Across the fandom universe, there are little girls dressing up as Squirrel Girl, buying their first Ms. Marvel trade, creating America Chavez fanart, and scooping up all the Spider-Gwen merch they can find. After years of demand from fans looking for more diverse superheroes, Marvel is not only listening, they’re creating something new with those fans in mind.
Marvel Rising – a cross-platform, animated “event” – will launch with six digital shorts, and introduce a cast that includes the characters above as well as Quake, Patriot, and Inferno–and featuring stars from Freeform, Disney Channel, and Descendants–followed by a full-length feature titled Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors. And, if Marvel has their way, this is just the start to a new company-wide franchise.
Den of Geek spoke to two senior Marvel executives about the process of bringing Marvel Rising to life, and how it has been informed by input from fans previously left out of the conversation: young women and girls. From tracking trends and running focus groups to previewing the digital shorts with girls in the Midwest, Marvel is incorporating the feedback of girls to an unprecedented degree.
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It’s not that Marvel is seeking out a new audience; they are investing in one they already have. Marvel’s Senior Vice President of Animation & Family Entertainment, Cort Lane, was quick to point out the big numbers these books score in trade paperbacks and digital downloads, which are more popular with women and girls who might not feel welcome in a comic book store, as well as the incredible popularity of cosplaying as characters like Spider-Gwen, Ms. Marvel, Squirrel Girl, and Quake.
“Girls are finally getting to see kick-butt characters of all genders, all backgrounds, and all ethnicities in the sci-fi, and fantasy, and superhero genres,” Lane says. “It’s really exciting for them because they’ve always wanted that. It just wasn’t being delivered to them. It was always an assumption that those were boys’ genres.”
As Sana Amanat, Marvel’s VP of Content & Character Development, put it: “Our characters are reflective of that world outside your window and they should not only have different points of view and experiences, they should also look like the world outside.”
This next generation of heroes still has some growing pains, something that Amanat thinks younger viewers will connect with. “It’s such a stark contrast, looking at a character like Captain America or Iron Man or Black Widow who are just always perfectly quaffed and shiny…These are younger heroes who are kind of looking at the Marvel universe and saying, ‘Well why do I get the weird powers?’”
Marvel is quick to assure us that everything audiences already love about its universe is still present. “It’s still Marvel action on an epic scale,” Lane says. Comic book fans won’t be disappointed – Spider-Gwen (called Ghost-Spider here) is rendered in the style of co-creator Robbi Rodriguez, and Amanat is one of Kamala Khan’s creators. Audiences can expect more humor, which is evident from the first few shorts. And Marvel is hoping to run the shorts on a variety of platforms, though they’re still tight-lipped about the details.
Will the focus on young, diverse heroes alienate the long-established audience of adult men? Lane doesn’t seem too concerned: “We think the audience is actually broader than just the female target that we’ve been talking about. And also, we’re very excited that this story is connected to the Marvel universe at large.” Lane describes that connection as, “synergy on both sides. We are using characters from the feature film universe, and even characters who might appear in feature films down the road.”
While there’s a lot we still don’t know about Marvel Rising, we have a few treats to entice fans: Amanat says there will be a Squirrel Girl and Ms. Marvel comics crossover for the pair to officially meet and, according to Lane, we will hear the music of the Mary Janes, Spider-Gwen’s band. Finally, what excites Lane the most about Marvel Rising may not be something he can share just yet, but he did tease: “We have one content concept that involves kids actually helping us to create stories around these characters, and that’s all I can say about that.”