn’t have to be in the main Ms. Marvel series. It could be a team book or anything.
Vellani: I mean, all of them. A team book that stands out to me was when she teamed up with Spider-Man one time, and they switched bodies. Have you read that one?
Pirzada: Oh, I’m sure I have, but I can’t remember. I thought I’d read every one of them at some point.
Vellani: They switched bodies. She gets his powers, and he gets her powers. So she’s in Spider-Man’s body and has to go to his job interview and has to figure out how to web-shoot. And then Spider-Man has to go home in Kamala’s body, figure out how to embiggen, deal with Kamala’s parents, and do a school project. I love those slice-of-life comics.
Pirzada: That’s a fantastic premise.
Vellani: It’s everything I love about Ms. Marvel’s comics and her community. What about you?
Pirzada: Well, for favorite stories, it’s hard to top the original one that launched the character.
Vellani: I know.
Pirzada: The story with Kamran is also fascinating. I don’t think we’ve ever quite seen Kamala challenged on an emotional level the way that Kamran challenged her and kind of broke her heart. That has always stuck with me, and I think it’s a tricky needle to thread when you’ve got a Muslim guy as your villain. We’ve seen it done incorrectly so many different times. But in Willow’s amazing, capable hands, she pulled it off and didn’t fall into cliché territory.
Vellani: That was pretty ballsy. I really wanted to root for him too, especially when they were bonding. I love all of her male potential relationships that never turn into anything. But one day, we’ll see. Who knows? Maybe we’ll be writing this forever.
Pirzada: We should be so lucky. [laughs]
We have a lot of objectives in mind for the series. I’ve always thought about it serving two different functions. One is that it’s a nice welcome return for fans of the original. It’s been a rough time for us as fans of Ms. Marvel who haven’t had an ongoing series for her in a while. We’ve had these minis or one-offs here and there, usually tied to some larger event she’s a guest in. But here she gets to be the star again. The other objective is just being friendly to new readers, whether they’re of a certain age or they’re discovering her from the MCU.
Vellani: I 100 percent agree. Much of the reason I wanted to do this was because so many new people were reading Ms. Marvel comics, people who never read any comics before. I think she’s a very accessible character to start your comic book journey with, but there was nothing very significant on shelves recently. I enjoyed her appearing with Wolverine and Moon Knight, but that was about it. I wanted more of that. I love seeing her interact with more mature characters. So the X-Men was the perfect opportunity to do that and still keep it a Ms. Marvel book.
Hopefully, people see what I saw when I picked up those comics for the first time at my shop.