Marvel Makes the Ultimate Television

The House of Ideas launches new Spider-Man this weekend

Less amazing, more ultimate: Marvel turns Peter Parker into the 'Ultimate Spider-Man' starting this weekend

So it's not often that hardcore gamers get told to turn their machines off. But when there's an unexpected screening of Marvel Comics' latest animated show Ultimate Spider-Man on offer, it's no surprise that the crowd at SXSW Screenburn was prepared to go unplugged for a few piracy-free minutes.

The new show gets its broadcast debut on Disney XD at 10am on April 1, but Marvel's head of television Jeph Loeb brought the first episode to Screenburn to show his ideal audience what's in store. Big-style superheroics. Slam-bang dry humor. The hints towards both classic Fleischer-era Superman chibi-style anime. All hallmarks of series writer Paul Dini, the talent credited for resurrecting DC's animated line with Batman: The Animated Series. But this was Ultimate Spider-Man, and Peter Parker lives at the House of Ideas, not in the Distinguished Competition's stable. So what gives?

There have been more animated takes on Peter Parker than big screen outings, from the 1967 classic, with its eternally-catchy theme tune, through to 2008's The Spectacular Spider-Man . But Loeb knew he wanted something different, and knew that he wanted to get the man who defined the modern era of super hero cartoons. He said, "When you really see the big shifts in the way that boys' action adventures have been shown, there's a high water mark in [Batman: The Animated Series]." When he first reached out to Dini, "I just sort of left it out there. 'I know that you're a Marvel Comic's fan, is there any way we can get you over to work on our side?'" Fortunately for Loeb, Dini "was looking for something that would get him excited" and teaming up with Brian Michael Bendis (who writes Marvel's Ultimate Spider-Man comic) was exactly the kind of excitement he was looking for.

Marvel hopes the new show will make you look at Peter Parker in a new way (er, did anyone tell Petey?)

One hero wasn't enough. Loeb was looking assemble his own superteam for this new Spider-Man. He'd already recruited Dini's long-time producer Eric Radomski as head of production for Marvel, but he was not exactly a stranger. "Eric and I had worked on the short-lived but much-loved [Buffy the Animated Series]," Loeb explained, "So it really was, for the three of us, like getting the team back together." Loeb's also got a Man of Action on his side which, if you didn't know, is the creative collective responsible for two of Cartoon Network's biggest action-packed franchises, the cyber-fueled Generator Rex and the ever-evolving Ben 10 family. But they were walking straight into a huge challenge, set by Marvel's chief creative officer Joe Quesada: A new Spiderman series that doesn't retell the origin for the umpteenth time. Loeb explained, "[Joe's] the one who looked at us and said, 'How many shows are we going to start with Peter getting bitten by the radioactive spider, and then learning how to be Spider-Man, and then meeting MJ, and all those kinds of tropes?' Those are terrific things, and they are all part of the Spider-Man experience, but what he challenged us with was, what's it like a year later? What's Peter's life now he's been Spider-Man for a year."

That also meant fitting in with the Marvel Universe as it stands today. Enter probably the most important figure in comics today: The master string-puller, Nick Fury. And that's the modern Samuel L. Jackson-style Fury, not the grizzled war dog of tradition. That's where the action of the series will be, as Peter Parker moves from being spectacular to become ultimate. Loeb said, "To be trained by S.H.I.E.L.D., to be part of a program for young heroes, to be the next Captain America, to be the next Iron Man. For us that's a very exciting idea."

Ultimate Spider-Man premieres at 10am on April 1 on Disney XD, followed by the season premier of The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes.

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Ultimate Spider-Man, Jeph Loeb, Paul Dini, Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Disney XD, Screenburn

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