As the latest entry in the Marvel Knights Animation series of DVDs adapted directly from comic book sources with limited animation techniques and full voice and music recording, today Shout! Factory will release “Wolverine Vs. Sabretooth” — a new version of Loeb and artist Simone Bianchi’s 2007 run on “Wolverine.” The arc was known upon its release for Bianchi’s inkwash action style, the introduction of villain Romulus and — Spoiler Warning! — ultimately for the surprise death of Sabretooth at Wolverine’s hand.
Ahead of the DVD’s release, CBR News spoke to Loeb who, as the head of Marvel Television, has a unique perspective on how “Wolverine Vs. Sabretooth” fits into the company’s overall animation plans. Below, the writer talks about revisiting his old work, embracing the controversial aspects of the story, the connection between Marvel Knights Animation and Marvel’s kid-friendly Disney XD shows and the future of his own work in comics and on TV.
CBR News: Jeph, the new “Wolverine Vs. Sabretooth” DVD is only the most recent comics story of yours that’s been translated to film after the “Superman/Batman” animated movies. But I wonder, did the fact that you were executive producer and so involved with this project give you a different perspective on adapting your stories?
Jeph Loeb: It absolutely was much more challenging. All the other Marvel Knights animation stories that they’ve done were things I could look at strictly with a producer’s eye. I didn’t have that creator element involved. So watching the guys on the animation side — our friends at Atomic Cartoons and our own team — as they did stories by Damon Lindelof and Neil Gaiman and some of the heavyweight writers of our business was thrilling. It was great to see those stories be voiced and have motion and music. Then when it came to my own work, it was just more challenging. There’s a director taking your script and trying to make it come to life, and you’re hearing voices say dialogue that in many ways you were not thinking would be spoken aloud when it was written. So that’s sometimes both thrilling and challenging. [Laughs]
But I think the real thrill of this for me was seeing Simone’s artwork being put on the big screen. Watching images that on the comic side are static be given the movement they get and then get scored — because music makes a huge difference — was fantastic. That’s an amazing experience to watch happen.
I’ve read this story a number of times talking to you about your overall Wolverine work, and seeing it animated like this, the thing that stood out to me was how episodic it was. I guess I thought initially that this would be put together as one big film, but it seems like there was no way to divorce this story from the cliffhangers and time-jumping narrative beats from the original. Do you think of these things more as a TV miniseries in that way?
One of the challenges of doing Marvel Knights Animation is taking something that was originally created in one form and making it work in another. Some of those experiences are better than others, and it’s one of the reasons we’ve chosen the stories we have. Our first questions when looking at material always is, “Do they have a cinematic feel?” and “Will they have an episodic quality?” And for whatever reason, this particular storyline — which as you know as a comic reader was separated by five years — does tell one giant, cinematic story of the relationship between Wolverine and Sabretooth. Ultimately, it’s all about the death and resurrection of that character. So it’s very challenging as a reader to pick up something that comes out 30 days later let alone five years later and experience it as a whole piece. When it’s all put together, you get some of it when you read it as a trade. But even then, you’re not as compelled to go forward as you are when it’s running in front of you on a TV screen in ten-to-twelve minute intervals. I think that really gives you the impact of Simone’s art and the story, and it creates more of a through line that will keep you watching. So in the end, it does feel like it’s all one piece.
How does the Marvel Knights line impact Marvel Animation as a whole? I remember when the “Ultimate Spider-Man” TV show started production, you said that one of the main goals visually was to make the animation pop as if the artists of the books had drawn the cartoon. Do these motion comics animated projects gives some visual continuity for how all Marvel Animation works in some ways?
Not per se, but we’re a very small operation so everything affects everything. Whenever we’re looking at any kind of animation, what we try to do is make it as pure of a Marvel Universe experience as we can. Marvel Knights Animation happens to be the cleanest way of doing that, and it’s pretty extraordinary because what we’re doing is taking the original artwork and story and not changing anything except some small corrections for fluidity. But certainly with the scripts, we go back to the original writers and ask if there’s anything they want to add in as bridge material. And once you add voices and music to that, it has its own life. I think if anything, being able to immerse ourselves more in the Marvel Universe and in this artwork as opposed to doing an interpretation in full animation is always helpful as a lesson.
Obviously, the death of Sabretooth in this story was pretty shocking to readers when it happened, and I’d assume that there are some Marvel fans in general who will be experiencing this for the first time with the DVD. Have you braced yourself for a new generation of people coming up and going, “You did WHAT?”
[Laughs] That’d be great! We tell stories to get people excited, and I think Simone’s artwork in the death scene is shocking. It’s particularly shocking when you’ve got it brought to life. One of the things that [Marvel Publisher] Dan Buckley talked about when he first looked at the animated version of “Iron Man” story by Warren Ellis and Adi Granov was that that story was the first time there were exit wounds on screen. It’s pretty fantastic when you find yourself going, “Wow. There’s blood sprayed in this!” And there’s no shortage of that in “Wolverine Vs. Sabretooth!” [Laughs] When it’s in the comic, you’re not as stunned by it because it’s not moving at you. But when it moves, you’re really aware of the level of action.
Where do things go from here? This is the most recent installment of the Marvel Knights Animation run. You have three series in rotation on Disney XD. And you also just released a “Iron Man/Hulk” CG DVD film around the holidays. With those projects well in hand, what’s next for Marvel Animation?
I can’t really address what’s in the pipeline beyond what people are currently watching, though thank you for mentioning all that. What I can do is say that just like we do in movies or on the live television side, we always want to be better. We really want to make that Marvel experience something that is unique and by the same token something that brings you back to the feeling you’ve always had. You should know watching this that Marvel is about epic adventure with the human spirit and just the right touch of humor. If you put all those things together and make it feel like a blockbuster movie even when it’s in animation, we’ve achieved what we’re striving for. Every time we put one of these things out with Shout! Factory, we’re hoping that people get more and more excited and that they get to look at a story that they perhaps hadn’t known before. I’ll admit that as a comic reader, I was not as familiar with Neil Gaiman and John Romita, Jr.’s “Eternals” before we did this. But when I watched it, I found it completely thrilling, and then I wanted to go read it. It’s that kind of experience that we know exists — a completely immersive comic book experience.
So as this stuff stokes your imagination as you’re reading, does doing your own story fire you up for some more comics writing? Any ideas what your next book might be in between working on “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and the rest of Marvel TV?
My commitment right now is to everything in television, but as I’ve said often to anyone who will listen, “Captain America: White” will be done. Tim [Sale] and I are still hard at work at it, and all I can say is that it’s the most beautiful thing he’s ever done. And who knows? There may come a day when we see those books in the world of Marvel Knights Animation.
I was going to ask, now that you’ve had a taste for it and you’re at the top of the food chain there, do you think you’ll bring more of your own work to this format?
No. The truth of the matter is that I don’t make those selections. I intentionally leave myself out of that process because they do come to me with stories they want to adapt, and I never wanted to make anyone feel like I used my position as Head of Marvel Television in order to bring these stories forward. They put together a wish list, and it gets vetted in a whole different way that I’m not part of so I can just take a look at it from the point of view of a creative person rather than as the head of the division.
Marvel Knights Animation’s “Wolverine Vs. Sabretooth” DVD is on sale today.