While the likes of Iron Man and Wolverine were born in the pages of Marvel's comic books, they've since gone on to be major multimedia properties, from feature films to video games to animated series. Their next frontier: the world of anime with tonight's launch of G4's "Iron Man" and "Wolverine" followed by "X-Men" and "Blade" later this year. One of the guiding forces in said multimedia journey is Jeph Loeb, the head of Marvel's TV division. I recently had the chance to sit down with Loeb during Comic-Con International this past weekend.
Brian Ford Sullivan: Since Marvel TV is a new division, is part of your job untangling the legalese with regards to what characters have been optioned and where?
Jeph Loeb: No, it doesn't work like that at all. Really the fun of my job is being able to find the right properties for wherever we're going to be. Some of those are being set up as features. And when that's the case it's not something that we're going to be doing. And some of them you've just got to be realistic as a producer as what can be done in the medium, whether it's live action or whether it's animation. What's the best way of presenting it? I think one of the things that is the most exciting things about Marvel Television is there really hasn't been a television division before. And so we're very lucky to have the partners that we have whether it is in animation over at Disney XD or whatever it is on the live side with ABC and ABC Family.
BFS: Do you find that networks and studios approach you to develop specific properties or do you go out with ones specifically in mind?
JL: Marvel works in conjunction with our partners and we determine what those properties are.
BFS: How then did the G4 deal come about?
JL: Actually Simon Phillips who works in the Worldwide area of Marvel originally came up with this idea that being able to see Marvel Animation in a very unique light. And that was something that was more intended for the worldwide audience and it would be very different from the things that we do with say "Super Hero Squad" or "The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes" or "Ultimate Spider-Man." So he spearheaded a partnership between us and Sony and Madhouse Animation. And as I spoke at the panel it really was an extraordinary partnership because if Marvel was going to have their stories interpreted in an anime form, you really want to go to the best and there simply isn't any better than Madhouse when you're talking about anime. They invented it! Every time I say that I sort of stop and go, "that sounds so odd," like, "they invented movies" or something. But it is an art form and someone did have to say what is the look, what is the storytelling, how is it that it is different from any other animation that we've seen before. And so through that and then contacting Warren Ellis who came up with the stories, that was the beginning. That was actually something that was in production when I came in and so I've been more spearheading the English versions and the translations once we had our partnership with G4.
BFS: And these are 12 weeks and that's it?
JL: That's correct. What's great about them is that they're self-contained stories so you can watch "Iron Man," you can watch "Wolverine," you can watch "X-Men," you can watch "Blade." They all do exist in this same world so there is a better than something possibility that we may have guest stars that cross over. You might be able to catch Wolverine and Iron Man running around together so it's been a lot of fun in that regard, particularly in that case because Adrian Pasdar, who is playing Tony Stark, and Milo Ventimiglia, who is playing Wolverine, are such good friends to begin with that being able to play off of that has been something that's been a lot of fun for all of us.
BFS: I know you can't say anything about Marvel's live-action stuff until tomorrow, but in general, do you think - considering the fates of "Heroes" and "The Cape" - there's a sustainable market out there for a weekly superhero show?
JL: I think the quick answer for that is "Smallville" and I was very lucky to be involved in that in the early seasons. I don't believe that it can just be limited to that. "Lost" is a genre show that has the kind of feel that Marvel would aspire for in that world. Certainly the first season of "Heroes" is something that everyone can look to. Look, there's no doubt about it, it's a challenge. But I think one of the things that will help and get people excited and certainly has us excited is that you do have the Marvel name and you do have Marvel characters so that when those considerations are made it isn't just about figuring out how to create that world. One of the challenges of a show like "The Cape" is that it all needs to be invented. And so the world, the characters, the voice of the show, all of those things present a challenge, not only for the creative people but for the audience to be able to accept it. When you have something that is as identifiable as for example in the animation world, being lucky enough to have the first production that I've supervised be "Ultimate Spider-Man," a lot of your heavy lifting is done. We have an extraordinary cast, we have an extraordinary production team and we're really doing everything we can to make that show what it needs to be. But at the end of the day, we're helped enormously by it being Spider-Man.
BFS: Are you as a writer ever tempted to spearhead any of these adaptations yourself?
JL: I think in terms of the number of hours that I have in the day as a producer, I don't ever want to ask Jeph Loeb "where's the script?" [Laughs.] I have enough challenges getting my comic book writing done that to put that kind of pressure on the production would be unwise for everyone. I will say as a writer, the one things it does, I do bring to the table is the importance of the script and making sure that it's on the page. And that has been an enormous amount of fun in every endeavor that Marvel Television does is really being able to find the right voice, the right person who's going to be able to take the show - animated or live action - and really make it work. Again, I think one of the challenges of doing a superhero show or a genre show, which I think is a better word for it, or a Marvel Television show is when you look at those that have been successful, the key piece that I see along the way are things like Joss Whedon and his voice on "Buffy" and his voice on "Angel" and how important that is to have, and Damon Lindelof on "Lost," Al Gough and Miles Millar on "Smallville," when you see the ones that really go the distance and really do have an impact both on television and on pop culture it's because there has been a singular vision along the way. That's what's really makes the difference. And it's finding that voice that is the challenge.
"Iron Man" and "Wolverine" premiere back-to-back tonight at 11:00/10:00c on G4.