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 second interview was with Executive Vice-President and Head of Marvel Television, Jeph Loeb, who is credited as Executive Producer on the upcoming show. Loeb started out co-writing cult '80s movies like TEEN WOLF (1 and TOO), BURGLAR, and, most impressively, COMMANDO, before becoming a big name in comics, with influential work like Batman: The Long Halloween and the Hulk line that spawned Red Hulk and A-Bomb, and TV, where we worked on LOST, SMALLVILLE, and the first two (some would say best) seasons of HEROES. He's a man of many talents, and, at the press conference, he introduced the panel with a speech that laid out, in clear terms, what the series, which premieres on Sunday, means to him and the company:
This is a very exciting time for us. This is in fact the biggest show that Marvel Television has ever taken on in the animation world. We had a real challenge that was posed to us. And that was there was a little, tiny art-house movie that came out last year that you guys saw called MARVEL'S THE AVENGERS, written and directed by our friend Joss Whedon, and it really set the template. It really showed that you can do a major motion picture, from the folks at Marvel, that has multiple characters on an epic scale. On top of it, it also showed us that one of the most important elements is a certain kind of levity, that it's the interaction between those characters that makes that movie as special as it is. And I'm proud to say, as you probably know from reading your various handouts it was the highest grossing film of 2012, it's the highest grossing film that Disney has ever put out, and the third-highest grossing film ever in the world. So when they asked us to do an Avengers television series…not a small feat for us. Something we really had to dig in and figure out. And with those of us at Marvel Television, it always begins with the story. It's all about the script. It's making sure that it's there on the page. And so for us, there was no other choice. We needed to go to a group of individuals who have not only created some of the most memorable characters in our animation, like Ben10 and Generator Rex, but also had done two seasons of our very successful MARVEL'S ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN series, and that's the Man of Action guys, who Steve Seagle... is representing and we'll talk more about what it takes to write the show. But it wasn't just that. It really was also, after that, your next big step is ok, you know you're not going to have the cast from the movie. But what you wanna be able to do is come up with a voice cast that can bring the fun, the excitement, the epic adventure, and at the same time, make it their own. So I'm really delighted to think that not only do we have probably the handsomest voice cast out there, and the very lovely Black Widow down at the end, but we also have an incredible voice cast in terms of being able to handle the drama, the fun, the excitement, and the promise that Marvel brings to every single one of our projects, which is epic adventure on the human spirit.
The following conversation took place about a week later.
VINYARD: AVENGERS ASSEMBLE is following up AVENGERS: EARTH'S MIGHTIEST HEROES, which has been fairly successful over the past three years. Aside from a tone that is shared with the Joss Whedon movie moreso than the original Stan Lee/Jack Kirby comics, what would you say most defines AVENGERS ASSEMBLE apart from the last series?
LOEB: Well, first of all, most importantly, we've gotten the show down to a core cast, and that cast being primarily the cast from MARVEL'S THE AVENGERS, the film. We've added into that cast a new character, which is The Falcon. Sam Wilson joins us as a highly trained S.H.I.E.L.D agent, but who is also the newbie on the team. It's largely through his eyes that we get to see how this group gets together. Again, it's important that everybody knows that we're not, in any way, saying that all the fun and adventure that you had on EARTH'S MIGHTIEST HEROES didn't happen, but very much in the same kind of way that, over on the publishing side, where Brian Michael Bendis had an unprecedented run of 8 years on the Avengers, and then along comes Jonathan Hickman, who's telling great Avengers stories as well that don't, in any way, negate what happened with Brian, but have their own life to them as well. And that's really where we pick it up.
VINYARD: What led to the decision to make Falcon the new seventh AVENGER?
LOEB: We just talked about a lot of different characters that we liked, and The Falcon popped to the top. We liked the fact that we know, someday, that partnership with Captain America's gonna be important. We liked that, as you'll see in the pilot, that he has a pre-existing relationship with Tony Stark, and so that gives us a real interesting dynamic. He's just an exciting, young character that hopefully folks are gonna gravitate to.
VINYARD: I can imagine it's tricky selling the more obscure aspects of the Marvel Universe that may be old hat to comic book fans, but are completely foreign to mass audiences. How do you deal with introducing the more bizarre plot points that are more familiar to fans, but may seem hokey or weird to people who've only seen the movies?
LOEB: Well, I'm not sure exactly what you're referring to. The Marvel Universe is this incredible place that will take you to other galaxies, and at the same time, Earth itself: The Savage Land, Antarctica, Wakanda, Latveria, Transylvania, these are all places that exist in the Marvel Universe. But at the end of the day, the fun of living in the Marvel Universe is that it's our universe. It's New York. The cabs look like real cabs. If you look at a map, you can find Avengers Tower. You can find that the people that exist have real jobs and come from real places. This is not a world that you have to try and understand, and then try and understand your characters. Marvel's always been successful because the people that are wearing the Iron Man armor, or whether it's Steve Rogers, who always dreamed of being a hero to the world, they're readily identifiable people, and that's what's important to us. And if you can get them onboard, then you can go into the world of the fantastic, and the incredible. The real Marvel DNA is to have an epic adventure, but at the same token, it has to have the human spirit. Adding into that a little levity and some humor is terrific, but if you don't believe in the folks themselves, you don't have any entry point whatsoever. So it's really important that, with this show, that the people you're invested in are Tony Stark, and Steve Rogers, and Clint Barton, and Natasha, and Sam Wilson, and people like that, which will take you through a world of the incredible and the awesome.
VINYARD: At the press conference, you briefly mentioned the upcoming HULK AND THE AGENTS OF S.M.A.S.H. series. Can you talk a little bit more about that project, and why you described it as being even more ambitious than AVENGERS ASSEMBLE?
LOEB: I don't know that it's more ambitious (his exact remarks described it as, "the next level of where we wanted to get to" in terms of Marvel Animation). I think that what we wanted to do was, coming out of MARVEL'S THE AVENGERS, it was clear to us that the Hulk was the breakout star of 2012. And moving forward, we wanted to have an opportunity to really focus on, throughout the Marvel Universe, (the idea of) "the Hulk as hero". For so long, "the Hulk as monster" has been the way that he's been played, but we know, as the reader, that he's always been a hero. Now the idea, the challenge is, to get the Marvel Universe to see him as a hero. So in that particular case, THE HULK AND THE AGENTS OF S.M.A.S.H., that's really our sort of…path that we're going down, particularly in that show. Rick Jones, who eventually will become, in the pilot, A-Bomb, he's got a goal, and that is to show that the Hulk is not a rampaging monster, but in fact, a hero. But for us, what's fun about that show is that, you know, what could be more fun than one Hulk? Well, et's have five! So we took characters that pre-existed in the publishing universe, in having Hulk, and Red Hulk, and A-Bomb, and She-Hulk, and Skaar, and putting them together, not only as a team, but really as a family, and seeing how they would interact with each other. So it isn't just about "Who're they gonna smash today?", but it's also about how are these folks gonna get along. And it's something that we really do have as a theme throughout all of our animated shows, whether it's Spider-Man learning how to become ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, and working in conjunction with S.H.I.E.L.D., and his team on that, Nova, and Power Man, Iron Fist, and White Tiger, coming all the way back to our crown jewel out of this group, which is MARVEL'S AVENGERS ASSEMBLE. It's not just about a group of our heroes out there trying to save the universe. It is really about how Tony Stark has to put together seven people who, on any kind of team, it would be a challenge, but when you're going up against plots that involve the entire…saving of the planet, and perhaps, saving of the earth, we wanna make sure that it's how they get along.
VINYARD: Jeph, you personally invented the character of Red Hulk about five years ago, and now he's gonna be featured prominently on AGENTS OF S.M.A.S.H. How hard is it to watch a group of writers work with your original character, and are there any moments when you wanna step in and say, "No, no, Red Hulk wouldn't do that!"?
LOEB: You know, the fun of being where I am is getting to see how all the characters in the Marvel Universe get used, and Red Hulk is obviously something that Ed McGuinness and I take a lot of pride in, as well as A-Bomb, but watching how anybody takes your character and moves on with it- for me, personally, it wasn't seeing him in the animated version, although Clancy Brown does a great Red Hulk. For me, the biggest moment was when Brian Bendis called one day and said "Hey, I'm thinking of bringing him on The Avengers, what do you think?" That was, for me, the place where it got stamped with the Marvel seal of approval. When you get asked to join The Avengers, with one of your characters, you really know that you've gone somewhere.
At this point, I was told that I had one more question, so I quickly pulled a hail mary, and addressed one aspect of Mr. Loeb's credits that really got me excited for this interview.
VINYARD: I saw you were a co-writer on COMMANDO, the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. I'm a HUGE fan of that movie. What would you say your favorite contribution was, in the final cut?
LOEB: The way that that all began, there's always that moment of inspiration, where someone has, as to where a movie comes from. For me, I was flying from New York to L.A., at the grand old age of about 23, and my seat was right next to the galley. And I could see into the galley and there was no one there, and I looked down for a moment, and when I looked up again, there was a flight attendant in the galley, and there was no way she could've gotten there without passing me in the row. And so I had to find out. I came over, and I said, "I really have to ask you, I know it's a very strange question, but where did you come from?" And she looked at me very oddly, and said, "From New York?" And I said, "No, no, no. How did you get in this galley?" And she said, "Oh, I came from downstairs." And I said, "What do you mean, downstairs?" And she said, "Where do you think we keep all the carts? There's an elevator right here." And I'd never seen this before on a plane. So I looked at her and said, "If you got on this plane, and someone was waiting for you at the gate, could you get into the elevator, and then go downstairs into the downstairs place, and then from there, get off the plane? Without anyone seeing you back up in the terminal?" And she said, "Why would anyone want to do that?" And from that moment, I suddenly had what was really the key piece of the movie, which was, if you put a man on a plane, and had someone meeting him on the other end, but he secretly got off, he would then have the length of the flight in order to save his child. It literally all came together in that moment, and that was the fun of it.
VINYARD: That's awesome. Thanks, thanks a lot, Jeph, and thanks for giving me a little bit of time today.
LOEB: Not a problem. Take good care, we're big fans of Ain't It Cool.
VINYARD: Thanks a lot. Take it easy.
MARVEL'S AVENGERS ASSEMBLE will air on Disney XD this Sunday, July 7th, at 11 A.M Eastern, 10 A.M Central.