Toonzone News Interviews Jeph Loeb, Marvel’s Head of Television
Recently after the 2012 WonderCon, Toonzone News got the chance to speak with Marvel’s Head of Television, Jeph Loeb, who is also executive producer of Ultimate Spider-Man and the in-development animated series Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. Previously, Loeb has written benchmark stories for DC and Marvel Comics including Spider-Man: Blue, Batman: The Long Halloween, Ultimate Avengers volume 3, Batman: Dark Victory, Batman: Hush, Superman/Batman: World’s Finest, and many more. Loeb has also served as a writer and producer on such shows as Smallville and Heroes, and was also the writer of such live actionfeature films as Teen Wolf and Commando.
TOONZONE NEWS: How was WonderCon, and how excited were you to show off Marvel’s Ultimate-Spider-Man, the second season premiere of The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, and a little preview of Hulk and The Agents of S.M.A.S.H.?
JEPH LOEB: I think it was really an extraordinary event. First of all, I’m incredibly grateful for every moment I was there because I was on so much cold medication that there was a possibility that I was just going to start blathering Kryptonese at any moment, and that would be bad for so many reasons. But I managed to survive the flu that I was fighting off, and I think a large reason why I did was because the audience response to everything that we showed them was nothing short of extraordinary. I think one the things that your readers will enjoy knowing that is as of January 1, Marvel has opened its own animation studio where we are in Glendale in a state of the art facility. Our new Head of Production, Eric Radomski, is really one of the living legends of animation. He’s responsible for a lot of the way that Batman: The Animated Series got the full look that it got, and Spawn on HBO was another show that he produced. This is a guy that is a producer and a director but really more than anything is a visionary. When there’s been real shifts in the half-hour animated form, I think you can find a direct line back to Eric Radomski and the people that have come over in order to work with him. So we have this new facility and at this new facility one of the things that we’re doing is making this one hour block for Disney XD. There are going to be a number of shorts and interstitials that we’re doing – a young company called Retrofit is doing something called “Marvel Mash-Ups,” which are just great fun. We took footage from the old Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends television series and went to an extremely talented writer who wrote the pilot for us named Erik Richter. He did a show that for me still makes me laugh so hard, I actually pee my pants – and you can share that with everyone – and that’s Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law. What we do is we strip out the music and the dialogue and we put in our own. And they are just laugh out loud funny.
So that got everyone in the mood. It was pouring rain down in Anaheim. Then we showed the animation test for Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. for the first anywhere in public. I want everyone to know it’s not what the final product is going to look like. An animation test is our way of seeing how things are looking, how some of the elements are blending together, what color saturation is looking like. You know, very, very simple kinds of things like that. And some voice tests and again people were hollering. Then we got a chance to premiere part one of the pilot of Ultimate Spider-Man in front of a convention audience for the first time, and it just went over like gangbusters. I was so pleased. I judge the success or failure of anything that we show by that when the lights come back on, how many people are still in their seats. When you’re at a convention you have a lot of things to do, so you’re not going to give us 22 minutes of your time if you’re not enjoying what’s going on. What was delightful was that when the lights came on, there were actually more people than when we started. So word was getting around to get up and start looking at the show. They got caught up in the drama, they got caught up in the action, and mostly they got caught up in the humor which was great fun. And I had the enjoyment of being able to – because I was sitting on the stage, so I couldn’t really see the screen – but I could see the audience.
So that was great, and then we followed it up with the show that everyone has been eagerly anticipating its return and that’s season two of The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. That happens to be an incredibly fun episode. There’s a lot of interaction between The Hulk and The Thing. The Fantastic Four come over to play cards with the Avengers and then calamity ensues. But it really gave everybody a very good sense of two things. One, the enormous growth that Marvel is showing in animation both from a writing point of view because we really do have the best writers working in animation. And then also just an animation point of view because I think we are growing as a company and really putting some of the best looking stuff that is on the air right now. There is a lot of really great stuff out there so to say that is in very, very high company.
JEPH LOEB: I do know all those things. We’re not ready to make those announcements yet. Like I said, we are really at the very early stages of developing that show and so I think we have an awesome cast. I’d be more than happy to talk about the cast of Ultimate Spider-Man, starting with Drake Bell, who I think is just completely defining of not only who Peter Parker is but who Spider-Man is and they are two separate roles that require both the drama and the comedy. Chi McBride who is our Nick Fury; Steven Weber who is Norman Osborn; J.K. Simmons, we couldn’t do J. Jonah Jameson without really that voice. I think folks are getting a big kick out of Stan Lee as Stan the janitor. He’s not in all the episodes, but when he does turn up, it’s an awful lot of fun. For me, the real gift from the studio is – you’ve seen him in Iron Man and Thor and he’ll be running around in a little movie called The Avengers on May 4; and that’s Clark Gregg who plays Agent Phil Coulson. He plays Agent Phil Coulson for us on Ultimate Spider-Man.
TOONZONE NEWS: We like to call him Son of Coul on the interwebz.
JEPH LOEB: He is Son of Coul, and when Thor comes by in order to impress Spider-Man we actually get to do the “Son of Coul” gag. It’ll be in there.
TOONZONE NEWS: In S.M.A.S.H., it’s amazing to me that you have the whole Hulk family all working together on the same team. Especially that you have the Hulk there with Red Hulk, since normally they are trying to kill each other. What is it that would bring a team of lone wolves like that together to fight alongside each other?
JEPH LOEB: I think that what folks will get kick out of when they see Agents of S.M.A.S.H. — which is not until a year away from now — but without giving anything away, I think the old adage of “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” does pay off a lot. It’s also when you’re a Hulk, there’s not a lot of opportunities for you to have friends, so sometimes you have to look to people who really understand the world that you live in. All five of these characters — Hulk, Red Hulk, Skaar, She-Hulk, and A-Bomb — all have in some way felt the sting of what it is both to be a hero and be called a monster, which is in many ways kind of a classic Marvel conundrum. You can be the world’s greatest hero, but on the same token that doesn’t mean the public loves you. That’s one of the things that’s an awful lot of fun about the show. It’s a show that is built around how the Hulk does his best to show the world that he is in fact a hero. I think that after people see Marvel’s The Avengers feature, they’ll have a much better sense as to where the Hulk is headed not only in the movies but in animation and in the comics in the coming year. It is a real drive by us to see the Hulk as a hero.
TOONZONE NEWS: Are you serving as a writer and executive producer on Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.?
JEPH LOEB: I serve as executive producer. I don’t do any writing of the shows. I’m obviously very involved creatively, but I barely have enough hours in the day. We have five animated series in various stages of development. We’ve got co-productions that are still going on. We still have the anime series that we’re doing with Sony. We’re wrapping up Iron Man: Armored Adventures with our friends over at Nick. There’s a lot of stuff that goes on here all the time, on top of which I have a live-action television division to run as well. It was in everyone’s best interest that I focus my producing and general sort of running the joint than being involved in any of the writing. But obviously we’ve got a great staff of very, very talented people and those are really the guys that are making the scripts come alive.
TOONZONE NEWS: It’s been almost a year since we’ve seen the last new episode of The Avengers. Was there ever a concern of losing momentum? Or was it more important to start the second season with this new Marvel Animation block on Disney XD to coincide with the release of the live action movie?
JEPH LOEB: I think there were a lot of considerations. We absolutely wanted to be able to get things to the hardcore fanbase who have been incredibly supportive of the show. But we also wanted to make sure that the show really got to the most eyeballs that we could. Every plan that we looked at just came back to that we’re going to have a huge launch with Ultimate Spider-Man; a lot of people coming to Disney XD that are long time fans as well as new people that have never come to the network before. I think they are going to find that Marvel Universe block programming is exciting and fun and adventure-filled. The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes really will benefit from being with Ultimate Spider-Man and vice versa. It is no small coincidence that when you look at the summer, the two big blockbusters that people are going to be talking about are Marvel’s The Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man, so you have an opportunity where two gigantic motion pictures that really, really terrific movies and real crowd-pleasers are coming. We’d like to be able to have something where if you still want to enjoy this experience after you leave the theater, if you still want to taste that Marvel right to the tap, then the place to be is Disney XD on Sunday mornings at 11:00 AM.
TOONZONE NEWS: In light how The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes started development before the Disney acquisition some years back and it was animated by another studio, will this be the final season of the show and will a new animated series be made instead?
JEPH LOEB: We have big plans for The Avengers.
TOONZONE NEWS: So do you think the show will get a third season?
JEPH LOEB: I can just tell you we have big plans for The Avengers and that’s all I can tell you right now.
TOONZONE NEWS: Even though you’re at Marvel now, you’ve also written a lot great stories with DC Comics. Does it gratify you at all to see how the work and great collaborations with artists you’ve had have influenced DC movie projects both live action and animated?
JEPH LOEB: Absolutely. Look, as I’ve always said, my job is to be a storyteller. I happen to be at a company that I just think is doing the best work in the business right now, but that doesn’t mean that the things that I’ve told in the past if DC or any other company sees that as a story that will work in whatever form whether it’s animated or live action. I’ve been very, very grateful that Christopher Nolan and David Goyer have been extremely complimentary in public on the influences of Batman: The Long Halloween and also Dark Victory on movies like Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Having that opportunity to have that kind of impact on pop-culture and just in this business that I love so much is an extraordinary opportunity. So while we’re as competitive as the next guy, we’ve always said that a strong story told by a competitor just makes us better. It makes us work harder and makes us get in there and dig deeper. So I’m hoping that DC will continue to make use of the stories that I told when I was there, and I never say never. There’s a chance that I may be back there one day, so who knows what will happen.
Toonzone would like to thank Jeph Loeb for taking the time to speak with us. The new Marvel Animation block featuring Ultimate Spider-Man and the new season of The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes airs on Sundays at 11:00 AM on Disney XD.