On the way to Midtown Comics’ release party celebrating Disney XD and Marvel’s new cartoon Ultimate Spider-Man, the following exchange happened between me and my two year old daughter, whose only knowledge of Spider-Man is based on stickers I’ve given her:
Me: Hey, we’re going to a Spider-Man party!
Her: Oh! Will Spider-Man be there?
Me: Maybe, I’m not sure. Some of the guys who wrote the show will-
Her: I want to see Spider-Man! Say, “Nice to meet you Spider-Man!”
Me: That would be great! I’m sure he’d love that.
Her: I want to give him a hug.
Me: That would be nice, too!
Her: (Pause while she thinks) Will Spider-Man’s parents be there?
Me: Oh… Probably not.
Her: His Uncle then?
And then I explained to her how death works, the transience of life, and impressed on her that with great power comes great responsibility. Just kidding, I handed her some Cheerios so I didn’t have to talk about it.
Luckily, Ultimate Spider-Man doesn’t the cartoon doesn’t shy away from those hard questions, as we found out at the first of Midtown’s four screenings of the first episode of the show (and as most of you have probably seen by now). The creators – a virtual rogue’s gallery ranging from Paul Dini, to Ultimate Spider-Man comic writer Brian Michael Bendis – manage to balance the hard points of Spider-Man’s origin with humor squarely aimed at kids and adults.
Before that, though, there was a signing with Joe Kelly, one part of the Man of Action team that also helped usher Spider-Man back to TV; Joe Quesada, CCO of Marvel Entertainment; and Chris Eliopoulos, who wrote the USM premiere comic. The appreciative crowd wrapped down the alley next to Midtown Comics downtown location, and while it wasn’t packed with kids, there were more than enough to make the event – which gave away free comics, posters, and stickers – more than worth it for the younger Spidey fans in the crowd.
Between the signing and screening, we snagged some time with the trio on hand, first talking to Quesada about how the USM series is the next step for Marvel, and not just in the animation arena.
“The thing that makes it the obvious next step for us is that it’s a show being produced by Marvel people, for Marvel fans,” said Quesada. “It has a certain purity of Marvel DNA attached to it. It’s really going to symbolize what Marvel’s going to be doing in the future, particularly in terms of animation and television, and we give everyone this new perspective on Spider-Man.”
But it doesn’t just end there… USM is meant to be the gateway drug of choice for the new generation of Marvel fans:
“The idea with Ultimate Spider-Man is that we want kids to watch this show,” continued Quesada. “There are so many people that I’ve talked to, particularly as I’ve gotten involved in animation, that have said, ‘I first got my exposure to Marvel through animation,’ whether it was the X-Men show, or the Spider-Man show. The mandate for this is really, really important for us… It’s exposing the Marvel Universe to a younger audience, showing them what’s cool about the Marvel Universe, what’s unique about the Marvel Universe and our heroes, and having them – as I did when I was eight years old – get addicted to this stuff and just become Marvel fans.”
As for whether Ultimate Spider-Man will start crossing over with its time-slot buddy Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes? Quesada says not to hold your breath, though there will be touches (and as we saw in the first episode, both Iron Man and Captain America do show up briefly:
“You won’t see direct crossovers, but what you will see is consistency, which is really, really important. Because we don’t know what order these episodes will air in the future, you want to keep them as told in one as possible. But if you do see characters crossing over – if you do see Iron Man in Ultimate Spider-Man – it will be the same Iron Man as in Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. That kind of level of consistency is the important thing to do.”
As for what’s next? Well, Quesada is mum on that, though he did promise we’ll be hearing more news shortly.
Turning to Eliopoulos, we chatted about the difficult task of taking screen-grabs from the first episode, and somehow turning it into a comic book:
“They actually jam a lot of stuff into every episode – there was no let up along the line,” said Eliopoulos. “So it was very hard to get twenty-two minutes into twenty-two pages, and still keep everything in that they do. There’s a lot of humor that’s either a look, or a moment, and you want to get that in… But there’s a lot of action, too, which is hard to get fifteen punches in, without doing a sixty page book. So I had to shorten it up. But I have to say, I’ve watched the first episode probably about fifty times, because I had to keep going back over it to get the dialogue beats… It’s just as good the fiftieth time as the first. They did a good job.”
Kelly chimed in about the comic, adding that, “It’s very cool that they’re doing that, it’s always nice to have a companion piece. There’s going to be stuff you can get out of the comic that you can’t get out of the show, and vice versa. But no, because of the pacing… It goes so fast, we’d never write like that for the comic. Well, I would write like that for the comic, because I tend to put too many words in my comics!”
Wrapping up, we asked Kelly how he was feeling before the first public screening of the show. “I’m honestly, for a change, not nervous,” he said. “This is one of the shows I’m just excited about. Fans have asked all sorts of questions, and Marvel’s been so great about the roll out of information. So everybody knows there’s a supporting cast, everyone knows the basic premise. Now it’s just time to have fun… And I know it’s fun. Kids are going to get a chance to see a Spidey they’ve never seen before, and I think that’s great.”
And then, of course, they did. The first screening was full of kids – and very large kids, introduced to the brand new Spidey by Kelly, with Quesada and Eliopoulos standing by. Like we said before, the show is a lot of fun, though clearly concerned more with set-up than anything else… Kelly told us later that things really start to go nuts, in a good way, with the third episode, so look for that. But at least one audience member, as the credits rolled, shouted, “That was awesome!”
On the way out, Kelly asked my daughter what her favorite part was of the first episode. Her answer? “Spider-Man!” We tend to agree.
Ultimate Spider-Man airs on Disney XD on Sundays at 11am.