Fridays on CBR mean Axel’s In Charge — except for this week, with Marvel publishing coming off multiple days sequestered in its latest editorial retreat.
Normally, we’d welcome you to MARVEL A-I-C: AXEL-IN-CHARGE, CBR’s regular interview feature with Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso — but this week we’re focusing on the small screen, as CBR has enlisted the insight of Jeph Loeb, Head of Marvel Television and writer of some of the most noted comic book stories at both Marvel and DC Comics in the past two decades.
It’s certainly a big week for Marvel Television, with “Daredevil” debuting today on Netflix in full — 13 episodes simultaneously released onto the popular streaming service, starring Charlie Cox in the dual lead role of visually impaired lawyer Matt Murdock and the vigilante protector of Hell’s Kitchen, Daredevil. Loeb talks in-depth about the show — the first of five Marvel series planned for Netflix — and how the “all at once” model affected the storytelling, the advantages of not having to fit individual episodes to broadcast length and the looser content restrictions inherent with being on Netflix (if you haven’t watched yet, get ready for some fairly brutal violence and S-words). Loeb also talks what makes Cheo Hodari Coker, the newly installed “Luke Cage” showrunner, the right for that show — the third Marvel/Netflix series on the schedule, following the currently-in-production “A.K.A. Jessica Jones.” Additionally, Loeb addresses the current explosion of comic book-based TV programming, and shed some light on the prospects of a “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Season Three and a “Marvel’s Agent Carter” Season Two.
Next week: The return of Axel Alonso and your questions, straight from the CBR Community!
Albert Ching: Jeph, presumably a lot of fans are no doubt in the midst of their “Daredevil” binge-watching marathons right now.
Jeph Loeb: As we like to say: To the employers of America, I cannot be responsible for the number of Marvel fans who will find mysterious reasons for not coming to work on Friday. I apologize in advance.
A lot of mysterious illnesses popping up at the end of this week, surely. For you, what are you excited for fans to discover in what Marvel TV is doing with “Daredevil?” It’s something different than what fans are used to seeing from Marvel in live-action.
Loeb: It’s a number of things. First of all, this is just the beginning of our relationship with Netflix. It’s been an amazing partnership — as I think everyone knows, it’s an unprecedented deal that enables us to do four series and an event series. We need to get this one right. [Laughs] By all estimations, and certainly from our friends at Netflix, they seem very pleased.
The second part is, in many ways, this is an opportunity for us to establish Marvel Television’s identity. We have had tremendous success with “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “Marvel’s Agent Carter,” but now we have the creative freedom to work on a Netflix platform. We hope people will be able to see another side of us that they respond to. But in the same kind of way that Marvel Studios, which is separate from us, has had such tremendous success with “Iron Man,” “Hulk,” “Thor,” “Captain America,” leading into “The Avengers,” our hope is that “Daredevil,” going into “A.K.A. Jessica Jones,” into “Luke Cage,” into “Iron Fist,” and resulting in “The Defenders,” will really define these characters, and show the audience how much we love telling the stories of the street-level heroes.
How important was it for Marvel Television to show a different side of its identity with “Daredevil?” It makes sense for the character — there are a lot of darker stories, some very famous ones, featuring the character. Watching the TV show, it’s more of a Marvel Knights feel, more of a cable TV/Netflix feel. How much of that was part of the equation in doing this — being able to show off this range that readers know that Marvel has, but the current live-action reviewers may not be quite as aware of?
Loeb: We never set out to make anything a certain way. It was always our first objective to tell the best story that we can. In the case of “Daredevil,” there are lots of different stories. Just speaking for myself, “Daredevil: Yellow” is very different from what Frank Miller and Brian Michael Bendis did, and is very different from what Mark Waid is doing. That speaks to the iconic nature of the character. The character’s been around for many years. There’s a wealth of stories for us to be able to take from. But it was always our decision to set it in the world of a crime drama. That was something that Frank and Brian did so excellently, as well as a lot of other writers, including Ed Brubaker.
This is a crime drama first, and a superhero saga second. That had nothing to do with what platform we were on, as much as, it was the appropriate story to tell with Daredevil. In the same kind of way that with “Jessica Jones,” we’re telling the story that we feel is the most appropriate. It’s the way we approach any project: What works best.
You mentioned how many different things Daredevil has meant as a character over the decades, and I think that’s an important part of this. Daredevil has a unique place in Marvel history — he means a lot to readers, and certainly to creators. There are many beloved, acclaimed Daredevil runs. Given that, is there a sense of pride attached to be able to present, to the world at large, Marvel’s take on Daredevil in live-action — which hasn’t been seen before?
Loeb: Absolutely, but I don’t speak for myself, I speak for everyone at Marvel. This is a character that’s been around for 50 years, has a very, very loyal following, and has had some of the most seminal Marvel stories told. If people want to know about really cool Marvel stories, a lot of them are Daredevil stories. It was unfortunate that, until now, we didn’t own the rights to be able to tell a live-action version of that.
We always believed that Daredevil lent itself to being a television series. A lot of things came together in a very big way. A lot of that credit I have to give to Alan Fine, Dan Buckley and Joe Quesada, who were integral at making sure that Marvel Television did get the chance to be able to tell the story.
From watching the initial chunk of episodes, some people are likely going to be a little bit surprised by the show at first — it’s a little bit more violent than folks are used to seeing from Marvel live-action. The language is a little bit different. It’s not anything over the top, but it is distinct. What was the approach to that, in terms of how far Marvel wanted to push the content?
Loeb: Again, we looked at it from the point-of-view of the character. A lot of people don’t realize that the Marvel Studios movies, of which I’m a huge fan, are PG-13. A large chunk of our audience never gets to see those movies in the theater. They wind up seeing them on Blu-ray, or DVD, or on cable, or on Netflix. So that means there’s a very young audience out there that enjoys those movies in a big way.
While we certainly don’t want to alienate that audience, we have also not hid the fact that, from the very beginning, these stories were going to be told with a little bit more of an edge. We’ve sort of affectionately referred to it as “PG-16.” It does have a TV-MA rating, for parents who want to know. By the same token, it’s not R. There was a line that we definitely held to, and I have to applaud Steve DeKnight, our showrunner, who understood that from the beginning, and embraced it, and didn’t feel that there was a line that we needed to go over. It is a very real, grounded world, that is absolutely appropriate for this character. Would we do that with every character? Absolutely not. But we certainly see it with the street-level heroes, based on the kinds of [comics] stories that have been told. If we were telling a Spider-Man or a Captain America story, we wouldn’t be thinking about it in these kinds of terms. It was appropriate for those characters.
All 13 episodes of “Daredevil,” in the Netflix tradition, debuted on the service simultaneously. How does that changes the storytelling experience? It’s a new thing for Marvel to basically have a 13-hour movie all drop at once. From your perspective, how has that worked to the show’s advantage?
Loeb: It absolutely has an effect on the way you tell the story. For one, you don’t have the need to structure the story where the opening, and in many cases the first act, has to help the audience catch back up again. There hasn’t been a week, or more than a week, as it is in broadcast television, for you to be able to catch up. There’s no need for a “Previously On.” It just happened.
But really, what it enables us to do is tell a story that feels more like a 13-hour movie, as opposed to single adventures along the way. It’s because of the way that it’s presented. If you’re given all 13 episodes at once, it’s very different than if you were to do something over 13 weeks, or more, which is what you get when you’re doing it in broadcast television. For us, from the very beginning when we sat down with Netflix, and then when we sat down with Drew Goddard and Steve DeKnight, we started talking about, “What is the best way to build this story so it just moves like a freight train through all 13 episodes?”
The best way I can describe it is, it very much feels like a run in the comics. An artist and a writer come in, they have a story to tell, it has a beginning, middle and an end. Sometimes there’s six [issues], sometimes there are 13, sometimes there are 12, and they tell that story, and it’s complete, and it’s oftentimes collected into a trade paperback. That’s much more the way we embraced the story, than we would if we were telling it over a much longer period of time. There’s a sense of immediacy that we have tried to instill into the storytelling.
But I think it’s fair to say that with all of Marvel Television, one of the things that we spend a great deal of talking about on “S.H.I.E.L.D.” and with “Carter” — we always want to have a sense of urgency. If for some reason you were to miss the next episode, you’ve missed something significant. One of the things that happens when you’re watching it on Netflix, the next episode is right there for you to have. I think the place that people are going to start having story withdrawals is, once you’ve watched 13, it’s going to be a little bit of a while before you get to see “Jessica Jones.” [Laughs]
That’s almost a reason to not binge-watch, to extend that experience a little longer.
Loeb: I heartily recommend binge-watching it once, and then taking your time and watching it again.
I grew up having to wait years for the next “Star Wars” movie to come out. When I took my son to go see the re-release of “A New Hope,” for the first time he came out of it wondering when the next one was coming out, and I said, “Good news, ‘Empire Strikes Back,’ is going to be in a month.” And he said, “A month? Why do I have to wait that long?” Some of us waited three years! You can’t make everybody happy all the time.
Thirteen episodes of “Daredevil” is a lot to digest on its own — and they’re long episodes! Not 42 minutes like on broadcast TV, but 53, 54 minutes.
Loeb: One of the benefits of being on Netflix is, the shows are as long as they need to be. They have no maximum requirement for us, and we’ve certainly taken advantage of that, within what we could accomplish in the number of days of production that we had.
One more question on the Netflix front — just last week it was revealed that Cheo Hodari Coker will be the showrunner of the “Luke Cage” series. That’s an intriguing choice, because he’s not a writer with a genre background, his experience is on crime shows and in nonfiction storytelling. From your perspective, what made him the right choice for “Luke Cage”?
Loeb: I can’t speak more highly of Cheo. His background, coming from the shows and movies that he’s been involved in, the quality of the writing that he does, the number of people that he knows — because one of the things that’s important about being a showrunner is that you’re able to pull a writers’ room together. He brought all of that to the table. But really, most importantly, what he brought to the table is an incredible passion for this character. When he started to talk about who Luke Cage was, and the world that Luke came from, and the story that we were looking to tell — it all just synced up beautifully. We’re very excited about what he’s doing.
That is the nature of what we do at Marvel Television. It’s to find the right showrunners for the show. In the case of “S.H.I.E.L.D.,” we cheated; we got Joss Whedon. Joss also brought with him the extraordinarily talented Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen and Jeff Bell. When we moved over to “Carter,” again, we got to cheat a little bit, because Chris Markus and Steve McFeely had written the two “Captain America” movies, and understood Peggy in a way that was entirely unique. But that show would not have happened without Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas and Chris Dingess, who were our showrunners. I’ve spoken earlier about Drew and Steven. At first blush, I think a number of people looked at Melissa Rosenberg’s credits, and wondered whether or not she was the right person for “Jessica Jones,” but the reality was, a) her background from “Dexter” was extremely important to us, b) to be able to pull off the kind of international sensation that is the “Twilight” films — and not just one, but to do all of them — speaks to her dedication in where she is in genre fiction. But most importantly, when she came in and talked about who Jessica was, and what that story could be, it was completely in sync with what it is that we wanted to do.
It’s very similar to what the movie studio does. They come up with some surprising names for directors or for writers — I think a lot of people were very surprised at the idea of James Gunn being the creative driving force on “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and look how wonderful it turned out to be. When you look on paper at the Russo Brothers, I’m not quite sure how you make the jump from “Community” and “Arrested Development” to what they did with “Winter Soldier,” and what I’m hearing is going on with “Civil War.” And having had the pleasure of working with Joe [Russo] on “Agent Carter,” I get it. These are just incredibly talented, passionate people, and that’s what we look for more than anything else.
Circling back around, that’s what Cheo brought. He just blew us away with his pitch, with his take, with his love for the material. It shows on the page. I think when people get to finally see Mike Colter play this role, with any kind of luck, they’ll have the same kind of positive reaction we’re seeing from “Daredevil.”
To speak a bit more generally for a bit — you’ve been at the Marvel TV job for about five years now, and now not only does Marvel have two network shows, five Netflix series, multiple animation projects — but in the past few months, we’re seeing almost on a daily basis, more and more shows based on comics from a variety of publishers getting developed, debuting on the air, casting news. It’s a crazy time for comic book-based TV programming. How gratifying is that for you, as someone who has been working in both mediums for so long — and is there any sense of that inevitable worry that fans always have, that it might become too much?
Loeb: I will always — and I’ve said this about everything that I’ve been lucky enough to work on, going all the way back to “Teen Wolf” — I could not be more grateful to the people who enjoy the things that I’ve been involved in. I can’t do what I do unless people enjoy it, and they’ve been amazing. I never thought I would be lucky enough to have been able to work in movies, television, animation and comics. These were all things that I grew up loving, and I had a chance to be able to work on.
Working at Marvel — it’s a team. Everybody that I’ve mentioned before; Jim Chory, who is our head of production; Karim Zreik, who is our Senior VP in charge of development; Megan Thomas Bradner; Samantha Thomas; the list goes on and on. We just have a great group of people who love Marvel. That’s what Marvel really is terrific at.
In terms of the danger of there being too much, it’s inevitable that one of us is going to trip and fall. I don’t know that that’s the end of anything. We certainly don’t enter any project expecting failure. We try to tell the best stories that we can, and hope that people respond. If we bring the kind of passion that we have, the respect for the fans, and the intention of being able to create as large an audience as we can, then we all know that we’ve done that we’ve done the best that we could, and we are incredibly grateful for everyone that has responded — in particular, right now, to what’s going on with “Daredevil.” I’m hoping that as of Friday, our risk comes with reward.
Jeph, last thing while I have you here — I’m sure there’s nothing much you can say, but just to do due diligence: How are things looking for an “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Season Three and an “Agent Carter” Season Two?
Loeb: As I like to remind folks: Those are decisions that are made by the network, they’re not made by Marvel. But I’m certainly hopeful, and I can tell you that everyone that’s involved with those shows is ready and raring to keep going. If you know the people at ABC, please feel free to email, to send peanuts, or whatever it is that you would do in order to tell the Network your love for the show. [Laughs]
And really, more than anything else, if you are enjoying the shows, the best thing you can do is tell a friend, tweet, use social media; let the world know you’re a Marvel fan, and that you’re a fan of Marvel Television. It can never hurt.
Axel Alonso will return next week! Have some questions for Marvel’s AXEL-IN-CHARGE? Please visit the AXEL-IN-CHARGE Q&A thread in CBR’s Marvel Comics community. It’s the dedicated thread that CBR will pull questions for next week’s installment of our weekly fan-supported question-and-answer column! Do it to it!
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