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SYFY WIRE Interviews

The everyday heroes of Marvel's Hero Project are guaranteed to inspire you

By Joi Childs
Marvel's Hero Project screenshot

You don't need a suit of armor to be a superhero. That's the message Disney+'s upcoming show Marvel's Hero Project wants to convey when it premieres on November 12. Leading the charge for Disney's non-fiction slate of upcoming projects, Marvel's Hero Project centers kids who are local heroes for their community. In celebration of them being change agents, they become immortalized in their own Marvel comic book.

SYFY WIRE was there at the New York Comic Con panel, during which we saw the first episode of the 20-episode series. Afterward, we got to sit down with producers Stephen Wacker, Liza Wyles, and Sarah Amos to get a deep dive into these inspiring stories.

What was the process of picking these wonderful kids to be your subjects for the series?

Wacker: Well, our production company, Maggie Vision, again, has been a huge help with that. These kids, for the most part, have gotten some recognition for the work they've been doing either in newspapers or online, something like that, so a little bit investigating and talking about kids that would be right for the show and kids who had an interesting story to tell.

Amos: Our production partners at MAGGIEVISION worked really closely with us and scoured the country. A couple of things were really important to us; we wanted to make sure that we had a diverse group of kids that really span the entire country. We wanted to make sure that anyone watching this at home felt that they could see themselves represented in the types of stories we are telling and the families and the places we are going to.

And then it was really about just doing that legwork, right? So it's finding national news stories, it's finding local news stories, it's finding word of mouth, it's looking on social media. We wanted to make sure that we had a mix of kids that maybe you have heard of before, like Adonis, our football player. But also a mix of stories, like a young urban gardener named Austin who most people probably have never heard of unless they live in his community. So it is that kind of mix of surprising and delighting and really just uplifting stories.

If you had to pick one story that personally resonated with you, which one would you choose?

Wyles: How do you choose? I'm a parent, so obviously I can't play favorites, right? They really are so unique, and I think that's the specialness of this show; it taps into not only different kids but different kids doing different things in their own way.

But there's a story about a girl who is working in STEM, and just wanting to solve problems and build things to make it better for people to just live. And the way she approaches the issue is that you would think, "Oh, it's so juvenile," because she's like, "Why not? Why aren't we doing this?" But I think we lose that insight as adults to just ask ourselves, "Why not?" Like, we're always looking at, "Well, this is why we can't do X, Y, and Z." And these children have a very clean perspective where it doesn't have to be an obstacle — let's just keep going. It doesn't work — let's find another way. And the way she approaches her work is inspiring in that way to me.

Amos: I've given a bunch of different answers to this question because the beauty of what this show is, is that every episode you watch, you can find something that resonates in that story and in that kid in yourself. I think if I look across them all, there is a young woman named Takata who has an incredible story of representation and how one needs to have pride in their identity. And she is working in a community that is often kind of overlooked. And I don't want to give too much away, but her story, her kind of big reveal moment, watching her get her comic book and see her story told, which is a story that is often overlooked in kind of the bigger tentpole media type outlets, was really, really special for me.

Wacker: There is one in particular that is about a kid who lives in St. Louis, where I'm from, and he's from a neighborhood without a bookstore, library access, but he's a kid who loves to read. And he decides to build a reading club in a way to share his love of reading with kids and build basically a bookstore, a place where he can share his love of reading and storytelling and imagination with kids around him who I think don't necessarily know that you can dream bigger than where you are. It's a fascinating story about a kid who just sees a problem in his neighborhood and decides to fix it.

To me, I worked in comic books a long time before I worked on this side of the fence. I was an editor and I grew up reading Marvel Comics, and I had a love of reading because of them. Seeing a kid take that, and it's almost like in his hands it's magic, the sort of possibilities that he presents to his friends when he just open a book. So that's one story I love.

I got to tell you, though, every single one of them has a moment that just gets you right in the gut and right in the heart, and you start tearing up and you think about whatever could potentially hold these kids back and the way they just sort of break down whatever that barrier is, it's incredibly moving.

How has interacting with these young people and their stories helped you expand your thinking as an adult?

Wyles: It does turn the lens back to yourself, and you kind of recognize all those times where you cut yourself short or you doubt it and you let the what can't happen take over. So I am finding myself reframing just basic problems like how am I going to do X, Y, and Z, through the Marvel's Hero Project lens.

Amos: Here's the thing: I think there's so many things going on in the world today, and it can get really overwhelming, and you can look at the host of problems in your own life or in the world around you and just say, "What am I possibly going to do to solve that? It's too much, I'll do nothing." And to watch these kids tackle issues that scare adults, to watch these kids find solutions for things that most people wouldn't even want to think about, it really forces you to re-examine how you look at the world and how you tackle problems and how you think about helping others and taking a moment out of your day to look around and stop and say, "Who can I help?" How can I be of service to someone else?

And over the last two years that we've been working on this project as a real labor of love, it has really allowed me to spend a lot more time taking that moment and saying, "What can I do to be of service to someone else in a way that Elijah and Jordan and Hailey and all these kids are?"

Marvel's Hero Project debuts on November 12, with the launch of Disney+.