Now that Ant-Man and the Wasp has arrived, the next big ticket item in the MCU's perpetual motion machine is Captain Marvel, so doubtless you've been hearing a lot about Carol Danvers. But there's a pretty good chance you've also come across another, strikingly similar superhero code name in your quest for knowledge--not Carol Danvers, not Captain, but Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel.
Kamala's name has been in the news even outside of tangential Captain Marvel related searches since Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige confirmed that she's in the cards for future MCU phases. So naturally the question becomes: Who the hell is Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel anyway?
Well, like most things in the world of superhero comics, it's a little complicated. The first thing you'll realize when you search for "Ms. Marvel" is that Carol Danvers has also used that name. Kamala is actually the fourth person to hold the mantle, while Carol was the first. Kamala debuted in 2013, so she's actually pretty new on the scene all things considered, and came into play just as Carol was making her official switch from "Ms." to "Captain" full time.
A teenaged Pakistani-American girl, Kamala got her start as a side character. Her first appearance was actually in the background of Captain Marvel #14 where she watches Carol in action against a Kree supervillain named Yon-Rogg. Essentially, Kamala is the Marvel Universe equivalent of a fangirl--she loves comics and her favorite heroes and keeping up with their stories. It just so happens that she lives in a world where they actually exist, so it's more like following a celebrity for her than following her favorite fictional characters.
She didn't just decide out of the blue to try her hand at the superhero lifestyle, despite her passion for it. Kamala was born without powers, and for the vast majority of her life believed herself to be completely human. During a 2013 event called Inhumanity, the Terrigen Mists, a mutagenic substance that gives the Inhumans their abilities, spread across the globe and triggered a process called Terrigenesis in Kamala (and many, many other unsuspecting people around the world).
Essentially, she was suddenly wrapped up in a weird looking alien cocoon and emerged later with her latent Inhuman genes activated. For her, that meant the ability to polymorph her cells--she can stretch her limbs, grow her appendages, transform her features, and otherwise alter the general size and shape of her body at will. She calls it the ability to "embiggen," a word that's since become something of a catch phrase.
With her new powers, Kamala began trying to ease her way into the superheroic lifestyle, and there was no shortage of missteps along the way. She managed to thwart a robbery (thankfully learning that her Terrigenesis had also given her an accelerated healing factor after she was shot in the process) and go up against a real deal supervillain named the Inventor before she decided to officially take on the codename Ms. Marvel and make herself a costume--inspired by Carol's colors and design, of course.
From that point on, she began trying to protect her home of Jersey City as best she could using her idols as examples, and even gaining the attention of some of the Marvel Universe's A-listers like Wolverine, Spider-Man, and of course Carol herself. In addition to her revolving door of team-ups, Kamala has been a member of several super teams, like the Champions, the Protectors, the Carol Cadets (a team obviously started by Carol herself), and even the Avengers for a time.
Since her debut, Kamala has become virtually synonymous with the Ms. Marvel identity and one of Marvel's most popular heroes for new comic book readers. She tends to specialize in a mix of high-flying superheroic action adventure and slice of life, coming of age stories focused on her home life and high school career. Unlike Carol, her powers don't come from Kree genetics, but the complicated relationship between the Inhumans, the humans, and the newly mutated "New Inhumans" or "Numans" puts her in a similar brand of conflict: Both Carol and Kamala exist in the overlapping areas between two different worlds, and they both struggle with finding where their responsibilities actually lie.
It's not totally clear where Kamala might find her footing in the future of the MCU, especially considering Captain Marvel's mysterious circumstances and decades-long absence from the public eye (Captain Marvel is conspicuously set in the '90s, years before the contemporary MCU). But as the MCU pushes forward with characters like Peter Parker and Shuri blazing trails for teenage superheroes, there's definitely room being made for more--and Kamala's print popularity and versatility make her a shoe-in for upcoming phases, even if it requires a little reconfiguration of her origin story to make it work.