After establishing itself as a powerhouse of fiction filmmaking, Marvel is now out to conquer nonfiction.
At the SXSW Interactive festival in Austin over the weekend, the company announced Tales to Astonish, a new series of short documentaries that will chronicle some of the biggest Marvel Comics stories ever told and analyze them in a larger context based on their major themes and concerns.
"We've [published] some amazing stories over the years, and there are a lot of metaphors in the stories that we've told over the years," said John Cerilli, Marvel's vice president of digital content and programming. "Marvel has been at the forefront of some pretty groundbreaking endeavors. We just want the world to know that -- yes, we do tell great stories, and they happen to be superheroes, but there's a lot more involved."
The series will kick off with a 13-minute documentary titled Tales to Astonish: Civil War, which will focus on the 2006-2007 Marvel event by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven that pitted hero against hero as they battled over the implications of the "Superhuman Registration Act," and the themes of privacy, power and freedom that it explored. To direct the doc, Marvel drafted acclaimed filmmaker Eric Drath, whose 2008 boxing documentary Assault in the Ring earned him an Emmy Award.
"To him, ["Civil War"] was interesting, because you had two of Marvel's most major characters squaring off against each other," Cerilli said. "All of us who grew up reading comic books, especially Marvel, we all know that our heroes beat the crap out of each other. But this was interesting to him, and one of the things that led him into this. We started telling him more about the story, and why they were squaring off against each other, and the concept of what the Superhuman Registration Act really meant to the real world that we live in."
The documentary will also feature a number of interviews with Marvel superstars like Clark Gregg, Joss Whedon, Stan Lee and Brian Michael Bendis, alongside cables news hosts like Tucker Carlson and Chris Hayes. Marvel has not yet announced any other films in the documentary series, or when the Civil War short will be released, but Cerilli said the company hopes to expand the reach of the project beyond Marvel's own platforms.
"The distribution of the shorts is a very, very big topic around here," Cerilli said. "It's one of the single most important things that we deal with on the digital side. We've had great success with the deal we made with Netflix, but that's a different animal. The non-fiction video has a place too, and we believe it's going to get not only through the Marvel channels, [but] other folks will be picking it up."
We'll let you know when Marvel finally decides on a release date for this inaugural documentary. For now, check out a trailer for Tales to Astonish: Civil War below.