Fans of Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers” don’t have to wait long for the return of their favorite superhero team: On July 7, Disney XD debuts “Marvel’s Avengers Assemble,” an animated series which continues the team’s adventures on a weekly basis. Featuring all of the characters Whedon’s film brought together — along with The Falcon, a newcomer whose first big-screen appearance will be in “Captain America: Winter Soldier” — the series promises to harness the chemistry, and the conflict, that made its cinematic predecessor not just one of the most commercially successful movies of all time, but one of the greatest and most entertaining superhero movies ever made.
Comic Book Resources sat down briefly with executive producers Jeph Loeb and Man of ActionSteven T. Seagle to discuss the process of bringing the Avengers to the small screen, and in a weekly format. In addition to discussing the challenges of giving each character something to do amidst an ensemble that’s incredibly rich with unique personalities, Loeb and Seagle talked about the lessons they took both from Whedon’s film and their animated efforts on “Ultimate Spider-Man” as they attempt to recreate — in fans’ homes — the magic that so thoroughly enchanted them in theaters.
You’ve said that Joss Whedon’s “Avengers” was the galvanizing force for this animated series. How much has that focus affected the mythology you previously created in these Marvel superheroes’ individual series an the previous Avengers cartoon, and how tough is it to balance between the tone of that film and what’s appropriate for this series?
Jeph Loeb: It’s a combination of things. It’s most important that we tell good stories. Continuity is important, but it’s certainly not something we should be a slave to. The good news is that we spent two seasons on “Ultimate Spider-Man” working with Man of Action, so we really came to know and understand what Marvel Television was all about — and when people ask us ‘what does that mean,’ my answer is, it’s all one universe. Whether it’s the Marvel Cinematic Universe, whether it’s publishing, whether it’s what we’re doing in live action or we’re doing it in animation, it still is all one universe. It doesn’t mean that it’s all going to match up perfectly, and it doesn’t mean that the stories that are going on — for example, what’s going on in “Avengers” right now, Jonathan Hickman is [working with] a completely different cast and it’s a completely different situation.
But that Tony Stark is the same Tony Stark that’s in all of our stories. Peter Parker is always going to be Spider-Man. What we want to do is just be able to tell stories about the character; that’s what makes Marvel different from most all of the other heroes that are out there. At the end of the day, it begins with, who is Tony Stark, who is Peter Parker, who is Steve Rogers? Those are the kinds of people that we’re interested in discovering, and then, how do we put those characters in an extraordinary situation?
Steven T. Seagle: We know who the Avengers are. We know who Spider-Man is. Our job is to say, this is our cast, this is our mission, this is a new day. What are they doing now? It’s the relationships between that core set of characters, very cool characters, that define their adventures. That’s what’s made them last this long, anyway. We’re just doing that with a new set of toys and toolboxes.
When you have an ensemble that is this rich, how do you approach the structure of each story? Is it like something like “Lost,” where you filter each story through one specific character, or do you try to give every character something to do in every episode?
Seagle: It’s all of the above. Sometimes there’s an incredibly huge story that requires all seven people on deck the entire time, and sometimes we start small with a relationship, like between Hawkeye and Black Widow, and it snowballs and drags in everybody else. It’s the great thing about doing an ensemble story, that you have all of that at your disposal — and more. As the season goes along, sometimes things get bigger and bigger and bigger. You’re going to see a cast of villains brought into the show under the guise of The Cabal, led by the Red Skull, so we’re going to have two teams that need their screen time. That’s what “The Avengers” are great at — that epic storytelling.
Loeb: The other thing that is very unique for us is, when I came into Marvel Television, one of the things that I did was — oftentimes, the way an animated series works is, there’s an executive producer and a story editor. Together, they work out what stories there are going to be — and then they call a freelancer and say, “We’re going to send you a document that tells the story.” What I really missed, and what I wanted to bring to it, was the concept of a writer’s room, which you basically generally have for a live television show. It helped enormously that Man of Action was made up of four incredibly diverse writers, who have different ideas as to what would be a great Avengers story. Just starting there, and then adding to it Joe Quesada, who is our Chief Creative Officer, [Director of Development & Production] Todd Casey [is] just absolutely integral to the way our stories are told, and Cort Lane, one of our supervising producers.
When all of us get together, we just start talking about, “What’s the best story?” It really isn’t about, “How are we going to tell a story this week about Hulk?” What will happen is, we’ll come in the room and we’ll say, okay, well, what would happen if the Hulk had this particular problem and didn’t know how to solve it, and so he’s forced to work with these guys in a way that we’ve never seen before? Or, Captain America has a particular way that he wants to run the team. Tony has a particular way that he wants to run the team. And the two of them go out in order to go on a mission together, and have to learn not just how to work together, but how to solve the immediate problem. It isn’t a show about, “How does a threat come from the outside, and then The Avengers have to then go react to it.” It’s a show about a group of people that are living together, working together in a family environment, in a teamwork environment, and how they interact with a problem that is then presented to them. Sometimes they’re the cause of the problem, sometimes it’s a mystery that they have to go out and resolve, but what’s important is that this is a show that is told in an episodic way, so every single show that starts at the beginning of the hour will end in that half hour.
By that same token, that doesn’t mean we don’t have threads, emotional threads, story lines that along the way, and particularly in terms of the villains’ agenda, that we aren’t going to arc out over the entire season. Again, for those of you that have been watching “Ultimate Spider-Man,” particularly in Season One, one of the things we did was we started with Peter’s relationship with Harry and Norman, and then the entire season was about, uh oh, somewhere out there on the horizon, the Green Goblin is coming. In this particular case, our series started with the Red Skull attacking them, bringing MODOK into the case, and then, what does he learn from that and how is that going to change how he then approaches The Avengers from that point on? We’re getting to be able to see not just how the team comes together, but how a team of villains comes together at the same time.