The animated action-adventure series Marvel’s Avengers Assemble tells the story of the world’s most well-known superhero team – Iron Man (Adrian Pasdar), Hulk (Fred Tatasciore), Captain America (Roger Craig Smith), Thor (Travis Willingham), Hawkeye (Troy Baker) and Black Widow (Laura Bailey) – as they unite to battle super-villains that no single hero could conquer. Training and living together in their new headquarters, Avengers Tower, the heroes must overcome their differences and learn to work together to defend the planet, while also training their newest and youngest recruit, Falcon (Bumper Robinson).
During this recent interview to promote the show’s premiere on Disney XD, executive producer Jeph Loeb (who is Head of Television for Marvel) and writer/co-executive producer Steven T. Seagle (who co-founded Man of Action Studios) talked about how this show came about and came together, the challenges of doing an animated series of this size and scope, how much they draw from the Marvel universe when writing scripts, why they decided to add Falcon to The Avengers team, that other characters from the Marvel universe will slip in as the series goes along, how the voice cast informs and shapes the stories they tell, and whether Stan Lee will have any involvement with this show. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
How did this show come about and come together?
JEPH LOEB: This is, in fact, the biggest show that Marvel television has ever taken on, in the animation world. We had a real challenge that was posed to us, and that was this little, tiny art-house movie that came out last year, that I don’t know if you saw, called Marvel’s The Avengers, written and directed by our friend Joss Whedon, and it really set the template. It really showed that you can do a major motion picture, from the folks at Marvel, that has multiple characters on an epic scale. On top of that, it also showed us that one of the most important elements is a certain kind of levity. It’s the interaction between those characters that really makes that movie as special as it is, and I’m proud to say, as you probably know, it was the highest grossing film of 2012, it’s the highest grossing film that Walt Disney has ever put out, and it’s the third highest grossing film ever, in the world. So, when they asked us to do an Avengers television series, it was not a small feat for us. It was something that we really had to dig into and figure out.
For those of us at Marvel Television, it always begins with the story. It’s all about the script. It’s making sure it’s there, on the page. So, we needed to go to a group of individuals who have not only created some of the most memorable animated characters, like Ben 10 and Generator Rex, but also had done two seasons of our very successful Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man series, and that’s the Man of Action guys. But, it wasn’t just that. After that, our next big step was coming up with a voice cast that can bring the fun, the excitement and the epic adventure and, at the same time, make it their own. Not only do we have the handsomest voice cast out there, along with the very lovely Black Widow, we also have an incredible voice cast, in terms of being able to handle the drama, the fun, the excitement and the promise that Marvel brings to every single one of our projects, which is epic adventure on the human spirit.
One of the challenges of this show was also wanting to have a great-looking show. For those of you that have been following Ultimate Spider-Man, you know how we took that show and brought it to the next level of what Marvel Television is doing. And Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. was the next level of what we wanted to get to. We knew that, in doing something that’s based around the world of the movie and how popular that is, we really wanted to do the biggest show that we’ve ever done, in terms of the look of the show. I want to give credit where credit is due to Eric Radomski, who is the head of our production for Marvel Animation and who also happened to direct the pilot as well, has been the supervising producer on the show and has really been just looking at every single way that we can just plus up. This is a great-looking show.
How much do you draw from the Marvel universe when you’re writing these scripts, and how much do you have to stay away from that, for people who might not know it?
STEVEN T. SEAGLE: We have a great writers’ room. We have Mr. Loeb, on a regular basis. We have the four of us at Man of Action (which also includes Duncan Rouleau, Joe Casey and Joe Kelly). We have Cort Lane, who’s also a producer on this show. We have Joe Quesada, whose DNA is inextricably linked with all things Marvel. We all grew up reading and loving these characters, so it’s a delight to try to figure out what to do with them. How do you top the movie? You don’t, until Joss [Whedon] makes Pt. 2. Our goal is actually just to make sure that we tell great stories. We have great actors. We know how the characters sound, and we know what they’re up against. It’s about keeping the DNA of The Avengers from the comics that we loved, and creating something new with the idea of the movie, as well. Week to week, we give Hulk something to Smash, we give Iron Man something to lead, i.e. The Avengers, which is a new role for him, we keep Falcon wide-eyed but able to kick as much butt as the rest of them, and we make sure that Black Widow does, in fact, put them all in their place, from time to time. It’s a challenge, but it’s a fun challenge. We owe it all to a great writers’ room.
LOEB: While we do have 50 years of terrific Avengers stories, many of which our writing staff has written, along the way, this has to live in its own world. The Marvel cinematic universe and the Marvel animation universe are things that are very true, in terms of the DNA of what it is. But if, at the end of the day, all we’re doing is telling stories that have appeared in the comic books already, then we’re not really challenging anybody. We have a whole other division, where we actually literally take the comic book and animate it. Our feeling was that, if this was going to be our show and that it was going to be a brand new show, it has to be more adventures with these characters, in the same way that, through the years, there have been long runs on the comic book series. It’s the same characters, with different voices, along the way. When we approached the Man of Action guys, we said, “We’re not really interested in what’s come before, except in the way that we want to make sure that it feels like it’s Marvel’s Avengers Assemble. From that point on, this is your cast. Go to it and tell great stories.”
Why did you decide to add Falcon to The Avengers team?
LOEB: When we first sat down and talked about how much of the show we were going to do based on the movie, there are certainly things you can see right away, but we wanted to make sure that the audience who maybe never saw the movie or has maybe never seen any of the Marvel characters before – and I know there’s three of them left on the planet – could have someone that could be their eyes and take them in. We talked to the Man of Action guys, and started talking about the creation of using the Falcon as our entry point. He’s our gateway character.
LOEB: In terms of whether or not you’ll see other heroes along the way, you absolutely will. But, one of the things that makes our Avengers show unique is that this is our cast. We want to be able to focus on this group, much like they did in the movie. We want to be able to let the audience get to know these folks. One of the things about The Avengers, over the last 50 years, is the fun of changing up the gang and bringing in new characters. But, at the end of the day, we want to have a show where we can focus on these individuals and their relationships with each other. That’s really what the show is about.
What’s it like to get this voice cast together and have them play off of each other?
LOEB: One of the things that makes this show unique, in terms of an experience, is that when you do a show that has a large cast, scheduling is a very difficult thing. Again, I want to give credit where credit is due to our voice director, Collette Sunderman, who is someone that works out an incredible juggling act. I refer to it as juggling cats with vertigo, and the cats don’t have vertigo, but the juggler has vertigo. There were radio shows where you actually got to hear people play off of each other and get that immediate magic that goes on. And rather than doing what a lot of shows do, where an individual comes in, reads their part, and you edit it together later on and try to build a performance, we’re lucky because this is really very much a theatrical performance that is going on, every single week. We think that helps bring it up to a place where our storyboard writers then get the opportunity to be able to take that energy and really bring it to the show. I credit that entirely to our cast.
Once you hear the cast voice their characters, how does that inform what you do, with future scripts?
SEAGLE: It absolutely affects the way you write dialogue. They are great voice actors, in their own right. With the first episode, we went back and did a lot of retooling, once we heard the voices. After that, it’s inspirational. We loved the dynamic between Black Widow and Hawkeye, so one of the first things we said was, “We’ve gotta get those two on a mission by themselves because we want to hear more of that. We want to hear what that sounds like, with them in the field.” So, the performances really help inspire us to write jokes a certain way, write dialogue a certain way, and see certain characters in certain groupings.
LOEB: What we found, particularly after the pilot, was that putting Adrian Pasdar’s Iron Man, who is not without his own ego, with anybody one-on-one was great. It was a lot of fun matching him with Captain America because Roger [Craig Smith] plays it so stoically, or with Fred Tatasciore’s Hulk. Iron Man is like, “This is the way it’s going to be,” and then you have the Hulk where you’re like, “Wait, come back! We let the dog out without the leash.” It just continues, all the way down the line. Whether it’s Iron Man and Falcon, Hawkeye and the Hulk, or Thor and the Hulk, all of those things come together in a way that we’re able to say, “Okay, what’s the most interesting pairing that we can get out of this.” We did an episode with Dracula where Black Widow turned out to be the real bad-ass of that story. That was really just from looking at the way Laura [Bailey] was handling the character. We also want to challenge these actors in ways that are unexpected. When they get a script, they really have no idea where we’re going.
Is Agent Coulson alive, in the world of this show?
LOEB: If you check out Ultimate Spider-Man, you can see Clark Gregg playing Agent Phil Coulson, every single time.
Does Stan Lee have any involvement with this show
LOEB: We like to have Stan come by. He’s our good luck charm. At 90 years old, he’s welcome to come by, at any time. There’s always a way for us to work Stan into what we’re doing.
Marvel’s Avengers Assemble airs on Sunday nights on Disney XD.