Marvel’s latest documentary is “Behind The Mask”, which takes a look at the power of identity behind the world’s most iconic superheroes, how a secret identity allows readers to connect with characters, by bringing real-world problems into the comic book stories and realising that these superheroes are people too.

This documentary is about an hour long and is a deep dive into the comic books, going back to the creation of the X-Men, Spider-Man, Captain America, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Ms Marvel and the Fantastic Four.

While this documentary starts off with talking about how we connect with Peter Parker because he struggles with girls, has a problem with a school bully and issues with his family, it quickly moves onto a much deeper aspect of comic books’ identities.  Looking in-depth at including as many people as possible, including strong female characters or characters of colour.

This wasn’t something I was expecting from this documentary. I thought it was going to be a bit of a fluff piece about why superheroes wear masks.  Which a portion of it was, with a few jabs at how DC Comics did it with Batman and Superman, but Marvel took it to another level with Peter Parker.

The majority of this documentary looks into Marvel’s history, both on the pages and in the offices. How Marvel was pushing the limits on diversity and inclusion over 50 years ago.  Slowly introducing Black characters onto the pages of the comics, leading to the creation of characters like Luke Cage and Black Panther.  There is some great archive footage of Stan Lee talking about more inclusion in the 1970s, which I think modern fans might find interesting, as Marvel has been pushing these boundaries since the 1960s.

It’s not just Black characters that this documentary focuses on, we hear from creators at Marvel who wanted to improve how the Asian community was represented, especially with regards to colouring Asian characters yellow.  Moving on to the incorporation of sexuality and gender, especially with North Star, who was the first openly gay character and was supposed to have a storyline involving Aids.  The X-Men are a major topic of discussion in this documentary, because the original team went through a massive change in the 70s to include characters which weren’t just “white” but also highlight the idea of being different and not being able to escape it by just taking a mask off.  Another segment of this documentary is about the more recent wave of inclusive characters like Captain Marvel, Ms Marvel and Miles Morales.

One thing that instantly stood out about this documentary, was it felt like it could have easily been an episode of Marvel’s 616 series and I think releasing documentaries like this separately is a great idea.  The Marvel 616 episodes were all so different, but branding them in within one another might has resulted in fewer people watching them.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from Marvel’s “Behind The Mask”, because there had been very little publicity by Disney around this show and no clear indication of what it was going to be.  Was it going to be a 10-minute fluff promotional piece?  It wasn’t expecting a real deep dive into race, discrimination, sexual orientation, woman’s rights and other hard-hitting stuff.   The documentary could be seen as a little too positive, but there are many references to some of the things Marvel did wrong at the time, which is important to me when I watch a documentary.

Marvel’s “Behind The Mask” was a much heavier documentary than I thought I was going to be watching. It got some serious subjects to discuss and does a great job in showcasing Marvel’s talent, giving a very detailed history lesson into the company.  If you ever think Marvel is just doing something because it’s happening in the real world now, they are, because they’ve been doing for decades.  Taking the issues of today and weaving them into their stories.

This is an easy recommendation for any die-hard Marvel fan, casual fans might not fully appreciate it, but its a great history lesson that I really enjoyed.

Rating 4 out of 5.

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Roger Palmer

Roger has been a Disney fan since he was a kid and this interest has grown over the years. He has visited Disney Parks around the globe and has a vast collection of Disney movies and collectibles. He is the owner of What's On Disney Plus & DisKingdom. Email: Twitter: Facebook:

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  1. Harmony Gates February 16, 2021

    It sounds like there is a bit of revisionist history happening at Marvel these days, or at least a far greater focus on viewing past events through a modern lens. This seems reasonable given how the world is today, but it is important to have some perspective. The Marvel characters that we love today are popular because they were created to appeal to the mainstream. It is certainly true that Marvel began showing characters (including police, supporting characters) who were black a few years into the Silver Age (i.e. post 1961). They also had female heroines who, while probably more realistic than the ones we see now, are viewed by some today as acting too traditionally feminine. Regardless, the primary goal of Marvel was to appeal to the mainstream...there was no choice as, if the comics didn't sell, Marvel couldn't continue. Titles back then would often sell 200,000 copies (it was estimated the average comic sold was read by around 3 different people) and if they weren't economically viable they were cancelled. These days some titles, particularly those aimed at more niche audiences, may ship (to comic shops - as opposed to being sold to consumers) as little as 10,000 or less. They survive only because Marvel's finances are propped up by the more mainstream Marvel universe. Titles like Ms Marvel, Captain Marvel, Squirrel Girl etc. fall within this category. In 1966 we saw the introduction of the Black Panther - a classic character by anyone's definition. Yet even with him, Marvel were not prepared to award the Panther his own title during that decade - though they certainly would have if they felt the sales were there. As their overall sales slipped in the following decade Marvel did give him a try...but the title (perhaps predictably) just didn't resonate with enough of the actual comic-buying public. (On another note, Stan Lee briefly had the character renamed the Black Leopard in the early 70s, so as to avoid any confusion with the controversial Black Panther movement and turn off a large segment of the audience). Throughout the 60s - 80s (and beyond) Marvel was generally careful to focus on general values, a stark contrast to today. Hence an Iron Man story set in Vietnam could focus on the horrors of war without making judgement about whether the US made the right decision to assist South Vietnam. In Spectacular Spider-Man 76 there is a story about a handgun that sparks conversations about gun control - with both sides of the gun debate presented equally. In Marvel Team-Up 8 we have the feminist heroine the Cat...but she and Spider-Man are pitted against an extreme feminist who is blinded by an irrational hatred of men. It was generally very difficult to determine what political party the writer followed - a necessity if you don't want to turn off half the audience. Those days, however, are long gone. Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter once famously said "there are no gays in the Marvel Universe" and it would interesting to hear if this made it into the documentary. Of course Shooter was not a homophobe. What he meant was that, certainly in the first few decades of Marvel, it would not have made sense to have any overtly gay characters in mainstream comics because the audience simply wasn't there. In the 70s Lee did try to introduce female action heroes (Shanna the Jungle Queen, Night Nurse, Claws of the Cat) but, like the latter Ms Marvel, they simply didn't have mass appeal to boys or girls. There was some success with diverse characters like Luke Cage and Shang-Chi - but these were clearly riding the success of blaxploitation and Kung Fu cinema and did not last long (though Luke Cage did have a further run when combined with Iron Fist).