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Comic Book Day: Going Inside Marvel’s “Hulk & The Agents of S.M.A.S.H.”

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by on August 7, 2013

What’s better than one Hulk smashing things? How about a team of Hulks smashing things? Marvel’s latest venture delivers on this super-sized premise with Hulk & The Agents of S.M.A.S.H., a new animated series premiering this Sunday, August 11th on Disney XD at 11 AM ET.

The show follows Bruce Banner, our classic green Hulk, as he seeks to improve his image with the rest of the civilized world by showing that he’s not the rage-filled, purple-pantsed monster that they think him to be. In order to do so, he gathers other misunderstood Hulks like Red Hulk, Skaar, She-Hulk, and A-Bomb, who you may know as the alter ego of Rick Jones. And the icing on the gamma-radiated cake? It’s done in a traditional action-adventure style, but Rick Jones is documenting the whole process as a web series, which allows for documentary-style talking head confessionals. Don’t worry though; this isn’t going to be the Real Hulkwives.

The first episode is up for your viewing pleasure on iTunes now, but this weekend marks the official launch with a Planet Hulk-sized two-part premiere. Today, along with a small group of journalists, I joined Marvel for one of their “Share Your Universe” calls, on which we were joined by writer/creative consultant Paul Dini, Marvel’s chief creative officer Joe Quesada, producer Henry Gilroy, and the voice of the Hulk himself, Fred Tatasciore.

So, what’s the show about?

In writer Paul Dini’s words, “It’s a half-hour action comedy revolving around the Hulk, one of Marvel’s most enduring characters, and it concerns his efforts – reluctantly at first – to show the world that he’s not a rampaging monster.” This is the Hulk taking a few steps towards cleaning up his image.

Why group all these Hulks together?

For producer Henry Gilroy, it’s because they’re “a group of misfits who would be loners in any other context, but put them together and they’re family.” The family dynamic is integral to the show because the Hulks will joke together, have disagreements like a real family would. Dini hopes that “kids can see an element of themselves in the family dynamic.” We hope so, too, because if a kid is identifying with turning into a giant green rage monster, then we have a major problem.

Why is now the right time for a Hulk series? 

As for the Hulk’s renewed popularity, some may attribute it to Mark Ruffalo’s starring turn in The Avengers, but for Joe Quesada, it comes down to people like Jeph Loeb and Greg Pak. “I think a lot of the Hulk’s current success has to do with what Jeph Loeb and Greg Pak brought to the comics and the characters they introduced,” said Quesada. “Ed McGuinness as well. Jeph and Ed had this wonderful concept for creating a Hulk ‘universe,’ a family of Hulks. Red Hulk, A-Bomb, and Skaar are really standouts on the show.” Quesada said he got the feeling about the characters that “they’d been together since 1962.”

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What attracted you to the show? How is it unique?

Since his days on series like Gargoyles, Batman: The Animated Series and countless others, Paul Dini has been a major force in the development of the modern action-adventure series. So, how does he keep it fresh? What attracted him to Hulk & The Agents of S.M.A.S.H.? ”There’s a strong visual style, which makes it attractive, and animated superheroes have grown by quantum leaps in the last 20 years,” Dini explained. “The animation is richer, more expressive - for a long time you could never really capture the power of super heroes from the printed page, but with this show we can really cut loose. The smashing element of the show where we put them up against bigger and bigger enemies is a great way of showing that. We really test the Hulks. The animation is amazing.”

How did you assemble the voice cast?

The producers have assembled an all-star team of voice actors to bring the project to life: Fred Tatasciore as Bruce Banner/The Hulk, Clancy Brown as Red Hulk, Seth Green as A-Bomb/Rick Jones, Eliza Dushku as She-Hulk, and Ben Diskin as Skaar, the newest Hulk. Each of them brings something different to the table, and it makes for some explosively fun table reads, according to Tatasciore. “I’d walk in this guy’s green feet any day. It’s been really great to explore different elements of the same person,” he said.

Tatasciore has long been the voice of the Hulk in his animated ventures, an evolving process which excites the actor: “In this evolution, he’s moved out from his role as a savage Hulk to being more of a lone wolf, reluctant to join a team, to actually enjoying being part of a team like the Avengers to having his own family and fusing more of his mind with Banner’s. His real goal is to find peace. He wants to help those who need the help and help those who are afflicted with the gamma, you know?”

Producer Henry Gilroy took things a step further, breaking down what each actor brings to the roles:

The Hulk: “Fred has voiced the Hulk for quite a few series. He brings this quiet strength to our version, who is a leader with potential to become the raging monster. He has some of Banner’s intelligence, but he’s not super articulate. There’s an unpredictable nature to him, but he really cares about the Hulks. He’s a hero. Fred brings the softer side of Hulk but can also explode at any minute. He’s very versatile.”

Red Hulk: “Clancy Brown, our Red Hulk, is the kind of jerk big brother of the cast. He just embodies that character. He brings this gravelly voiced, acerbic, egocentric smart aleck sensibility to the role.”

A-Bomb: “Seth Green as A-Bomb is hilarious. He’s so funny, but he ad-libs these lines all the time and brings humor to every situation.”

She-Hulk: “Eliza Dushku, our She-Hulk, brings a feisty kick-assness to the character. She’s not just the sister of the group; she’s a force to be reckoned with and an important voice on the team.”

Last, but not least, Paul Dini weighed in on Skaar:

Skaar: “Ben [Diskin], as Skaar, is the newest of the Hulks. He’s taken in by them; the green Hulk knows there’s something up with him. He’s lost and crude, but he’s broken inside. They’re trying to figure out where his loyalties lie, but once he goes to being more of a member of the team, he transitions to a younger version of the savage Hulk we’ve seen before. Green Hulk is mentoring him and taking him under his wing. He’s not really a fast learner, although he does try hard.”

Joe Quesada summed up the team’s appeal quite nicely: “There’s only one commonality that all of these characters have: they can all smash. Outside of that, they’re wildly different characters and each wants something different out of this family dynamic.”

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What was the idea behind the Office-style talking heads?

When I heard they were using a documentary/reality-style set-up that included talking head confessionals, I was intrigued. This is wild stuff for a kids’ cartoon, and definitely something we haven’t seen before in a Marvel animated series. Quesada explains that, ”Kids love the Hulk, but they’re not really sure – is he a monster or is he a hero? The problem is how do you show that. We thought, ‘What if we did it in a sort of a reality show format?’ The reality show is something that our young audiences have really grown up with, a form of TV storytelling they accept.” He continued, “We thought what better way for him to prove he’s a hero than to talk about it occasionally with the audience. It makes the audience feel like they’re a part of the show and they’re a part of what’s going on. It’s something new, it’s been a challenge, but it’s been a lot of fun.”

For Gilroy, however, the format allows the show to tap into its printed page background in way that other animated series simply cannot. “It allows us to do what the comics do really well and that’s have a thought balloon. Cutting away to a confessional is kind of what I love about comics, where you get these really honest responses about what they’re thinking,” he said. “I think it’ll really bring the comic book sensibility to life.”

How has the storytelling of animation changed?

Let’s face it – it’s been a while since Batman: The Animated Series ruled the animated roost, and it’s a whole new ballgame when it comes to pacing and storytelling in modern animation. For Paul Dini, “it’s become a lot faster and nobody ever sat down to make any hard or fast rules about this, but for TV shows intended for kids and wider audiences, the language of animation storytelling has changed.” The speed has a tangible impact on how writers must approach their stories, he explained: “If you watch a show like The Simpsons or Family Guy, the storytelling is very fast, going from character to character and idea to idea. For animated shows, if you look back over action-adventure shows, they’re kind of slow in comparison. They take their time and it’s more of a methodical, linear type storytelling. What we wanted to do with these Marvel shows is to keep it moving, because if you look at the heroes, they never stop moving – they’re always in action.”

Joe Quesada was quick to note that the man who helped change the game was with them for this new series. “Ironically, the bar in animation storytelling and writing was raised a long time ago, and the interesting thing is that Paul was such a big part of that,” he said. “So we spent a lot of time in the writer’s room trying to figure out how to make these Paul Dini-type stories.” Dini isn’t content to retread old ground, though, saying, “You never want to rest on what you’ve done. You need to keep experimenting and forging out.” Words to live by if we’ve ever heard them.

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Who has been the most unexpectedly enjoyable character to write?

Paul Dini quickly put the issue to rest: “The Leader. He’s kind of evolved from a stock baddie to really a very good counterpart to the Hulk…. He’s very brainy and he lacks what they have as far as physical strength. One of the things at writing a character who is very evil but very smart, he’s really good at getting into their heads. It’s quite literally brains vs. brawn. Making their evil villain very brainy makes him a constant challenge to the Hulks. And kind of tragic, too, as you’ll see down the road.”

Hulk & The Agents of S.M.A.S.H. premieres this Sunday, August 11th on Disney XD at 11am ET/PT. And just in case you want the minute-by-minute color commentary, check out Marvel.com’s liveblog. Looking forward to the show? Let us know in the comments below!