When comic fans close their eyes and think of Wolverine, they might picture any number of depictions by Marvel Comics artists from Frank Miller to John Romita, Jr. to Marc Silvestri. But if they close their eyes and think of Wolvie's voice, it's a good bet they're hearing Steve Blum.
The longtime voice actor has been making his way through various levels of geek favorite series in both anime and American animation for years, and aside from maybe his most iconic role as Spike on "Cowboy Bebop," Wolverine has been a cornerstone of his voice acting work. Blum has voiced the man called Logan in over a dozen series, movies and video games including "Wolverine & The X-Men," "The Super Hero Squad Show," the "Wolverine" anime and "Marvel Vs. Capcom 3."
Last week, Blum took Wolverine somewhere he'd never gone before -- into Spider-Man's body and vice versa. In the latest episode of Marvel and Disney XD's "Ultimate Spider-Man" series, the wall-crawler and the feral X-Man switched bodies in "Freaky" -- an episode written by "Ultimate Comics Spider-Man" scribe Brian Michael Bendis. CBR News spoke to Blum about the experience, and below the actor riffs on his own comic book past, his Wolvie career highlights, working alongside Bendis and what it was like to put Peter Parker in Wolverine's body.
CBR News: Steve, anyone who Googles you can see that you've got an extensive history of voice work, particularly in, but not limited to, anime. Can you give us a bit of your geek background? Was being a comics/cartoon/anime kid growing up something that drew you into this specific work?
Steve Blum: I'm sure my inner child-geek fueled (and continues to fuel) my love for the cartoon world! My grandfather owned a beautiful, three-level, rolling-wooden-ladder type historical book store (Cherokee Books) in Hollywood throughout most of my childhood. From age 12-14, I worked summers there in the comic book department. It was run by my uncle Burt, a long-haired, awesome Zen hippy dude who charged me with sorting massive piles of comics he would buy from customers and estate sales.
They kept a pretty close eye on me, so my comic reading had to happen at high speed, and with few exceptions, I wasn't allowed to take them home and was too poor to actually buy them, so I mostly absorbed the characters from the art I saw flying by. I originally thought I'd grow up to become an artist. My buddy, a guy named Mike Hagler and I created our own hand-drawn comic books out of scrap paper, broken pencils, tape and staples. Mike eventually became an amazingly talented graphic artist -- and still is! I ended up working ten or 15 other kinds of jobs before finally settling into voice work full time when I turned 40.
I never did develop my graphic artistic ability, but I suppose because I had to scan the pictures so quickly, my brain seemed to involuntarily create voices and sometimes full stories about the images as quickly as I saw them. To this day, when I see a comic or any character or creature, a voice emerges in my head. When I can translate that into a cartoon, it's almost a relief just to get that beast out! Wolverine was one of the loudest voices in there. His was probably the most natural expression of one of my "brain beasts" I can think of.
In recent years, it seems like you've been doing more and more work with American cartoons and video games, and your first time voicing Wolverine specifically was in the "X-Men Legends" video game. How did that gig come your way, and what was your initial impression of the character?
I auditioned through my agency as I would for any other gig. I never thought I'd book a character as iconic as Wolverine! I basically spit out the voice I'd been living with for him, and was lucky that the producers, developers and casting folks heard the same voice for their vision. It’s one of the most natural reads I'd ever done! It's funny though, Wolverine is also one of the most vocally stressful characters I've ever performed and I almost always experience pain after my sessions with him -- and not just the throat -- full upper body, even neck and facial pain. Especially when he’s fighting the Hulk (Fred Tatasciore) -- something about that chemistry causes me to go a little extra feral.
I eventually heal, but it seems that the pain is necessary to make him real. Worth the investment. Being a fan also, if I’m not willing to feel it, the audience won’t either.
Since then, you've voiced Logan throughout a wide variety of projects from the more serious anime shows that have debuted on G4 to the uber-fun "Super Hero Squad Show." Overall, what's the most important thing for you to keep in mind from performance to performance with the character? Do you have a personal Wolverine highlight from your resume?
"Super Hero Squad" was an anomaly in my Wolverine experience. I'm not sure that I've ever laughed as hard as I did during those sessions. The cast was ridiculously, sometimes relentlessly funny. The simple fact that Wolverine was actually allowed to say "snikt" made every moment a guilty pleasure. Wolverine is always grouchy, but "SHS" barely alluded to the inner turmoil that caused the nasty. I was fine with that. It was a liberating party of a show that introduced the Marvel universe to kids with profound love and respect for the continuity of every character -- but in a hilarious, family friendly way. The great Generalissimo himself -- Stan Lee -- approved and even joined the cast as the Mayor of Super Hero City! Working with him was a highlight in my LIFE, let alone my career. What a gentleman, and every bit the fun loving kid he seems to be. One of the most youthful spirits I’ve ever known.
Every incarnation’s been fun. As I mentioned, my scenes with Fred -- especially in “Hulk Vs.” were intense and felt pretty damn real. Allowed me to dig deep into the anger and draw some blood on screen.
Most recently, I was voicing Logan for a game in a “sound set” of fight efforts. He had gone berserker and I was in the middle of some angry, raging claw swipes. I get pretty physical in the booth and caught the edge of my steel music stand with the flesh between my fingers. The stand and my entire script went flying across the room and missed taking out a double glass door by about an inch. I didn’t even hurt myself and didn’t feel the weight of the stand (a pretty heavy one) in the heat of the battle. Kinda proud of that moment. Also glad I didn’t have to pay for that door.
Looking at last week's specific "Ultimate Spider-Man" episode, the series and ep both seem to split the difference between the more serious and lighthearted sides of the Marvel Universe. Coming in to play in that world, did you try and put on your "straight" Wolverine voice, or were there ways in which you were looking to mix it up?
My process isn’t to put on anything, but rather to offer what I hope is the manifestation of the writer’s intention and build from there. The “straight” Wolverine is always the foundation, and I’ve been doing him long enough that he’s there automatically to be called upon when he’s needed.
Voice actors are notorious for irreverence to the point of obnoxiousness in the booth, particularly at the most inappropriate times. It's one of the most enjoyable things about the job. It's refreshing when the hierarchy of classic comicdom has a sense of humor, and not only allows us to play, but encourages us to stretch the funny as far as BS&P permits.
I had a blast putting Spidey pants on Wolverine! Like I said, I always have the animal side ready, but it was fascinating to interpret that through a teenage head. The biggest challenge was figuring out which voice to use where in the script. With no visuals to work from, labeling of the mashed characters and understanding who was supposed to be speaking when was insane! I had a great time with Drake -- we fed each other our lines as our characters would do them, then translated them into the other character's body. It was fun and confusing and stupid funny. Once sorted, the delivery was all there in the writing. We just had to flesh it out. Kudos to Marvel for being willing to go there.
This episode was written by Brian Michael Bendis, who's a big deal to the comic fans out there. I know Marvel has been promoting the show with a video featuring both you and him. Did you get to interact with Brian at all during recording? What was your impression of what he brought to the script?
During the record itself, we generally interact only with our voice director, in this case, my dear friend Collette Sunderman, but Brian was there, and even though we couldn't hear what he was saying, it was his brilliance and history with Spiderman that made the episode possible. Collette translated his intention to us beautifully. Not an easy task. I just watched the episode last night and it's pretty amazing how much of the original flavor of the classic characters was preserved in the context of a ridiculous "Freaky Friday" universe. I read an article with Brian where he initially dreaded writing the role reversal stuff for the comic, but his creative mind wouldn’t let him NOT do it. I don’t know if that’s a form of genius OCD, but whatever caused that, I’m grateful for it. And how awesome is it that he was willing to do it again in this medium! I feel pretty darn lucky to be a part of it.
At the core of this episode, we get some fun switching of places between Spidey and Wolverine, meaning for half the episode you're actually playing Peter Parker. How tough was it to keep Logan's growl while trying to get across Peter's personality and tone?
Weird…and very difficult at times! When recording something as obviously slapstick as Super Hero Squad, the character is defined as a caricature -- a complete departure from the original. But in this context, as silly as we got, Wolverine still had to come across as a loose, smelly cannon with the potential to do some terrible damage if provoked. An interesting challenge! I relied on Drake pretty heavily for phrasing and nuance. Talented dude, and a lot of fun to work with.
Like I said, you've done Wolverine in TV shows, anime, games, silly cartoons and animated features. Moving forward, do you have an ideal kind of project you'd like to do with the character?
"Wolverine and the X-Men" was just getting its legs when we lost our funding. I would love to continue that story. We left a lot undone there. The passion behind that show was astonishing, starting at the very top with my friend Craig Kyle. He was the only production exec I’ve ever seen who actually came into the room with the actors and made us feel like it really was a life and death situation! And I mean that in a GREAT way! He’d sometimes scream the context for us till his veins were popping to make sure we understood the stakes. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and everybody involved with that show and I credit him for breathing life into the history of these characters for me. We were all heartbroken when it didn't get picked up for a second season. It's been years now, and fans still contact me about the show almost daily! There are even websites and petitions dedicated to bringing it back.
I'd also love to do a feature-length, high quality, theatrical animated version of something to do with the X-Men universe, but taking it to a deeper level. The Hulk vs. short was fun and adventurous and visceral in a way no X-Men cartoon ever dared. As a fan, it left me wanting more.
Until then, I’ll be ready to serve up some snikt any place, any time, Bub. Thanks for lettin’ me come play!
The "Ultimate Spider-Man" episode "Freaky" continues to air this week on Disney XD.