Long before Marvel dominated the movie screen, they’ve had a home in television animation. For nearly fifty years Marvel has been in the animation business; first with The Marvel Super Heroes animation series and now with three weekly animated series as well as several direct-to-video and various projects. Leading that up is Cort Lane, Marvel’s Vice President of Animation Development & Production for Marvel Television. Lane, who joined Marvel in 2008, has been integral in all of Marvel’s animation projects for the past five years, and is the supervising producer on Ultimate Spider-Man, Avengers Assemble and Hulk & The Agents Of S.M.A.S.H.
Newsarama spoke with Lane earlier this month, discussing the recent release of the LEGO Marvel Super Heroes: Maximum Overload series, Marvel’s involvement with Netflix, as well as plans for upcoming series and some personal favorite characters he’s seen debut in animation.
Newsarama: First up I wanted to talk about LEGO Marvel Super Heroes: Maximum Overload. Can you tell us how this partnership between LEGO and Marvel came about – was it an extension of the video game project?
Cort Lane: Well, it came about really organically. I’ve been working with the LEGO team for the toy segment for the animated shows to make sure they reflect the shows accurately. It’s cool because LEGO honestly continues the storylines into the toys they produce. During those discussions, they expressed interest in creating actual content, and we jumped at the chance. When we saw what they did with DC in video games, we wanted to see it work with Marvel and animation.
Nrama: Some people were surprised when LEGO Marvel Super Heroes: Maximum Overload was released free online as opposed to through one of the channels that your regular animated series goes through. Why’d Marvel go this route?
Lane: It’s a very broad launch plan. It’s online at Disney.com, Marvel.com, YouTube.comand also on Netflix as a 22 minute special. The shorts aired on the Disney XD channel on the launch date. LEGO Marvel Super Heroes: Maximum Overload is cross-platform, to television, computers, as well as on Xbox, Roku. Our plan is not to focus on one platform but to get it in front of as many fans and individuals as possible.
Nrama: Could Marvel be doing more animated released in this way?
Lane: Anything is possible, but I have nothing I can talk about today. It’s important for us to look at this particular project and see how the audience reacts. If it’s something they seem to like and want more of, it’ll influence the conversation internally here at Marvel. This, along with Phineas & Ferb: Mission Marvel were big experiments and unique opportunities. We’re still dipping our toes into this way of doing things, and looking to see how people react.
Nrama: People seem to be reacting positively to these five episodes; are there any plans to do more LEGO/Marvel team-ups in animation any time soon?
Lane: Not yet, to be honest. We just launched this, and we need time to see how the audience reacts. If there’s enough demand, then it’s certainly possibly. Personally, I’m really happy with the way the series turned out.
Nrama: Let’s back up a second – when did the discussions with LEGO initially begin for LEGO Marvel Super Heroes: Maximum Overload?
Lane: We really started talking about a year ago, and the scripting process began last fall with Matt Wayne. Matt’s amazing and very funny, and I consider him a buddy; I was thrilled he was selected. We started in earnest at the beginning of the year with our Toronto-based animation company. I also worked alongside Lego's Jill Wilfert (VP of Licensing and Entertainment) and Keith Malone (Director of Content Development).
Nrama: I’ve noted that unlike the live action movies, in animation Marvel seems to have pretty much free range use of any of its characters -- including the X-Men. Is it right that Marvel owns animation rights to all its characters?
Lane: The answer is very complicated, and it’s not something very easy to disclose. I can say that it’s an evolving situation, and over the last few years we’ve worked hard at getting our characters back in-house for TV animation so we can create shows. Even though I can’t name the outstanding ones right now, you’d be surprised about how much we do have internally; we have over 10,000 characters to play with. We’ve thrown some surprises in the last year like Deadpool showing up in Marvel's Ultimate Spider-Man and even Devil Dinosaur and Ego, The Living Planet popping up in Marvel's Hulk: Agents of S.M.A.S.H.and I think that pleased fans. Personally, I loved the Howling Commandoes in Ultimate Spider-Man: Blade, Werewolf by Night, Man-Thing, Frankenstein’s Monster, and Marvel’s Dracula as the villain.
Nrama: Speaking of Ultimate Spider-Man, season two just concluded and we already know a season three is underway for next year. What can people look forward to with season 3 next year?
Lane: Here’s what I’m allowed to say... [laughs]. We’re really excited about season three. We’ve almost completed scripting the season, and as you know it begins with Spider-Man receiving an offer to join the Avengers. That’s really an unexpected journey for the audience, and Spider-Man as well. But we’ve got another big surprise in the opener, as well as a lot more Marvel characters never seen in animation before. Spider-Man’s going to be meeting a lot of new heroes, who is like him when he started out: rookies.
Nrama: Marvel’s parent company Disney is universally known for its animation. So what’s the relationship like for Marvel’s Animation department and Disney’s Animation wing?
Lane: Jeph Loeb is my brilliant boss, and really drives the division here for all the animation, from direct-to-video to co-productions, licensed, or the three series we’re producing ourselves. And the amazing Eric Radomski heads up our animation studio. He’s with the guys doing the day-to-day work on the shows.
As for me, I work closely with both the Disney XD and Disney Channel folks because we need to make sure our shows work for their audiences, and there are also practical issues. Standards & Practices for any kids network has to be followed pretty closely, and the Disney TV Animation people engage with us frequently. Being experts on the kid audience, they share with us and provide feedback that’s very helpful. I also work closely with Disney’s Consumer Productions division, as well as our toy partners Hasbro and LEGO. On my desk right now in fact I have the LEGO Marvel Super Heroes playset with Iron Fist and Doctor Octopus in a scenario straight out of Ultimate Spider-Man.
Nrama: Walt Disney Animation Studios is developing a big-screen adaptation of Big Hero 6. Is Marvel’s TV animation working on anything to do with that, or in conjunction with them?
Lane: The people who are really directly involved with that is Jeph and our Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada. I did have the opportunity to attend some of the early meetings, but Big Hero 6 truly belongs to Disney Feature Animation studio. We are pleased to contribute in any way we can, and I know Joe follows it closely.
Nrama: Marvel fans got a big surprise when the Netflix/Marvel deal was announced last month. All of the series announced are live-action, but I could easily see Netflix and Marvel TV animation doing an original series together. What would you say to something like that happening?
Lane: Well, I think anything is possible but it has to make sense for the Disney company and us. It’s all about reaching the audience in the best way possible. Doing an original animated series exclusively for Netflix is certainly an idea that could work, but is not in the plans now. I think it’s a nice little step to premiere a 22 minute version of LEGO Marvel Super Heroes: Maximum Overload on Netflix like we have, and Netflix will be a major platform in our release of Marvel's Iron Man & Hulk: Heroes United, the direct-to-video animated movie.
Nrama: Speaking more broadly, you currently have three shows on the air – two of which just launched this year. I’d say three is a lot, but Marvel live-action TV is expanding by leaps and bounds. Could Marvel Animation be doing new shows for 2014?
Lane: It’s possible. The way I look at it, it’s a great time ot be a Marvel fan. Marvel seems to have the ability internally, whether in the TV division, the film division or here in animation, to create the kind of content that our fans really enjoy. And we will continue to grow as long as there’s a hunger for it. Anything can happen.
Nrama: Last question, Cort; you seem to show off your inner fanboy a bit talking about the Howling Commandoes showing up in Ultimate Spider-Man. Are there any other Marvel characters you’d love to see come to Marvel animation?
Lane: In the last year we’ve got to have a lot of fun with characters I’ve been wanting to see, from Hawkeye to Devil Dinosaur. The one I’ve always wanted to see and I’m so glad we will now with the Netflix live-action series is Jessica Jones; I’ve wanted to see her story told for a while; she’s a really compelling character.
I’m also a big fan of Scarlet Witch; I can’t wait for there to be something with her here in animation.