There was cause for celebration amongst the men on the dais at the Marvel Animation panel Saturday afternoon at the 2009 New York Comic Con. Marvel Animation President Eric Rollman, Director of Development Cort Lane and all around Marvel PR guru Jim McCann rolled out news of a successful launch for the Marvel Entertainment unit’s latest TV debut “Wolverine and the X-Men” as well as advances looks at upcoming projects “Marvel Super Hero Squad” and “Iron Man: Armored Adventures.”
Two weeks into its run on the cable network Nicktoons, “Wolverine and the X-Men” increased the channel’s viewership by 808% from last year in its first episode and 1055% in its second. A DVD of the series’ first arc will see an April 21st release, subtitled “Heroes Return,” and a second season of 26 episodes has been green lit for the show. On the other side of the TV coin, Lane reminded the assembled crowd of casting announcements made earlier that day about the upcoming Marvel “Black Panther” series on BET, which adapts the first arc of Reginald Hudlin and John Romita, Jr.’s run with the character as an 8-part series. Actor Djimon Hounsou will portray the lead character with Alfre Woodard playing the Queen Mother of Wakanda.
In 2009, the company plans to release both the long in production computer-animated series Iron Man series and a series based on the popular toy line and web comic “Marvel Super Hero Squad.” While a network hasn’t yet been announced, plenty of concept art and character designs from the kid-friendly Super Hero Squad series were shown by Lane, as well as a rough cut of the opening theme with music by Nerf Herder frontman Parry Gripp (who famously wrote the theme music for “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”). Headed up on the writing end by “Justice League Unlimited” scribe Matt Wayne and “Angry Beavers” creator Mitch Schauer, the cartoon will take advantage of the entire Marvel Universe and feature a team led by Iron Man and featuring Hulk, Thor, Falcon (and Redwing), Wolverine and Silver Surfer.
“There is a reason in this story for this group of characters to be part of a team and to save the universe from some really bad guys,” Lane said, noting that the show drew comedy inspiration from the classic Marvel series “Not Brand Echh.” “These guys don’t always get along. They argue. They have sensitive personalities…it’s really funny to see these characters interact. Wait until you see Wolverine and the Silver Surfer together.”
Supporting cast for the team of heroes includes Captain America (a mentor figure), Ms. Marvel (the resident S.H.I.E.L.D. rep) and a brand new teenage character created for the show called Reptil who will also debut in the comics Marvel Universe in an upcoming issue of “Avengers: The Initiative.” Lane also showed images of the Fantastic Four, Dr. Strange, Wasp, Hawkeye, Storm and the Heroes for Hire). On the other side of the series is a cabal of villains known as the Lethal Legion whose member ship includes (brace yourselves) leader Dr. Doom, Magneto, Abomination, Fing Fang Foom, Sabertooth, Loki, Juggernaut, Mole Man and M.O.D.O.C. (with additional support from Toad, Dormammu, Klaw, the Wrecking Crew and Screaming Mimi). The characters operate out of an eyeball-shaped base known as Villain-Ville where Doom was seen stewing in a bathrobe and a pair of lizard slippers, while the heroes rent their own personal S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier.
“We felt that this year, there was room for something a little different. Maybe something with some humor. Maybe something a 4-year-old could watch too in addition to fans, ” Lane explained. “Everybody’s very curious about this show because it’s so different. It represents a lot of firsts for Marvel, and that’s really exciting for us to move into new areas.”
A series much closer to release is “Iron Man: Armor Adventures” which premiers on Friday, April 24th on Nicktoons. Rollman took the opportunity while talking about the show to note that the theme song performed by indie rock outfit Rooney would be one of the first digital releases from Marvel Music, an entire new unit of Marvel Entertainment soon to get a full web launch. However, a song alone didn’t seem like quite enough to appease the crowd, so Lane and Rollman unveiled an entire episode of the series (the fourth in the first season) featuring a young version of the Mandarin and a story by Chris Yost.
The episode served as a solid tease for what full story lines will develop over the first season, including young Tony Stark investigating his father’s past, Mandarin searching for his fabled rings of power, a gang war that the kids get enveloped in and a cabal of villains led by Count Nefaria and featuring redesigned B-Listers like Unicorn and Killer Shark.
As for future projects, Rollman confirmed that the studio is exploring the possibility of making a Thor animated series after their currently in production “Avengers” cartoon, and even though the upcoming “Planet Hulk” is the last contracted Direct-to-Video DVD under their initial contract with Lion’s Gate, they are interested in doing more and called on fans to support the series. When asked whether or not the “Vs.” series of dual feature DVDs with established Marvel characters fighting as in the recent “Hulk Vs.” release, Rollman did say the possibility was on the table.