With the Ultimate Spider-Man animated series debuting soon, the network held a press junket Tuesday morning in Burbank, Calif. Newsarama was there, and talked one-on-two with Jeph Loeb, head of Marvel TV, and Joe Quesada, Marvel chief creative officer.
Ultimate Spider-Man uses the Ultimate Spider-Man comic book as a launching point — Brian Michael Bendis is a consulting producer and writer on the series — while also incorporating elements from different eras and new twists; like Peter Parker working with fellow teen heroes Power Man, Iron Fist, White Tiger and Nova. The show premieres Sunday, April 1, as part of the new "Marvel Universe" programming block on Disney XD, along with the second season premiere of Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes.
Quesada and Loeb both serve as executive producers on the series, and spoke with us about what makes Ultimate Spider-Man different from the many Spidey animated series that have come before.
Newsarama: Jeph, Joe, after seeing the Ultimate Spider-Man series premiere this past weekend at WonderCon, the one thing that really stuck out is the tone of the series — it's more openly humorous than past Spider-Man animated series, with elements like Spidey breaking the fourth wall and frequent peeks inside of his head. What motivated Marvel to go in that direction with the series?
Jeph Loeb: It really played into who Spidey is. The truth of the matter is, unlike a lot of heroes who are out there, in Spider-Man's DNA is that "quippage," as we like to refer to it. While Peter Parker's real life is that "Peter Parker luck" — that he's going to lose the girl, or lose his lunch, or disappoint Aunt May in some way — Peter always allowed us, through Spider-Man, to be able to see the fun and the exhilaration of being a superhero. We wanted to be able to then take that to the next level, which is to say to our audience, "You know what? You could be Peter Parker, or you know someone who's like Peter Parker. Come with us now, and let's show you exactly what it's like, both inside his mind and outside, to see what the fun of it is going to be."
Joe Quesada: It's funny, because it's almost like this is exactly what the show is meant to be. I remember calling Jeph, "What if we took this approach to Peter Parker where we break the fourth wall, and we get to see what's inside of his head?" And then subsequently, Jeph is in the process of hiring Paul Dini to come on to the show, and Paul sends Jeph an email saying, "What if we tell this story where Peter Parker breaks the fourth wall, and we get into his head, and we're doing all these sort of funny bits." I just think that's what the show is meant to be; it was in the ether.
I think we all had the same idea that we've seen the origin so many times before — we figured, that's iconic, and we'll definitely touch on it in the show, but let's start in a different place this time — let's start where Peter's already been a hero for a year, and he does great on-the-job training, but guess what, kid? Here comes Nick Fury, who plays in the big leagues, he's a professional, and you've only been in the minors. "I'm going to teach you how to be professional. I'm going to teach you to be the Ultimate Spider-Man." It's a fun place to jump on, and I don't think anyone's going to have any problems understanding where our show takes place or when it takes place.
Loeb: I think the other thing that was important to us was that, when we were looking at designing the Marvel Universe block, and knowing that we were going to have these two giant franchises, one in Ultimate Spider-Man and the other in Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes — Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes is so much about being the best heroes that you can be. You're already there; you really do see Cap, Thor, Iron Man and the Hulk doing the best at what they do. We really wanted to have an opportunity where in the first half hour, you'll be able to see what it takes in order to get to that place. So you really are getting the full experience of the Marvel Universe.
Nrama: In large part because of those more whimsical elements, Ultimate Spider-Man, while with definite all-ages appeal, seems more specifically targeted at kids than past Spider-Man series and even Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes. How important is that aspect to the series?
Quesada: I think that's just the essence of Spider-Man. I read my first Spider-Man story when I was 8 years old. Jeph, how old were you?
Loeb: About the same.
Quesada: For me, it was Amazing Spider-Man #96, and I know Stan wasn't writing for a young 8-year-old me. I could still read those books, and though they're dated in the '70s, it's pretty sophisticated stuff. I think it's the same thing with Ultimate Spider-Man; even some of the comics that we do. If we do our job right, 6, 7, 8-year-old kids will absolutely be able to relate and have a laugh, and they'll be able to watch it with their dads, or watch it with their moms, and they'll get a laugh at something else, as well. I think that's really the blend that we're going for. We're not talking down to anybody. We want to make sure that if you do Spider-Man right, he's going to be funny. If you do Spider-Man right, he's going to be young, enthusiastic, and he's going to be a bit of a screw-up. That instantly makes it something that I think kids can relate to.
Loeb: By the same token, you're going to get to see really balls-to-the-wall action-adventure that's done in a way that is unique Marvel style; that you really do feel like it's larger than life, that the animation is better than we've ever done before, and that it really translates into something that is an exciting experience for you to have.
Quesada: There's a great moment — I think it's episode one, where Peter's in his room, and he stands up and he looks in the mirror, which is definitely a tip of the hat to the old-school fan. [Newsarama note: It's a visual reference to 1975's Spider-Man: Rock Reflections of a Superhero album cover.] We throw in all of that sort of stuff for the older fan, as well, to say, "Hey, we're thinking of you, don't worry!" The 8-year-old kid isn't necessarily going to get it, nor should they, but there's tons of that stuff in our world as well.
Nrama: Another factor that distinguishes Ultimate Spider-Man — and something that people really didn't know about until a couple of weeks ago — is the "team" aspect, with Spidey working alongside Power Man, Iron Fist, White Tiger and Nova. At what point did that become part of the plan for the series?
Quesada: That was part of the challenge that was given to us before we even started. [Marvel executive vice president] Alan Fine challenged us to do a different kind of Spider-Man story; a Spider-Man story that involved Peter and Spider-Man, as far as a team aspect, and can get tech involved, all these little things that he threw at us — "What kind of show would you come up with?" I think we hit the nail on the head.
It was an effort to give you a different Spider-Man story, plus the fact that the precedent had already been set in the comic books — Spider-Man had become a part of the Avengers, he had become a part of S.H.I.E.L.D. Publishing is the hub of everything, it's the proving ground for everything. We noticed that chemistry was working in publishing, so we could absolutely make it work in animation.
Loeb: We also felt very comfortable that in the motion picture universe, you do see that Nick Fury has a definite agenda in what he refers to as the "Avengers protocols," that have been referred to in the Iron Man movies and the Thor movie. We took that to sort of the next level, which is to basically say, "How does Nick Fury look at the young heroes that are out there, and what kind of program is there for them?" It's not really so much that he's putting a team together, as much as he's trying to find out, of the young heroes that are out there, who is going to be the next Captain America, the next Iron Man, the next really great superhero? The "ultimate" superhero.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!