From its announcement last year, Marvel Studios has been promising something different from its incoming "Ultimate Spider-Man" animated series, which debuts this Sunday morning at 11:00 AM ET/PT on Disney XD. From a story hook that sees Spidey and a group of teen heroes from Nova to Iron Fist joining the ranks of S.H.I.E.L.D. to the inclusion of comic creators like Paul Dini and Brian Michael Bendis on the show's creative staff, a lot has gone into making the series stand apart from previous Spider-Man cartoons.
But at the core of the changes and challenges of "Ultimate Spider-Man" stand a group equally familiar to comic readers and cartoon watchers: the Man of Action collective. Made up of four comic creators known for their superhero work and creator owned titles, Man of Action are already responsible for Cartoon Network's hugely popular "Ben 10" and "Generator Rex" series, and the quartet serves as story editors overviewing every script for "Ultimate Spider-Man."
To give readers one more glimpse inside the show before this Sunday's premier, CBR News spoke with Man of Action's Joe Casey and Duncan Rouleau (and expect video with fellow members Joe Kelly and Steven T. Seagle later this week) about their connection to Spider-Man, the role S.H.I.E.L.D. will play in the lives of Peter Parker and his young fans, the visual dynamics and humor of the series and their experience making kids cartoons.
CBR News: Both of you guys have been working in comics a good long time, and you've been working in animation for quite a while now too. But in all that time, I don't recall either of you working on Spider-Man for any significant time. What was your first response to taking on the character? Did you have an itch to scratch on Peter Parker in any way?
Joe Casey: If you're a Marvel Comics fan -- as we all are from when we were kids -- it's practically a given that Spider-Man is in your DNA. You don't have to necessarily work on the character to understand what he's all about. He's just one of those iconic, primal characters -- so jumping onto the show didn't take a lot of forethought. We all know Spider-Man and we instantly had our take on him.
Duncan Rouleau: Yeah, I was offered a chance to do Spider-Man early in my career and for a number of reasons, I couldn't take it. A part of me really regretted not taking that opportunity, so when this one sprang up, I didn't want to miss out. Spidey is one of those iconic characters that if you're a Marvel fan you've probably done a lot of thinking about. I know I did.
For this show in particular, we've been getting a lot of hints and teases as what makes it different from Spider-Man shows in the past. As you guys were developing the series, what were the core concepts you wanted to push to the front of the show to help mark it off as different than what we've seen before?
Casey: We wanted to push things, to show things that you never see in superhero shows. One of the most important concepts -- one that really sets the tone for the entire series -- is that we get into Spidey's head a lot. We see things from his point of view, and believe me, Spidey sees things in a very unique way. Related to that, Spidey breaks the Fourth Wall quite a bit, talking directly to the audience and sharing jokes with them that the other characters aren't privy to.
Rouleau: We wanted to use some of the things that are typical in an animation setting and apply it through a comic book logic. Mostly storytelling devices, like the use of cutaways, squash and bend dynamics and breaking the fourth wall with internal narratives. A bunch of fancy words for goofing around. We think we've hit a balance between of humor and genuine drama that the best Spider-Man comics have.
So let's look at some of the elements we know will be a part of the show, starting with S.H.I.E.L.D. Obviously, that particular piece of the Marvel U has become really well known amongst the kids who have seen movies like "Iron Man" and "Iron Man 2." What kind of aspects of the Marvel spy organization became most important while making Peter a part of that world in the show? Is there something that you think really stands out that will have the kids wearing eye-patches come Halloween?
Casey: S.H.I.E.L.D. tends to watchdog a lot of the superhero activity in the Marvel Universe, so we used that as a jumping off point. And the Spidey-Nick Fury relationship is something that we explore in a way that the comics never have. Their interaction is a really fun aspect of the show.
Rouleau: S.H.I.E.L.D. facilitates many of the adventures in ways that you don't normally see a solo Spidey involved in. It's an opportunity to open up the Marvel U to Spidey mythology in a way we haven't seen in either the shows or the comics. Not mention the fact that Nick Fury is a no nonsense straight shoot'n spy master and Spidey is...well, Spidey. It will make for a lot of interesting exchanges between the two.
Of course, you're also expanding the cast of Spider-Man's world in a big way with some of the younger stars of the Marvel U. Who did each of you gravitate towards as that cast was developing? Any of those young superheroes making a splash in a way that you think might be unexpected for viewers?
Casey: As Man of Action, we're used to maintaining the focus on the main character even though they exist in a bigger universe. We created a world for BEN 10 that's massive in scope, but we've always kept the focus on Ben as much as possible. Same thing here. We've definitely got a great supporting cast, not to mention a slew of upcoming guest stars... but with each episode, we make sure that Spidey is the center of it all.
Rouleau: All the supporting characters are awesome, and some of them would readily agree, but Spidey will always be in the center ring. We are catching him early in his crime fighting career so his learning curve is where most of the drama/humor is going to come from -- including those he is forced to work with.
Man of Action is just a part (albeit an integral part) of the "Ultimate Spider-Man" creative team. You guys have had a lot of input at the planning stage from animated vets like Paul Dini and Jeph Loeb, and of course, you've had the voice of the longest running teen Spider-Man writer ever with Brian Bendis. What kind of input did having that team who've been involved with Spidey both in print and on TV do to change the tone and voice of this show overall?
Casey: Making television is an incredibly collaborative effort. Everyone involved in this show are committed to doing the best Spider-Man show you've ever seen. Pretty simple, really. The writers' room on this show is definitely not for pussies.
Rouleau: Word. There are a lot of ideas being flung around and a lot of lively discussions on how best to tell the stories. The whole process from conceiving the plots to working with the fantastic voice talent to constructing the animation -- so many great ideas are brought into the mix. Man of Action is used to this collaborative style with our experience doing Ben 10 and Generator Rex. It's fun and the show, I think, exemplifies that.
These days, animated series run with much more involved arcs over the course of a season than they ever had in the past. You've had experience building big mysteries and ideas across the arc of a show with things like "Ben 10" and "Generator Rex." What kinds of long term journey have you been working to make a part of Peter's story in this show? How have the Man of Action team in particular been working on those big ideas at the script phase?
Casey: It's very similar to the best superhero comics -- each issue should be satisfying in its own right, even as it fits into a larger continuity. Same thing here. We're got long range goals for the show, threads that will play out over time. But every episode will give you the proper bang for your buck.
Rouleau: Story and epic plot themes have their place, but essentially we felt it was much more important to rediscover Spider-Man from the comics and put him in the show. We center in on why we all love the character so much: his optimism, his humor, his deep seated need to do the right thing, and push those aspects to the limit. Spidey will be working on a larger stage than he has in other Spider-Man shows but we didn't want to sacrifice his core elements for sheer spectacle.
On the other side of the coin, this show is visually quite different than we've seen in a Spidey cartoon before, which I know has been one of Loeb's big selling points for the series. How has the kind of action inherent in this series impacted what you guys are doing at the writing level?
Rouleau: There are several really cool storytelling devices we use in the show besides the expected balls to the wall action. There will be Spidey's fourth wall breaks to the audience and his internal fantasy cutaways. Each one of these elements utilizes different animation styles and unique graphics. This is going to give the show a very different visual voice than any other Spider-Man show before it.
On the whole, what aspect of "Ultimate Spider-Man" are you most proud of, and what do you think people coming to this character both old and new will take away above all else?
Casey: This is a lot like a classic Marvel trope, "Welcome to Ultimate Spider-Man, MOA... hope you survive the experience!" Well, not only have we survived, we're kicking ass on this show. It's turned out to be something we as a company are really proud of. Even though we're known -- in the animation space -- as the creators of "Ben 10" and we've got tons of creator owned books coming out of Image Comics under the MOA bullet, if we were gonna do a work-for-hire gig, it had to be big. And it doesn't get much bigger than Spider-Man.
Rouleau: Just as I think we redefined the superhero genre in animation "Generator Rex" and "Ben 10" ( arguably the most successful new superhero in the past decade) we are doing it for one of the most iconic heroes all time, Spider-Man, simply by being true to his original spirit. I am really proud of working with the Marvel team and helping craft a Spider-Man that is both timeless and timely.
Of course, you guys have more going on than just this one show. What can you say about your upcoming comics projects through this summer and the rest of 2012?
Casey: I've got a lot of cool, creator-owned shit coming out of Image Comics, most notably "Butcher Baker, The Righteous Maker" and the final issues of "GØDLAND." Later in the summer, the new hardcover edition of "The Milkman Murders" will hit. And that's just the stuff I can talk about. There's a lot more that'll be announced as '12 rolls on. I'm also settling into what I hope is a long term stint writing "Haunt," also for Image, with Nathan Fox drawing the hell out of it.
Rouleau: On the MOA front we are working on several other animated shows that we cannot talk about - just yet - but be assured CBR will be one of the first find out about them [Note: Since this interview was conducted news of three new Man of Action projects hit, and Spinoff Online has the details]. I am finally finishing up the much anticipated last two issues of "The Great Unknown," putting out a colored hardback edition of my graphic novel "The Nightmarist," and writing a new book with the great artist Shawn McManus which we will announce further details on later this year.
Stay tuned to CBR for more from "Ultimate Spider-Man" creators Joe Kelly and Steven T. Seagle.