‘Marvel’s Spider-Man’ Showrunner Kevin Shinick Focuses on “Science and Relationships”

When Emmy-winning writer Kevin Shinick pitched his one-word idea to executives for Marvel’s Spider-Man, he knew he had their attention. The word: Science. It’s just as much a part of Peter Parker’s DNA as the radioactive spider bite that gifted him his powers in the series’ six-part origin story. And while Parker’s scientific genius and ingenuity has long been an integral part of his decades of comic book lore, it’s rarely explored earnestly in any of the superhero’s many adaptations. Marvel’s Spider-Man aims to rectify that with a bold new approach.

Ahead of the hour-long series premiere this Saturday, August 19th at 7:00 am, ET/PT on Disney XD (and on the Disney XD App and VOD), I had a chance to chat with Shinick about this latest Spidey series. It’s got a backbone in science, for sure, but like any good drama it also focuses on the relationships that Parker builds (and breaks) throughout the series. Most of that drama plays out in Horizon High, a magnate school for science geniuses that Shinick refers to as “Hogwarts for science.” Consider me hooked! (Some spoilers are ahead, so fair warning.)

Image via Kevin Shinick

Let’s face it: Spider-Man’s been adapted a lot, even in recent years. Here’s how Shinick aims to bring something worth watching to fans everywhere:

Kevin Shinick: A challenge for me is, Spider-Man is everywhere now. The movie [Spider-Man: Homecoming] just came out, we’re just coming off of a hit series, in the comics Peter is the CEO of Parker Industries. They’ve all been updated successfully. I want to update and make this new and fresh as well, but I also kind of missed something. I miss the angst that Peter Parker had during the Stan Lee / Steve Ditko era, so when I pitched this to Marvel, I said to them, “I’m a huge fan of Spider-Man but I’m an equally huge fan of Peter Parker. I really want to spend more time in his world.”

 

That’s what drew me to him; he was the first superhero who was a kid. I want to go back to those issues of having to keep your grades high but also be a superhero. So we did that. We went back and created a scenario and tried to make it authentic. He’s a 16-year-old science geek, which he’s always been, but he’s really obsessed with it. That was my entry point for this series. You’ll notice that every episode really lays heavily on the science of it all. You may learn some things along the way; we try to be accurate about certain things.

 

And when I was 16 years old, the things that were most important to me were friendships and relationships. We tried to encapsulate all of that. We’ve updated it in many ways by putting him in a new school, a magnate school for science geniuses, and we’ve also gone back to basics by bringing him into a classroom where he’s angsty and worrying about his Aunt May and his grades and his friends, all while trying to be a superhero.

Image via Kevin Shinick

Shinick, a writer for shows like Robot Chicken and Mad, has also written the Radio City Music Hall stage adaptation Spider-Man Live! (which enjoyed a 40-city tour) and for the “Avenging Spider-Man” comics; he knows his Spider-stuff. Here’s what sets his take on Peter Parker apart:

Shinick: [When] this series begins, he is already Spider-Man. He’s about to take off on his first adventure as Spider-Man, as a hero. Not a wrestler, not a celebrity. Just to bring people up to speed in case they wanted it, we did a series of shorts which break down Spidey’s origins in six shorts. They tell the story together as one, but you get that out of the way if you need to.

 

What makes it different … I said to Disney, “Spider-Man can be encapsulated with one word.” And they all thought I was going to say “duality.” I said, “Science.” They kind of sat upright a little bit, like, “Oh, that’s different. How’s it going to be about science?” It’s my entry point for this series because it’s about Spider-Man, but Spider-Man is Peter Parker, and it’s his heart and his mind that we really associate with. Science is his passion, it’s his entry point for everything, from talking to his friends, to dealing with a homework problem, or dealing with a supervillain; science is his go-to.

 

Uncle Ben, who obviously was a huge impact on Peter, to say that lightly, wasn’t a science guy, but he knew that was Peter’s passion. So in trying to tell Peter his morals, he kind of found a fun way to turn “With great power comes great responsibility” into a scientific formula, so that he could understand it more. That was important to me. Uncle Ben understands his nephew’s strengths and thinks, “What’s the best way that he’ll hear this?”, so he comes up with this formula. It’s a goofy formula, too, since he doesn’t know much about science, but he makes a stab at it. That means a lot to Peter. Not only is it a lesson, but it’s obvious that Uncle Ben knows who he is and that science is a big part of his life.

Image via DisneyXD

You’ll hear the word “science” thrown around a lot when talking about this series because it serves as the backbone of Parker’s world and the narrative’s structure. Here’s how it plays into the story:

Shinick: Right from the get-go, not only is [science] his number one interest, but the whole story, the whole arc hinges on the fact that there’s this school … in the comics, it was Horizon Labs. Dan Slott came up with this storyline in the comics, which was, what if things did go Peter Parker’s way? He was accepted into Horizon Labs and he was able to create things there; things were going his way for a change. We had the idea of, keeping everything relevant to kids, what if we made that a magnate school of science geniuses? So it’s Horizon High.

 

And then I came up with this idea of “Hogwarts for Science.” So not only is it Horizon High, but then of course Norman Osborn gets a whiff of it, and, for his own reasons which you’ll see in the series, he opens up Osborn Academy. And the original school, Midtown High, still exists. So you’ve got this triumvirate of schools who are competing with each other and, throughout the series, heroes and villains will come from those schools.

Image via DisneyXD

Ah, the magic words: heroes and villains. Who might we meet from Spider-Man lore in this series?

Shinick: You see different sides of Peter in this. His best friend is Harry Osborn, who’s also a science geek, but Peter is so excited that he almost needs an interpreter, socially, to fit into social situations. Harry is that. He’s a bit of an older brother and kind of protects Peter.

 

Down the line, you also have Miles Morales, who is also a student we meet. He’s a year or two younger than Peter, but Peter gets to show his older brother side in that. Miles is a little more hot-headed; he acts without thinking sometimes. Even though Peter is new to this superhero world, he does have a more grounded element, so he looks out for Miles … There’s a lot of heart, you really get invested in these characters.

Confirmed cast for Marvel’s Spider-Man also includes Robbie Daymond as Spider-Man, Max Mittleman as Harry Osborn, Nadji Jeter as Miles Morales, Melanie Minichino as Anya Corazon, Fred Tatasciore as Max Modell, Laura Bailey as Gwen Stacy, Nancy Linari as Aunt May, and Patton Oswalt as Uncle Ben.

Image via Disney XD

And when it comes to villains, featuring Josh Keaton as Norman Osborn, Scott Menville as Doc Ock, John DiMaggio as The Jackal, and Alastair Duncan as Vulture, fans won’t be disappointed:

Shinick: What I really liked about this whole school thing was that all the characters you love in Spider-Man will be there. All the great villains are present, but I’m introducing them in a new way. In ours, most of them are either students or teachers, and we see how they evolve. And like we always say with most great villains, they’re not villains in their own minds, they’re only villains to the outside world.

 

A lot of them go to school together, a lot of them are friends during the day and at night become bad guys. It’s about competition and getting the best grades, or whatever. I think a lot of our heroes and villains start that way. They start as students who are putting their best foot forward or are maybe trying to get a jump on the other guys and creating things at this school, whichever school, and through that evolution, sometimes heroes are born, sometimes villains are born.

 

Doc Ock is here, and yet we’ve seen him many different ways. In our version, he is a teacher, a genius, so far of a science genius they’ve made him a teacher at the ripe old age of 17. Just the ins and outs of these kids having to do both, having to keep their grades up and do well, and sometimes their egos get the better of them; that’s usually the case with the villains.

 

“With great power comes with great responsibility” is really what sets Peter Parker and Spider-Man apart from other people. We’ve got all these kids and teachers who all have the same access to science experiments and great equipment and great schools, but you begin to remember why Peter is a hero: He takes these things and puts them to good use. Others have the same access, but they use it for their own means.

 

There were certain checkmarks for me in every episode: One was to be innovative, one was to remember who Peter Parker is, and one was, what haven’t people seen before? Trying to get Sand Girl in there … she’s been in the comics but we wanted to bring her into the foreground. Just the chance to make everything that we love through history new again was an exciting moment for me. I hope we’ve done it because I’m very proud of this series.

Image via Disney XD

Since Shinick voices Bruce Banner in Avengers Assemble: Secret Wars, he also happens to voice the character in Marvel’s Spider-Man. {Oh yeah, there’s a Bruce Banner / Hulk episode on the way.] But don’t jump to any conclusions about these cartoons existing in a shared universe:

Shinick: When Spidey and Iron Man meet in our series, it’s for the first time. This is a fresh start for our character. In our series, this is the first time the Avengers are meeting Spidey.

While Shinick has the “Spi-fecta” of writing for a Spidey comic, cartoon, and play, we’ve got to get him on the feature film slate so he can add that to his list. Only if he’s interested, of course:

Shinick: I’d love that! That would be a dream come true. If it were up to me, yes. Maybe some day, someone will think of me, but at the moment I have no plans to do that. I would absolutely love that. He always was the character that I loved the most. He was my first superhero growing up reading comics, and he’s the one I read the most. He was an obsession of mine for a while.

Now fans everywhere can share in Shinick’s obsession for Spider-Man once Marvel’s Spider-Man premieres Saturday, August 19th at 7:00am ET on Disney XD!

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