Following the high-school adventures of teenage superhero Peter Parker (voiced by Disney star Drake Bell), Disney XD is teaming up with Marvel Entertainment to bring Spider-Man to a new generation. "Ultimate Spider-Man" begins as Parker is recruited by Nick Fury (Chi McBride) to join a special team of teenage crime fighters, including Marvel heroes Iron Fist (Greg Cipes), White Tiger (Caitlin Taylor Love), Power Man (Ogie Banks), and Nova (Logan Miller). Using the high school as their base -- under the auspices of Principal Coulson/Agent Coulson, Clark Gregg reprising his live action film role -- Parker must balance his crime fighting with his school life, hiding his alter ego from friends Mary-Jane (Tara Strong) and Harry Osborn (Matt Lanter).
With the series debut of April 1 fast approaching, Head of Marvel TV and "Ultimate Spider-Man" Executive Producer Jeph Loeb and Marvel Chief Creative Officer and Co-Executive Producer Joe Quesada spoke with reporters about the show. One of the thing they emphasized is the way the upcoming series will expose viewers to the broader Marvel Universe, leveraging Spidey's popularity in order to spotlight characters like Luke Cage and White Tiger.
"We have a huge treasure chest of wonderful characters we think haven't been exposed properly over time, but it was also a matter of finding characters that would work well within this cast, that would mix well with Peter Parker and characters that would translate to the young audience," Quesada said. "These are absolutely characters we feel vested in, that we're gong to be investing in the future, that we thought would just make for a wonderful show.
While there have been a number of animated Spider-Man shows in the past, Quesada and Loeb said that one of their big pushes for "Ultimate" was to update Spider-Man for modern kid audiences. This is why they specifically wanted to model the show after Marvel's "Ultimate Universe" line of comics.
"The basic concept in the Ultimate Universe is to take concepts Stan [Lee] had created in the 1960s and make them relevant to the 2000s audience. Our job on the animation side was to now, twelve years later, come back and say, 'OK, now how do we tell it for this generation?' Every generation has their favorite Spider-Man cartoon, how do we make this one into, as we like to say, the ultimate Spider-Man cartoon?" Loeb said.
David Levine, Vice President and General Manager of Disney XD agreed, joining in Loeb and Quesada's praise for the new show.
"It's Spider-Man when he's younger, he's a little unsure of himself. This version of 'Ultimate Spider-Man' has him with friends, has him figuring out how to be a superhero as well as how to be a teenager, going through self-discovery -- which is what our audience is doing, as well," Levine said.
A self-confessed Spider-Man fan, Levine believes that, beyond entertainment, "Ultimate Spider-Man" could act as a behavioral "guidepost and [provide] a bit of direction" to XD's target audience, boys ages six to fourteen.
"[The show] has a lot of the values we want to have as a key part of Disney XD: characters on a journey, characters learning about themselves. 'Ultimate Spider-Man' is specifically for this kind of an audience and brand because it's Spider-Man when he's just starting out. He's just figuring out who he is, so he, himself, is on a journey. We think that is going to really resonate with our audience."
Quesada made it a point to reaffirm Marvel's commitment to the source material, stating that he and Loeb brought in "Ultimate Comics Spider-Man" writer Brian Michael Bendis to pen episodes for the show.
"We went to the guy who wrote every single issue of 'Ultimate Spider-Man, 'which is over 150 issues in the last ten years, and that's Brian Michael Bendis," Loeb said. "Brian's written some of the most fun episodes of the season!
"You're talking about Marvel making Marvel, you're talking about a group of individuals who understand the DNA of what we do," Loeb continued, explaining that beyond Bendis, a host of other Marvel writers, along with the Man Of Action television producing collective, all worked on the show. "If you have the best people working on something, you're going to end up with the best product," Loeb said.
The show also guest stars one of Marvel's most famous writers, ex-Publisher Stan Lee, who voices Stan the Janitor.
"It's been great to have Stan involved. It's been great to have Joe Quesada, Brian Michael Bendis, Jeph Loeb, all the great Marvel creators. Stan Lee himself is part of the 'Ultimate Spider-Man' and the Marvel Universe block. What could be better?" Levine asked.
The most important job for Quesada and Loeb, according to the two Co-Executive Producers, was more than just assembling their writers -- they wanted to make sure Marvel TV is imbued with the same spirit as the comics it sprang from.
"As we saw Marvel Studios start to make our movies, the thing we kept hearing back from the hardcore fan, the casual fan, was that these movies had a distinctive Marvel feel that they hadn't felt before in previous incarnations, in previous movies," Quesada said. "Jeph was so instrumental in this, saying, 'We're going to get Marvel people to make Marvel shows.' I think 'Ultimate Spider-Man' is really the first one that is going to exhibit that Marvel DNA all the way through."
"There's something about the way that Marvel Comics stories are told," Loeb added. "What I like to think of them as is they're too big to be contained on this page, that they're bursting out, that reading a Spider-Man story, the webbing is coming off the page and into your room -- that's what we're trying to capture in the television series."
Beyond its undeniable Marvel Comics pedigree, the show also boasts the talent of "Batman: The Animated Series" and "Batman Beyond," writer/producer Paul Dini. The animation giant wrote the pilot episode and remains involved in the series as a consultant.
"Paul is a huge comic book fan and a Marvel fan. All the work he had done previous to this had been done for, as we like to say, the 'other team' and just no one had ever asked [Dini to work on a marvel series]," Loeb said. "It was just one of those opportunities where I --"
"Traded up!" interrupted Quesada with a laugh.
This brought up the subject of DC Entertainment, "the other team." While "Ultimate Spider-Man" and the second season of "Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes" -- Disney XD's Marvel Universe block -- premieres in April, DC Entertainment has already debuted it's own block of superhero programming, DC Nation on Cartoon Network. However, Levine doesn't feel the two will be competing over the same viewers.
"When we set about creating the Marvel Universe block, we worked really closely with our Marvel collegues to create a block that was going to work for the Disney XD audience and our target demo of kids, six to fourteen, and took great effort to create short form content and packaging to invite viewers in," Levine explained. "That was our primary goal.
"Having Marvel on our platform is very important, as we are going to be a great way for the Walt Disney Company to bring Marvel as a brand and the Marvel characters to the kids demo," Levine continued. "We're going to be the place, week-in, week-outm where boys can experience Spider-Man, can experience the Marvel brand, can experience the Marvel Universe."
Besides "Ultimate Spider-Man" and "Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes," Disney is rounding out its Marvel programming block with a series of short form programs: "Fury Files," an animated segment which features different Marvel characters and art styles, and "Marvel Mash-Up," which repurposes old footage of Marvel television shows, in addition to three more short-form, live-action segments hosted by Radio Disney's Morgan Tompkins. "Animated Reality" and "What Would It Take" will show, respectively, stunt men and scientists/tech geeks demonstrating moves and gadgets used by the Marvel heroes, while in "Master Class," Quesada takes viewers behind the scenes at Marvel Comics.
Of course, this is all part of Marvel's true animation strategy: "To topple the world!" Loeb said as Quesada laughed.
In reality, the two stated that Marvel was committed to establishing a presence on Disney XD and looked forward to "Ultimate Spider-Man" and the Marvel block.
"Really the most important thing for us right now is to...get the message out there that, if you're looking for new stories that involve the Marvel characters and Marvel superheroes, the place to find them is on Disney XD," Loeb said.
"And," Quesada added with a smile, "the purest Marvel stuff, straight from the tap!"
"Ultimate Spider-Man" premieres April 1 at 11AM ET/PT on Disney XD.