At this stage in his tenure at the creative head of Marvel Television, Jeph Loeb has already presided over the TV debuts of some of the most beloved characters from both the comic book publisher and its Marvel Cinematic Universe counterpart, including Daredevil, the Punisher, Elektra, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones, Peggy Carter, and Phil Coulson and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
But there’s a very particular reason why Marvel’s Inhumans — which made its debut in IMAX theaters this past weekend before it joins ABC’s fall lineup on Sept. 29 — holds a special place in his heart, as he reveals in a lengthy chat about the series with CBR.
CBR: Family seems like the central ingredient that makes Inhumans unique from the other Marvel TV shows that have come out so far. There are families who have formed, but this is a fully formed family.
Jeph Loeb: It was the thing that first got us excited. It was an opportunity for us to not have to worry about the dynamics of a team per se, and certainly not have to deal with the idea of a group of people who come together because for whatever reason, they sort of form a family. We often talk about Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as a family, too, but at the end of the day that’s a job. And certainly as we saw in some of our characters, they don’t make it to the end of the day. S.H.I.E.L.D. is not something that that you can stay with no matter what happens.
This is really a story about a group of people who, no matter what happens, it is that old adage, which is blood is thicker than water, and they have a responsibility to each other — not just as Inhumans, but as the Royal Family and as cousins and as brothers and as husband and wife, and being able to talk about that and to live in that world and to have fun with that world, and then add to it a pet, the 2000-pound. bulldog that can run around and slobber on everything certainly adds to the family element of it as well.
Once you got the Inhumans in the TV realm, did you feel that TV was actually the better venue for these characters?
I don’t think “better” is the right word. I certainly felt that it was something that we could tell a compelling story about because it was a story about a family. We never really approached it as something that was going to be spectacle first and family second, and so I think one of the things that we do well is to ground our characters, to be able to take the time in order to get to know our villains — if that’s what Maximus is — and to be able to have an opportunity where you’re not entirely reliant on epic and spectacle and the rollercoaster ride which are the Marvel movies; which I absolutely love and there is no bigger fan.
But this was an opportunity for us to be able to tell a story about people, even if those people were royals and that lived on the moon and that had a voice that could level a city. It’s how to find and tell that story in a way that you are drawn in and you can actually watch the show and feel comparisons to families that you know and perhaps your own family.
You guys have not been shy about pushing the envelope as far as what kind of special effect you can do on TV. You’ve got a whole family now of characters, each has an individual power, has that posed a challenge to rise to the occasion?
Well, look, we’ve been shy about saying to anybody that in the first two hours alone there are 600 visual shots. Some of those are very simple kinds of things, like we were shooting in Hawaii and there’s a building that can’t be there because they’re on the moon, but every single time you see Lockjaw, that’s a lot of digital zeroes and ones that are creating something that is an actor that’s on the set and that is not something that we had ever done or ever taken on, and I think that the execution and certainly the effects house, Double Negative, has done some great work. They did all the effects on Ant-Man, of the ants, and so it’s little things like that, that each thing has to work on and get to.
We have to build the city that’s under a dome that’s on the moon and you have to get to the moon. Each of those experiences pose different challenges while you’re trying to make a regular television show, and so I can tell you this: this is the show when I was growing up that I wished was on TV, because these are the kinds of things that I read about in comics that I got very excited about, and I hoped that there was a way for me to be able to actual visualize and see in a real way, and so I hope that we can get there.
Look, the work that Mark Kolpack and Chris Cheramie have done on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to me is nothing short of extraordinary and I wish there were better noticed for it, but a lot of people came to us at the beginning of last season and said to us, “How are you going to do Ghost Rider]? That was a feature property. How are you ever going to compare with a feature property?” I think we held up pretty well, not just for television, and I think it really stands as an extraordinary achievement in terms of the whole effects and at least a little bit that we’ve been able to show of what Lockjaw looks like and what the transporting looks like and what the whole world looks like.
I think that speaks to how not just challenging the show has been, but challenging in a good way. Not the kind of way that makes you feel like, “I’m getting overwhelmed”, but inspires you.
You’re obviously incredibly familiar with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s work on the characters. Tell me what the impact it had on you and what you wanted to bring to the show — both the original creations, and then the subsequent work that in the last several years that has made the Inhumans a bigger cornerstone in the Marvel Universe.
My experience comes sort of twofold. One is, obvious to Stan and Jack, everyone knows my love of the Fantastic Four, and the Inhumans was really the place where I caught fire, when they first came to Earth, when the Hidden Land was first discovered, when the dome was first shattered.
All of those things were such big concepts, they were just the kind of things that Stan and Jack, and Jack in particular, did so extraordinarily well. And I’ve said from the very beginning I’ve been looking for that television show that really captured the way that what Kirby drew could not be contained within a page of comics. It always felt like the borders were not big enough and that he was always reaching out beyond, that he was 3D — that he was 4D! — within a comic book page.
And so when we partnered with IMAX the idea of being able to do something that was that big, that you were going to be able to travel in to space, in to the moon, in to the city and be able to meet these people, and to see that kind of scope, that was very exciting to me.
I keep making this joke, which is I keep waiting for that televisions show that kids are watching and then parents are in the other room and suddenly they hear something crash and they come in the room and the lamp is on the floor, and the kid is standing there and he’s going, “I didn’t do it!” The dog came out of the television set and knocked it over and then went back in the television set. If we can get to that place some day, if not in reality, but in the imagination of the people that are watching the show, then I think that’s the real triumph.
The secondary thing is that there was a time at which the Inhumans were in a comic called Amazing Adventures where they shared the comic with Black Widow — because nothing says “Inhumans” like “Black Widow” as far as I’m concerned. Why they were paired together I don’t know, and it was only for 12 issues because in the 13th issues the comic changed to the Beast, the X-Men character.
On a personal level – and folks – you can go check this out, Amazing Adventures #9 was when I got my first letter printed. And I go back and I look at it and I’m so proud of my nine-year-old self of writing to Stan and suggesting where the story should go. Obviously I had no idea how comics were done, but I was talking about what Maximus should do and what these characters were, and so that love of these characters goes that deep. The best part about it is nobody can argue with it — it’s in print.
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