Marvel's "The Avengers" may have conquered the box office last year, but the company is hoping to expand the brand's dominance to TV this year in a few ways including the incoming debut of "Marvel's Avengers Assemble" on the DisneyXD cable channel. The series takes a tone closer to the blockbuster movie than the recent "Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes" cartoon and premieres Sunday July 7.
To get the word out, Marvel's Manager of Sales & Communications James Viscardi hosted a press call with CCO and Executive Producer Joe Quesada, Executive Producer Cort Lane and Joe Kelly, part of Man of Action Studios' Executive Producing/writing team on the series.
Quesada started things out by talking about that connection between the Avengers film and this new show. "We took our inspiration from the wonderful work of the comics of the past and the movie of Joss Whedon and Marvel Studios," he said, adding that they wanted to bring the "flavor of the movie in the context of our animated world."
The CCO went on to talk about the new member of the team in the Falcon. "We wanted to bring in a new character who would, in essence, be the eyes and ears of the audience." As a younger, newer hero, Falcon's story will be about what it's like to be invited to work with the world's biggest heroes. "It also helps that we'll be seeing him in the cinematic universe as well, but primarily our focus was to give viewers the character that is their 'in' to the universe."
Kelly spoke to the full Marvel Universe feel of the show. "These are big stories with big villains, and [the cast] all have their own well developed back stories," he said, adding that the start of the season will focus on the main cast and understanding their place in the Marvel Animated Universe while guest stars will work in as the series goes along.
"The interaction between our characters is so interesting and the dynamics are so funny and create conflicts, so that's important to explore," Lane added.
The core villains of the show will be "The Cabal" – a team led by the Red Skull and MODOK and inspired by the organization from the comics. "Having a character like Dracula in the Cabal is very interesting," Lane said, noting that many of the characters in the villain team have armies of villains at their command. "These are immensely powerful villains in their own right," Quesada said, noting the goal was for each villain to represent a different part of the Marvel Universe.
Kelly said that not every villain approached to join The Cabal accepts membership as Red Skull works over the season to build a team comparable to the Avengers, but it mostly goes to show what it unique about the Avengers team. "I think it's going to be a different dynamic than a 'Villain of the Week' kind of show. We worked really hard to avoid that," he said.
Lane talked about the place the series holds in the run of self-produced animated series Marvel has produced over the past five years. "We understood that we had to raise the stakes and raise the sophistication in terms of production and creative," Lane said. "We love all our shows, but we made sure 'Avengers Assemble' was something really special...the show has a cinematic feel. It's very big."
Asked what their favorite moments from the show so far have been, Quesada went straight to the answer of "cookies" which was funny to the creative staff, but a mystery as of yet to the audience. Lane said as a longtime Hawkeye fan, he was excited for the archer's snarky relationship with Avengers leadership including Captain America to be played up in a big way on the show. Kelly echoed that sentiment saying he liked the team's banter. "When a zinger comes from Thor trying to do humor and failing, that's great," he said adding that the show's version of the Red Skull is very imposing and drops a huge moment at the very start of the series. "He really goes to the next level in a really hardcore way right away in the series, and that has thematic resonance for the whole season."
When it came to press questions, the difference between this series and "Earth's Mightiest Heroes" came up with Quesada saying that the Marvel animation department is working to make a style of its own which is different than the stylized look of the previous show. This series will draw visual inspiration from the current Marvel comics while also feeling as though it comes from the same world as Marvel's current "Ultimate Spider-Man" cartoon. "Storywise, one of the most significant changes is that 'Earth's Mightiest Heroes' had cliffhangers and longer complicated story arcs," he said, explaining that "Assemble" will have solo episodes that also work up to one giant story by the end of the season. He cited the age old dictum that every comic is someone's first, and in the show they wanted to make worked in a similar manner for TV audiences.
"We never wanted to disregard any of the "Earth's Mightiest Heroes" work," Kelly said. "This doesn't come off as a reboot...these characters definitely have a history...we wanted to create the sense that a little time has passed, and you're just picking it up."
With the cast dynamics, Kelly compared the team to a group of brothers and a sister who work well together but have plenty of close personality conflicts. "Hulk and Thor have a fantastic rivalry which, for me, was inspired by watching them in the film."
The executives were asked about synergy between the show and upcoming Marvel films like "Guardians of the Galaxy," and Quesada said that's always a goal at Marvel today. "That's a big part of my job...to make sure we're all talking to each other and we know what's coming down the pike. You'll see things that will not just be reflected in the Avengers Universe but at Marvel as a whole." He specifically said that they're working to reflect the initiatives of the comics publishing line in the show over the next several years.
Kelly said that in terms of what the show will do in animation that can't be done in film, "These are quick, fast rides. They're thrill rides, and we keep them bouncy...with breadcrumbs that lead to a bigger story. That kind of storytelling is a lot of fun. It's not easier by a long shot. You'd be surprised how hard it is to tell shorter stories sometimes." Lane said the benefits included telling more story than you can tell in one film and telling stories faster than monthly publishing allows.
Comparing this series to the hit "Ultimate Spider-Man," Kelly said that the comedy of the series taught lessons on how the team could make an action show that was still funny. He noted that "Assemble" won't be as funny as "Ultimate," but there will be character humor worked in amidst the action of this series.
Quesada compared the modern state of animation to the comic books a decade ago saying that the show had to work for new fans rather than diehards while also respecting the legacy of the past. "With longtime fans, there was one thing that got them into Marvel in the first place, and I guarantee that that one thing was done by people in our place right now, looking for a way to open these characters up for new readers," he said. "There are also touchstones to current and past stories...they'll be different, but [longtime fans] will get the joke of 'I remember when that happened in the comic book.'...Ultimately, we have to make sure these shows are appealing to new, younger viewers."
Lastly, ties between "Avengers Assemble" and other shows in DisneyXD's Marvel Universe block. Quesada said, "I think it's fair to say that when we write and create these series, they exist in the same universe, but going back to an earlier question, we want to make sure these shows are inclusive...the roundabout answer to the question is that to us this all exists in the same universe." Lane promised that there will be guest stars crossing over between this show, "Ultimate Spider-Man" and the incoming "Hulk Agents of SMASH."
"Marvel's Avengers Assemble" debuts on Sunday, July 7 on DisenyXD. A sneak preview of the pilot is available for free now on iTunes.