Named after the designation given to the prime Marvel Universe in the comics, the new Disney+ docuseries Marvel’s 616 is comprised of eight episodes, each focused on a different facet of Marvel – sometimes within the company itself, sometimes outside of it — and how these characters and stories have made an impact in different ways. From the creation of the Japanese Spider-Man, to a look at cosplayers, to following how a comic book comes together, the episodes each have a unique feel, which makes sense given they each come from a different filmmaker.
As Executive Producer Sarah Amos explained, “We wanted it to mirror a lot of what Marvel is known for. So when you look across our comic books, you’re going to have stuff with more of a humor tone and stuff with more of a street level, gritty tone and then stuff with the classic comic tone. And we wanted to do the same thing with this series.”
On top of that, the people directing the episodes run the gamut from longtime documentarians to actors and performers like Paul Scheer (The League, Black Monday), Sarah Ramos (American Dreams, Parenthood), Alison Brie (Community, Glow), and Gillian Jacobs (Community, Love) who are fairly new – or in some cases brand new – to the documentary world.
Said Executive Producer Jason Sterman, “The thing that I feel presented as an opportunity with a series like this was to find new voices and find new perspectives on things and the nature of going to people like Alison and Gillian and Paul Scheer and Sarah Amos – people who are familiar with filmmaking, but maybe not in this format.”
Fandom spike to Jacobs, Brie, and Scheer about their episodes and what they learned about the world of Marvel as a result.
FEEL THE POWER
Gillian Jacobs’ episode of Marvel’s 616, “Higher, Further, Faster,” looks at female creators who have worked for the company, going back to the 1960s and into the present.
The episode includes interviews with notable Marvel creators like Louise Simonson and June Brigman, who created the kids superhero team Power Pack together in the 1980s. Jacobs, who read a lot of Power Pack before speaking to Simonson and Brigman, remarked, “It was really cool to hear about how Lousie really intentionally wanted to create a comic for a younger audience, for littler kids. She and June created this comic and June had not really been an artist behind an entire comic book series before. So it’s really the two of them together crafting this thing that was kind of unique within Marvel at the time.”
Jacobs admitted that when it came to speaking to people like Simonson, Brigman, or Longshot co-creator / Daredevil writer Ann Nocenti, “I was kind of nervous by the time I got to sit down with them because they were these figures in my mind. I got June to sketch out some of the characters for me, so it was a really cool experience.”
As far as the research she did for her episode, Jacobs said, “Because I sort of went into the history of comics as an industry in my documentary, I was amazed to hear about all the different genres of comics that used to be more popular and don’t really exist at a company like Marvel anymore, like romance comics, horror comics, detective [stories]… So you really do see that it’s a medium that is just about storytelling and the genre of those stories can be whatever you want them to be. So it would be cool maybe if there was a resurgence of these different types of comics, because there’s a great history of that.”
THE PLAY’S THE THING
Alison Brie’s episode, “Marvel Spotlight,” focuses on a school doing productions of two plays available through the Marvel Spotlight theater program, which provides plays for high schools that feature Marvel characters – in this case, Ms. Marvel and Squirrel Girl. Brie laughed that when she first received a text asking if she’d want to direct an episode, and if she’d done theater in high school, she enthusiastically replied “Have you met me?!”
In Brie’s episode, we see some of the turmoil and angst the kids go through putting on their show, worrying about their performances and what could go wrong. Said Brie, “I fell in love with the kids immediately. I think that so many of the things that they’re struggling with are incredibly universal and are things that I continue to struggle with as an adult. And I found them to be incredibly profound in their ability to be so vulnerable with us and also so self-aware to be able to talk about the things that they are going through just with an eye on it. And also seeing how much they took from the characters themselves.”
Brie noted, “These plays are written for high school students, so they’re designed to help them process their own insecurities and things like that. And it’s incredible how much they actually do, how much it really hit home… Certain struggles and things that the students were going through and how it tapped into their own methods of self-empowerment. I found it incredibly inspiring.”
Regarding her longtime Community pal, Jacobs, Brie said, “I feel like Gillian left it with an almost encyclopedic knowledge of every Marvel character! I came out of it more with just a deeper emotional appreciation and connection, watching the impact in real time to see the impact that these characters were having on these kids, these young adults, and how nuanced those characters are and how impactful it is to see a superhero be vulnerable; a human be like you.”
THE NEXT BIG THING?
Paul Scheer’s episode, “Lost and Found,” is about more obscure – and sometimes rather goofy — Marvel characters. As Scheer put it, he wanted, “To find these characters that may not be the ones you think of when you think of Marvel, like the front-facing Marvel characters. But these are the ones that affected people, that people want to talk about, the ones that people share the stories of.”
While he had directed episodes of television before, this was Scheer’s first documentary and he was struck by how much things can change as you go along, recalling, “We got certain people together and we started to hear about these characters, it did start to snowball a little bit. And we change our perspective. Even though my doc is very comedic, I don’t even know if it started out that way.”
Scheer elaborated that initially, his approach was, “‘I think the comedy will be in the characters and the reasoning behind these characters.’ And I had a thought about some of the characters that we were going to explore. And in my head, I wrote out the answers, like, ‘They’ll say this and then we can go here.’ My research was wrong because when I sat down with people, the people who are already on record about certain things, they change their point of view. We got to get into a deeper world and so that was really fun.”
A few years ago, it felt outlandish to think that the likes of Rocket Racoon and Groot could become globally loved characters, and Scheer remarked, “That really, truly was the premise. I think part of the joke at the beginning was, look, to make it in Hollywood now you have to be a Marvel character. So I know the good ones are right now are spoken for – or I should say the ones that first come to mind. I remember when people were asking ‘Guardians of the Galaxy? What is that?’ And now every kid, my kid, has a dancing Groot. We know this world. And I think that’s the benefit of Marvel, because no matter what the characters are, we’re connected to their personalities. We identify with them. It’s not just a crazy costume or an insane superpower. It’s a fully fleshed-out person. And that’s what’s so exciting still, as a reader, for me.”
All eight episodes of Marvel’s 616 are available on Disney+ on Friday, November 20.