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Ms. Marvel Includes a Sneaky Superman Reference

In-world cross-references have grown increasingly common between the two comic book juggernauts. Ms. Marvel keeps the tradition going in fine form.

When Marvel exploded onto the comics scene in the early 1960s, they quickly became fierce rivals with DC Comics. While a few mash-ups and crossovers took place over the years, starting with 1976’s Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man, they were usually stand-alones resulting from a formal agreement between the two companies. More casual references cropped up only with great care, lest they give their respective rival too much credit.

The explosion of superhero-related content in film and TV over the last two decades – most notably with the creation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – has begun to change that. Kevin Feige is a documented DCEU fan. Members of their respective universes have quietly begun referencing each other — not necessarily as “real” heroes, but rather as pop-culture constructs in their own worlds. Did the Pyms watch Adam West’s Batman? Is the MCU big business in the Snyderverse? The two respective IPs are beginning to ask those kinds of questions. The first episode of Ms. Marvel quietly pushed that needle a little further.

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The MCU has been aggressive about noting the presences of DC characters in its heroes’ lexicon. The biggest examples came in Eternals in which Ikaris — specifically his ability to project energy from his eyes — drew direct comparisons to Superman from his fellows. Similarly, Kingo’s loyal servant Karum was described as “the Alfred,” in reference to Bruce Wayne’s loyal butler. DC has followed suit in most notably through the various shows in the Arrowverse, which are very pop-culture savvy and routinely reference common Marvel terms like “Spidey sense” and “Hulk out” as well as particular heroes from the MCU.

Ms. Marvel Season 1, Episode 1, “Generation Why” makes a more subtle reference than that, though its inspiration is unmistakable. The opening scene depicts an animated montage created by Kamala Khan depicting her interpretation of the now publicly-known Battle of Earth from Avengers: Endgame. Naturally, she paints her hero Captain Marvel as the ultimate savior of the day, arriving just in the nick of time to destroy Thanos’s ship and save the remainder of Earth’s heroes who — in Kamala’s opinion — were losing badly.

RELATED: Ms. Marvel Boss Wants to Make Ant-Man’s Podcast a Reality

The setup for Captain Marvel’s arrival entails a pair of pictures. The first is a hand-drawn image of a cockatoo surrounded by question marks and sporting a yellow mohawk akin to Danvers’ Kree helmet. The second is a photograph of a military jet in flight. In other words, it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Captain Marvel!

This is an easy comparison to make. Carol Danvers possesses powers on a cosmic level including flight, great strength and invulnerability, just like Superman (though he doesn’t have them at the moment). The two heroes also share a color scheme — red, blue and gold — which gives them a similar visual profile. If Kamala Khan watched Superman & Lois every week, she’d likely make a connection very quickly. The subtlety of the reference also suggests that she’s not too keen to eclipse her “real world” heroine with the “fictional” Man of Steel.

Comic book heroes began with Superman, and he enjoys a privileged place in the pantheon because of that. But with superheroes more than just a niche or children’s market, it becomes increasingly difficult to ignore them, even in the fictional worlds that depict them. Ms. Marvel picks up on those vibes, as befits its hero-loving protagonist. A nod to her progenitor, however quiet, feels like the right move.

New episodes of Ms. Marvel stream Wednesdays on Disney+.

A native Californian, Robert Vaux has spent over 20 years as a professional film and television critic: working for such outlets as Collider, and The Sci-Fi Movie Page. His favorite superhero is Nightcrawler and his lucky numbers are 4, 9, 14, 16, 36, and 40.

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