Marvel has long dominated comic books and movies — as most recently witnessed by the colossal box office for The Avengers movie — and now the superhero company is making their mark in television. On Monday Disney XD announced a second season pick-up for Ultimate Spider-Man, the network's highest-rated animated series. Next up, the newly created Marvel Animation Studios division is flexing its muscle with an ambitious development slate. On the horizon for 2013 are two series, Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. and Marvel's Avengers Assemble. "We've got the very best talent possible and we're allowing them the leeway to create the best stories possible," says Joe Quesada, chief creative officer of Marvel Entertainment. "We're not reinventing the wheel here, we're just looking at what we've done successfully and applying that now to a new division of Marvel." Quesada and Jeph Loeb, Marvel's executive vice president and head of television, got on the phone with TV Guide Magazine to talk about their new initiatives. Here is an edited transcript of the interview.
TV Guide Magazine: First off, congrats on the Ultimate Spider-Man renewal.
Jeph Loeb: Just to start, the people that we really want to thank are the fans, who just came out in droves. And also this larger audience that we're trying to reach, the Disney XD audience, which has come to us, some for the first time. So that part is super exciting to us.
Joe Quesada: We loved the response from our hardcore Marvel fans. They really embraced the show and they got the word out in so many ways. It's been pretty overwhelming. We knew we were creating a really special show, just how special we weren't sure. At the end of the day it's a pretty democratic system how these things get renewed: You either have the ratings or you don't. And we've been really, really thankful and blessed that we've had incredible ratings.
Jeph Loeb: To give credit where it's due, Disney XD really went out and pumped the Marvel Universe block. And now we're really excited to be able tell our fans that there's going to be at least 52 episodes.
TV Guide Magazine: Season 1 is still airing, but what can you tell us about the second season?
Jeph Loeb: The Avengers is the No. 3 movie of all-time and there's a brand new Spider-Man movie that's coming out on July 3. We want [this series] to be relevant to those films. There will be more stories that feature those Avengers characters — Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk, they'll all be coming back in Season 2. But even more exciting to us is that we're going to be able to explore the villain from this summer's Amazing Spider-Man [movie]. Curt Connors has been playing a role throughout all of Season 1, and finally in Season 2, longtime Spidey fans and Marvel fans will get to see his transformation into the Lizard.
Joe Quesada: We'll also dig a little bit deeper into the supporting cast, so we'll have more about Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Nova, including an origin or two. For the hardcore Marvel aficionado it's safe to say that you could some much beloved characters that you might not expect to see in animation.
TV Guide Magazine: What else is coming from Marvel Animation Studios?
Jeph Loeb: This was a major step forward for us and it's been a chance to both maintain the creative control that Marvel has been so successful with and at the same time be able to push the boundaries in animation. There are two huge projecta that we're working on. The first, we know the impact that The Avengers had — and continues to have — this summer, and there's one particular character who has been the breakout hit of the summer and he's big and he's green and he's our Incredible Hulk. So we started talking about it and we thought what's more fun than one Hulk? And that would actually be five Hulks! We're taking characters that already exist in the Marvel Universe — because it's very important to us that it all begins with [the comic-book] publishing. That cast is Hulk; the Red Hulk; Skaar, who's the teenage barbarian Hulk, She Hulk — who's actually been a character in the Marvel Universe for 30 years; and a relatively new character, A-Bomb. He's more of a Blue Hulk. And together they are Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.
TV Guide Magazine: What does S.M.A.S.H. stand for?
Jeph Loeb: Joe had that answer the first day: They're Hulks, it can stand for anything they want it to.
TV Guide Magazine: And what's the second project?
Jeph Loeb: The Avengers movie has been the ambassador to the world for the Marvel Universe so we want a show that has the feel and the tone and the incredible adventures like that movie. So the next project that we're working on — and this is down in our lab, top secret, with the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents protecting us at all costs — is Marvel's Avengers Assemble, which will be a brand new and really extraordinary looking animated series dealing with the Avengers in that same world.
TV Guide Magzine: You already have Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes on the Disney XD. How is this new show going to be different?
Jeph Loeb: We're still very early on in the process and we don't give away too much. It's safe to say that we're looking at a show that more closely echoes the tone and the feel of the movie.
TV Guide Magazine: Does that mean it will skew towards an older audience?
Jeph Loeb: No, but it will certainly have that kind of gigantic action and interacting among the characters and their voices that the movie has.
TV Guide Magazine: I understand that the African-American superhero Falcon is going to be a part of this show. Why was he an important addition to the team?
Joe Quesada: Falcon is going to be the eyes of the viewer. He's a new member of the Avengers so he's walking through our stories wide-eyed and with wonder and amazed to be a part of it. He's a little younger than the rest of the cast and a little greener, so he adds an interesting dimension to the team that we think will play really well with the audience.
TV Guide Magazine: Where are you in terms of finding a network? Since you're part of the Disney empire and you've already had success on Disney XD, that would seem like a logical home for these shows.
Jeph Loeb: I think the best answer for that would be, "Wouldn't that be fantastic?"
TV Guide Magazine: So even though the Avengers franchise is huge right now, you're comfortable producing these without a network partner lined up?
Jeph Loeb: We feel comfortable that we will have a home for this.
TV Guide Magazine: What style of animation will you be using for these shows?
Jeph Loeb: In the same kind of way that Ultimate Spider-Man pushed the boundaries in terms of a unique combination of 2D and CG and using top-flight writers and voice actors, that's what we're looking for. Eric Radomski, who is in charge of production for us, has been involved with such groundbreaking shows as Batman: The Animated Series and Spawn, and every single time there's been a significant leap in the look and tone of action adventure television animation he's been there. We really look to him and our creative people to break down that wall and see what the next level is.
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