By Christian Holub
October 05, 2020 at 06:24 PM EDT
Credit: Marvel Entertainment (2)

We live in an age of Marvel. Just last year, Avengers: Endgame became the most successful box office film of all time. On top of that, there are tons of Marvel comics, video games, and TV shows featuring the publisher's iconic superheroes; it's safe to say they're famous across the world. But as with all global icons, Marvel characters are interpreted in different ways by different people at different times, and that's what the upcoming Disney+ documentary series Marvel's 616 sets out to explore. Each episode of the series is helmed by a different director and features its own story about Marvel's impact on culture. This month, this EW reporter sat down with actress/director Alison Brie (CommunityGLOW) and filmmaker David Gelb (Jiro Dreams of Sushi) about the episodes they directed for one of PaleyFest's Fall TV Previews virtual panels.

Gelb directs the first episode in the series, titled "The Japanese Spider-Man," which examines a forgotten chapter of Marvel history: A live-action Spider-Man series produced in '70s Japan. The existence of this show might be news even to those who consider themselves Marvel know-it-all's, but trust us when we say this footage needs to be seen to be believed.

"They wanted to market Marvel comics in Japan, and the way to do it was to create a kid's TV show," Gelb explained. "The way you created a kid's TV show was to make it a vehicle for selling toys. So the Japanese creators of the show threw out everything about the character except the costume, the powers, and the strongest themes. But they gave him a super-fast car, a giant robot from outer space, an intergalactic origin story, and a whole new cast of characters to fight. It was something totally, totally different from what we're used to, but the suit stayed the same, and that was really key."

Gelb continued, "So much passion and hard work went into making that show, so our episode quickly became a celebration of filmmaking, of making a TV show. Every element of that show was completely handmade. Even the visual effects that would be done on a computer today were all hand-drawn. The transformers and all the big set-pieces were done using miniatures, and the stunts were genuinely dangerous. The guy climbed Tokyo Tower for the opening credits with no rope, 500 feet up. So for the show, Spider-Man actually kind of was real in the form of the stunts."

Brie directs the last episode in the series, "Marvel Spotlight," which follows students at Brandon High School in Florida as they put on productions of two Marvel Spotlight plays. The initiative, launched just last year, has created three short one-act plays featuring Marvel superheroes designed explicitly for high school theater students. One of those plays features the iconic Thor and Loki, but the two featured in the episode focus on younger, newer heroes like Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan and Squirrel Girl.

"I was coming into this contemporary high school scenario from a personal place and looking at it in terms of my involvement in high school theater and how seriously I took it and how much I learned from it," Brie said. "I sort of assumed there would be more of a disconnect just generationally between their high school experience and mine, but what I realized watching them work on these characters through these Marvel plays is there's this real connectivity in terms of what we all struggle with: Gaining confidence, surrounding yourself with friends you connect to, elements of body positivity."

Brie continued, "It was interesting to me that the things high school kids go through are so universal, and they were really encompassed in these Marvel stories. The way that the Marvel Spotlight program works, these plays are adapted from known Marvel characters but they are written specifically for high school aged kids, and the characters are that age too. Kamala Khan is in high school, Squirrel Girl is going to college. They are dealing with things that they can really relate to in a concrete way. They're seeing images in the comics of Kamala in high school feeling out of place. It was so fun to watch them learn from these comics and relate to these characters and really come out of their shell over the course of filming."

Watch the full panel at Yahoo Entertainment. Marvel's 616 hits Disney+ on Nov. 20.

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