Want to find out everything that's going on with Marvel TV, from the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon, to the NEW Incredible Hulk TV Show? Then New York Comic-Con is the place to be, as Jeph Loeb, the guy in charge, chats with fans, and shows off a few exclusive clips. Before the Con gets rolling, though, we chatted about all of this - and suggested our pick for the new voice of the animated Blade:
MTV Geek: One of the first places Marvel TV has dipped their toes in the water is the Anime shows, which are currently running on G4… What’s the general update on the shows, and why was that an important first push?
JL: Well, I don’t know if it was the first push for Marvel TV, it was kind of the thing that came out in front. When I took over Marvel Television about a year and a half ago, it was a project that had been started by Simon Phillips at Marvel. It was a partnership that had been made between us and Sony and MadHouse Animation. If you know anything about Anime, it’s odd to say this, but MadHouse invented Anime; it’s sort of like saying someone invented rock and roll, as far as I’m concerned. [Laughs] But they really are the preeminent house.
Using stories that are created by acclaimed author Warren Ellis, there were four, twelve part stories. The first was Iron Man, the second Wolverine, the third is X-Men, and the fourth is the one that we get the biggest reaction from when we go to any Con, and that’s Blade. These are all incredibly high quality Anime that were done originally for Japan. They are stories that take place in the Pacific Rim. They are the true Marvel characters – Tony Stark is Iron Man, Logan is Wolverine, etc. – but the adventures take place over there, and have large Asian casts… Which I think really helps sell the idea that they’re in that Anime world.
Once they were completed, a deal was struck with G4, which has been an incredible partner on this, and the show has just been blowing up for them. Both Iron Man and Wolverine have just completed their runs on G4, and then starting very shortly will be the X-Men, and then one of the announcements we’ll be making in January will be Blade. What we did was, we reached out into the television community, because we really wanted some terrific English speaking actors to voice the lead roles.
I didn’t have to look very far, from some of the experiences I’ve been lucky enough to have… I reached out to Adrian Pasdar, who has played Tony Stark, and Iron Man. Milo Ventimiglia who has been playing Logan and Wolverine. I think folks now know that Scott Porter, from Friday Night Lights, and is on Hart of Dixie, had a great turn last season on The Good Wife, is playing Cyclops – he’s a tremendous X-Men fan. We have a bit of a surprise coming up in terms of who’s playing Blade, and we’ll be announcing that on Friday afternoon at New York Comic-Con.
Geek: Given what you just said, I’m going to go ahead and say Blade will be voiced by Hayden Panettiere, right?
JL: Well… No. Blade would be a male, African-American vampire slayer, so as much as I would like to do something with Hayden, and we will because she’s fantastic – no, you’re in the wrong box.
Geek: I guess we can scratch Kristen Bell from my list then, too. It’s interesting that you said Blade gets such a big reaction at Cons… Beyond the popularity of the movies, of course, why do you think the character resonates so well with fans?
JL: As it is with any of Marvel’s characters, there’s always going to be a fanbase; and sometimes, that fanbase, because its smaller than some of the better known characters like Iron Man, or Wolverine, that fanbase gets very vocal – because they want people to know that they’re out there. That’s definitely part of it.
The big plus with Blade is that he’s so frickin’ cool. The idea of a daywalker, a vampire who can be out in the light, who also hunts vampires and is a strong African-American Marvel superhero… That’s got a big crossover potential. You get the horror folks, you get the people who are looking for a strong African-American figure, looking for a guy who is cool… And I don’t discount the Wesley Snipes factor. I do believe those movies do still have a very strong following. You put all that together, and when you tell people that a character they haven’t been able to get much new stories from, are gonna get new stories – and cool stories – I think you get a really big reaction.
Geek: Let’s move on to talk about Ultimate Spider-Man. Obviously there’s been a lot of anticipation around this, and you’ll be showing off some of the first clips at NYCC. Any sort of tease about what we’ll be seeing?
JL: What folks are going to get a chance to see at New York for the first time are, we have some very early – but finished – animation for Ultimate Spider-Man. We have this terrific cast led by Drake Bell who plays Peter and Spider-Man. Most folks know him from the Nickelodeon show Drake & Josh, but he really does embody the best parts of Peter – and Spidey. He gets the humor down, the troubled teenager down… It really is an awful lot of fun.
In addition to that, though, the adult cast is pretty much a wish come true. Chi McBride, who you know from Pushing Daisies plays Nick Fury. J.K. Simmons, of course – I don’t think we could have done justice to J. Jonah Jameson without him, with him being in all the first three Spider-Man movies. We also got lucky and have Steven Weber playing Norman Osborn with such tremendous power and glee. And an extra special bonus that we got, that makes me very, very happy is that Clark Gregg, who plays Agent Phil Coulson in the movies, plays Agent Phil Coulson on the show, in a very unusual dual role. He is both the very capable – but sometimes annoying – S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent, a second to our Nick Fury. But he is also the very capable, but sometimes annoying Principal at Peter’s school, Midtown High, because S.H.I.E.L.D. wants to keep an eye on what Spider-Man is up to. We have a much larger cast -- some very big name superhero guest stars and some surprises that we hope folks will really dig -- and we'll be announcing those soon.
So that’s the beginning of what we’ll be talking about. It is unlike any Spider-Man series that’s been done so far. Most importantly, it is the first show that’s been produced entirely by Marvel. We have a superb writing staff. Our pilot, and creative consultant, is two-time Emmy winner Paul Dini, who credits are longer than animation itself – and has two shows under his belt that set the standard for action adventure shows: Batman The Animated Series, and Batman Beyond. Together with Man of Action, who are guys that, if you’re comic book fans, you know them as Joe Casey, Joe Kelly, Steve Seagle, and Duncan Roleau. If you know them from animation, you know them from the creation of Ben 10 and Generator Rex. It really is a murderer’s row of writers and producers. And we didn’t even stop there. On top of that, working with us on every episode is the guy who’s written every single issue of Ultimate Spider-Man, Brian Michael Bendis. There’s also been fantastic input from both Joe Quesada, and Amazing Spider-Man Editor Steve Wacker every step of the way. It really is, as we like to say, a family operation.
It’s got great action, it’s got great villains, it’s got a look that will really catch people by surprise. Eric Radomski, who very much had to do with the look, and the production on Batman Animated, and also on Spawn – the HBO animated series – is now our head of production at Marvel TV, for animation. He’s just pulling out all the stops.
A picture is worth a thousand words, and I think that once people get to see some of the animation that’s coming out, and what we’re doing, we hope they’ll be very pleased, and hopefully extremely excited about the show.
Geek: Well, I’m looking forward to it… General question, though, and I’m guessing it may have something to do with the production timelines not syncing up, but: why Peter Parker, instead of Miles Morales?
JL: Please keep in mind that animation is something that takes two years from when you start, to when you start to get your final animation. It’s a long, carefully put together process. So the short answer is that when we started Ultimate Spider-Man, Miles Morales was not a glint in Brian Michael Bendis’ eye. That doesn’t mean that, at some point, we might visit with Miles. He’s certainly a character that caught fire, and as it is with anyone in the Marvel Universe, Spidey will be interacting with some pretty interesting heroes – and villains.
Geek: I’m curious, given that you have Paul Dini on board… Not to talk about the other guys, but there was always a light continuity with the Batman Animated shows, and Justice League Unlimited. It wasn’t overt, but it did feel like it was in the same universe. Is that something you’re going to be setting up with Ultimate Spidey?
JL: What we’re doing – and I do get asked this question a lot – is that there will be a continuity that refer to as: The Marvel Universe. So we will try to tell stories that don’t necessarily with conflict with anything that’s happening in the Marvel Universe. You’ll see some of the elements from the movies, you’ll see some of the elements from the television group, and you’ll see a lot of elements from the publishing group. The bottom line out of all of this is that Peter Parker is Spider-Man, and we are very true to his life, and his character as a high school student at Midtown High.
Geek: I know this is still a while out, but Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.… Anything you can tell us about that series?
JL: Just that it’s in development, it’s the next show up in the chute. We were lucky, because we were able to convince Paul Dini that he was having so much working on Ultimate Spider-Man, so we said, is there a character that really gets you jazzed? And he said, I just love the Hulk, and I would love to find a way to tell a story that had big giant adventure, and was different than Spidey… Where you could really get into some of the bombastic elements of the Marvel Universe.
It’s incredibly huge, and has a cast that’s obviously near and dear to my heart. It has Hulk, and Red Hulk, Skaar, She-Hulk, and the brand new A-Bomb – who is Rick Jones, who has been transformed into the newest, bluest hero of the group.
Geek: Moving on to the live action side of things, the last time I chatted with you about this was right before No Ordinary Family, and The Cape, and even the development of the Wonder Woman pilot… And all of those pretty much tanked. Are you at all concerned, given the television atmosphere, to bring live action superheroes to TV? Or does it come down to, “Dude, we’re Marvel TV, and we’ll do it RIGHT”?
JL: I'll give you "Dude, we're Marvel TV and we're going to at least have fun doing the best we can!" [Laughs] Putting any show on television is a challenge. I’ve been very lucky to work with incredible showrunners on Smallville, and LOST, and Heroes, I hope to bring a lot of those lessons to Marvel live television. The thing that I do believe makes a difference – and believe me, this is not a commentary on any of the shows that failed – the right showrunner, with the right vision can make the difference.
The two examples that immediately come to mind are Joss Whedon on Buffy, and Damon Lindelof on LOST. You really do need to have somebody who’s at the helm, who understands not only what the show is, but where it’s going. And where it’s going in five years! Who those characters are, and how they sound.
It’s such an enormously challenging process to make any kind of television. It’s stressful, and works towards getting the best out of creative people. I hear all the time that people wonder, why is there so much bad television on? And speaking as someone who’s worked in that vineyard for the last ten years of my life: when you’re on the inside, and you see how many people are involved in the creation of a show, and the enormous amount of time and money that goes into it… You’d be amazed there’s any GOOD television at all. The fact that there is as much good television on is a testament to the extraordinarily gifted folks that are out there writing and creating TV.
It is a writer’s medium, and particularly genre television is one that’s best remembered as a writer’s medium. Battlestar Galactica, Doctor Who, you can just go through the list of the shows that have stuck around past the first season, and you really can point to: oh, those shows have THAT person who was embracing it, and made sure that it stayed on course. That has been not only the best part of working in live television at Marvel, but also part of the reason we are taking things so slowly. We need to find the right people. People who understand these characters, and who will bring them to life in a way that works.
There is other big differences between Marvel and all the other guys. From the projects that we’ve already announced, and let’s talk specifically about AKA Jessica Jones, which is based on Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos’ graphic series Alias – and pretty obvious reasons why we can’t call the show "Alias" – and The Hulk… These are shows that, at the end of the day really exist in the real world. It is one of the things that makes Marvel different from our Distinguished Competitors.
Marvel stories tend to take place in New York City. They DON’T take place in Metropolis, or Gotham City. People certainly know I’ve written my fair share of these comics, and I have great respect for what they do over there. But it is a world that one step away from our world. Marvel is really about the stories of Peter Parker, and Bruce Banner, or Jessica Jones. These are – I’m hesitant to say the word, but – real people, with real problems whose power comes, to use the great expression, with great responsibility.
They’re not stories of the superhero, with the cape, who then has a secret identity in order to cover up what it is that they’re doing. It’s the other way around. It will ALWAYS be Peter’s story. The thing that makes us root for Spider-Man, as he swings across the city, is that he’s either having the time of his life, or worrying about whether he’ll be able to get a good grade on that English paper, or whether or not he’s going to make it home in time for Aunt May to make his dinner.
Those are the real world problems that Peter brings to that person with the mask on, to Spider-Man. That's why we are invested in him or Bruce Banner or Jessica Jones... And in Television it's all about investing in the characters who you've invited in your home. It's a very intimate experience and we want to share the Marvel Universe with as wide an audience as possible.
At least that's our hope.
You can find out more about everything Marvel TV at their two panels:
- Friday, October 14 in Room 1A22 for Marvel Television Presents: Anime on G4 from 5:00-6:00 p.m. ET
- Saturday, October 15 get in line early for Marvel Television Presents, from 3:45-4:45 p.m. ET in Room 1A10