Marvel superheroes are famous the world over, but the company’s latest storytelling franchise has a very specific audience in mind: young female fans. Featuring animated shorts, a TV movie, and tie-in comics, Marvel Rising will focus on a new generation of young, diverse Marvel superheroes, many of whom were just introduced or rebooted in the last few years, including Ms. Marvel, Squirrel Girl, Ghost-Spider (a.k.a. Spider-Gwen), Quake, Patriot, and Inferno.
Later this summer, Marvel will launch a series of animated shorts titled Marvel Rising: Initiation. These shorts will build up to an animated film, Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors, that will premiere on Disney Channel in the fall. The story centers on teenage superhero Ghost-Spider (a version of Gwen Stacy who has acquired spider powers), who is on the run from the law after being framed for her friend’s murder. Ms. Marvel, Squirrel Girl, Quake, and Patriot are dispatched to bring her in, before they all find themselves teaming up to fight a threat no one had expected. This group of heroes is younger and more inclusive (in terms of both gender and ethnicity) than the mostly white male heroes who dominate the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
“Marvel Rising is a big storytelling celebration of the next generation of Marvel heroes, for the next generation of Marvel fans,” says Marvel editor Sana Amanat, a co-executive producer on Marvel Rising who also co-created the Kamala Khan incarnation of Ms. Marvel in 2014. “Over the last few years at Marvel, we’ve seen this huge growth in new types of characters, a younger generation of heroes that has brought in a new cast of Marvel fans. These characters are true to what the Marvel Universe is about, while also being truly reflective of the world outside your window.”
Marvel Rising will kick off Thursday with panel at San Diego Comic-Con. Set to begin at 3:15 p.m. PT in Room 6DE, the panel will feature the cast of the animated stories, including Dove Cameron (Ghost-Spider), Chloe Bennet (reprising her role as Quake from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Milana Vayntrub (Squirrel Girl), Kathreen Khavari (Ms. Marvel), and Kamil McFadden (Patriot). Amanat, Marvel SVP of animation Cort Lane, writer Mairghread Scott, and Animation VP Marsha Griffin will be on the panel as well.
“I see Ghost-Spider as a strong, rough-and-tumble, feminine energy who can face any challenge and become whatever she needs to be to solve the issue in front of her,” Cameron tells EW of her character. “She’s definitely got a sense of humor, and a sass and a lightness to her, but she’s also got a lot of darkness to her, because of her secret that she keeps and her family issues. I think Ghost-Spider deals with a few more issues than her male counterparts, not unlike most young women who deal with some different issues than their male counterparts in normal, everyday life. Some of these might be being underestimated by foes, expectations of what a girl or woman should be, the pressures to shatter those expectations, or the social pressures of the male-dominant job title.”
In order to ensure that Marvel Rising would resonate with its target audience, Lane and his team sat down with young fans to talk about what kinds of stories they’d like to see. These conversations informed elements of Marvel Rising animation, especially when it came to character designs.
“We’re very interested in their opinions and they had a lot to say,” Lane says. “One thing many girls were asking for was different body types. In animation, characters all sort of look the same, there are similar body types based on model sheets, but here every female character has a different body from the other characters. They were also very open to the ethnic and religious diversity of the cast.”
The different body types also lend themselves to different ways of approaching heroism. Ms. Marvel does not, as Amanat says, have “pretty powers.” Instead, Kamala’s shapeshifting abilities often explode her body to ridiculous proportions, “embiggen-ing” her fists to punch bad guys or stretching her arms to traverse great distances. It’s a relatable dynamic for young fans who are themselves going through some big bodily changes, as are Kamala’s burgeoning friendships with other Marvel Rising superheroes like Squirrel Girl, a.k.a Doreen Green. Kamala and Doreen’s friendship will feature heavily in the animated Marvel Rising stories, as well as tie-in comics like Marvel Rising: Ms. Marvel & Squirrel Girl (the first issue of which hits stores Aug. 1).
“I haven’t seen much in American animation where story is driven by friendships between female superheroes,” Lane says. “Particularly with Kamala and Doreen, it’s gonna be especially be a focus of Marvel Rising. Ms. Marvel is a little more tentative, awkward. Doreen is the opposite, full of confidence and extremely unapologetic about being goofy. That puts her in conflict with other characters who are trying to be serious. Every kid feels unapologetically silly, and Doreen gives them license for that.”
The six Marvel Rising: Initiation shorts will premiere back-to-back on Disney XD on Aug. 13, with the Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors TV movie to follow in the fall.