Wacker Discusses Inhumans' Debut On "Hulk And The Agents Of SMASH"

The world of Marvel's animation universe welcomes the Inhumans into the fold with this Sunday's episode of "Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H." The series ushers in a new era of pop culture awareness for Black Bolt and company in an episode appropriately titled "Inhuman Nature."

Appearing as if out of nowhere, Inhumans Triton and Crystal draw the attention of A-Bomb and Skaar, with the former accidentally teleporting away with the newcomers thanks to the appearance of Lockjaw. A-Bomb's pals -- Hulk, Skaar, Red and She-Hulk -- set out to find their friend and stumble across a hidden city filled with super-powered beings. Familiar faces like Black Bolt, Medusa, Karnak, Gorgon, Maximus and the aforementioned Triton, Lockjaw and Crystal all reside there. But their shared exile doesn't mean they all agree on what to do with these intruders, or whether it's time to reveal themselves to the world at large.

To get the inside track on the episode and what the Inhumans mean to kids today, CBR News talked to Steve Wacker, Marvel's freshly-minted new Vice President Animation-Current. Earlier this year, Wacker transferred from the New York comic offices to California ,where he now oversees story for not only "Hulk," but also "Ultimate Spider-Man" and "Avengers Assemble", all of which air on Disney XD.

Wacker talked about the thrill of introducing a new generation of Marvel fans to characters like the Inhumans, the differences between comics and cartoon and Lockjaw's potential as a breakout character. Plus, we have an exclusive clip from the episode, introducing the Inhuman royal family!

CBR News: Before getting into the specifics of "Inhuman Nature," I have to ask, how has the transition between from comics to animation been for you so far?

Steve Wacker: It's pretty different. I've had a pretty big learning curve, but between Jeph Loeb and the guys here -- Cort Lane and Eric Radomski -- they've been great. I've also got a good team here who have been working on shows for years, so they're picking up a lot. A lot of my job is about story stuff, so when we're talking about story and I'm with writers, that's stuff I'm used to doing. It's very similar to the old job. I definitely don't have as much experience with animation as I did with comic books, which I've read my entire life. I've been very appreciative that there have been people around here that catch my falls.

It also must be nice that there are other people working on these shows like Loeb, Paul Dini and Joe Quesada, who have gone back and forth between comics and animation.

Exactly. I have been coming out here for a couple years, sort of uncredited, to be in the rooms for the story summits. I wasn't completely brand new; I'd been here a little bit for the "Spider-Man" show.

Speaking of "Ultimate Spider-Man," that show shares a similar tone with "Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H." in that they both have a solid mix of action and comedy. Is that something that appealed to you about this new venture?

From the beginning, Jeph's philosophy with these shows is that we needed to add some humor to it. Almost all of the action-adventure animation you see on TV has a hint of comedy in it. Our viewers seems to like that mix, and it's very much in the Marvel blood to have jokes interspersed with people getting punched in the face.

Taking a typically solo character like Hulk and surrounding him with characters like A-Bomb and Skaar is a clever way to bring some humor into that world.

Adding humor to the Hulk, I think that's something kind of new for us. It's a very good fit, particularly with the characters peppered around the show. Skaar has become my favorite character in animation. My son just yelled, "Me too." [Laughs] Skaar in particular is very much like a kid, and I know from my family that kids can be very violent and they tell jokes when they're punching me in the stomach.

This season of "Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. is close to wrapping up, but "Ultimate Spider-Man" and "Avengers" are on the way. What has your level of involvement on development been since you got there?

Last San Diego we announced "Spidey" Season Three. That was something I knew was coming. For "Hulk" that was pretty far down the line by the time I started, but I've been a big part of "Avengers" Season Two as well, so I've set the direction for that and figured those episodes out. I'll be there for all the future surprise projects.

These episodes take a while to go from script to screen, and the "Hulk" season is almost over. How far along was "Inhuman Nature" when you got there?

That's been the big change. I can do a comic in a couple months; needing to wait a year for animation to be done is crazy. This one was just getting wrapped when I started, or had just been wrapped up. I knew the direction they were going in. When I got the job and was catching up on all the shows, I got a chance to see this in its close-to-final form and it was, I think, my favorite episode of Season One. The Inhumans just play so well on the screen. They're great characters with a great history for us, and seeing them finally actually come to life was pretty exciting.

I would imagine that's one of the nice elements of this new job, seeing characters like the Inhumans you've loved since you were a kid, and even worked on as an editor, actually move and talk.

It's so cool! Mitch Schauers, the show's visual director, and Harrison Wilcox, the executive on the show, and Henry Gilroy, who runs the show, did such a great job. Whatever the alchemy when they were casting this show, the Inhumans sound like they do in my head. They did a really nice job casting it.

I was surprised to see how many of the voice actors actually doubled up on voices. Fred Tatasciore did Hulk and Karnak, Clancy Brown did Hulk and Black Bolt, and Nolan North voiced Maximus and Gorgon.

I didn't put that together, either. Clancy only has one word as Black Bolt. Seeing these characters come to life and knowing, big picture on the publishing side, how important the Inhumans are to us, it's time to bring them out of the shadows a bit and show the new Marvel fans from the last ten years exactly how cool these characters are.

And this seemed like a really solid introduction. The Inhumans can be complicated characters, but the audience was given just the right of information to know what their deal is.

I know from working in publishing that when you start talking about the history of some of these characters, particularly the Inhumans, it can quickly get intimidating. They were able to explain the Inhumans without hearing the word "Celestials" or anything like that -- they just gave you what you need to know. They're hoping to lay the groundwork for fans for the next 20 years. Some 8-year-old is going to watch that episode and know who they are, and they'll be asking for them. That's one of the roles of these shows, to start training the next generation of Marvel fans.

A lot of people in their 30s credit the "Spider-Man" and "X-Men" cartoons of the early '90s as doing that very thing, so it can definitely happen.

That "X-Men" cartoon made more fans than just about anything else we've ever done. I never watched that show, I was a little too old for it. I liked the "Spider-Man" show, though.

Both as a parent and as a person who loves comics, it's got to be nice knowing you're working on something like this that can influence the next generation of fans.

One of the things I like about the move to animation is that we can do stories a mother and a son or a father and daughter can all watch together at the same time. With comics, it's generally a solo practice. You read it and you can share it with your dad or mom, but you have to read it individually. With the animation shows, everyone can sit down on Sunday morning, turn on Disney XD and watch it together. I think that's bringing the whole family into the Marvel world.

In addition to teaching kids who these characters are, the episodes also usually have a message. What do you think they can take away from the Inhumans?

I think the classic Inhumans set-up is a fear of the outside. Do you let people in? Do you keep to your own? Do you keep to yourself, or do you open yourself up to the world? That's their metaphor, everywhere we've used them. That's pretty deeply embedded in the show and certainly in the script Adam Beechen wrote. It's filled with their struggle to come to terms with the outside and open up their society to the world. It's a pretty frightening prospect if you've just closed yourself off for years and years and years. Through the Hulk and the Agents, they see a little more of the world. The whole of the episode centers on that decision, of whether it's time to stop treating this civilization you live in as something closed off to the rest of the world and open it up. I think it's got a lot to say about fear of the modern world and things like that.

That message seems to jive with the Hulk as a guy who often just wants to be left alone.

He's misunderstood. In our show, he's had to get comfortable with friends, even old enemies, alongside him. Thunderbolt used to try and take him in every week. Hulk's a good messenger for that. That, and always wear a helmet. [Laughs]

And Lockjaw is awesome.

Lockjaw is great! You'll come out of this episode wanting a Skaar/Lockjaw buddy show. We might need to do a one-off. I think there's a version of reality where, I don't know, ten years from now, the same way everyone knows who Rocket Raccoon is, people are going to know who Lockjaw is. He's a breakout character waiting to happen. And he's actually a dog in this. He's not a human turned into a dog.

Considering Skaar and Lockjaw's friendship, Hulk and Black Bolt's newfound respect for one another and A-Bomb's potential relationship with Crystal, there seem to be a lot of connections here. Are there plans for the Inhumans to show up in future episodes either this season, next or in the other Marvel shows?

We've talked about it. There's nothing solid. I would certainly like to see more, even among the other shows like "Avengers" or "Spider-Man." We'll see how the reaction is to this one. I do agree, though, that they hook up pretty well with the Hulks. They're a very, very good match, so maybe we can see more of them, but it's a little too early to say.

The Inhumans make their debut on "Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H." on Disney XD, this Sunday at 8:00 AM.

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