Ultimate Spider-Man returns for season two at 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 21, on Disney XD, with an hour-long premiere — introducing both the Lizard and Electro to the show's increasing roster of villains — before moving back to its normal midday Sunday timeslot this coming weekend.Following an inaugural season that saw it become the highest-rating animated program on its network while befuddling some adult fans, we talked to supervising producer Cort Lane about what viewers can expect from the new episodes, this season's more "personal" tone, and the incoming debut of the show's version of the Sinister Six and Carnage. Lane also discussed "Marvel Comics Close-Up," a new series of interstitials running during the "Marvel Universe" block, designed to introduce specific issues of Marvel Comics to younger audiences, including Ultimate Spider-Man #7, Invincible Iron Man #7, Hulk #3, Thor #364 and Marvel Adventures Spider-Man #16. Newsarama: Cort, to start off very broad — what can viewers expect from season two of Ultimate Spider-Man? Based on the clips released so far, it looks like the tone might be a little more serious, though the comedy is still there —what's exciting to you about this season?
Cort Lane: In season two, of course you're always going to want to deliver bigger and better stories, and we definitely do that. The challenges for Peter are more personal, but with those really difficult, personal storylines, we still have lots of humor to create the right tone for kids, and because Peter is a funny guy.
The challenges are unique in that it's really driven by personal relationships. One of his good friends, Curt Connors, becomes the Lizard in episode 1. He spends much of the season trying to help and cure, and stop, his friend. He'll also be dealing with the fact that his best friend's father has turned into the Green Goblin, and trying to save his friend's father as well, throughout the season.
On top of that, he has to take a lot more responsibility for these other young heroes, that he had to train with in season and, and didn't always get along with. Now they live with him in Aunt May's house. That's tough for him; he's a solitary guy. Not only does he have to deal with them in his space, he has to become their leader throughout the season. That doesn't come easily for Peter. Through those stories, he gets to learn a lot about their origins in this season, and a lot of them have had their own tragedy in their past that Peter can relate to, and he has to help them through some difficult times. A lot of emotions and new personal challenges for Peter in this season, but of course, we always have to keep it fun.
Nrama: It's interesting to hear you talk about relationships evolving and the story progressing, because for a lot of animated series aimed at a younger audience, every episode kind of stays in the same place by nature. How important is it to you to move the story forward?
Lane: We don't want to tell the same stories. Our team is the same as season one: We have Man of Action [Joe Casey, Joe Kelly, Duncan Rouleau and Steven Seagle] as our story editors, and now they're taking on producer roles; we have Paul Dini, we have Brian Michael Bendis, we have Jeph Loeb, and of course, Joe Quesada, involved in all of the script summits, and reviewing everything. As a team, we sat down and realized that we still wanted a lot of standalone episodes that wouldn't be difficult for kids to follow, but we needed to change the stakes, we needed to start in a new place this season. So we start with S.H.I.E.L.D. in disarray; that leaves the kids and Spidey sort of on their own. That makes things all the more difficult. At the end of season one, we have the Goblin and Doc Ock as real serious threats, and that is not resolved. Both of those villains set a lot of things into play, like the creation of the Lizard and all kinds of other things I can't give away right now, that make it really rough for the kids. And now they have to fight not just supervillains, but teams of villains, or team-ups. It created a lot of opportunities to make stories that are more nail-biting, frankly.Nrama: Is there any visual shift or refresh with season two, or is it pretty consistent with the seris so far?
Lane: Pretty consistent, although we worked even harder on achieving the best quality we can, and I have to say, the episodes I've seen so far are just incredibly good looking. Fun with effects, and tech, and the powers of these villains, and the designs of these villains. It's a cooler looking show, if that's even possible.
Nrama: In the first season of Ultimate Spider-Man, there were villains from all over Marvel, not necessarily just "Spider-Man" villains, like the Frightfoul Four and Loki — of course Doctor Octopus and Green Goblin were bubbling in the background the whole time, but it seems like maybe this season there's more of a focus on classic Spidey villains, like Electro and Lizard. Is that an accurate assessment? And if so, how deliberate was that move?
Lane: It's a little bit of both. We made the effort in season one to build up Ock and Norman as having very substantial arcs, and then of course Venom, Sandman and Beetle appeared. All of them come back in season two. Now we have the opportunity, with Ock and Goblin being serious threats, for them to set a lot of things in motion. That created a great way, and a very personal way for Peter, to be challenged by these villains. That allowed us to organically introduce these other Spidey villains.
There will be some more classic Marvel villains from across the Marvel Universe, because we're very proud of the fact that this series, as opposed to a lot of Spidey content over the last few decades, is linked to the Marvel Universe, just as he is in the comics. We will continue to do that, but yeah, we are excited to introduce a lot of great Spidey villains in this season.
Nrama: Season one also contained various heroes from across the Marvel Universe, even beyond the main cast of Nova, White Tiger, Luke Cage and Iron Fist. Will viewers see some more new ones in season two?
Lane: Yes. I can't give them away yet.We can give away the members, save one, of the Sinister Six: Lizard, Electro, Rhino, Kraven and Beetle. They all come together as a team in episode six. Since it was already teased by [Spider-Man voice actor] Drake Bell, I can tell you that Carnage also appears in this season.
Nrama: And there's been talk of the Guardians of the Galaxy showing up at some point this season?
Lane: I cannot confirm that. [Laughs.] But I will say that Nova's origin introduces a lot of characters from Marvel's extended outer space cast of characters. And we had the opportunity, with all of the heroes' origins, to explore more of the Marvel Universe. We learn more through Spidey's eyes, and he is introduced to aspects of the Marvel Universe he had no idea about, through their origin.
Nrama: You mentioned Carnage — that's an interesting choice given the violent nature of the character, and how Ultimate Spider-Man is obviously a show for younger audiences.
Lane: I can't give anything away. It's a very unique take, but, of course, it grows out of the Venom storyline. And Venom is back in a big way this season.Nrama: After Ultimate Spider-Man debuted last year, there was definitely a segment of long-time Spider-Man fans who were turned off by the more humorous, kid-friendly tone. Was that anything you were aware of, anything you were concerned about? And if so, what would you advise that section of Spidey fans about the upcoming season?
Lane: It's a difficult balance. You can't go down the rabbit hole of reading postings and complaints by a select group of adult fans. I understand their perspective to some extent, because I myself have been a Marvel fan my whole life. We wanted a show that delivered on all the things that boys would love in a Spider-Man story. We've been very successful at that. As the show rolls out worldwide, it's been phenomenally successful. We've accomplished what we've set out to do.
We know that some adult fans will not like it, especially at the beginning, and we've seen that happen with so many shows. Not just Marvel shows, but DC shows as well. If they learn to love the show, for the audience that it's intended for, and appreciate some of the things that we put in there, still, just for them — a great example is in episode 201, the Lizard story, we have a couple gags that are references to Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. And that's something we do out of love for the history of Marvel and Marvel animation. But you have to be committed to your vision, and execute that vision, and so far that vision's working really well. So no regrets there.
Nrama: This season also marks the debut of "Marvel Comics Close-Up," which are interstitials introducing specific issues of Marvel comics to the Ultimate Spider-Man audience. What inspired that program, and what went into choosing the comics that would be involved?
Lane: It's very much a joint venture between us and Disney XD. We are always looking for ways to get kids engaged with comics, and Disney XD is always looking for programs that inspire kids and help them grow. It came from both sides.The program exists in two parts. First, there are these interstitials, one minute long, featuring Joe Quesada — who loves doing all kinds of Disney XD interstitials, and has been featured in many of them, which is just so cool for me — and Dylan Riley Snyder, who's a Disney XD star. They talk about specific issues of comics, modern and classic, and they reference characters or events that are significant, that will get kids excited, and some of them really link to storylines in Ultimate Spider-Man, as well as some of the other shows this year, Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. and Marvel's Avengers Assemble. There's a synergy there: If they like these characters or stories in the shows, then they'll probably be interested in a published version. At the end of each of those interstitial, there's a call of action to stream that comic digitally, for free, on Disney XD's website. There's 10 comic books selected, it includes a lot of great stories. One of my favorites is the classic Thor story where he becomes Throg — Thor frog — the Walt Simonson story. Just great stuff. And we actually had a version of that character in season one of Ultimate Spider-Man.
Nrama: Was it easy to select comics that were both sufficiently standalone and also appropriate for the Disney XD audience.Lane: Actually, it was harder than you would imagine. [Laughs.] They needed to exist digitally, they needed to, just as you said, work as a standalone story without continuity that would be too confusing for a young reader. They needed to be appropriate for a network's standards and practices in terms of storytelling — just simple things like Wolverine smoking a cigar is not appropriate for the audience. It wasn't that challenging of an experience, but there was a lot of back and forth, and options put out there.
Nrama: Since you mentioned them a little earlier — are there any updates on when Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. or Avengers Assemble might debut on air?
Lane: They're only months away. I'm really thrilled. I'm a lifelong Avengers fan, so getting to work on an Avengers series is a dream job for me. At the same time, Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. has really surpassed my expectations of what a series like that could be. It's a great story about a great group of characters who have a really interesting family-style dynamic. It's very funny, with just the most amazing voice cast.
Nrama: Cort, anything else you'd like to say about this season of Ultimate Spider-Man?
Lane: I'm just one element. There's this sort of crazy super team-up of writers and animation talent. Man of Action are our story editors and producers, they work very hard, they are so creative. We had these script summits every month or so and that involves then, and Jeph Loeb, and Joe Quesada, and Paul Dini — he's an animation legend, so I'm always in awe of just having him in the room. And Brian Michael Bendis joins us as well, and he has such an interesting perspective. He helps us focus on Spidey as a character, and he writes some stories for us, also. We are really blessed, beyond any expectations from what you could have as a creative team on a series.
Nrama: Were there any new creative team additions with season two?
Lane: We've added for a few writers, but for the most part, it all worked so well on season one. We have the same cast of characters behind the scenes on season two. And then you have [co-executive producer] Eric Radomski — and I have to give a special shoutout to [director] Alex Soto, who animation fans know well for working on some of the best shows over the last 10 years. Alex provides a real voice to the show in the directing style, especially in the cutaways. He makes them so good, and we know that boys really, really love them. So he sort of adds that special sauce.More from Newsarama:
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