REVIEW: Marvel's Behind The Mask
Superheroes. We love seeing them in action. Flying over head. Swinging on a web. Punching the bad guy in the face. But, to really make a superhero great, you have to dig a little deeper and find out who these heroes really are behind the mask. That is the premise behind Disney+'s new documentary Marvel's Behind The Mask.
The show starts off with an anecdote from Marvel Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada in which he asked Stan Lee how to create the perfect character. He actually didn't think he would have an answer. But, in classic Stan style, he basically said that the superheroics are nice, but its the life in their secret identity that is ultimately more interesting. And, that is what has made Marvel great over the years. It has been just as interested with the alter ego as they are with the superhero.
From there, we hear a little bit about prolific Marvel artist and storyteller Jack Kirby and how, as a Jewish immigrant, he built in himself and his own experiences when creating characters. It was such a loving tribute to a man who didn't, until more recently, get the respect he deserved for his contribution to Marvel's storied history.
The documentary also dove into Marvel's history with race, gender and sexual orientation. Some, it did well, such as the creation of Black Panther and his Afrofuturistic kingdom of Wakanda. I found it crazy when a journalist asked Stan if it was hard putting in a black police officer to help Peter Parker. And Stan basically said that it all starts with looking out your window. When Marvel added black characters, they never made a big deal of it.
But, with Asian characters, they were not quite as good. Writer Larry Hama (who is best known for his work on GI Joe) was talking to the editorial staff and asked them why Asians were colored yellow. When they had no answer, he told them to stop doing it. But, at the same time, he also believed that coming at people with aggression when talking about race because it shuts them down.
Women started out as damsels in distress and, the general notion among the predominantly white male staff, that to make a woman strong as a hero is to dress them in less clothing. With gay people, why they had Northstar come out, his storyline was bizarre and not much to do with reality.
But, the good news is that, flash forward several years and Marvel has created such great characters as the Afro-Latino Miles Morales and the Pakastani American Muslim Kamala Kahn who are super popular today.
In all honesty, I was expecting this to be a bit of a puff piece for Marvel (although, I don't know why given that Marvel 616 is an amazing documentary series also on Disney+). But, it was so much more. It's actually quite wonderful that Marvel has been able to pull from its 80+ years of history to present such diverse intellectual content. And they only make us more excited for the giant slate of Marvel movies, television, games and, of course, comic books.
Check out Marvel's Behind The Magic on Disney+.