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This weekend, the Hulk smashes his was onto Disney XD's Ultimate Spider-Man... And not only that, but the inventive show is going for a found footage angle, shot through the lens of enterprising reporter Mary Jane Watson's cell phone. To find out more, including who the secret villain of the show is, how this connects to the upcoming Hulk: Agents of SMASH, and more, read on!
MTV Geek: To kick things off, I hear you have an interesting visual device you’re using for this episode... How’d you end up taking the found footage angle, and how’s it going to work for animation?
Jeph Loeb: It was Joe Quesada who first came up with the idea of trying to do it this way. One of the many things we’re going for with this show -- and all the shows at Marvel Animation Studios -- is to break as many rules as we can with our storytelling. That’s part of Marvel’s DNA and we want it to be present in our animation.
But none of that is possible without our amazing production team headed up by Eric Radomski, and in this case, Alex Soto, the director, who are continually looking for ways to make the show as visual impactful as possible.
Then, the real challenge was to make it work on a script level and that’s where MAN OF ACTION soared. The breakdown of the POV, the shifting viewpoints, and ultimately the storyline begins with the script and this was one of our strongest to date.
Steve Seagle/Man of Action: We were talking about this cool Hulk story and Joe Q had the sweet idea to give it a Cloverfield kind of sensibility – seeing scary images through a shaky hand-held camera. Only our videographer is none other than Mary Jane Watson! While it’s relatively easy to shoot live action with a hand-held camera – the mistakes give it the style – it’s the opposite in animation. Our team had to make something slick look haphazard – which is actually very hard to pull off. But they did.
Geek: Given how frequently Ultimate Spidey skewers pop culture, are we going to see him poking fun at any other famous found footage movies (hint, Blair Witch, hint)?
SS: Ha! No, that’s a great idea, but this episode does something very different with the format of our show – which is why I loved working on this episode with our co-writer, Dani Wolff. The entire 22 minutes is from the point of view of MJ’s camera – so there’s actually no way to do any crazy cutaways. We had to find the humor in other ways – like Hulk “sneaking” up on Spidey – or fogging up the lens of the camera with his nose steam!
JL: We didn’t set out to do that -- but you can certainly read into whatever you like. (laughs) Remember, we started this about a year and half ago, before CHRONICLE or PROJECT X. It was more of response the way storytelling has evolved through the internet and through YOU TUBE. That became our starting point. But doing that in animation? We’re breaking through to the next level.
Geek: What’s your take on the Hulk here? Is he “Rar, SMASH!” or are we going to see something else?
JL: What’s most important is that we’re more and more going to be seeing the HULK as a HERO. With the help of the AVENGERS movie (opening this weekend in case you’ve been living in a cave), the Hulk is poised to be the breakout hero of the summer. We want our audience and fans to know that you can find a brand NEW HULK story this weekend on ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN.
SS: Our Hulk is funny and scary. Which is kind of the formula for Hulk in the Avengers movie, though we have a slightly different formula for that mixture in USM. I will say that the minute we finished this episode, all of us MAN OF ACTION guys and everyone else on the show immediately wanted to do another Hulk story.
Geek: Clearly, Hulk steals in the show in the Avengers movie... You’ve kind of touched on this already, but were you inspired by the Ruffalized version of the character at all? Are we going see touches of that performance here on TV?
JL: (laughs) We hadn’t seen any of the film when this was coming together -- which is astonishing btw! -- but certainly one of the benefits of having Marvel produce its own animation is having access to the folks at the Marvel Studio and people like Kevin Feige and Joe Quesada who are able to give us the inside scoop on what’s coming up in the next few years. So as we start to tell our stories, we have this kind of sync where the weekend of the biggest Marvel movie yet can coincide with the HULK guest starring on the biggest Marvel animated series yet.
SS: Yeah, right? How compelling-slash-good is Mark Ruffalo in that movie? He’s incredible. He so completely inhabited Bruce Banner that when I finally saw the Hulk on screen I believed that was Mark too. He was great. And yes, touches, but our take is slightly different – though no less fun.
Geek: What about the relationship between Hulk and Spidey?
JL: Hulk likes Bug Man. That pretty much sums it up. But, this is the first time they meet (in our MA world) and so it’s a learning curve for both of them.... One that we follow through the course of the season (yes, the Hulk will be back -- you heard it here first!).
SS: So good. You get the sense that Spidey knows who Hulk is from before USM. And Hulk – seeing that Spidey is equally capable of a good smash now and then – much to JJJ’s dismay – is fast to like the wall-crawler. But there are also some really solid character beats between them in this episode too. By the end they are friends in the truest sense of the word.
Geek: And where’s the rest of the team on this? Are we just going to see Spidey take on the Hulk all by his lonesome?
JL: You’ll have to watch to find out. But the show is constructed so that sometimes Spidey has stand alone stories, and sometimes NOVA, IRON FIST, POWER MAN and WHITE TIGER are along for the adventure. ?
SS: We do see some other players in the USM universe – Fury is on hand, for example – but for the most part this one is about Spidey, MJ and the big green guy. And I wouldn’t have it any other way! Oh, yeah, and there is a surprise bad guy we haven’t mentioned yet! Starts with a “Z”.
Geek: Every episode is as much about a lesson for Spidey as it is about the fun and humor... What kind of lesson are we going to see him learning here, other than, “Don’t get smashed?”
SS: Well, come on. “Don’t get smashed” is a waaaay more valuable lesson then “friends come in all shapes, sizes, and colors” isn’t it? “Don’t get smashed” could have saved the careers of numerous celebrities! Heed my words… Don’t… Get… Smashed.
JL: It’s about understanding each other. One of the compelling things about Spidey is that he’s not seen as a hero by everyone (ahem, JJJ!), and that view is certainly something that Hulk as dealt with for years. Sometimes your best friendships can happen in the most interesting ways.
Geek: I don’t know how much you can talk to this, but with HULK: Agents of S.M.A.S.H. coming, are we going to see any set up here? Or is that too far off to make the connection right now?
JL: Stay tuned. Much like the Marvel films have a cohesive universe, we want all things on television to have a feel that is uniquely MARVEL. “Straight from the tap” as Mr. Quesada likes to say.
SS: This script was written when that show was just a little green glint in Jeph Loeb’s eye! But Marvel has always been great about building up a cohesive universe. So, yeah, things will knit… eventually.
Geek: I’ve chatted with you guys before the show launched, but now that it’s been on for a while, what do you think the reaction has been like? What were you surprised worked, and what are you aiming to do differently going forward?
JL: It’s been a terrific response and we’re thrilled with what’s coming. Like with anything, it gets better as we get better. We’ve only been on five times -- people are getting the humor, the breaking of the fourth wall combined with the kick butt action. Drake Bell’s performance as Peter Parker/Spider-Man is wonderful.?
SS: The great thing about the show for us is that we work so far ahead that there’s no way to change anything now. We had to be sure about what we were doing long before anyone gave any kind of feedback. We’re surprised at how well the jokes play, but they’re not out of the realm of the previous Peter Parkers, so that isn’t a huge shock. The ratings have gone up every week since the show premiered with good ratings to start. So I think kids are digging what we’re doing and finding the show. And it does keep getting stronger on both the story and the animation sides as it goes.
Geek: What’s next for Ultimate Spider-Man?
JL: More big action. More adventure. More drama with humor. All the things that make Spidey as amazing, spectacular, astonishing and ULTIMATE as he can be. Lots of big guest stars -- look for WOLVERINE and THOR coming up very soon as well. And some big villains too -- the show rocks!
SS: We have some ridiculous episodes in the pipeline. Marvel never lets us spill the beans in advance, but let me just say that stuff I assumed would be off the table from minute one happens in some of the very next episodes! People are going to love the first Brian Bendis-scripted episode! And when Spidey turns into [REDACTED] people are not going to believe it.
The new episode of Ultimate Spider-Man premieres Sunday, May 6th at 11am on Disney XD!