‘Ultimate Spider-Man’ Star Drake Bell and Producer Cort Lane Guarantee Big Stories, More Villains in Season 2 [Interview]
Disney XD's Ultimate Spider-Man proved in its first season that it had ambitions well beyond its title character. Peter Parker, his arachnid alter-ego, and his pals got plenty of screen time, but so did the various members of S.H.I.E.L.D., a super-team consisting of teenage versions of White Tiger, Nova, Iron Fist and Power Man, and guest stars from every corner of the Marvel Universe. With the show's second season set to premiere next Monday at 7 p.m. ET, Supervising Producer Cort Lane and star Drake Bell, who voices Spider-Man, took some time to chat with ComicsAlliance about whether that broad focus will continue, what new bad guys will be popping up this season, and how the show's helping more kids learn to love reading.ComicsAlliance: Having seen the first season of Ultimate Spider-Man, one of the things I could say is that it's almost as much a Marvel Universe series as it is a Spider-Man series. Howard the Duck had a cameo, even. You had Spider-Ham, all that stuff. Will the second season continue to go in that direction or will it focus in a little more on Peter, Aunt May and Mary Jane, now that the Spidey team is living in Aunt May's house?
Cort Lane: I think you're going to get a bit of both, because we do get visits from a lot of the Avengers, including Hawkeye, who's new for this season. We also explore a lot of Spidey's core rogues gallery of villains. Drake can speak to that, but we do see a lot of them, and a lot of them have personal relationships with Spider-Man that are really interesting. We actually do more of Spidey's world that fans are traditionally used to, but we have plenty of that Marvel Universe, too, including crazy outer space stuff and things that I can't even hint at yet.
Drake Bell: This season's going to be exciting because this is the introduction of Doc Connors becoming The Lizard, so throughout the season we're going to have Spider-Man battling with him and trying to save his friend, because they're great friends. More Doc Ock, more Goblin. The Sinister Six we see throughout the first six episodes, and then in the sixth episode we get to bring them all together. Carnage. There are a lot of really cool villains this season.
CA: Spider-Man has one of the greatest rogues galleries of any comics character ever. Is there a villain in particular that you guys are excited to see? I noticed some special enthusiasm from you, Drake, about The Lizard.
DB: Yeah, that's a really cool character because, even like with Norman Osborn, the cool thing about Spider-Man villains is there's always this sort of inner turmoil between, "Wait, I know he's bad, I'm supposed to save everyone, but I also want to help my friend." I really like those kinds of storylines. The Lizard is an exciting one.
CL: For me, The Lizard also, but I think the one I was most excited about was our version of Kraven coming to life. He's just a really kick-butt villain, everything from the Russian accent to his abilities to his past history with one of our core characters. It's a more interesting twist on a character, which makes it more exciting for me.
CA: One thing about this show that differentiates it from other Spider-Man cartoons or comics is that, basically from the get-go, Spider-Man has had this kind of support system in S.H.I.E.L.D. and in the team he's been working with. Is season two going to get to that Spider-Man thing where he's all alone, where even when he wins, he loses? Drake, I'd think you'd want to sink your teeth into that aspect of the character.
DB: Yeah, definitely.
CL: It's a balance. We do a lot of both. Peter Parker is really interesting as a solitary character, but we get great character dymanics with him playing off other characters, heroes or villains, or his friends. We get a lot of him and Harry [Osborn] this season, working through their issues together. The S.H.I.E.L.D. setup in season one was something we were very much inspired by elements from Brian Michael Bendis' Ultimate Spider-Man to do.
And then we have these amazing writers, the Man of Action guys [Joe Casey, Joe Kelly, Steven T. Seagle, Duncan Rouleau], Paul Dini, and of course [Executive Producers] Jeph Loeb and Joe Quesada are very involved in the storytelling. The idea is that we could have the best of all worlds. We could have Spidey interacting with the Marvel Universe or S.H.I.E.L.D. as a great vehicle to do that with, and then we could tell solo stories, and we could do team-ups, and we could do a bit of everything. We could look at Spidey from all those different angles. You're going to get a lot of that in season.
CA: This show also has a sort of goofy humor. Spider-Man has always had a sense of humor, he's always been quippy, but this show has those cutaways to those differently animated sequences and a lot Spidey talking to the camera. I can only assume season two is going to continue that.
DB: It definitely does. It definitely sticks with the classic Spider-Man trying to find a joke, find a pun in everything. That's really fun to play, because, like you were saying, they're bad jokes that are funny because that's what makes them funny. You find a joke or a pun in every little rhyme or, "Oh, there's The Shocker. That's shocking." Little things like that. He can't help himself. Those are fun to do.
CL: It's very much the same tone in season two, even as he deals with serious personal issues, that helps keep the show light and fun for kids when he's dealing with dangerous challenges and really rough personal issues to work through. The fourth-wall-breaking moments and the going inside Spidey's head, we just feel like that makes him very relatable for kids. This guy who quips all the time, he's very creative and imaginative. We just explore that a little further by going inside his head.
CA: Spoiler alert for our readers, the first season ended with the Helicarrier sinking. That seems to signify not only some big changes for Power Man, Iron Fist, White Tiger and Nova, but also for S.H.I.E.L.D. itself. Are we going to be following that in season two?
DB: You get to see, because the Helicarrier got destroyed, the team has to live with Peter and Aunt May. You get to see Peter dealing with having to relinquish some of his -- having to wait to use the computer or having to share video games and stuff, which is cool because this is the season where Peter has to really become the leader. I think having them come into the house and him having to deal with that forces him to have to take that role.
CL: S.H.I.E.L.D. is sort of in disarray at the beginning of the season. The kids are a little bit more on their own and you get to see that in the first few episodes where, either on his own or with his teammates, Spider-Man has to deal with these new villains. They are very powerful, they come together as a team in the Sinister Six, and [Spider-Man and his team] don't have as much support from S.H.I.E.L.D. That makes the challenges even greater.
CA: One thing I'm sure is on the minds of a lot of fans of the show and fans of the Avengers movie is the fact that S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Coulson, who played such a huge role in the show -- he was even the principal at Peter's school -- met a serious fate in the movie. Is that something that's going to be addressed?
CL: No, we're not going to kill off Agent Coulson, as it were, in the show. We really enjoy him as a character and you're going to get plenty of him in season two. He and Peter's relationship is complicated. They really like each other, but Agent Coulson is not only his principal, but his S.H.I.E.L.D. handler who is always challenging him to be a better hero. Also, he's sort of dating Aunt May, which is not cool on any level. I think you know that Agent Coulson is also going to be in the live-action series S.H.I.E.L.D., so Marvel is in the Agent Coulson business is all I will say.
CA: That's good to hear. Clark Gregg is great. Drake, I'm sure you have a lot of fun with him.
DB: It's awesome being able to work with him. It's a blast.
CA: Tell me about the literacy initiative you guys are doing. You had a big kickoff event over the weekend for that, and I understand there's going to be some promotion with the season premiere.
CL: It's called Marvel Comics Close-Up. It's very cool. It launches with the premiere of season two of Ultimate Spider-Man on Monday, January 21, in primetime. There are a couple components. One is these interstitials starring Joe Quesada, our beloved Chief Creative Officer, with Dylan Riley Snyder, an actor on a Disney XD show called Kickin' It, and it introduces kids to specific issues of Marvel Comics, new ones, classic ones. At the end of each of these one-minute introductions to these stories, you get the opportunity to go online and [read] a digital version of that comic for free. It's specifically targeted to kids. You'll find a lot of synergy with Ultimate Spider-Man's second season, in terms of the characters that are featured. we highlight all kinds of Marvel characters: Thor, the Hulk, Captain America, Ultimate Spider-Man stories featuring Venom and Green Goblin.
It's a real nice selection and introduction to the Marvel Universe and really encourages kids to develop a love for reading through Marvel Comics, which, probably for you and me, comics is how we really developed a love for reading.
CA: One big part of this is that you're going to donate 210,000 books to libraries and communities all over the country. Are those all going to be Marvel comics?
CL: Marvel [books] will be included with the book donations and book programs in these markets, but it's all kinds of books. It's through Disney Publishing working with local affiliate stations, so the program will be customized for each local market, their needs for local programs, libraries and institutions they can look into. It's all kinds of books for all kinds of kids.
CA: So before we wrap up, let's hear you guys' pitch for why people should tune in to the season premiere Monday.
CL: You've got to watch these first two episodes. If you want to see the Sinister Six come together, and who doesn't, this gives you a taste of three of the members of the Sinister Six. it's our biggest Spidey action story ever in the series.
DB: For all the Spider-Man fans, there are a lot more villains coming in this season that are going to be exciting. The relationships between the kids, the team in the house, there's a lot of comedy and fun there. And watch it because it's awesome. Ultimate, I mean.
CA: Awesomely ultimate.
DB: You can quote me on that.