Even though Captain America and Iron Man are both on the same side of the superhero playing field, the two Marvel Comics icons have some major differences in terms of ideology, personal values and fighting tactics, among other things. But on “The Superhero Squad Show,” Steve Rogers and Tony Stark share at least one common thread – Tom Kenny.
Kenny plays Captain America, Iron Man, M.O.D.O.K. and a host of other characters on “The Superhero Squad Show,” Marvel’s animated series currently airing on Cartoon Network. In the first season’s final two episodes, “Last Exit Before Doomsday” and “This Al Dente Earth,” Kenny’s heroes face off against Galactus, the gargantuan planet eater with an appetite for Earth.
CBR News spoke with Kenny about his various roles on “Superhero Squad,” the upcoming season finale and his lifelong status as a pop culture junkie.
CBR News: Tom, how did you get started on the pop culture friendly path of your voice acting career? Where did that interest come from?
Tom Kenny: The easy answer is that I was a part of that pop culture world and I’ve loved it all ever since I was a little kid. I loved comic books and monster movies and all the standard issue geeky stuff. Just being able to mess around with my voice has given me a nice way to be involved in this world that I’ve always enjoyed as a consumer and reader, and now as an artist.
I messed around in rock and roll bands when I was a little kid, and I still do. Then I kind of stumbled my way into standup and sketch comedy. Eventually, I became employed in that while doing the occasional voiceover, but the whole time I was doing those things, I thought that voiceover was the thing I was best at. I wished that could be 98% of my pie instead of two percent. It’s kind of a tough nut to crack. I made a living as a standup for many years and eventually the voiceover thing was able to supplant a lot of that stuff. It turns out that I was right – voiceover is better. [Laughs] Voiceover is the best-kept secret in entertainment.
From an outside perspective, I imagine it’s got to be fun to have a job where one minute you’re Iron Man or Captain America, and the next minute you’re M.O.D.O.K.. It doesn’t get any more different than that.
Yeah! Captain America, M.O.D.O.K. and occasionally Juggernaut and Colossus when they make their brief appearances. Iron Man as well. It’s a perfect job for what you would call the shy show-off, you know what I mean? The person who doesn’t exactly want to be famous and deal with all of the horrific stuff that being an on camera celebrity brings to your life, but you still want to make a living as an actor. If you’re not driven by wanting to see your face on the cover of “People Magazine,” then being a voice actor is the best. It’s all of the fun of being an actor without any of the mess.
Right, it’s not the type of thing where someone is going to see you in a coffee shop and go, “Hey, that’s Captain America!”
You know, it happens just enough that it’s a nice little validation, but it’s rare. If somebody comes up to me and knows that I’ve done the voice of Iron Man or Captain America, it means that they’re a super fan, so that’s cool. They’re predisposed to liking the show. One of the things that I love about voice acting as a profession is, as you just mentioned, the characters are famous and iconic, but your face isn’t. You never wind up in that dysfunctional relationship with your character, something like Sean Connery with 007 or Bob Denver with Gilligan. You’re SpongeBob one day a week, then later on you’re Captain America, then you’re Rabbit from “Winnie The Pooh,” or you’re a robot on “Transformers.” If you’re a shy showoff with ADD, it’s even better. [Laughs]
Looking at “Superhero Squad,” you said that part of the reason you got into this world was that you grew up as a fan of the culture and comics…
Oh yeah. Comics were huge for me as a kid, particularly the Marvel stuff. My parents weren’t particularly thrilled about me reading comics. “Why can’t you read a real book?” I did that as well, but I also liked to read comics. Unwittingly, they created a comic book freak monster because I loved any and all genres of comic books. Superheroes, humor, war, horror, all that stuff. I got really into it. I was able to look at the history of those characters and I just thought the characters and the world were so rich. The drawings blew my mind and probably a lot of other people’s minds, too. When you look at Stan Lee’s writing and Steve Ditko’s weird drawing – those early “Spider-Man” issues still make me crazy when I read them. There’s so much undiscovered stuff that you’ve never heard of still getting reprinted. It’s fantastic! I can’t believe there’s still great stuff that I’ve never seen and also great new stuff coming out. It’s been a lifelong addiction for me.
I’m sure that playing Captain America and Iron Man, these iconic characters you grew up reading, must have been a big draw for you in coming to “Superhero Squad.”
It is really fun, and Stan is on the show! This is the guy who had these ideas. It’s amazing. It’s funny – you just made me realize that there is a definite through line of me reading old Marvel issues aloud to my younger brothers and sisters and voicing Iron Man now. It’s pretty much the same job. In my mind, I’ve always had an idea of how I wanted Iron Man and Captain America to sound. It’s nice to do it and actually get paid and have a place to live and stuff! [Laughs]
With Captain America and Iron Man, you’re playing two of Marvel’s most prominent heroes. Can you talk about voicing these characters? How do you make them distinct from one another?
In “Superhero Squad,” Captain America is a big boy scout who came through World War II and then got frozen in an iceberg for a whole bunch of time. Now that he’s thawed out, he’s still that guy. “That’ll be swell, Squadies! Hop, hop, hop!” He has this anachronistic can-do 1940s attitude that’s a bit different from Iron Man, who is much more from this day and age. We play that for laughs.
But I love playing Iron Man. He’s kind of a cool guy. He doesn’t raise his voice very often. He’s just kind of there with his mustache and his playboy apartment. He’s playing it cool. Captain America is always shouting, even when he’s having polite conversation. Iron Man is played a little bit straighter on the show, as he should be. He’s the leader, the commander, and the voice of reason. He’s the guy that has to keep this ragtag bunch of unruly weirdoes and disparate personalities like Wolverine, Reptil and Hulk in line. He’s kind of the parent.
One of the great things about the Marvel Universe is that these characters are able to stand up to any number of approaches. I’m sure you could do a great serious comic book about how Captain America feels like a man out of time and that he knows all this stuff from the 1940s that no one else can identify. You can do it seriously or you can do it for laughs, and either one works. That’s a testament to the iconic strength of these characters. Getting the chance to be one of the many that have portrayed these characters in different mediums and fields over the years is amazing. The “Superhero Squad” take on it is comedic and kid friendly, which I think is really cool and almost punk rock against the grain in the current nihilistic environment. It’s almost more nihilistic to go kid friendly now.
It’s funny – I grew up with the Adam West “Batman.” He’s my Batman. When I see Adam West, I get excited, because he’s the guy that made me jump around in my pajamas as a kid and want to be Batman. [Michael Keaton] in that stiff rubber suit didn’t do anything for me. My point being, the 1960s “Batman” show holds up beautifully, in some ways better than the ’80s nihilism does. I think “Superhero Squad” takes some of that fun of the pop art ’60s approach to superheroes and just puts it back out there.
When I watched the Adam West “Batman” show, I took it pretty seriously. When Batman is running around trying to dispose of a bomb and he sees a flock of ducks, as a kid, I was going, “No, not there, you’ll blow up the ducks!” [Laughs] It wasn’t a joke! I think “Superhero Squad” is the same way. I know that along with all of the comedy, I have a six-year-old daughter that greatly enjoys the show, and the adventure elements play very seriously to [kids]. It’s not a joke. The villains and the threats and the evil plans are real to them in the same way that the jokes are real to them. It’s a really cool approach, one that hasn’t been seen in far too long.
What can you tell us about the upcoming two-part finale?
It’s a holiday special, because it falls on Valentine’s Day eve – we’ve got Galactus as played by George Takei, and nothing says Valentine’s Day like planet-flavored bonbons. [Laughs] Iron Man gets to visit the dark side of the moon and gets to go through some good, angsty guilt feelings. It’s kind of his fault that he let the Infinity Sword break into so many shards that turn up in various places around the Earth and cause problems. The finale leads really nicely into our second season, which features a lot of characters that we haven’t seen [on the show] before.
In general, I’m loving the show. It’s my favorite out of all the series that I do, and I’m generally on at least half a dozen ongoing series at any given time. “Superhero Squad” recordings are the things that I look the most forward to every week. It scratches that fan boy itch in a big way.
Tom Kenny plays Captain America, Iron Man, M.O.D.O.K. and more on “The Superhero Squad Show.” The final two episodes of the season, “Last Exit Before Doomsday” and “This Al Dente Earth,” air on February 13th and February 20th at 7:30 PM on Cartoon Network.