Marvel's "Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H." is set to debut Sunday, August 11 on Disney XD as the latest addition to the network's Marvel Universe programming block. While the show's target audience definitely skews to a younger generation, there's still a lot for longtime Hulk fans to enjoy -- namely, a super-team of Hulks (Hulk, Red Hulk, She-Hulk, A-Bomb and Skaar) smashing their way through the Marvel Universe in a new take on what makes the Hulk a great hero.
In order to shed more light on the series, Marvel ran a special press conference call with "Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H." star Fred Tatasciore, supervising producer Henry Gilroy, Creative Consultant Paul Dini and Marvel Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada about bringing the Hulk to a new generation and putting a fresh spin on one of Marvel's staple characters.
After moderator James Viscardi (Marvel Associate Manager, Sales & Communications) introduced the guests, the call kicked off with a quick description of the show's mission statement.
"The show is a 1/2 hour action comedy revolving around the Hulk," said Dini. "It concerns his efforts -- reluctantly at first -- to show the world he's not a rampaging monster. The Hulk tends to stick to himself, but these days as he has more friends and allies -- a lot of whom share his powers -- want to prove to the world that Hulks can be heroes, too." The Jade Giant becomes the reluctant leader of a team of Hulks, and takes on a mission to put a positive face on his team. "This is the Hulk taking a few steps to cleaning up his image and coming out more as a hero."
Rick Jones, AKA A-bomb, is documenting Hulk's adventures in the form of a web series, which has allowed the show to do confessional-style shots for the cast to say how they feel directly to the audience.
"It's following the adventures of the Hulk, this family that would be loners in every other context," said Gilroy.
"That's the most important element. These guys and girl are a family," said Dini. "We're hoping that kids see themselves in that family dynamic." Everything from conflict and feuds to getting along is "played up in a funny way."
In his tenure with Marvel, Quesada has seen many different incarnations of the Hulk, and that a lot of the appeal of the Hulk has a lot to do with the work that Jeph Loeb and Greg Pak did with the character, according to the CCO. "Jeph and all the guys driving the Hulk, Ed McGuinness, just came in and had this wonderful concept for building a Hulk universe," said Quesada. "We took that idea and amplified it for this show. Characters like Red Hulk and A-Bomb and Skaar are such stand-outs that it really makes for a wonderful show."
Dini, no stranger to animated shows, said "Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H." was attractive not just because of the art style, but because superhero animated series have undergone "a quantum leap" in recent years. "Now, especially with this show, we can really cut loose and really make the Hulk dramatic and strong and powerful. The smashing element of the show where we put them up against bigger and bigger enemies, is a great element," he said. "The animation is amazing and the action is heightened. We can really rip loose and use every element of his power. The Hulk is a great character for that."
The voice cast, assembled by Gilroy, is headlined by Fred Tatasciore, who has voiced the Hulk in multiple projects. "He brings a quiet strength to our version of Hulk," said Gilroy. "He always has the potential to go into the rage monster. While he does have some of Banner's intelligence, he's not super articulate or science-y. … He really cares about the Hulks and takes care of them. He is a hero. Even though he's seen as a monster, he's trying to shake that."
Clancy Brown's Red Hulk is the "jerky brother" of the cast. Brown has previously voiced Lex Luthor in DC animated projects and brings a "gravelly voice, smart-alec, egocentric" voice to the character, despite it being the exact opposite of who the actor is in real life. Seth Green takes on A-Bomb, and "ad-libs lines all the time and brings humor to every situation." "Having Seth Green's Rick Jones bring the humor is really great."
Actress Eliza Dushku brings a "feisty, kick-ass-ness" to the character. "I don't want to say she's the sister of the group, but she's one of the boys, so to speak," said Gilroy. "Eliza has that feisty attitude as well."
Ben Diskin, who plays Skaar also has that attitude, as well. "He's the newest of the Hulks, he's taken in by them," said Dini. "He's young, he's crude, but at the same time, he's kind of broken. They take him in because they want to know where his loyalties lie. Skaar's kind of a challenge because he's a caveman with strength thrust into a modern society. Some of the comedy comes with Skaar trying to fit in. He's not really a fast learner, though he does try hard. Ben brings a lot to it."
Tatasciore said he was "honored" to play the Hulk. "It's been incredible because I've gotten to ride this character's evolution through different shows," said Tatasciore. "In this evolution here, he's moved out -- we started out with a savage Hulk monster, going to a lone-wolf, maybe joining a team reluctantly, then in the 'Avengers' series, joining a team and enjoying being a part of the team and then having a family and fusing his mind a little bit with Banner. Because his real quest is to find peace."
The actor emphasized that the Hulk in "Agents of S.M.A.S.H." is a new evolution of the character, and the show -- like "Avengers Assemble" -- has an element of humor to it. "What's it like? It's really fun!" said Tatasciore of the experience. "It's so great to work off of people like Ben and Clancy and Eliza. It just ups our game as actors."
There are a lot of villains and characters in the series that fans might not expect -- including Devil Dinosaur.
"The challenge with the Hulk is to throw the biggest villains we can at him. The Agents of S.M.A.S.H. are the most powerful team in the Marvel Universe in terms of sheer muscle," said Dini. "They're going to need big, world-shaking threats. In some cases -- Ego, the Living Planet -- an entire world. We realized early on that the bigger, the better. … The more action and the more power we could throw at the Hulks, the more they'd be tested and earn the victory as heroes. We're constantly thinking of bigger, more exciting villains to throw at them -- we've got Galactus, Doctor Doom, all the Marvel greats showing up to challenge them. We have the whole world of the Inhumans going after them. These are the guys that nobody else can handle other than the Hulks. One of the great villains we have showing up is Sauron from the Savage Land. He can syphon the powers out of another hero and use them himself. He can also harness the powers of dinosaurs. … At one point, the Hulks break a big, red Tyrannosaurus out and that is Devil Dinosaur. It just seemed like the natural thing to do. What better pet for five Hulks than a Tyrannosaurus rex?"
Dini said the Dinosaur has evolved into his own character and "matches or surpasses some of the Hulks as far as his intelligence goes." "He does sort of rub Red the wrong way at first," said Dini. "He's not used to a pet in the house."
The faux-documentary concept came about as a result of a desire to show the ongoing quest for the Hulk to become a hero -- something that Dini and Loeb discussed as a "reality show" format. "Kids, especially our young audience, have grown up with it," said Dini. "A lot of them will watch some of the reality-based shows. What better way for the Hulk to do this than to talk about it occasionally with the audience? It gives us the luxury to cut very quickly to different locations and really make the audience feel like they're a part of the show. It's not the traditional linear way of action-adventure storytelling. It's been a lot of fun."
"It allows us to actually do something that comics do really well, and that's to have a thought balloon," said Gilroy. "Something I loved in comics is we could get into the character's head and see what they're thinking. I think those moments are really reminiscent and bring the comic book storytelling sensibility alive in the series."
Quesada spoke briefly about the importance of having a unified feel to all Marvel Television's animated shows. "I think it's something that's very, very important to us. I always like to refer to things more as a consistency than continuity," he said. "You're very, very aware that it is a Marvel show. This is something that when we first started out with Marvel Studios that when you went to a Marvel movie, you got a very unique and clear sense that what you're seeing is a Marvel movie. It's the same with our animated shows. It's something that started a very long time ago when Stan and Jack created this thing called Marvel and started a house sensibility."
While the members of the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. are a team, it's a team full of distinct personalities. "That allows for a lot of fun, when these different personalities rub against one another and sparks fly," said Dini. "They really are a contentious, grumbly family. It's a dynamic that a lot of viewers will recognize themselves in. … They all have these very distinct personalities and overcoming their contentious nature as a lot of the fun. It does sometimes impede their ability to work effectively as a team."
"Each wants something different out of the family dynamic," said Quesada. "They're tied by the fact that they can smash."
However, everybody also brings a different skill set that they bring to the table. While Hulk is the core smasher, Red Hulk brings his tactical sensibility and weaponry, She-Hulk is a more agile and lithe, Skaar has a sword and A-Bomb has a cloaking ability.
According to Dini, animation series have become a lot faster. "The language of animation storytelling has changed," said Dini. "The storytelling is very fast. I think animated shows over the last 20 years -- when you look back at action-adventure shows -- they've become a little slower. Our goal with ['Agents of S.M.A.S.H.'] was to move things along a little faster." To accomplish this, the show uses quick cuts, getting into the Hulk's head a la "Ultimate Spider-Man" and "it's all become a part of the language of animated storytelling."
"The bar in animation storytelling was raised a long time ago," said Quesada. "It's interesting that Paul was so instrumental in it, and we sit around in our writer's room saying, 'How can we make stories as good as that Paul Dini guy did?'"
One of the characters that will challenge the Hulks is unsurprisingly the Leader. "The Leader has evolved from a stock baddie to a really good counterpart to the Hulk. He's very brainy and he lacks as far as physical strength, but one of the things about writing a character that is really evil, but really smart, is he really gets into their heads. There's a lot to be said about brains over brawn. It's brain over brawn in a bad way and that makes the dynamic of the show very challenging for our heroes."
Tatasciore discussed his favorite line he got to say as the Hulk -- other than "Hulk Smash!" "I just like it when I get to say something scientific!" Tatasciore said. "It's sort of more when he gets quietly uncomfortable with some things and you have to go inward. I like playing that note, almost like Lurch. It's more of a tone that's fun, when I get to play nuances when he gets awkward. I think we have him in a tuxedo at some point."
"There's a great scene when they're in a small diner and a little girl comes up and Hulk just holds up a menu to his face," said Dini, referencing a time when Tatasciore gave a nuanced performance.
Dini also spoke briefly on Seth Green's ability to ad-lib. "I'd say nobody knows more about comic book characters than Seth Green with very few exceptions," said Dini. "When he brings that knowledge in and says it into the microphone, we just hit record."
As viewers head into premiere weekend, Quesada said they'll have the opportunity to see the team come together. "That is absolutely one of the most fun parts about the pilot."
"When we first came up with the introduction of the Hulk, Joe said, 'How about he's just in this underground bunker and sitting in the dark and that's where he wants to be?'" said Dini. "Even the Hulk can play the part of reluctant hero, as he does in this before he's prompted into action by Rick."
"The great thing about the series is that there are going to be evolutions to the characters and their relationships," said Gilroy. "We're going to see their relationships grow."
"Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H." debuts Sunday, August 11th on Disney XD.