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Marvel Rising: Initiation is a fun team-up that kicks off with a twist

Spoiler-free review: Gwen Stacy's Ghost Spider gets an origin story with a wallop.

Marvel Rising: Initiation teases the start of a team-up featuring several of Marvel's younger superheroes, and easily stands on its own with barely any mention of classic Avenger characters.

These six Initiation shorts, debuting Monday at 7:30 p.m. ET/PT on Disney XD, act as a setup for the Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors television movie due out this fall, which will include the slightly higher-profile Captain Marvel and America Chavez. If you missed the show's Disney XD debut, you can watch the entire series of shorts on YouTube.

The roster introduced right now is no slouch, with a particular focus given to establishing Gwen Stacy's Ghost Spider (Cameron Dove), the dynamic duo of Kamela Kahn's Ms. Marvel (Kathleen Khavari), Doreen Green's Squirrel Girl (Milana Vayntrub) and the more business-oriented pairing of Patriot (Kamil McFadden) and Quake (Chloe Bennet voicing a very different take on her Agents of SHIELD character).

Ghost Spider (who is perhaps better known as Spider-Gwen in Marvel's comics) gets a fully fleshed out, nuanced origin story that quickly shows who this character is and the Uncle Ben-like tragedy that leads to her status as a wanted vigilante. Somewhat like the character of Elsa in Disney's Frozen, she's misunderstood as a villain when the story picks up, and that status quickly gets her entagled with the other heroes who think they need to capture her.

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Gwen Stacy's Ghost Spider (Cameron Dove) takes the focus of these Initiation shorts.

Marvel Animation

Similar to deaths seen in the animated Star Wars Rebels series, this animated Marvel tale doesn't shy away from showing the tragedy that befell Stacy's world, which when combined with the otherwise light-hearted energy of the other characters, lands in an honest middle ground between overly zany or overly aggressive.

That lightness easily comes from Ms. Marvel and Squirrel Girl, both relatively recent superheroines relishing their first chance to team up to protect their city. Their confrontation with Ghost Spider includes plenty of gags, and interestingly for a superhero fight, aims to solve the problem over dialog rather than immediately jumping into fisticuffs.

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Ms. Marvel (Kathleen Khavari) and Squirrel Girl (Milana Vayntrub) celebrate their teamup with cupcakes.

Marvel Animation

However, the depth given to Ghost Spider in these shorts unfortunately comes at the expense of explaining the other characters. For instance, you may want to Google what an "Inhuman" is, since this show will breeze right by that Marvel concept when introducing a pivotal character. On the other hand, that vagueness left me fairly intrigued about the future development of the character of Patriot, who has apparently trained with Captain America but otherwise could potentially see a lot of creative freedom.

It's also worth noting that while these shorts tell a complete story, there are several plot threads hanging for the Secret Warriors film to pick up. It isn't a cliffhanger that's as jaw-dropping as Infinity War, but enough that I'm looking forward to the story's continuation.

Otherwise this more optimistic take on a Marvel team-up, which amounts to slightly under 30 minutes of programming, feels fresh thanks to the use of different characters with their own complicated heroic tales to tell, and I'm excited to see how it gets further fleshed out when it picks up.

First published Aug. 13 at 4:30 p.m. PT.
Update Aug. 14 at 4:02 p.m. PT: Adds YouTube embed of the series of shorts.

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