Howdy do, everyone, Papa Vinyard here.
I was invited to the press conference for Marvel Television's upcoming animated series, MARVEL'S AVENGERS ASSEMBLE, and, as a result, got a chance to arrange a couple of phone interviews with two members of the creative side of the new show. My first one was with Stephen T. Seagle, member of the production company Man of Action, who, aside from executive producing and writing the series, are responsible for shows like BEN 10, GENERATOR REX, and ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, as well as comics like American Virgin, House of Secrets, and Soul Kiss, not to mention stretches on X-Men, Superman, and Sandman Mystery Theatre. They're developing a feature version of their comic BIG HERO 6, which is due to premiere on November 7th, 2014.
VINYARD: If you don't mind, I'm gonna start out by asking you a few questions about Man Of Action, is that cool?
SEAGLE: Yeah, sure.
VINYARD: Okay. You, Duncan Rouleau, Joe Casey, and Joe Kelly make up the production company Man of Action. How exactly did you guys come together, and how do you divide up the duties between yourselves?
SEAGLE: (laughs) It's an odd and mixed bag. We're all comic book guys. We all worked on the X-Men together for Marvel, and we essentially all migrated over to Superman, where we worked together on that franchise for DC. You know, both of those are very big jobs, and a big honor, but they also have a lot of big headaches. So what we decided was we really liked working with each other and making stuff up, minus the big headaches, so we decided to make a company up with the four of us, and that was Man of Action, and that's what we do. We make stuff up. How we work? We're four different guys who have four totally different kind of creative voice, but we all agree on what's cool; we can agree pretty quickly on what's cool. So everybody's hands on on everything. We split things up in a lot of different ways, but at the end of the day, we run everything by all four of us, and everybody puts their stamp of approval on it, or goes back and says, "Here's what we make that better," and adds the magic end of the day.
VINYARD: Very cool. How did you guys transition from comics to TV, video games, and now, I guess, movies?
SEAGLE: Our first gig was actually four short films. Right when we made the company, somebody brought us on to write scripts for four 10-minute movies that they were doing. Our second job was X-MEN LEGENDS, which was a video game for Activision that did pretty well that we wrote the script for. But it was Matt Senreich of Robot Chicken fame who introduced us to Cartoon Network, when they were looking for a superhero show and hadn't found what they wanted. So they asked us if we could come up with something, since we were comic book guys and superhero fans, and we said, "Sure!". We pitched them 20 shows in 20 minutes that we made up over the course of about a week, working 10-12 hour days to develop some ideas for them. Idea number 8 was BEN 10, and they stopped us and said, "That's the one we want." And that was that, so it kinda happened "quickly" in quotation marks, because our third job was animation and BEN 10 was obviously a big hit, and did something crazy like $3 billion in global merchandise. The people who are looking to do boys' action tend to find us, and see if we can work the same magic for them.
VINYARD: Very cool. Is there a difference in your creativity and your creative impulses when you're working with something with a preexisting fanbase, like the AVENGERS, or when you're developing stuff like BEN 10 and GENERATOR REX, where you don't really have to cater to pre-existing notions of what to expect, and stuff like that?
SEAGLE: I mean, definitely on stuff that Man of Action makes up, we just try and open the floodgates, and let whatever happens happen. Again, just the four of us giving input tends to shape things in unexpected ways, 'cause we don't have the same aesthetic amongst ourselves as individuals, so that's kinda cool. And when you get a job like ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN or MARVEL'S AVENGERS ASSEMBLE, you wanna have the same freedom of thought, but obviously they're the properties of existing companies, and have franchises in their own right, so it's really up to whoever employs you, 'cause it's still a job. In our case, we were lucky that it's Jeph Loeb from Marvel Television, and Joe Quesada, who's the chief creative officer at Marvel nowadays, and they're- those are comic book guys in their DNA. We've known them as long as we've been in comics, pretty much. Joe Quesada, especially, just said, "These shows have to have the DNA of these characters, but they also warrant new shows, for younger audiences, and if we invented the show right now what would it look like and how would you make a show that kids would love?" So, strangely there's lots of freedom in both of those shows, even though they were these iconic characters that we revisit for a long time. And we're all comic book guys, so we didn't wanna do shows that didn't respect the characters anyway. It's just that something had to be different to fit the new age, and the new audience.
VINYARD: Right. Now I'm just gonna jump into the AVENGERS. What do you think specifically defines the new show, AVENGERS ASSEMBLE, apart from the last series, AVENGERS: EARTH'S MIGHTIEST HEROES?
SEAGLE: A couple of things. First of all, we (Man of Action) worked on EMH, we did I think five episodes of that; the latter parts of its seasons. So that was a show we all liked already, and knew very well to begin with. Starting fresh, I think the idea was let's really use the movie as a place of departure. Those characters, we wanted the core big guns, Thor, Iron Man, Cap, especially, and that's what we were working on to begin with, just putting the big guys front and center a bit more. (On) EARTH'S MIGHTIEST HEROES, a lot of stuff we worked on even, was stuff like Yellowjacket, and these kind of cool, iconic Avengers stories. But again, that had a certain baggage with it, and so you're thinking if we wanted to introduce the AVENGERS to a new generation, where would we start? Answer was with the heavy hitters. And then keeping that movie cast focused a little bit more really keeps us digging into the relationships, as opposed to the plot as our main driver. And one of the things we just loved about what Joss Whedon did with the movie was really show you how Hulk and Black Widow interact on a relationship level. You get comedy out of it, you get fresh drama out of it. If you had a huge case and tons of guest stars, it's hard to look at those kind of character relationships, which we think is the goal for both comedy and drama in the AVENGERS. Then the last piece was just introducing Falcon, so you have a fresh set of eyes; if you were suddenly dropped amongst the greatest heroes on the face of the planet, and you belonged with them, you weren't sure you fit in, what would that look like? We thought that was a pretty good way for a kid to see that team, and that's what we went with.
VINYARD: I understand the need to do that, and implement a character to sort of serve as like the surrogate, the eyes and ears of the audience. But why Falcon, specifically?
SEAGLE: We have a great writer's room, Man of Action guys, Jeph Loeb, Cort Lane, who's a producer on the show, Todd Casey, who's a "man about town" at Marvel, just a really good story guy, Brian Bendis on ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, it's Paul Dini on ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, we're working with a lot of great guys. In the case of the AVENGERS, we kicked around a lot of potential characters, and there was just something really cool about the idea that we were able to reset some buttons in this version of the Marvel universe. There's something very cool about this idea that Falcon knows Tony Stark, and that's kind of his relationship, and he's just now meeting Captain America. So on a fanboy level, it was just that idea of, "We could eventually arrive at Captain and the Falcon, but from a totally new starting point." And we liked Sam as a character. I think he's a cool young guy, S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, he's familiar with tech, so he's a good backup for Tony, who's in a new role as leader. Just a lot of the things that added up for him that some of the other characters we banded about didn't quite click.
VINYARD: Well, the movies go through a lot of shoe leather trying to catch the audience up with the weirder iconography that's kind of old hat to comic book fans. The animated series so far, just the first two episodes, at least, just kind of lets the characters and imagery speak for itself. It's an efficient time-saver, but will it continue as the series goes into more obscure territory that's yet unexplored by the features?
SEAGLE: Well, we have the benefit of- you know, we did twenty-six half-hours in a season, and a feature film has two hours to give you everything you need. So I do feel like where we would address what you're talking about, in terms of some of the more iconic things about the characters, and we can spread that out over the course of the season. One of the worst things is when you have an origin episode and you spend the whole time just telling the origin. As comic book people, we love that, we're used to that, but I think for kids jumping in, it's kinda better to just land it in the world, and then, as you go, say, "Well, here's what the world looks like, and here's a different corner that you haven't seen yet." And that's the way we built our first season of the AVENGERS. I think we still cover all the same ground, it's just spread out a little bit more, and it lets us get to the action sooner.
VINYARD: It definitely works. You've already assembling the Cabal in the second episode. How do you see the threat developing? Where do you see the threat coming from in future seasons if you already have the Cabal of supervillains together?
SEAGLE: (laughs) Well, we have lots of ideas, so have no worries. They'll be plenty to tell. But we just love the idea that- early on when we were developing the show, we were talking about sports analogies. The AVENGERS are a team, and yet they're taking on a lot of stand-alone villains, and it's like team sports need teams. Rivalries are teams against teams. So we started talking about that idea. And the team really likes if somebody as smart as Red Skull would go, "Hey, the reason I keep losing is because we keep going against this team. I need my own." So it just made sense, as the series goes on, we'll see some stand-alone villains, but there's always gonna be this idea of did they attack by themselves, or did the Red Skull send them? Did the Red Skull see the attack and say, "You might beef up my ranks?" Does he approach these characters? And that's to say, that's gonna build to somewhere new, we think.
VINYARD: Nice. Just to go to the Hulk, really quickly. The Hulk speaks quite a bit in this series, and he never changes back to Bruce Banner. How easy is it to write him with a soul? And does it involve kind of bridging the personalities of Bruce and Hulk?
SEAGLE: Yeah, I would say that The Hulk has kind of gone…undergone a bit of an evolution. You have to really keep an eye out for HULK AND THE AGENTS OF S.M.A.S.H. to see how far that goes. We're showing you the next step. 'Cause obviously in (ULTIMATE) SPIDER-MAN he rarely spoke, and when he did speak, it was mostly comic relief, and these great lines, on the episodes that we did. But we're seeing a slightly different Hulk here. We don't tend to see Banner, mostly because we're dealing with the AVENGERS, and Banner's not an Avenger, Hulk is an Avenger, so…we're kinda seeing it from that point of view. I think the Hulk…you know, the Hulk is always smarter than you think, is what he's showing you. On this show, he's showing you a little bit more than he maybe is used to, or accustomed to, because he's back on the team that he's familiar with. And for us, it's great, because it lets us really play with the comedy side of his character. He loves to smash everything, and he's powerful, but I also love when he gets into it with Thor or Hawkeye, who especially gets his goat. And imagining all these characters living together in Avengers Tower, those pressures are just amplified. It's just fun for us to have Hulk say a little bit more.
VINYARD: What can you tell me about HULK AND THE AGENTS OF S.M.A.S.H.?
SEAGLE: Well, the good news is I can tell you almost nothing, because Man of Action isn't working on it.
(We both laugh)
SEAGLE: I've seen some stuff. It looks awesome, they've got a great cast, I know that. But I know zero of the details, outside of occasionally, at our story meetings, Quesada or Loeb will say, "Oh, we're doing something on S.M.A.S.H. that would help, or that you can't do 'cause it's the same." So I know very little about the big composite picture, and it's probably safer that way for state secrecy.
VINYARD: You're developing a feature film of the Big Hero 6. What characters can we expect in the first movie?
SEAGLE: Unfortunately, again I have to tell you that, while you'll see a giant "Created by Man of Action" credit on that movie, because we made up the characters, we have nothing to do with the movie because we're too busy on these shows that we're doing. So I have no idea what (director) Don Hall's gonna show you- actually I have a little bit of an idea, but, if you cast an eye to the comics, and you take out certain characters that are contractually obligated elsewhere (like, say, Silver Samurai), you can probably piece together a good idea of who's gonna be available for BIG HERO 6. We're just really excited about it. It was so cool that it was those characters that Disney chose to make their first movie with Marvel characters with. Just a huge honor for us, and we're excited, but again, we're not working on it, so we don't know much about it directly.
I tried to wrap it up at this point, but because he couldn't really answer the last two questions, he granted me one more.
VINYARD: This one's a gimme. Who's your favorite member of the AVENGERS?
SEAGLE: Oh boy. Day to day, it changes. At the moment, I think I'm really enjoying Hawkeye, just because he's caustic and sarcastic and I keep putting him through the wringer, and handing him his pride on an arrow-quiver, so I'm enjoying Hawkeye a lot. The key, though, the real truth to this is it depends on who the Avengers are with. It's always those interactions- there's a great moment between Hulk and Thor in the episode that's coming up that I love, so that makes me love them. Hawkeye and Black Widow are featured together in an episode that we were just doing some recording on, and I was like, "Ah, I love these two together." Iron Man is great next to Falcon when they're kinda geeking out over tech. It's just that the relationships define the show, and the relationships are what makes you like the characters, so they change just based on what they're doing. But if you corner me, I'm gonna say Hawkeye at the moment.
VINYARD: Ok, awesome. Thanks a lot, I'm glad we could get this together, and I'm looking forward to seeing the rest of the show when it premieres.
SEAGLE: Great. I hope you like it. It just gets better and better than what we've seen, so enjoy!
VINYARD: Thanks. Take it easy, Steven.
MARVEL'S AVENGERS ASSEMBLE will air on Disney XD this Sunday, July 7th, at 11 A.M Eastern, 10 A.M Central.