Marvel already has two successful animated series running on Disney XD, the fruits of their aquisition by the media giant a few years back, including Ultimate Spider-Man and Marvel's Avengers Assemble. Now the line-up grows with some big, BIG additions, adding five Hulks to the mix in Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.
Ahead of the series premiere Sunday August 11, 2013, we talked on a conference call with executive producer and head of Marvel TV Jeph Loeb, executive producer and Marvel CCO Joe Quesada, Supervising Producer Henry Gilroy, writer Paul Dini, and the voice of the Hulk for quite some time now, Fred Tatasciore, to find out more about the series, why Hulk is getting his own spotlight, and what to expect from the latest Marvel animated series.
Marvel PR maven Jim Viscardi introduced the folks on the call, and noted that the series premiere will be a one-hour special featuring two episodes.
He started by asking simply what the show is about. Dini said, "it's a half hour action comedy revolving around the Hulk, one of Marvel's most enduring characters. It concerns his efforts to show the world that he's not just a rampaging monster.
"His allies, many of whom share his powers, want to prove it to the world, too. He becomes a reluctant leader to this group. This is the Hulk taking a few steps towards cleaning up his image and coming up more as a hero. His friend Rick Jones is documenting the adventures on a web series, giving us some confessional moments, where they can talk about their feelings on how things are going."
Henry Gilroy called the group a "family of misfits," and said that family dynamic is important, which Dini echoed. "We're hoping kids can see an element of themselves in the family dynamic."
Moving to Joe Quesada, Viscardi asked why Hulk is going under a renaissance with fans. Quesada said a lot of it "has to do with what Jeph Loeb brought to the Hulk," and the introduction of characters like Red Hulk and A-Bomb. "I'm also mad at Henry because he just got here and stole my answer that it's about family!"
Quesada said that concept of a "Hulk Universe" was taken and amplified for the show directly from the comics. He said that A-Bomb, Red Hulk, Skaar are all "stand-outs" that can work alone and even better together for the show.
Dini, asked about what attracted him to the show, said it's the "strong visual style" and how much richer and "more expressive" animation has gotten. "You can really cut loose, and really make the Hulk dramatic, and strong, and powerful. The smashing element of the show, putting them up against bigger and bigger enemies is really fun, I was excited to experiment with that."
He said that animation heightens the action, and makes "anything possible. He can rip apart mountains and push planets around." Of course, there's the simple answer, too: "It's also the Hulk! The guy smashes. It's interesting to see his loneliness and tragedy, but also have him go out and look out for this group of heroes that needs some guidance."
Talking about the voice cast, Gilroy said that Fred "brings this quiet strength to our version of the Hulk. He's a leader, but he always has the potential to go into that raging monster persona." The unpredictable nature mixed with how he "really cares about the Hulks" shows that he's really a good character, a hero, and would "really secretly love to be seen as a hero." He says that Fred brings that complexity with his voice perfectly. "Fred is very versatile in that."
Clancy Brown, Red Hulk, is "the jerky older brother." He said that his voice brings that to the cast well.
Seth Green as Rick Jones/A-Bomb, is "so funny, he adlibs lines all the time, and brings humor to every situation. When we have a serious moment, having Green's Rick Jones bring the humor is great."
Eliza Dushku is She-Hulk, who brings "a feisty kick-assness to the character. She's the sister of the group, but she's the all-powerful character in her mind. She's not soft, she's one-of-the-boys so to speak. Eliza has that feisty attitude built into her."
Ben Diskin as Skaar, say Gilroy and Dini, brings the "newness" to the character, and allows them to show a version of the younger more savage Hulk. Dini said he's "a caveman with powers and strength thrust into society," and they both praised Diskin's flare for comedy as well.
For Fred, what's it like being the "iconic" Hulk voice actor? "I've been with him for a long time. It's incredible, because I've gotten to ride this character's evolution through different shows. It's been great as an actor to play with different versions of the same person. I've done the savage loner, the lone wolf who might consider working on a team, then to the Avengers series and being a real member of a team, to finally having his own family.
"He's a smasher and a rager, but his whole arc is trying to get ahold of that and help other people."
As for the difference between this Hulk and the one on Avengers Assemble, Fred says he's "a little more evolved, speaking in full sentences." He says the relationships with him and Jen, Skaar, Devil Dinosaur "and all that" changes the approach. He said they usually do group recording sessions, "and it's so great to work off people like Ben, Clancy, and Eliza, it ups all our games as actors." The actor also teased "big sci-fi elements in the series."
The villains in the series need to be strong enough to face the "sheer power" of this team of Hulks, says Dini. Sauron will be an early villain, in the Savage Land, who can siphon power from other people. That's where the Hulks will break out Devil Dinosaur, "what better pet for five hulks than a red tyrannosaurus rex?"
"Devil has kind of evolved into his own character. He doesn't talk, but he's clever in his own way. He rubs Red the wrong way at first, because he isn't used to having a pet around."
Asked who they're most like, Quesada answered first saying A-Bomb is "the most like me at my current role at Marvel."
Paul Dini says he's most like the classic Green Hulk, who can explode at any time.
Henry Gilroy says he loves all the characters and doesn't know how to answer. "We put our mind into each one of them. Depending on the day I'll feel like a jerk and be like Red, or I'll try to be funny and be A-Bomb."
Fred says "I would say I'm most like She-Hulk" at first, but then said he has aspects at least of all of them. "I'm very much like the Hulk now, because I'm a softy inside - I can explode and do like to be left alone, but I just want things to work out" delivering the last part in Hulk voice.
Dan from Nerdist, what went into the documentary style?
Paul Dini said that it came from Disney's concerns about how to show that Hulk is a hero and who he is. "The reality show is something that our kids now have grown up with, it's a form of story telling that they accept. So we thought what better way to prove that he's a hero than to talk about it with the audience." He said that the quick-cuts it gives them is helpful as well. "It's not the traditional way of action-adventure storytelling, but we thought it would be fun to give it a try."
Henry said it also allows them to have "thought ballooons" from comics, something he loves from those.
Steve from CBR asked about the stable of voice actors who have a through-line in the various shows, and wether that's building an animated continuity.
Joe Quesada said "it's more a consistency than a continuity," but that it's very important to them. "Stylistically, you should be very aware that it's a Marvel show. When we started with Marvel Studios we worked very hard on getting a wonderful, clear sense that what you were seeing was a Marvel movie." If there's not "a house style, there's a house sensibility."
Henry said the visual style is also important, and "it's a fantastic team effort," and praising Eric Rodomski for keeping that consistent across the shows. Quesada said he was "really studious" in the references they gave him.
Next question, from us, how do you keep the variety going when you have five characters whose main bit is they can smash?
Dini, "It comes from the characters themselves. In many cases they are their own worst enemies when it comes to functioning as a team. It can be in the heat of battle or when they're in their headquarters. They are a contentious family. It's not like they're united like a group of super friends, it's sometimes like 'I don't want to work with Green' or 'I don't want to be here at all.' Overcoming that nature is a lot of the fun. It does sometimes impede their ability to work and function affectively as a team."
Quesada said, "there's only one commonality, and that's their ability to smash, they're gamma-irradiated and very strong. Outside of that, they're radically different people, with radically different points of view. They are a family, but they are each their own. How do you keep that family together, how do you keep them cohesive as a team and stop the villain from getting what they want?
Henry added that "everybody doesn't just punch stuff, too. Hulk does, but Red brings his military sensibility, using these guns and cannons. She-Hulk uses speed and guile, Skaar has his sword. A-Bomb has his cloaking ability and his balled-up armor form. So they all bring something different and unique to that."
Tim from the NY Post asked Dini what the story-telling of animation has changed over the past twenty years or so.
Dini said, "it's become a lot faster. The language of animation storytelling has changed. If you watch shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy, the story telling is very fast, it moves from character to character and idea to idea.
"When we look back at what action-adventure shows have been, they're kind of slow in comparison. What we wanted to do with the Marvel shows in particular was to move things along a little faster." The quick-cuts, the confessionals all help with that.
Quesada credited Paul Dini with being the one who raised the bar in animation storytelling (indirectly referencing his work on Batman: The Animated Series and the DC series that followed it).
Blake from Marvel.com asked about seeing Red She-Hulk.
"Oh." "Hmm." "Keep Watching."
Dan from Nerdist, most unexpectedly enjoyable character to write?
"The Leader. He's a really good counterpart to the Hulks," said Dini. "He's very good at getting into other people's heads and manipulating them. It's a lot to be said about brains over brawn in a bad way."
Steve from CBR: for Fred, is there one Hulk line you really like to say as the Hulk?
Fred: "I just like it whenever I get to say something scientific!" He also said he loves "Hulk Smash" and more when he gets quietly uncomfortable about things.
From us, will we see the human counterparts of anyone other than Rick/A-bomb?
"We keep the action focused pretty much on the Hulks," said Dini. "For the most part these are who they are now. They've made peace that they feel more comfortable in these roles, and this is how they make peace with each other, as Hulks, not so much in the human aspects of it."
Tim from the NYPost asked about Seth Green's adlibbing and his knowledge of comics.
Dini said "He knows more about comic books than anybody else in the room. When he starts riffing we just hit record and cut it down later."
Final question from Blake at Marvel.com, will we see the team coming together?
Quesada said absolutely. It's one of the best parts of the premiere seeing them become a group.
Gilroy added that not only will they just come together, but those relationships, "seeing this family grow together and learn to trust each other" is the best part of the series.
Dini said that rivalries and betrayals will come up, as well.