Following a Memorial Day weekend preview Avengers Assemble is making its proper series debut Sunday, July 7 on Disney XD, as part of the "Marvel Universe" lineup with Ultimate Spider-Man.
The animated series is not positioned as a reboot of previous show Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, but a rather fresh start meant to be in the same spirit as the wildly successful Joss Whedon-written and directed 2012 Avengers film.
Given that, the main cast is nearly the same, with Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye all present; plus the addition of The Falcon — a long-standing Marvel hero, but a newcomer to the team of the show (and a character being introduced in 2014's live-action Captain America: The Winter Soldier film).
We talked one-on-two with both head of Marvel TV Jeph Loeb and Man of Action's Steven T. Seagle, who both are executive producers on the show (and accomplished comic book writing vets) at an Avengers Assemble press event this week in Burbank, California.
Newsarama: Jeph, Steven, with Avengers Assemble, obviously it's meant to be in the spirit of the movie, but at the same time, it's a cartoon and you can do different things that even an enormous budgeted movie can't do.
Jeph Loeb: Whatever we want! [Laughs evilly.]
Steven T. Seagle: The sky is the limit!
Nrama: In terms of characters, that are likely some that wouldn't fit in a Marvel Studios Avengers movie, or that you couldn't be used at all in one, for obvious reasons. How much of that was a guiding or motivating factor in terms of what you wanted to do with the show — taking advantage of that type of freedom?
Loeb: First of all, we don't see anything as a limitation. It only strengthens us in terms of where we want to be, and what's the best stories that we can tell.
We did start out with the basic concept, which was, instead of inviting the entire Marvel Universe to become the Avengers, how do we get down to a core cast? How do we make that cast not only have to work together, but live together? And what is that team going to be? Fortunately, Joss picked a group that we would have picked, and we added to that the idea of The Falcon.
Seagle: The core trio — Iron Man, Thor, Cap — is a must in any situation, and then there are just the Avengers we love — Hawkeye, Black Widow, Hulk. The movie solidified all that. And then Falcon was new eyes on a new team. I think the one thing that that's different is that we're going to have an audience that this might be their first experience for the Avengers, maybe a younger audience in some ways. It's good to have that guy who's first day on the job. Falcon is a S.H.IE.L.D. agent, he's earned his spot, he definitely deserves to be an Avenger, but he's not as trained as the rest of them. So it gives us a great way to say, what would it be like if you landed on this team of the most incredible heroes on the face of the planet? And that's Falcon's job.
Nrama: And there's some nice synergy in that he's going to be in the Winter Soldier movie.
Loeb: There could be that as a motivating factor, but we wouldn't want to actually comment. [Laughs.]
Seagle: And to be truthful, that wasn't the motivating factor. When the writers' room — which is Jeph, and Joe Quesada, and Man of Action, Cort Lane and Todd Casey — got together, that wasn't why we chose Falcon. We chose based on who makes sense, and who would be cool, and who adds a different dimension to the team. There were different contenders, and Falcon was the one that made sense for this particular show.
Loeb: We know somewhere down the line it's going to become "Captain America and the Falcon," but where did that friendship come from? How did that start? And how can we tell the story? What hasn't been told yet? Well, what we wanted to tell was how does that partnership come to be. How did they get to know and work with one another? And is that ultimately where it's going to wind up? That's the fun of the show. We don't have to be completely tied to whatever continuity came before.
But at the same token, what's more important to us is that the characters feel like the characters. What's about the important the show is that these are the adventures of the Avengers. They're new, they're different, they haven't been in publishing before. But by the same token, [they're] going up against villains we've never seen before. That's really the challenge of the show. To continue to tell brand-new adventures we haven't seen, particularly when you've got 50 years — and such a spectacular job that's being done by the cinematic universe.
Nrama: It's interesting because the show seems to be taking the opposite approach of the comics of the past few years, where the Avengers getting bigger and bigger. Even in Earth's Mightiest Heroes, there were lots of characters coming and going. What do you see as the advantage of a smaller cast? Maybe giving more time to dynamics that didn't get to be explored because there wasn't enough room in the film?
Seagle: We were just super-excited with what Joss did in terms of illuminating how those people related to each other both as human beings and as heroes. If you keep the cast size locked, really what you're forced to do is explore the relationship dynamics of the team. That's really what was exciting to us.
There's not a lack of heroes — it's all the heroes you'd kind of want to see on the Avengers — and we just get to keep going deeper and deeper and deeper about how they relate to one another, both in the field, and, most fun for comedy purposes, when they're trying to learn how to live together in the same tower. Which is quite a stress, especially when you've got a Hulk in a kitchen, and a Thor, and a Hawkeye who wants to eat your pickles. Makes a mess.
Loeb: One of the things that I thought was amazing about the movie was the way that the Hulk interacted with each one of the characters; that Tony always believed in him and thought that he was going to be a hero. When you take a look at the part where suddenly the Hulk erupts, and chases the Black Widow through the bowls of the ship, at that point it's really a monster movie that's going on.
And yet, before the movie's over — spoiler alert, for the two of you who haven't seen the film — when it's Hulk who catches Iron Man who's coming flying out of the sky, it's just a real big hero moment. We want to make sure that each one of these characters, even though they are part of the team, all have big moments. Whether that is going to be in every single episode, or that's going to be throughout the course of the series, we're already in for 26. We know how many episodes we're going to be doing for the season, we know what our overall arc can be, and how big a show that we can tell — without telling serialized stories. Making sure that they're individual episodes, but that there is going to be an overarching Big Bad that'll take us through the season.
Seagle: These characters need each other. You need a Hulk. He's unpredictable, but without him, you lack something. Being able to play with the ways in which they need that exact set of heroes to get the job done is very fun.
Nrama: To shift gears a bit, part of the fun of Marvel in general is getting to see a lot of different characters together — with the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon, there's a core cast of Spidey, Power Man, Iron Fist, White Tiger and Nova, but there's also been room for other heroes to show up. Is there some of that same room in Avengers Assemble?
Loeb: There certainly are going to be surprises along the way. One of the things we want to do, however, particularly at the beginning, is, let's get settled in. We actually did this too, with Spider-Man. We wanted to make sure that you became comfortable with who those people are, and you saw how that dynamic worked before you start bringing somebody else into it.
It's one of the things we talk a lot about in the writers' room — that fanboy fuse that's start to burn. "Wow, it would be great if we could bring in blah blah blah." When the truth of the matter is, that if we stop and say to ourselves, have we done a Hawkeye/Hulk story yet, where it's just the two of them running around, that actually could be of greater value than whether or not we have a special guest star.
Seagle: And what we're bringing in is villains. You have this great team of heroes. For the first time we're going to build a great team of villains. And that's plenty of guest stars.
Nrama: Led by Red Skull, right?
Seagle: Red Skull is the impetus. As you may have seen in the pilot episodes, he kind of gets it handed to him, and realize that it's because he's a lone guy against a team. He has the back-up of M.O.D.O.K., but he's against a very organized team that knows how to take down an individual. And the Red Skull's not an idiot. So he realizes, "I'm going to put together my own team," which we're calling The Cabal, and it's going to have some surprising members. I think if he can make that work, the Avengers are in for trouble.
Nrama: What do you both see as the audience for the show? It seems not to be aimed as squarely at younger viewers as Ultimate Spider-Man. Who are you hoping for?
Loeb: Six to 60. [Laughs.] The reality is that we're on a network, Disney XD, which is largely known as being a kids' network. We're not going to shy away from that. We want to be able to bring that audience in, because in many cases, it's going to be their first opportunity to get to know the Marvel Universe. And that's a pretty big thing. We want to be able to share our universe with the next group of Marvel fans, however they're going to come in.
Our movies, believe it or not, are PG-13. While everybody can and should go to them, there are families out there who feel like maybe they're a little too old. What we wanted to do is create an opportunity where it absolutely is a four-quadrant: We want women, we want families, we want kids, and we want men to be able to watch the show. But if at the end of the day, the good news that we get is, every single kid in America is going to be watching the show, and throughout the world? I'll take that.
Seagle: We know Marvel fans like to see all the Marvel stuff, so the core concept is, just tell good stories. Ultimate Spider-Man? We just tell good stories with great characters ,that are the same characters you know and recognize. Same thing on the Avengers. We know who those characters are, we're telling great stories, kids can watch it, their parents can watch it. Everybody can watch it.