Talking to Next Avengers Director Gary Hartle
by Steve Fritz
Date: 28 August 2008 Time: 02:54 PM ET
The cover to the Marvel Animation direct-to-DVD feature 'Next Avengers'
Animator Gary Hartle isn’t really in the business to reinvent the wheel. That doesn't mean he and longtime friend Frank Paur won't throw you a curve or three.“There was a fan who wrote something that Frank told me about,” Hartle recalled. “What it said was that the fan wanted exactly what he’d seen before. If we got an exact remake of a movie, we would all be yawning. What we have to do is give them something they didn’t know they wanted. That way they walk away with an ‘Oh My God!’ factor. By that they would say, ‘Oh my god! I didn’t know that.’ The surprise thing. I try to do that in every film I work on.” One could say Hartle did just that with Marvel’s latest direct-to-DVD project Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow coming out on DVD next Tuesday, September 2nd. (Click here for a review of the screening at Comic-Con)
For those not familiar with Hartle, he’s been a top gun-for-hire in the animation industry for the last two decades. “That’s it,” he admits. “I’ve directed and produced a lot of things at Warner Bros, Film Roman. Then again, the way the business is, you don’t turn away any work. It’s either feast or famine, and I like feasting.” Among the TV shows he’s either storyboarded, directed and/or produced are Animaniacs, Johnny Bravo and the 2003 version of He-Man & The Masters of the Universe. When his longtime colleague Frank Paur (Gargoyles, Batman: TAS to Invincible Iron Man and Doctor Strange) moved to Marvel, Hartle soon joined up. “I’ve known Frank all the way back when he was working on Batman: The Animated Series. I was working on Tazmania,” said Hartle. “I did the Hulk fight in Ultimate Avengers 1 and Marvel really liked that. When they had another space for a director, Frank Paur told them that I should be the guy. Plus, Craig Kyle told me I had him when I did the Hulk fight. So that’s how all that came together.” And when Hartle got his director’s chair, the first project they handed him was Next Avengers. Mind you, he admits he was already familiar with such comic book titles like Young Avengers, but that impulse to provide his own OMG moment stepped in. “What was interesting is when I got the script, I immediately thought of Young Avengers,” said Hartle. “I also initially thought it would be a Marvel version of Teen Titans. Then I read it and saw the story was very dark and really thrilling. So I started thinking that this could be a case where we took children and started watching them grow in front of us. You would see them under the protection of a family figure, then watch them start to question the parents and then start to make decisions on their own. Of course, a lot of drama starts to happen along the way. In other words, no matter what, they are real kids. They just happen to have super powers. They are not mini-adults. I really liked that.” As many fans now know, the Next Avengers are the children of the originals. When their world, and more importantly their parents, were destroyed by Ultron, Tony Stark was given the mission of hiding them from the runaway super-android. The children are James Rogers, the son of Captain America and Black Widow; Pym, the son of Giant/Ant Man and Wasp; Torunn, the daughter of Thor, and Azari, the son of Black Panther and “his queen.” Why they leave Storm’s name out of the mix is anyone’s guess. All Hartle will say is he’s not allowed to disclose her identity. Stark has taken them to what appears to be a tropical paradise, where he dreams of them developing their powers and taking the world back from his monstrous creation. What none know is one other child of an Avenger is out there, and has taken his father’s handle, Hawkeye, as he leads a resistance group against Ultron. There are two other former Avengers out there, too. One will unintentionally lead Ultron to Stark’s secret base. The other is hiding out in the desert because no one likes him when he gets angry. Even though there are some truly dark elements in this D2D, one thing Hartle made sure to do was not forget who he was targeting kids. One could even say his past experience with kids programming was one of the reasons he got the job. “I did aim it for kids without talking down to them. That’s what I really like,” says Hartle. “Because I have that background, and have done my share of action-adventure, I felt that I really could do this. Actually, the way I approached it was more action-adventure in the sense of, given the situation, how would you feel at that moment? When their whole world breaks apart, what I made sure of was these kids don’t feel up to the task. Still, they have to play up to the task, even though it feels all wrong to them. I also made sure to play that to the audience, too.” At the same time, there are scenes, that ring true to classic Avengers. One is when Stark and the new Hawkeye (don’t call him Francis) have a heart-to-heart. There’s a point where Stark tells his new charge that his father would have punched him in the face and then gone along with the strategy. “So you did know my dad!” exclaimed young master Barton. “What was interesting is when we were at Comic-Con, I got to sit back and watch the audience,” Hartle said. “There is a scene where we introduce Hawkeye. It has Torunn being beat up by the Iron Avengers until he shows up and saves her. I swear I heard women swoon, especially as he has kind of that swash buckling, ready to go attitude. From that moment on I knew he won the fans’ hearts. “What most fans have to realize is while the other kids have been living in Antarctica and not even knowing it, Hawkeye’s been living in the real world all that time. He’s a little more mature than the rest of them. It’s more than him being a little older than them, too. He had a really hard look at the world. I did scale him slightly larger, so he is about a year or two older anyway. At the same time, he can also see the value of James. He knows when to sit back and let things happen.” As the conversation moves on, one soon understands Hartle has a solid grasp of all these new Avengers. “Since Cap always played it by the book, so does James,” he commented. “Then again, I gave James red hair on purpose. Like his mother, the Black Widow, he can think out of the box. That also gives him a little more edge. He will do things that Cap would never do to himself. “For me, Torunn’s story is one of faith. When she was put down on Earth, she didn’t really know anything about her father or Asgard. One thing we had to cut out early was a scene where she had a shrine to Asgard, with everything looking like it was Viking, but still have a can of Swiss Miss in it. I mean anything that has even a remote thing to do with that era, she puts in. She doesn’t really see anything that would truly mean she’s Asgardian until the end. It’s only in the end where her faith is finally justified.” This leaves Pym and Azari. To be honest, Pym is sort of comic relief, but it works in the group dynamic. Hartle openly admits there’s a lot more to Azari. Unfortunately it was left on the cutting room floor. “We have a story arc for Azari which we had to cut out because of time,” says Hartle. “Obviously, Azari is T’Challa’s son. He also has the mutant thing that I’m not allowed to say. In the arc, T’Challa is a man putting on a cat costume. We want to switch it with Azari. He actually is a cat putting on the guise of a man. “What we want to do, if we go forward with this, is Azari trying to suppress his cat part of himself. That is why he’s a little more uptight than the rest of them. He’s trying to hold back the animal in him. What we are thinking of doing is showing how the other characters are maturing and growing up, he’s going to deteriorate. In fact, we have it where eating meat is what’s starting to change him. It’s something he will have to deal with.” But this comment leads to a new line of questions, and that is will there be more Next Avengers in the future? “It’s my hope,” Hartle admits. “It’s what I’m carrying a flag for. I think there’s a lot for them to tell. At Comic-Con, as soon as the story ended, people started asking us when we could expect the next story featuring these kids. The hard part is when we started, we were just creating the characters. If we had started with the original Avengers, everyone would know who they are. We have to sell new characters. At least Comic Con gave us the feeling we won the fans over. I love that. “If this does go forward, one thing I might set up is the original battle with Ultron as the ultimate event in this universe. Throughout the series there would be flashbacks to various scenes of Ultron wiping out all the other heroes of the past. One thing for sure, is we’ll never say when Ultron really did it. “Another project I would eventually like to do is how Ultron ultimately came about,” he adds. “From there, I would ask what did S.H.I.E.L.D. do? What did other people do to bring about this event? I would like to show that Ultron was definitely the fault of the predecessors.” This could lead to some interesting problems for Hartle though. Some of the voices he hired were actual kids. The problem of using kids for your voices hit home when the whole project moved into post-production. “When it was time to pick-ups, Noah Crawford’s (James) voice actually cracked in between some sessions,” Hartle laughed. “What we’re now thinking is being we’ve started with kids, we will actually have the characters change to match the way the kids change.” That isn’t all Hartle is planning. To top it, he admits Paur is helping him on this end. “One thing I will say is that to some degree Frank (Paur) and I have been dropping Easter Eggs in our projects. There might come a time where we might tie them all together. Whether my universe is going to be connected to Frank’s, like tying my Thor into his in Hulk Vs., that’s yet to be done. Let’s say if things go right, and people get to see all of it, there will hopefully be an arc that runs through all of them.” Until then, we’ll just have to wait and see how Hartle and Paur reinvent the wheel. Sounds like there’ll be a few more “OMG!” moments along the way. GIRL WHO LEAPT THROUGH TIME LANDING IN NYC The New York International Children’s Film Festival announced it will host the English version of Hosada’s The Girl Who Leapt Through Time the weekend of September 12-13. Mamoru Hosada set the anime world on fire when he created the series Neon Genesis Evangelion. His latest effort apparently mixes solid elements of shoujo and sci-fi for a very original looking film. For the record, the NYICFF did the dubbed version of the film back in 2007, too much critical acclaim. For more information, as always check out the website: www.gkids.tv. Next Column: We sit down with Avengers voice artists Adrian Petriw, Tom Kane and Fred Tatasciore.