Last weekend, Disney XD and Marvel Entertainment co-hosted “Reading With: Marvel Comics Close-Up.” The Los Angeles-based event was promoting new mini-segments set to air during “Ultimate Spider-Man,” highlighting comic book scenes and character moments throughout the company’s history, designed to encourage children to read by drawing a connection from Marvel’s animated offerings to their original comic book counterparts. The event featured a line-up of Disney kid actors, most notably Drake Bell who voices Spider-Man in the “Ultimate Spider-Man” cartoon and Cort Lane, the Supervising Producer of the show and current Vice President of Development & Production at Marvel Television.
With Season 2 of “Ultimate Spider-Man” premiering January 21 on Disney XD, CBR News spoke with Bell and Lane during the event about the new season. The duo’s excitement about the upcoming season was noticeable, as the discussion ranged from celebrity appearances from the Marvel films, the comic book lore explored by the show and the potentially cosmic direction the season may take.
CBR News: Cort, let’s start off with you giving us something exciting Spider-Man fans can expect to see is Season 2 of “Ultimate Spider-Man?”
Cort Lane: It’s Season 2, so we have to go bigger and we’re going to make a lot of people happy — you’re going to see a number of classic Spider-Man villains. The first six episodes lead up to, and reveal, our version of the Sinister Six. There’s one member we can’t tell, but the rest of the team is Electro, The Lizard, Kraven the Hunter, Rhino and Beetle. When the Sinister Six comes together, it’s a whole lot of trouble for Spider-Man. As a teaser, Hawkeye guest-stars in the Beetle episode.
This show is a pure Marvel production, and it often pulls from comic book lore. In using the Sinister Six, have you utilized the classic comics as a resource for this season’s stories?
Lane: That’s a good question. We can pick and choose from classic storylines, the “Ultimate Spider-Man” comic series, the “Ultimates” line of comics and put our own twist to them. People will be surprised with how we have taken Rhino, a character without a personal relationship to Spider-Man, and in this second season we’ve made that relationship more personal — I think that’s where the stories work best for him. What we have been able to do with Norman Osborn in this season is tell some stories similar to those told in the last ten years of comics. I can’t give too much away, but you will see iterations of Norman in this season that have been in the comics for the last few years.
Brian Michael Bendis has written a number of these episodes along with every issue of the “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man” title — you’ve mentioned that in this coming season, Spidey’s team of teenaged superheroes are forced to live in his house because the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier has been destroyed. Is this a spin on a similar storyline Bendis wrote in 2009’s “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man?”
Drake Bell: I was actually wondering that — I read that storyline and then something like this happened in the second season.
Lane: Bendis gets to work in the room with the actors, and most of the actors who play these other teen heroes are young. Their relationships in the room are very similar — they tease each other and it’s fun. Yes, we were inspired by that Bendis storyline, but we needed to make it work within the context of our series.
We’re inspired by a lot of Bendis’ storylines. Some individual episodes, like “Freaky” in Season 1 with Wolverine, was taken directly from his lore. He’s involved in all of our script summits, too, and not just for the episodes he writes. He’s a consultant in every way throughout the season. It’s a tremendous advantage.
Drake, you’ve described your spin on Spider-Man as classic Spidey in terms of developing gadgets, and you guys have taken it a step further and given it a new millennium spin in terms of his tech and gear. Can you expand on how this angle will be pursued in Season 2?
Bell: He definitely has that classic Spider-Man vibe with his wit and bad jokes and comedy — it’s something that’s fun to do and is reminiscent of the Spider-Man I read growing up.
Lane: There is more tech this season, but you’re going to see a lot of the great stuff from Season 1 come back. What we play with in Season 2 is, Peter has access to S.H.I.E.L.D. tech — that’s part of the setup of our series. He can create something that goes horribly awry, and he does in one episode in a great team-up with Iron Man, who helps him fix this mess he’s created. So we get to see the implications of a teenager exposed to all this great S.H.I.E.L.D. gadgetry and try to make it work for himself.
Peter’s always been a tech nerd in the comics, and there’s so much you can do with that when he has access to S.H.I.E.L.D. and Stark tech.
What are some other situations or character interactions that took place in Season 1 that resonate into Season 2?
Lane: Doctor Octopus is a big villain in this season. We come to know Kurt Conners in Season 1, so it really hurts for us to see him become The Lizard at the beginning of Season 2. Norman is back as the Goblin and — as other versions of Norman. It’s very cool. A lot of key villains come back, and S.H.I.E.L.D. has to recover from the events of episode 26, so we see S.H.I.E.L.D. in a new Helicarrier. There is a lot of continuity from Season 1 and a lot of new elements. We get to do the best of both.
Drake, you voice some ancillary characters in addition to Peter Parker in the show. Have you had an opportunity to have a conversation with yourself in the recording room, where you’re playing Spidey and then a cop and a guy eating pizza?
Bell: [Laughs] Yeah, actually it’s funny — the other day I came in to do some ADR (Additional Dialogue Recording), and when you do the voices, you have no idea what the character looks like — if it’s an ancillary cop or whatever. I think it was a hot dog salesman or something, but I’m sitting there watching and I was like — hey, wait a minute! That was me! The character said, [Speaks in gruff voice] “Hey! Hey, Spider-Man!” I was like, “Oh my gosh, that’s me, that’s cool”! It’s weird, hearing my voice in a different character. So yeah, I’ve definitely yelled at myself.
Lane: He also yells at himself a lot when Spider-Man’s fighting with Angel and Devil Spidey.
Bell: One of the great times was the Spider-Ham episode where Spidey’s brain was talking to his stomach. I had to do all the different voices.
Lane: In Season 2, there’s an episode where he’ll argue with himself as Paul Revere Spidey in a very special episode set in Boston.
Celebrities are no strangers to the show, in some cases voicing the same characters they portray in live-action Marvel films. So far the lists includes J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson and Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson — does this trend continue in Season 2?
Lane: I can’t give anything away yet, but I would love it if Drake would expand on this. He’s gotten to work even more with Clark in particular for Season 2.
Bell: It’s great. I’m watching him as Coulson in the movies, so when he’s with me in the recording booth — it’s really cool. Same thing with J.K. — it’s like, man. Those are really the guys. I mean, of course I’m Spidey when I’m in there, but I’m just me. I get a little star struck. I kind of grew up on all their voices, so being there and hearing them, it’s really cool.
Spider-Man’s an obvious A-lister in the Marvel Universe, but when you look at the rest of his team in the “Ultimate Spider-Man” cartoon, there’s a lot of B-list guys: Iron Fist, Power Man, White Tiger and Nova. How did you settle on those characters, and specifically, how do you face the challenge of making Nova, a cosmically-powered character, fit in on this team of street level fighters?
Lane: Well, Nova is a hot head and a screw up. If he was incredibly competent, then, yeah, he would outclass Spidey. But Spidey has better intuition and he has more skill because he’s been doing it longer. Having other teen heroes for Spidey to play off of — and not always, since sometimes they appear a little, sometimes they appear a lot and other times not at all — creates great character dynamics for Spider-Man and for Peter. Just like when we play him against Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk and even Hawkeye — you’ll see a lot of that in Season 2. We’ll see Spidey get frustrated with other characters, learn from them and develop relationships, so having these other kids in the show creates great opportunities.
Plus, in regards to them being non-A-listers, it familiarizes the audience with these characters who are important to Marvel, making people want to learn more about who they are and to like them. Hopefully, people will look them up.
Keeping in mind Bendis’ role with the show and his upcoming Marvel Comics’ cosmic work, not to mention the finale of the “Avengers” movie and the upcoming “Guardians of the Galaxy” live action film — episode six of Season 2 is titled “The Jungle Groot” according to IMDB. Can you expand on what this episode entails?
Lane: Episode six is all about the Sinister Six. IMDB — you know what? You would not believe how much incorrect information is on IMDB about this show. You have no idea. For Season 1, a whole cast list went up with actor names, and none of it was true. It’s impossible to take it down because you have to wait until the episode airs so they believe you, and then they approve it.
So there’s not an episode with the Guardians of the Galaxy or one that goes all-out cosmic?
Lane: Ahh — I am not allowed to speak to that. We should tell you something: Nova and his origin are explored in Season 2, and his origin, of course, is from outer space. We’ll meet some cool outer space characters in Season 2 through Nova. That’s all I can say. And yes, everything surrounding Bendis makes sense.
The one hour season premiere of “Ultimate Spider-Man” Season 2 airs January 21 at 7pm EST on Disney XD