Facing New Competition, Marvel Animation Senior VP Looks to the Future

Still from 'Marvel's Spider-Man'
Credit: Marvel Animation

A whole new world of Marvel characters is about to be open for adaptation in the spotlight thanks to the Walt Disney Company’s purchase of 21st Century Fox – and Marvel Animation is no different apparently, with projects in the works for characters that they tell Newsarama hasn't been adapted in "decades".

But before all that, Marvel’s Senior VP of Animation and Family Entertainment Cort Lane has plans for Marvel Animation’s two ongoing series, Spider-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy, as well as the burgeoning Marvel Rising franchise going forward in 2019.

Pictured from Left to Right: Milana Vayntrub, Kathreen Khavari, Kamil McFadden, Sofia Wylie, Cort Lane
Pictured from Left to Right: Milana Vayntrub, Kathreen Khavari, Kamil McFadden, Sofia Wylie, Cort Lane
Credit: Eugene Powers/Shutterstock

 

Newsarama spoke with Lane about the return of Spider-Man – and its impending Goblin War – as well as Guardians of the Galaxy’s boundary-pushing upcoming Black Vortex story, and even discussed the potential for bringing back some classic Marvel cartoons.

Newsarama: Cort, set the stage for us. There are a lot of new opportunities opening up in terms of Marvel properties right now and in terms of new media platforms. What’s coming up in this next phase of Marvel Animation?

Cort Lane: I’m not allowed to reveal the next few series that are coming up – but there are new shows in the works about characters and properties we haven’t done series for in decades. That’s all I can say for now.

Obviously there’s a lot coming up. There’s so much changing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and with the recent Fox acquisition, but I can’t get into specifics other than to say there will be announcements coming later this summer.

Credit: Marvel Animation

Nrama: What can you tell us about the upcoming new seasons of your ongoing shows, Marvel’s Spider-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy?

Lane: We’ve split these seasons up into multiple sections. The second part of the second season of Spider-Man is coming later this year – and it will be no surprise to fans of the show that the big storyline will be Superior Spider-Man.

We get to see the implications of that for the second half of the season. It’s a really emotional and interesting story. As in comics, Doctor Octopus is changed by being in Peter’s body, and by having access to certain memories like Uncle Ben’s death.

Of course Peter will get his body back – it’s a Spider-Man show – but as in publishing, Superior Spider-Man may be a jerk but he’s very effective. So Spider-Man will come back into his body feeling a little less-than, a little discouraged, having lost his friends, his place at Horizon – having lost so much.

And just as he’s trying to pick up the pieces, a Goblin War begins. I can’t reveal much about the twists and turns but there’s a full-on Goblin Army.

Then on the other side, there’s Doc Ock’s story. He’s fundamentally changed. He has to decide who he wants to be. Is he going to be a hero now? He enjoyed being a hero, he felt fulfilled by it, so what does he do now?

It’s really interesting how these characters who were at each others’ throats for a season and a half find themselves friends. It’s a story about redemption and unlikely friendships, and being the best version of yourself. And it’s also jam-packed with action.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Nrama: In comic books, Superior Spider-Man goes to some dark places for both Peter Parker and Doctor Octopus. How do you toe the line between not going too far for an all-ages animated series while still exploring those core themes of the story?

Lane: It’s all about character beats that kids can connect with and feel emotional about in Peter’s challenges. And this one’s even bigger because not only is it a scary situation, he’s going through it without the help of Horizon and his friends. Of course, he finds the most unlikely new best friend in Otto Octavius.

So we’re avoiding some of the super dark stuff, and instead focusing on the emotional core of the story which is how these two characters are changed, and how the way they’re changed brings them together in a way they never expected.

It has a very emotional ending – one of the characters involved makes a huge sacrifice. I rewatched it just before this and I’m not ashamed to admit I cried. It’s a very satisfying ending to the two seasons. I’m very pleased with the writing in particular, led by Kevin Burke and Doc Wyatt. It’s very full circle – we didn’t have to go to super dark places to connect with the same character depth. Watching Spider-Gwen evolve into Ghost-Spider and how that affects her in this part of the season is very rewarding.

Nrama: Speaking of Ghost-Spider, what can you tell us about Marvel Rising? What’s coming up in that growing franchise?

Lane: We recently announced the next batch of specials. It kicks off with “Battle of the Bands,” a 22-minute special focused on Ghost-Spider and Gwen, and the duality of her life that’s stretching her way too thin. She’s trying to balance her Secret Warriors life with her friends, and maintain them both, and as we’ve seen throughout her episodes, it’s a lot for her to handle.

We also take the opportunity to create a spoiler and a villain in a kind of dark reflection of Ghost-Spider. This is a villain – sometimes a hero – who was created in the 1970s. I can’t say more than that, but it’s a very cool contrast. And it’s a story full of pop music, which is part of the Marvel Rising DNA, but we go heavy on it here.

And then after that, the next special is “Operation: Shuri”. It’s so fascinating to watch the characters, both individually and as a group, interact with someone like Shuri. They’re all just regular kids, trying to make their way and learn their powers, and be their best selves – but then they’re faced with this princess who is also a super-genius who has so much confidence because she’s been raised her whole life as the heir to the throne.

Then there’s “Playing With Fire”, a very personal story about Inferno and America each longing to find the families that they lost, and their journey to make their way in the world without their families and make a new family along the way.

In particular, with America we see her with Ms. Marvel, who she doesn’t typically get along with, meeting Ms. Marvel’s family and how that impacts her.

It really goes deeper into Inferno’s backstory though, and we get to know him a lot better.

Nrama: There have been a lot of animated Marvel projects announced across platforms such as Hulu and Disney+ in recent weeks. Is Marvel Animation directly involved with those projects, and are you exploring streaming platforms like Hulu and Disney+ for your media?

Lane: We are exploring those platforms, and there will be announcements later. That’s all I can say specifically.

To your point, we’re already very much in a world where we’re trying to meet kids in all the places where they are. Our Marvel Super Hero Adventures shorts, which launched season 3 on April 12, did huge numbers for us on Marvel HQ, and that’s after premiering on Disney Jr., Disney Jr. on the Disney Channel, the Disney Now streaming service, the Marvel Kids YouTube channel, and the YouTube Kids app. That’s valuable, fun content for our youngest viewers that’s available on five platforms.

And being on all those platforms, and the platforms you mentioned, is a big part of making sure our content is accessible to as many people as possible.

And to your point about what we’re focused on next, Marvel Animation is exploring new animation styles, new genres including comedy that is maybe more meta or more out there, more wild and wacky. That’s all part of the plan.

For example, our upcoming second part of our Mission Breakout season of Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Vortex, explores six different animation styles for each of the Guardians as we move through the story. On the one hand it serves the story well, and there are character reasons for each animation style, but it was also a good opportunity to branch into more experimental choices and go with different styles than you usually get to do in a typical 22-episode season of an animated series.

Nrama: So when you see something like the success of Spider-Verse, which you adapted a few years ago as part of the Ultimate Spider-Man series, does that encourage you to go out on more of a limb and branch into these styles that are maybe pushing the envelope a little bit for the superhero genre?

Lane: It does – and that was the primary reason for our first Spider-Verse animated story in Ultimate Spider-Man, was to push those boundaries and get into different styles. We showed all the different animations separately to children and talked about which styles were most engaging with these kind of characters.

That opened us up to explore more comedy like we did with our Spider-Ham shorts, which were based on Skottie Young’s comic book art. And that led us to do Rocket & Groot CG shorts based on that Skottie Young style.

Nrama: Speaking of Black Vortex, fans may recognize that as a comic book storyline. How directly does the animated version of the story adapt the comic book?

Lane: It’s a reference, but not a direct one. What we wanted to do was separate the Guardians across dimensions and then reunited in another dimension, each with different animation styles. To me, the way we went about it is a little closer to the Siege Perilous from X-Men comics. Marty Isenberg, the story editor on Guardians, worked to combine the two concepts into a narrative in a really cool way.

We decided to great really creative in the way we interpreted the characters. Like, for example, we kind of realized Gamora is somewhat like a Disney Princess, in a way. But she’s the toughest, most butt-kicking princess around, so we thought it was fun to put her in a more traditional princess world.

For Drax, we trapped him in a comic book. But in the comic book world, he’s the comic book version of Drax, Arthur Douglas, who was once human. There’s such a gap between that comic book version of Drax and the cinematic version everyone knows, we wanted to explore that space a little and have him exploring this bizarre origin he doesn’t recognize while playing with superhero tropes.

Each of them has an important character purpose and story purpose for each of the Guardians, and each of them can really stand alone from a story perspective. The Black Vortex concept allowed us to explore that. The Guardians come out the other side learning a lot about themselves, but also not knowing where they are.

The Black Vortex story is the most creatively compelling thing we’ve ever done. It premieres on May 5. I hope people check it out. We have a lot of cool stuff planned for it. We’re even showing through some of our social media platforms the behind-the-scenes process of how we created something so unique.

Nrama: You mentioned the Siege Perilous from X-Men comic books, a cosmic portal that takes those who go through it to new lives and new environments, and it’s easy to see how that idea has been adapted to this Black Vortex story. Since you brought up the X-Men, in comics, Black Vortex was a crossover between the Guardians and X-Men. Any chance of an X cameo in this story?

Lane: No cameo yet – but maybe one day. No plans yet though.

Nrama: I know you get asked a lot about specific animated series from the past coming back – especially X-Men: The Animated Series. Now that revivals and relaunches are becoming more commonplace in all media, have you looked into bringing back something like X-Men or other fan-favorite series?

Lane: It’s a really interesting question because the answer is yes, we have looked at that a bit, but at the same time, those series live on for kids and adult fans on many platforms now. So if you’re gonna do something like that, you have to do it in a way that really has a purpose, that really adds something and differentiates itself from the original version, because that original version is still out there.

When you and I watched those shows when we were younger, there were huge gaps where that content wasn’t available to us afterwards. But that’s not necessarily true anymore, so you have to be careful. Do you want to tell stories that are very accessible in publishing and collected editions? Do you want to tell stories that have been told very well in animation and films that people still have access to?

It’s a difficult question because we love those stories, and there are elements of those stories we can connect to our new ideas, but retelling stories that are still out there being enjoyed is hard for us to justify.

Nrama: So when you talk about adapting comic book stories, or using them as inspiration as you’ve done with Superior Spider-Man and Black Vortex, are there any comic book storylines you’d particularly like to see brought to life by Marvel Animation?

Lane: The one I’m really looking forward to that I think would be very interesting for us is War of the Realms.

Nrama: Is there a feeling or an overall vision you have for the current wave of Marvel Animation that you hope fans will view the series through?

Lane: Yes, I think there is. We know we get a lot of viewers who are already fans, but our mission is to introduce these characters to kids – and have the kids emotionally connect not just to the characters, but to their values, the values of being a superhero.

Values like personal sacrifice, like working together to make the world a better place, to use whatever skills you have, even if it’s just your smarts, to help people and improve the world around you. Those are important messages. That’s Spider-Man’s mantra, and all of these characters represent that in different ways. I think it’s a wonderful message for kids, but also makes for really compelling stories. And all of the series share that mission.

Aside from that, one of the coolest things we get to do is, aside from just introducing the characters from the movies, we get to go deeper and have some fun bringing in characters from the comic books that also represent those ideas, but with different personalities, and powers, and individual problems.

So it’s great to see a character like Squirrel Girl really connecting with fans. It’s great to see a character like Ghost-Spider connecting with fans through both Spider-Man and Marvel Rising. That’s really the secondary mission – to be a window into the Marvel Universe for kids and for fans.

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